Asia/Africa update: October 4-5 2017



At least 20 people were killed on Thursday in Jhal Magsi, a small village in southwestern Pakistan, when an ISIS suicide bomber struck a local Shiʿa/Sufi shrine.

The Pakistani military spent part of the day on Thursday parsing the difference between “having connections to” and “supporting” terrorist groups. Which seems like an excellent use of time. On Tuesday, see, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency “has connections with terrorist groups.” He was talking about the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and he wasn’t intending it as a complimentary or even neutral statement. The Pakistani military responded today by arguing that, hey, everybody has ties to some terrorists, am I right? And anyway that doesn’t mean we’re supporting them!

And you know something? He’s right. The Pakistanis aren’t supporting extremists–they’re trying to help extremists get elected to parliament:

The Pakistani army on Thursday said the government was discussing ways to try to integrate militant-linked groups into the mainstream of the country’s politics.


Milli Muslim League (MML), a new militant party controlled by Islamist Hafiz Saeed, backed a candidate in the September by-election for a seat vacated by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the eastern city of Lahore. The United States has offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed’s capture.


Reuters reported last month that the foray into politics by MML and other Islamists groups followed the integration plan. Three of Sharif’s confidants and a retired army general said it had been presented by Inter Services Intelligence to Sharif last year, but the then premier had rejected it.

In theory, the idea of incorporating militants into the political process, if they, you know, stop being militants, is perfectly reasonable. It’s what Colombia is trying to do right now. But it’s not going to work in Pakistan, for a very simple reason–the Pakistanis don’t want these groups to actually stop being militants:

But deradicalization is tricky at the best of times, and the conditions that made it work elsewhere in the past simply don’t apply to Pakistan today. Most of all, it needs a state willing to threaten nonstate actors with something they would rather avoid (a military offensive) while proffering the reward of something they want (political influence). In Pakistan, neither condition is fulfilled. In fact, the “mainstreaming” project appears just as likely to strengthen jihadi militants as quell them — and you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder whether that isn’t really the point.

Pakistan’s military establishment relies on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis to destabilize Afghanistan, and it relies on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group Saeed founded, and other groups like it to counter India. It can’t withdraw support–and yes, fuck that, it is “support”–or defang them without materially harming what it perceives as Pakistan’s national security. Look, if the Pakistani military wanted Lashkar-e-Taiba gone it could make that happen in about a week. Likewise with Haqqani or anybody else. But it doesn’t, and never has, and that speaks louder than all the words uttered by Pakistani military spokesmen ever could.

Of course, if Saeed ever gets elected to parliament, it’s going to be a little harder for Pakistan to disavow the next Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on India, but they’ll cross that bridge if and when they come to it.


Bangladesh is going to have to clear out forest areas to make room for additional facilities for sheltering Rohingya refugees. Over a half a million Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since late August, and there were already around 300,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh to begin with. The United Nations is trying to raise $434 million to care for 1.2 million Rohingya–the ~800,000 already in Bangladesh and up to another 400,000 more. Myanmar says it will gladly take back an verified refugees, but first of all there’s no reason why would any of them want to go back to a country that’s trying to kill them, and second of all the fact that Myanmar doesn’t recognize the Rohingya as citizens complicates that whole refugee verification process.


Rodrigo Duterte, in what I’m sure comes as a complete shock, is under investigator for corruption over failing to explain some $39 million he allegedly kept in joint bank accounts with his family members before becoming president. In response to the investigation, Duterte, cool as ever, is threatening to bring impeachment cases against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.


I keep forgetting to mention this story, but I remember now and I don’t have anything particularly to say about North Korea tonight, so here goes:

Last August, a secret message was passed from Washington to Cairo warning about a mysterious vessel steaming toward the Suez Canal. The bulk freighter named Jie Shun was flying Cambodian colors but had sailed from North Korea, the warning said, with a North Korean crew and an unknown cargo shrouded by heavy tarps.


Armed with this tip, customs agents were waiting when the ship entered Egyptian waters. They swarmed the vessel and discovered, concealed under bins of iron ore, a cache of more than 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades. It was, as a United Nations report later concluded, the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”


But who were the rockets for? The Jie Shun’s final secret would take months to resolve and would yield perhaps the biggest surprise of all: The buyers were the Egyptians themselves.

The seizure of this shipment and the revelation about its buyers is apparently part of the reason why the Trump administration decided to delay and/or cancel upwards of $300 million in aid to Egypt in August. The weapons were purchased by private Egyptian businessmen but on behalf of the Egyptian military, in an effort to obfuscate the transactions. And to be fair the Egyptians did cooperate in stopping and boarding the ship, but only after basically being shamed into it by the Americans.

North Korea’s illicit arms trade, mostly in older but refurbished weapons, is one of the few commercial outlets it has left, and the fact that countries–American allies even–are still readily lining up as buyers highlights just how hard it is to completely cut Pyongyang off from the global economy.



