World update: April 28-29 2018



It’s looking more and more like opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan will be Armenia’s next prime minster when parliament makes its pick on Tuesday. He’s already met with President Armen Sarkisian to pitch his case for taking the job, which presumably centers on his ability to calm the protesters regularly hitting the streets of Yerevan these days. Armenia’s majority Republican Party said this weekend that it would not field a candidate for PM on Tuesday, and that it would not block Pashinyan from getting the job if he’s the consensus pick among the opposition parties.


The Taliban captured the district of Qala-e Zal, north of the city of Kunduz, on Saturday. Afghan government forces have been attempting to drive them back out, but so far I haven’t seen any indication that they’ve been successful. Also on Saturday, a Taliban bombing at a military base in Helmand province killed four civilians and one soldier, while a Taliban rocket attack in Nangarhar province late Friday night killed five people.

Early Monday, and this is just breaking as I’m about to post, there were reports of some kind of explosion in Kabul. Again this is just breaking so there’s no word on what happened or casualties yet.


Two Hazara were killed by gunmen in Quetta on Saturday, the third attack targeting the Hazara community there this month. It remains unclear who’s responsible for the uptick in violence, but the Hazara are a frequent target for ISIS because they’re Shiʿa, and also for homegrown Pakistani extremists like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Al Jazeera has a video report on Pakistan’s recent Pashtun rights protests:


Nepal’s two communist parties, the Unified Marxists-Leninists and the Maoist Center, have been flirting with a merger for more than a decade, and finally pledged to go ahead with it last October. But it’s the end of April now, and, well, no merger yet. It appears that the smaller Maoist Center is balking over concerns that it might be dominated by the UML in the new combined party:

One of the reasons for the delay is the immense pressure that [Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal] Prachanda has faced from his party rank and file, who want the merger on ‘equal terms’ rather than the earlier ‘60-40’ formula devised for selection of electoral candidates, with 60% of nominations going to the UML and 40% to the Maoists. The leaders in the 1099-member Maoist central committee fear ‘demotion’ in the new party which, according to UML-Maoist merger agreement, will have only 299 members in its central committee. The Maoist party members want a larger share in the new outfit’s decision-making pie.


But Oli reckons that such a demand is unjustified as even within the left alliance, UML had emerged by far the largest party in the country after the 2017 elections and hence it deserves to have more members in the decision-making bodies. Prachanda, for his part, wants a clear, written assurance that he will either get to become the prime minister after two and half years of Oli’s reign or that he will get to lead the combined communist party after its general convention. Oli is reluctant to offer any such written assurances.


But even if there was a written assurance, it might be meaningless, as the new party chairman will be chosen by the delegates to the future national convention via a secret ballot, and they might easily opt for someone other than Prachanda. There is also no guarantee that senior UML leaders will accept Prachanda as their prime minister.


The United Nations says that some 4000 people have fled fighting between the Myanmar military and rebels in Kachin state in April and at least 10,000 have fled Kachin so far this year. Thousands more are believed trapped by the conflict in enclaves where humanitarian relief cannot reach them.


Kim Jong-un has reportedly told South Korean officials that he will invite international experts into the country to observe the closure of his Punggye-ri nuclear test site next month, another cosmetic effort to show good faith before his planned meeting with Donald Trump. I say “cosmetic” not to belittle the move, which is significant, but to note that it will only mean something if the Kim-Trump summit produces results. If it doesn’t, Kim will easily be able to reopen Punggye-ri or build a new test site should he feel the need (and, having probably already tested a hydrogen bomb, it’s possible he won’t). Allowing inspectors to view the closing suggests–it’s meant to suggest–that Kim will be open to inspections under a future denuclearization framework, should it come to that.

As one of its other cosmetic good faith gestures, Pyongyang started returning itself to the same time zone as South Korea this weekend. North Korea had been 30 minutes ahead of South Korea since 2015.



