Asia/Africa update: June 9-10 2018



The Taliban, in a bit of a surprise, responded to the Afghan government’s ceasefire of last week with a ceasefire of its own, over the Eid holiday following Ramadan. It is the Taliban’s first ceasefire of the entire Afghanistan War, so kind of a big deal. The Taliban did reserve the right to defend itself, which is customary in these sorts of things and which the Afghans did in their ceasefire, and it also reserved the right to continue attacking US troops. Baby steps.

The Taliban’s Eid ceasefire doesn’t kick in until Eid begins, which is probably going to be Friday. So their attack on an Afghan military post in Kandahar province on Saturday, which killed at least five Afghan soldiers, doesn’t violate the ceasefire. On Sunday, Afghan authorities in Nangarhar province intercepted over 150 tons of ammonium nitrate being smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan. It’s entirely possible that it was intended to be used as fertilizer–Afghanistan bans the stuff because of its potential use in bomb-making–but at this point that’s unclear.


Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military dictator, says he plans to run for parliament in July’s election. Musharraf has been dodging potential legal troubles by living in Dubai, but the Pakistani Supreme Court has apparently cleared him to return.


Indian forces say they killed at least six separatists allegedly attempting to cross the line of control into Indian-controlled Kashmir on Sunday.


Philippine forces killed at least 15 fighters from the ISIS-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group on Sunday when they attacked a bomb-making facility in Maguindanao province.


Well, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have both arrived in Singapore ahead of their planned summit on Tuesday. So I guess this is really going to happen. As to how it will go, I mean, Trump has decided to wing it, doesn’t even have a science adviser on his staff to help him with what could be a very complicated negotiation over North Korea’s nuclear program, and insists he’ll know in the first minute of his encounter with Kim whether the North Korean leader is really interested in making a deal due to “my touch, my feel.” That’s presumably the same touch and feel that landed Trump in bankruptcy six different times back when he was just a dipshit real estate guy and not a dipshit president. So some skepticism is natural here. Though Trump has been referring to the summit as a “one-time shot” at peacefully resolving the North Korea situation, so let’s hope he surpasses expectations.

The main point of contention is likely to be, all together now, differing definitions of the term “denuclearization”:

The American military deployed nuclear weapons in South Korea in the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War, but withdrew them in the early 1990s, part of an attempt to persuade North Korea to allow nuclear inspections. The American definition of denuclearization has since referred to the demand that North Korea relinquish its nuclear arms capabilities, making the entire peninsula nuclear-free.

In the view of Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, North Korea’s denuclearization would include much more, applying also to ballistic missiles, chemical and biological weapons, the means to produce them, and verifiable ways to ensure North Korea is not hiding anything.

North Korea’s use of the term, on the other hand, has never explicitly applied to its own weapons. Disarmament experts say North Korea has used denuclearization to refer to what it views as the American military’s strategic capability to strike North Korea with nuclear weapons from afar, and to the American protection of South Korea and Japan under a so-called nuclear umbrella from bases in the Pacific.

Sounds like the makings of a real uncomfortable session. Arms control expert and former Obama adviser Jon Wolfsthal lays out his best and worst case scenarios for Tuesday’s meeting:

Best-case scenario: Real talks begin. Despite the ridiculously high expectations that have arisen ahead of the summit, the best outcome Trump and Kim could achieve at the hastily arranged meeting is to agree that the end goal for this new process is the full and verified elimination of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, along with diplomatic and political normalization between the United States and North Korea. To achieve this ambitious set of goals within a realistic timeframe, the two leaders should adopt a clear and detailed joint statement to guide the work of a team of negotiators to pursue both paths in parallel. The goal should be for the leaders to come back together in a reasonable amount of time (six months or no more than a year) to codify the results. In the interim, the two should agree on how to define and ensure that the current North Korean testing freeze continues (what is allowed, what is not allowed) and on what the United States and its partners can agree to do to ensure the diplomatic process continues, including curtailing certain types of military activities that North Korea sees as preludes to offensive military action. 

Worst-case scenario: Kim pulls a fast one. Trump claims he has mastered the art of the deal, but so far my perception is that he has been far too eager for a summit and that Kim has gained considerable ground over the past year at the expense of the United States in East Asia. If the summit makes progress on denuclearization, it will be worth it, but that remains a long shot. Failure to move the disarmament needle will have given Kim a major propaganda victory — equal status with the world’s only superpower — in exchange for little or no real sacrifices on his part.

The worst-case scenario leads to at least two dangerous outcomes: in one, Trump gets bamboozled by Kim, either because he’s an idiot or because he’s desperate for a big triumph, into accepting a deal that leaves North Korea with nuclear weapons; in the other, Trump gets angry and storms out, handing Kim a PR win and taking everybody closer to military conflict.



The governments of Chad, Libya (such as it is), Niger, and Sudan have all signed on to a new security cooperation agreement to cope with human trafficking and the movement of armed groups around Libya’s mostly-uncontrolled southern border:

On May 31, and away from the glaring media, Libya, Chad, Sudan and Niger signed in the Chadian capital N’Djamena a security protocol to strengthen cooperation among the neighboring countries. The protocol aims to improve cross-border security by targeting transborder criminal activities, particularly human trafficking, arms and narcotics smuggling, as well as the smuggling of goods. Goods are especially smuggled from Libya, where they are subsidized, and then sold at high prices in countries like Chad and Sudan.


An al-Shabab suicide bombing targeting a military base outside the town of Kismayu on Saturday evening reportedly injured seven Somali soldiers. Or killed 40 of them, if you’re inclined to believe al-Shabab’s own claims.


Apparently the hot new trend in the CAR is attacking hospitals:

The UN has condemned intimidation of staff and patients by armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Men armed with machetes, knives and other crude weapons entered hospitals in the past few months, the UN said, most recently in the town of Bambari.

Terrified relatives had moved patients from Bambari hospital even though they still needed treatment.

The UN said it was unclear who was carrying out the attacks, suspected of being ethnically motivated.


DRC opposition leader Moise Katumbi held a rally in Kinshasa on Sunday attended by thousands of people on Saturday. Katumbi, who Skyped in to the rally because he’s in exile, called on the leaders of all of the DRC’s opposition groups to unite heading into December’s presidential election. Rumors are growing that President Joseph Kabila will attempt to stand for a third term, despite being constitutionally limited to two terms and despite the fact that his second term should have ended in 2016. A unified opposition is seen as the key to preventing Kabila from remaining in power.

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