World update: January 6-7 2018



Reuters has conducted an interview with Atta Muhammad Nur, who remains governor of Balkh even though President Ashraf Ghani, uh, “accepted” his “resignation” almost three weeks ago. While there’s every reason to believe that Atta Muhammad Nur is neck deep in corruption in his Balkh fiefdom, he argues–and he’s probably not wrong–that Ghani is targeting him for political reasons:

Noor accuses Ghani of trying to remove a potential rival and divide Jamiat ahead of a presidential election likely to be shaped by the ethnic faultlines that dominate Afghan politics, notably between Pashtuns and Persian-speaking Tajiks.


“This is about the 2019 presidential election,” he told Reuters in an interview at his office in the provincial capital Mazar-i Sharif, where his portrait adorns streets and buildings across the city. “They have no grassroots support among the people and they are afraid of public figures who do.”

If Ghani’s goal was to divide the Jamiat-i Islami party then mission accomplished, because Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, also a Jamiat party figure, apparently signed off on the decision to oust Atta Muhammad Nur. But now Ghani has shown himself to be incapable of removing a provincial governor and has created a serious rival who happens to control one of Afghanistan’s most important and most stable regions.


Four Indian police officers were killed on Saturday by a roadside bomb in the town of Sopore. Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the bombing.


Recognizing the need for a fresh face and some new blood in Malaysian politics, the country’s opposition alliance has picked its leader heading into this year’s parliamentary election: 92 year old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Now, to be fair, Mohamad would theoretically only serve as a caretaker prime minister until such time as he’s able to obtain a royal pardon for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Ibrahim would then step in to serve as PM. But the chances of the opposition winning and Mahathir ousting current PM Najib Razak are not great, despite the 1MBD corruption scandal that continues to dog Razak. Polling suggests that Razak’s coalition is likely to retain and possibly even grow its majority despite dwindling support, in large part because the “opposition alliance” keeps shedding members.


An Iranian oil tanker collided with a Chinese vessel in the East China Sea, causing an oil spill and fire. All 32 crewmembers of the Iranian ship are missing and there’s really no way to assess the environmental damage because the ship is still on fire.

On the plus side, Chinese engineers are doing pioneering work in facial recognition technology. A severely authoritarian regime that doesn’t tolerate dissent and has dodgy relationships with its ethnic minorities producing cutting edge surveillance tools–what could be bad about that?



Khartoum closed its border with Eritrea and deployed troops to the border area on Saturday. As far as I know they’ve still offered no explanation for the move, but it seems like it might be important to at least note. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir did declare a state of emergency in the states of North Kordofan and Kasala on December 30, owing to insurgencies in those provinces, and Kasala does lie along the Eritrean border, so I would assume there’s a connection there.


At least 13 people were killed by gunmen on Saturday in Senegal’s southern Casamance region. There’s been no claim of responsibility but there are fears that this attack might signal a revival of the armed Casamance separatist insurgency. A group called Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance began operating in the 1980s but finally reached a ceasefire agreement with the Senegalese government in 2014.


The Nigerian military says that on Saturday its forces killed Don Wani, a notorious gang leader in Rivers state who made his living kidnapping for ransom and in the drug trade. Don Wani is believed to have been behind a church shooting in Rivers state in which 17 people were killed on New Years Day.


Speaking of Nigeria, its security forces have detained Julius Ayuk Tabe, chairman of the Governing Council of Ambazonia. The Governing Council of Ambazonia seeks independence for the anglophone regions of Cameroon as a new state called–wait for it–Ambazonia. His arrest may tamp down recent tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon, which accuses the Nigerians of harboring the anglophone separatists.



Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told a Greek TV station on Sunday that he believes he can reach a settlement with Athens over his country’s name “by the end of the first half of 2018.” The Greek government refuses to acquiesce to Macedonia’s membership in either NATO or the European Union until it loses the name “Macedonia,” which Athens believes suggests territorial designs on the Greek region of Macedonia. That’s unbelievably silly, given that Macedonia is a country of 2 million people that spent about $115 million on its military last year while Greece is a country of 11 million people that spent almost $5 billion on its military last year, but here we are nonetheless. The naming thing is petty, but not petty enough to block Macedonia from membership in those pan-European institutions until it’s resolved.


On Sunday, Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance began five days of preliminary talks with the Social Democrats on forming a governing coalition. This round of talks will be used to determine if the parties can find enough common ground to proceed to serious coalition negotiations. So,


Theresa May is shaking up her cabinet a bit, with an eye toward promoting more women and minorities into her government. The big move will reportedly involve the appointment of a minister for a “no deal Brexit,” which looks like it might be an attempt to sideline Brexit minister David Davis and/or a show of force to the EU that Britain is prepared for the worst should negotiations fail.



ELN’s ceasefire with the Colombian government is set to expire on January 9, and it doesn’t sound like the group is interested in following its former rival rebel group FARC into a peace deal with Bogota:

According to Estacio and other rebels, armed resistance is one of the ELN’s core principles and expecting them to give that up without the changes they are fighting for is pointless.


Estacio belongs to the Ernesto Che Guevara Front, which dominates the south of Chocó, an impoverished Pacific coast region of dense jungles and rivers.


One of the unit’s commanders, who goes by the nom de guerre “Uriel”, says that, unlike the Farc, which now says it will seek change as a legal political party, the ELN are still seeking a peace deal which attacks the root cause of the conflict: poverty.


“If the enemy’s objective is to demobilise us, we are wasting our time. We have tried to convince the government on several occasions that if they want to stop the guerrilla, they need to take away the arguments for our existence,” he says.

FARC’s peace deal might actually have breathed new life into ELN’s insurgency by opening up new opportunities for the group to expand its support base.


US Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) says that in meetings with Cuban officials he’s been told that the FBI can’t find any evidence to support the theory that American diplomats were victims of a “sonic attack” in Havana. In fact the whole “sonic” aspect of this story is now being called into question. Examinations of the victims of the alleged “attack” show abnormalities in the “white matter” regions of their brains, something that no known sonic process could cause. Medical personnel are beginning to treat whatever happened to these people as a new illness, even as the FBI continues to pursue a criminal angle.


Clashes between police and gunmen in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state left at least 11 people dead on Sunday. Community police reportedly engaged in a firefight with unknown gunmen, and then later fought with state police sent in to disarm them.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump still says Mexico will pay for his beautiful border wall even as he’s busy demanding Congress budget money for its construction lest he refuse to go along with a legislative fix for DACA. We may be looking at a government shutdown by January 19 if there’s no DACA fix, just FYI. Democrats are insisting that DACA be part of budget negotiations, Congressional Republicans are insisting that it not be part of the negotiations, and Trump is insisting that it be part of the negotiations but only if it’s paired with funding for his dumb-ass wall. In other words, everything is GREAT!


The New York Times here engages in some of my favorite kind of media hand-wringing, the “American credibility” variety. America’s credibility is under threat! Did you know? Because it’s being threatened almost constantly, and usually because we’re not blowing something up at that very moment. In this case America’s credibility is supposedly being tanked by Donald Trump’s Twitter account, as though America hadn’t already flushed whatever credibility it might have had left down the toilet when we elected Donald Trump in the first place.

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