At least 40 Tuaregs, mostly anti-jihadist militia fighters, were killed in two separate attacks in the Menaka region of northern Mali late last week. It’s unknown who was behind the attacks but ISIS’s Greater Sahara affiliate, which is predominantly Fulani–a community that frequently clashes with Tuaregs anyway–is a strong possibility.


Meanwhile, ISIS’s West Africa affiliate–which is still known as Boko Haram, but calling it ISIS-West Africa distinguishes it from the other Boko Haram faction that resulted from their split back in 2016–is working to win local support in its Lake Chad home region:

Digging wells, giving out seeds and fertilizer and providing safe pasture for herders are among the inducements offered by Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), which split from Nigeria’s Boko Haram in 2016.


“If you are a herder, driver or trader, they won’t touch you – just follow their rules and regulations governing the territory,” said a herder, who moves cattle in and out of ISWA territory and whose identity Reuters is withholding for his safety. “They don’t touch civilians, just security personnel.”


The campaign, which has created an economy for ISWA to tax, is part of the armed insurgent group’s push to control territory in northeastern Nigeria and in Niger.

These tactics are reportedly working–the group’s territory is expanding into Nigeria and Niger, and it seems to have grown far more quickly than its competing Boko Haram branch in the Sambisa forest area.


The recent conflict between Hema and Lendu peoples in the DRC’s Ituri province isn’t unprecedented–these communities have clashed often in the past–but observers say that the groups are better armed and organized than in the past, and there’s other evidence to suggest they may be getting help from outside actors:

Although many of the victims of the attacks this year have been Hema, experts say this new wave of violence does not follow the usual pattern of ethnic killings and reprisals.


“It’s not an ethnic conflict in the sense that these are not people who have always hated each other and are just going to kill and maim and rape each other because one of them is Lendu and one of them is Hema,” Ms. Autesserre said.


In some cases, the attackers are men who survivors say were speaking languages from other regions. In other cases, the attackers are Lendu, but no one knows what their motives are — and no one knows who is supporting them.


Many of the attacks were coordinated and carried out with new weapons and expensive communications equipment, suggesting the fighters have powerful backers who may be looking to exploit the animosity between the two ethnic groups for their own purposes.

If they are getting outside help the obvious question is from whom. The DRC government is one possibility, perhaps in an effort by Joseph Kabila to once again stall elections. But the last time these groups came to serious blows, in the early 2000s, they got outside help from, for example, Uganda, as well as some international mining interests.



The Intercept’s Joe Penny suggests that part of the reason former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was so intent on bombing Muammar Gaddafi back in 2011 has to do with the corruption case Sarkozy now faces for taking money from Gaddafi toward his 2007 campaign:

Arfi, the Mediapart journalist, cautioned against treating Sarkozy’s involvement in the war as strictly personal, though it’s also a vital element. “I don’t believe that Sarkozy brought France and other countries to war in Libya exclusively to whitewash himself,” said Arfi, who co-authored a book, “Avec les compliments du Guide,” which details the Gaddafi-Libya investigation. But, Arfi said, “It’s difficult to imagine that there wasn’t some kind of personal or private dimension to Sarkozy’s pro-war activism in 2011.”


The personal dimension that Arfi refers to would be Sarkozy’s interest in shifting the narrative that he had initially cultivated — as close to Gaddafi — to one that distanced him from the regime and any questions about his former proximity to Gaddafi, once he realized just how seriously the U.S. and Arab states wanted to get rid of the Libyan leader. “Once the war was triggered, [Sarkozy’s] attitude is deeply impacted by the scandal that he is the only one aware of at the time. So, it gives rise to a very uncompromising France pursuing a scenario where everything would be destroyed and everything related to the Gaddafis would be discredited,” Harchaoui said.



Around 50 would-be migrants, participants in this year’s Central American migrant convoy, applied for asylum in the United States on Sunday but were not permitted to cross the border from Mexico. They attempted to enter the country at San Ysidro, near San Diego, and were told by immigration authorities that the facility was full. The migrants appeared to be planning to stay at the border to continue trying to enter.

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