Asia/Africa update: July 14-15 2018



ISIS claimed responsibility for a bombing on Sunday that killed at least seven people near the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development building in Kabul. The day before, a likely Taliban attack on a military checkpoint in Farah province, which began late Friday night, ended with at least 11 Afghan soldiers dead, and a Taliban bombing in Helmand province killed at least one Afghan police officer.

Unsurprisingly, a new report from the United Nations finds that the first half of 2018 set new records for civilian deaths. The report shows that 1692 civilians were killed through June, the highest such figure recorded since the UN started tracking casualties in 2009. Overall civilian casualties dropped slightly from last year, however, as the number of civilians injured due to violent acts declined.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that his government will “deal with” Afghan security officers who were caught on tape recently brutalizing the bodyguards of a militia commander in Faryab province. The video caused protests to break out in Faryab and other predominantly Uzbek regions in northern Afghanistan on Sunday. In an effort to reduce tensions, Ghani also floated the possibility that exiled Vice President and Afghan Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum might be allowed to return to the country soon. Dostum is in Turkey now, dodging charges that he and his men kidnapped and badly tortured a political rival in late 2016.

In the weekend’s most interesting story, the Trump administration has reportedly told its diplomats in Afghanistan to open direct contact with the Taliban. For some time one of the main roadblocks to peace talks has been the Taliban’s insistence that it will only talk to the US, while US officials insist that only the government in Kabul can negotiate on behalf of Afghanistan. While it’s not clear exactly how far the administration’s shift goes, it now seems more open to the idea that the Taliban and the US should take the lead. Which reflects, of course, a realization that the situation in Afghanistan is not improving.


The Pakistani government is opening a criminal investigation into the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz party a mere ten days before the country’s general election. Former party leader Nawaz Sharif is already in jail over corruption charges but this investigation into the party itself this close to the election looks problematically like the Pakistani security establishment is trying to put its finger on the scales politically. Polling suggests a tight race between the PML-N and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement, and figures in the PML-N have been saying for weeks that the Pakistani military in particular favors Khan.


Naxalite Maoist rebels killed at least two Indian paramilitary soldiers in an ambush in Chhattisgarh state on Sunday.


Indonesian police killed three suspected Islamist militants in the city of Yogyakarta on Saturday. They’re alleged to have belonged to Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, a collective of ISIS-aligned Indonesian militant groups.


Positive top-line numbers in terms of China’s economic growth may be hiding some mounting challenges beneath them:

The Chinese government on Monday reported that the economy grew 6.7 percent in the three months that ended in June compared with a year ago. That is pretty close to the rate that China has reported quarter after quarter over the past two and a half years. The pace puts it comfortably within its target of achieving growth of around 6.5 percent for the full year.

Those figures belie warning signs elsewhere. More detailed data show weakening investment in infrastructure and a slowdown in spending by China’s usually ebullient consumers. Private Chinese businesses complain that government efforts to tame debt have made it hard for them to get money. A tiny but growing number of Chinese companies have defaulted on their debt. The currency has lost some of its value. Chinese stocks are in bear market territory.

It may just get tougher from here. The United States has started a trade war with China, and by this autumn it could widen the conflict by hitting another $200 billion in Chinese goods with tariffs. While the Chinese have made progress diversifying their economy, the country still relies heavily on making and exporting toys, clothes, car parts and other goods to the United States and elsewhere.


An apparently fruitful talk on Sunday between US and North Korean negotiators produced an agreement to, uh, continue talking about the repatriation of US war remains. The two sides will meet again on Monday to discuss technical details about resuming the search for US remains and for repatriating remains that have already been recovered.



Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed may be on his way out the door. President Beji Caid Essebsi told Tunisian television on Sunday that if the PM can’t get a handle on the country’s economic and political challenges then he should either resign or face a confidence vote in parliament. Chahed has run afoul of Essebsi’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is the leader of the ruling Nidaa Tounes party and might even harbor designs on Chahed’s job.


After apparently suspending the practice a few weeks ago in the wake of a harsh AP report, Algeria has reportedly resumed abandoning migrants in the middle of the Sahara, miles from any available water. The AP report said that Algerian authorities have abandoned some 13,000 people in the desert since May 2017, and since resuming the practice they’ve abandoned another 391.


Al Jazeera reports on a spate of attacks in Nigeria’s Zamfara state by a gang of armed gunmen that goes back to 2014. Residents are demanding that the government take action to deal with the gang:


Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki visited Addis Ababa this weekend to continue to advance peace talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopians on the whole seem to be pretty pleased with Abiy thus far:

Many Ethiopians expressed their exhilaration on social media. “The events of these past … days between Ethiopia and Eritrea are like the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only amplified 1,000 times,” Samson Haileyesus wrote on Facebook. The reaction in Eritrea has been equally ecstatic.

Analysts say such hyperbole may be justified. The bid for peace with Eritrea is just the latest in a series of efforts that may bring revolutionary reform to Africa’s second most populous nation, transform a region and send shockwaves from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope.

Since coming to power in April, Abiy has electrified Ethiopia with his informal style, charisma and energy, earning comparisons with Nelson Mandela, Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and Mikhail Gorbachev. He has reshuffled his cabinet, fired a series of controversial and hitherto untouchable civil servants, including the head of Ethiopia’s prison service, lifted bans on websites and other media, freed thousands of political prisoners, ordered the partial privatisation of massive state-owned companies, ended a state of emergency imposed to quell widespread unrest and removed three opposition groups from a list of “terrorist” organisations.


At Africa Is a Country, PEN Eritrea’s Abraham T. Zere writes that Eritreans are still processing Afwerki’s outreach to Ethiopia:

It has been a long time since Eritrea received any positive international coverage. At best, the country fed off visits by Eritrean-American celebrities in search of “home” or who represent aspects of Eritrean culture at public events. Like the the comedian Tiffany Haddish (her late father is Eritrean)  stole the show at the Oscars when she wore an Eritrean dress. Separately, Eritrean cyclist  Daniel Teklehaimanot made history in the Tour de France when he became the  first African to wear the “King of the Mountains” jersey. Otherwise, the country has been inextricably linked to tragedies (most notably having the dubious distinction of exporting the most African refugees from any country, the majority to Ethiopia).

He identifies three main categories Eritreans based on their reactions to the peace with Ethiopia: “the genuinely happy,” who are pleased to finally see an end to the conflict; “the sincerely concerned,” who are taking the cautious approach; and “the irrevocably unsettled,” who have thrived in Eritrea’s repressive wartime society and fear they will not be so successful if that society opens up as a result of these talks.

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