Asia/Africa update: July 6 2018



The Taliban have rejected another offer for peace talks from Kabul, this one made last month by the Afghan High Peace Council. They refuse to talk to the Afghan government and characterize it as an illegitimate US puppet.

Whether or not you believe Afghanistan is at the mercy of the United States, it’s clearly still at the mercy of powerful local warlords, many of whom were greatly empowered by the US invasion. Afghan diplomat Ahmad Shah Katawazai argues that the warlords are stifling Afghanistan’s development:

Warlords remain a barrier Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy and accountability, blocking a new generation from leading the country toward progress and development. They are responsible for killings, beatings, abductions, extortion, land seizures, illegal mining, drug trafficking, and in some cases joining hands with the Taliban where there is mutual interest. In short, these warlords have become a major problem for the country.

The rise and endurance of the warlords is a legacy of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The majority of the current warlords gained prominence in late 2001 while fighting against the Taliban regime. With the U.S.-supplied funds and weapons, coupled with the collapse of the Taliban regime, these warlords were able to control and influence the nation’s security forces and government ministries.

The government provided them with influential positions and they got subcontracts from U.S. companies. Many received funds from the United States and Western countries to work alongside U.S. and NATO forces to fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, further increasing their influence in Afghan politics. Thus, with American tax payer’s money and a weak Afghan central government’s blessing, the warlords thrived.

They largely used their official positions to cement their own authority in their respective territories and have enriched themselves through illegal money. From ministerial posts to civilian positions, from the security sector to lucrative customs, they have influence everywhere.

The warlords are also a huge impediment to Afghan stability, which remains elusive in large part because the US continues to pursue stabilization policies in Afghanistan that clearly don’t work:

The failure of U.S. stabilization efforts, which ought to be patently obvious to any reasonable observer, is not lost on the agencies carrying them out. The State Department, Defense Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) admit, in their recent Stabilization Assistance Review, “We cannot continue to take the same approach and expect different results.”

And yet, they continue to take the same approach. The U.S. government continues its military-led engagement in the world’s hot spots, privileging the transfer of arms, advice, and training to foreign security forces over the transfer of knowledge, skills, tools and opportunities to civilians. Programs to prevent violent extremism—such as strengthening dispute-resolution mechanisms, improving education and training, and expanding economic opportunity—take a back seat to counterterrorism training and ever-expanding secret wars.


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on corruption charges on Friday. His daughter and one-time political heir apparent, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, was given a seven year sentence. Nawaz Sharif maintains that his prosecution is politically motivated and is being directed by the Pakistani military in an effort to discredit him and his Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz political party ahead of the national election later this month.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to North Korea this weekend forced him to cancel a planned trip to India, which is not the first time a senior Trump administration figure has bailed on a meeting with Indian representatives. In Pompeo’s case visiting North Korea to try to save his boss’s face on the nuclear front is just a higher priority for the administration than improving ties with India. But it’s worth noting that, after a honeymoon period reflective of shared US and Indian interests in containing China and of the fact that Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are both reactionary assholes who hate Muslims, India and the US are finding themselves on opposite sides on a number of issues, from India’s purchase of Iranian oil and Russian weapons to Trump’s imposition of tariffs on pretty much every regular US trade partner.


Despite lots of rumors to the contrary, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says that he will not try to extend his presidential term past 2022 by altering the country’s 1987 constitution. Philippine presidents currently get one six year term, but Congress is about to consider revisions to the constitution and could raise or even do away with that term limit among its other alterations.


The first set of US tariffs against some $34 billion in Chinese goods came into effect at midnight Friday, and with China retaliating in kind Trump has threatened tariffs on as much as $500 billion in additional Chinese goods. Beijing filed a complaint against the US at the World Trade Organization on Friday.


As I noted above, Mike Pompeo is in North Korea working to “fill in details” about how exactly North Korea intends to go about denuclearizing. To put it another way, it’s Pompeo’s job to get North Korea to actually do some of the things Trump insists that Kim Jong-un agreed to do in their June 12 Singapore summit, so that it doesn’t look like Trump got rolled. Because right now it looks like Trump got rolled pretty badly. In addition to the work reportedly continuing at North Korea’s clandestine nuclear and missile facilities, Pyongyang continues to add new facilities at its declared Yongbyon nuclear research center. And Pompeo’s State Department has softened its rhetoric around North Korea’s “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” to talk of a “final, fully verified denuclearization” instead.

According to Reuters, Pompeo has gotten the North Koreans to agree to, um, set up some working groups. So that’s…something?



However rough your Thursday was, consider that it could’ve been worse. You could have been in Ouargla, Algeria, where the daytime high surpassed 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius). That’s believed to be the highest temperature ever reliably measured in Africa (there have been higher temperatures recorded in Africa in the past but there are serious questions about their validity).


Alex Thurston discusses the implications of a recent political shakeup in Nigeria:

On 3 July, some prominent Nigerian politicians announced that they were breaking with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and forming a new bloc called the Reformed All Progressives Congress (R-APC). The breakaway group say they are dissatisfied with the performance of the APC and particularly with President Muhammadu Buhari. In their statement, the R-APC also complain about what they allege is a lack of internal party democracy and a pattern of top-down manipulation for the selection of party officers. The R-APC specifically objects to how events played out at the APC National Convention, the main events of which were on 23 June.

The R-APC is chaired by Bula Galadima of Yobe State, a former Buhari ally, but in terms of actual sitting elected politicians, the key figures in the R-APC are Senate President Bukola Saraki (Kwara State), House Speaker Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi), and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano).


In a significant development, the South Sudanese government and rebel leaders agreed during talks in Khartoum on Friday on security arrangements for a post-civil war South Sudan, including commitments to reorganize the South Sudanese military and to getting armed groups away from civilian population centers. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar will take their show to Uganda on Saturday, where there’s hope they’ll reach a final peace and power-sharing deal. It bears repeating that South Sudan has been down this road before and the two sides ultimately failed to end their war each time, but maybe this time is the clincher.


One Ugandan soldier was killed and three more people were wounded in a naval skirmish between Ugandan and DRC forces on Lake Edward on Thursday. DRC officials say they sent a patrol onto the lake after reports of Ugandan authorities interfering with Congolese fishermen and that their patrol took fire from a Ugandan vessel. The Ugandans say that one of their boats came under fire from “unknown” attackers in Ugandan waters.

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