At least four people, aside from the attackers, were killed Thursday, and 41 people wounded, when three ISIS fighters stormed a courthouse in Misrata. Two of them detonated suicide belts during the attack.

A couple of days ago I mentioned Boris Johnson’s remark about Sirte, the one where he says the city could be beautiful if the Libyans could just get rid of all the bodies, in passing, simply to highlight Boris’s ongoing role as Britain’s daily national embarrassment. But it turns out, unsurprisingly I guess, that the Libyans were pretty outraged by what Johnson said and are now accusing him of dishonoring the 750 or so fighters who were killed driving ISIS out of the city.


The Trump administration is preparing to lift US sanctions against Sudan. It is not planning to remove Sudan from the list of state terrorism sponsors, which puts strict limits on how much and what kind of aid the US can provide Sudan, but lifting these sanctions, imposed 20 years ago over Sudanese war crimes in Darfur, will unfreeze Sudanese assets and open the country up to foreign trade–provided, reportedly, that Sudan agrees to comply with UN resolutions on North Korea. Rights groups are understandably not taking this well, since in the 20 years since the US sanctions Sudan over human rights, very little has actually changed about human rights in Sudan. But Khartoum is mostly playing ball in terms of helping the US in counter-terrorism matters, and that’s really all that matters as far as Washington is concerned.


Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, currently in a British prison on war crimes charges, may nevertheless still be active in Liberian politics. George Weah, one of the people running for president in next Tuesday’s election, picked Taylor’s ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, as his running mate. She’s considered a staunch Taylor ally, and so people are wondering why Weah, who used to be critical of Taylor and his National Patriotic Party, has decided to run with her at his side. Taylor undoubtedly still has a base of support in Liberia, so from a political angle this could be a smart move by Weah.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel laureate who has been Liberia’s president since 2006, is term limited, so next week’s vote is considered pivotal in terms of what direction Liberia will go now that she’s no longer at the helm.


Five Nigerien and three US special forces soldiers were killed on Wednesday when their joint patrol was ambushed in southwestern Niger. It’s not clear who the attackers were but the Nigerien military said they entered the country from Mali. That suggests al-Qaeda, but ISIS fighters from Libya certainly wouldn’t be out of the question.

The reaction to this story yesterday reflected a lot of surprise that US special forces are conducted joint patrols with Nigerian soldiers or, indeed, that there are US forces in Niger at all. While the US presence in Niger hasn’t been a secret–the Pentagon has long had a drone base there and is building another–I’d like to offer a little advice to those who try to keep up with international news but aren’t tracking it obsessively: assume the US has soldiers everywhere, except possibly in countries toward which America is actively hostile–and even then it’s probably 50/50.

That’s not to say this isn’t a serious situation. US forces in Niger are supposed to be training Nigerien forces, not conducting patrols or getting into combat. The fact that they were out on patrol should spur Congress to get some clarification from the Pentagon.


A new report from Human Rights Watch details the use of rape as a weapon in fighting between rival CAR militias:

More than 300 cases of rape and sexual slavery have been documented as carried out by members of armed groups in Central African Republic between early 2013 and mid-2017, the rights group said in their report. The sexual violence has come from members of the two main armed groups — the mostly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and Christian anti-Balaka militia, said the report.


“Armed groups are using rape in a brutal, calculated way to punish and terrorize women and girls,” said Hillary Margolis, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Every day, survivors live with the devastating aftermath of rape, and the knowledge that their attackers are walking free, perhaps holding positions of power, and to date facing no consequences whatsoever.”


Former CIA director and Team Trump chud James Woolsey may be getting up to some funny business on behalf of DRC President Joseph Kabila. Buzzfeed is reporting that Woolsey signed a 2017 lobbyist registration form on behalf of his wife, Nancye Miller, which is odd but probably meaningless in itself. But the story goes deeper than that:

This year, the DRC has paid an Israeli security company, Mer Security, a whopping $5.6 million for lobbying work, according to Justice Department documents. Mer hired the services of the Opportunities Development Group, a consulting firm that Woolsey once served as chair of its advisory board. Nancye Miller is the group’s only registered lobbyist.

The lobbying work isn’t really for the DRC–it’s for Kabila, who’s under pressure over his ongoing refusal to hold elections and step down even though his term is long over. And here too there’s nothing that fish happening. But then you read that Woolsey has apparently been attending “lunch and dinner events” pertaining to US policy toward the DRC, and the best reason Miller can come up with for this is (literally) “he doesn’t like to eat alone,” and the overall picture starts to get a little murky.

Woolsey is of course not registered as a foreign agent, because no high-profile figures in DC ever register as foreign agents unless and until they get caught red-handed. Why is that? Well, mostly it’s because, instead of prosecuting people caught lobbying without registering, as it should, the FBI usually lets those people register retroactively. So there’s really no risk to not registering, especially when balanced against the risk of being outed as a lobbyist for one of the most illegitimate regimes on the planet.

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