Asia/Africa update: July 20 2018



Over the past two days the Taliban has attacked two police checkpoints–one in Ghazni province and the other in Zabul province–killing 12 Afghan police officers. The group tells the AP that it’s working to minimize civilian casualties as a concession toward possible peace talks, but it hasn’t received any indication that the US is prepared to open direct talks and it still refuses to deal with Kabul. Meanwhile, thousands of civilians have been displaced by recent fighting between the Taliban and ISIS in Jawzjan province. Provincial authorities say that at least 300 people have been killed in the fighting, mostly combatants on both sides.

Exiled Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is about to return to Afghanistan. Dostum’s supporters expect him back in the country by Monday under an arrangement he’s negotiated with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Dostum’s return could calm tensions among the Uzbek population in northern Afghanistan, which has been protesting since the arrest of a warlord and Dostum ally in Faryab province earlier this month.

Russia is once again inserting itself into the Afghan peace process, promising to bring Taliban leaders to Moscow for talks by the end of the summer. Analyst Samuel Ramani argues that the Kremlin wants to demonstrate its value as a go-between for the Taliban with Kabul and with the United States, as well as to show that its Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be play a peacemaking role in Eurasia.

The Middle East Institute’s Ahmad Majidyar explains the current tensions between Iran and Afghanistan over water:

Tehran has strongly objected to a recent Afghan government plan to build dams near the Iranian border. The Afghan government says it is adhering to a water sharing agreement signed between the two countries in the 1970s but stress that the construction of dams is necessary to manage the country’s depleting waters more effectively and help its struggling farmers.

According to the Afghan government, the country’s agricultural output has declined by 45 percent this year, mainly due to increasing water shortage. In a lengthy interview with Iran’s Islamic Students News Agency (ISNA), Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Tehran, Nasir Ahmad Noor, highlighted that Afghanistan has suffered a 60 percent decline in rainfall. He added that Tehran and Kabul have reached an understanding on the broad parameters of water sharing arrangement. But a war of words continue over the issue between officials of the two countries.


At least six people were wounded by a roadside bomb in Baluchistan province on Friday. It’s unclear who was behind it.

In an ominous sign ahead of Pakistan’s general election on July 25, authorities have given the Pakistani military judicial authority to hear cases regarding violations of election law at polling places and to render judgments on the spot. Some 371,000 Pakistani soldiers are being deployed to polling stations across the country, ostensibly for “security” though there are concerns they could involve themselves in the voting process–the Pakistani military and the currently ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz party don’t get along very well. Providing electoral security is a role the Pakistani military has served in the past, but this judicial authority is a brand new wrinkle that will involve the military more intimately in what should be a civilian process.


Malaysian authorities have undertaken an extensive effort to crack down against ISIS after a suspected member the terrorist group allegedly made online threats against Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Sultan Muhammad V. Other suspected ISIS members in Malaysia have been threatening to carry out bombing attacks across southeast Asia.


The United States is urging the United Nations to maintain sanctions against North Korea in place until Pyongyang takes action on the “promise to denuclearize” that Kim Jong-un supposedly made to Donald Trump at last month’s summit. The US claims that North Korea is evading sanctions by engaging in ship-to-ship oil transfers at sea and Russia and China have put a hold on a US call for tightened sanctions enforcement.

Pyongyang is threatening to upend a planned family reunification event next month after a series of articles appeared in its state media accusing South Korea of taking too much credit for the Trump-Kim summit. The North Koreans also apparently want South Korea to repatriate a group of restaurant workers who defected in 2016. It claims they were enticed to defect by Seoul and had not intended to do so on their own.



Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was in Sudan this week to meet with President Omar al-Bashir, and the two leaders apparently agreed that their two countries should get along with one another. Egypt and Sudan are at odds over a border dispute and because Sudan has taken Ethiopia’s side in the debate over the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Nile River water flows. Whether Sisi and Bashir can translate their nice talk into actual improved relations very much remains to be seen.


The Ivorian government looks to be on the verge of collapse due to tensions between President Alassane Ouattara’s RDR party and its coalition partner, the PDCI. The PDCI is resisting pressure from Ouatarra to field a joint presidential candidate in the 2020 election and says that Ouatarra dismissed 10 of its members from his cabinet in a recent reshuffle. Former President Henri Konan Bedie, a PDCI member, has called on the party to boycott Ouattara’s new cabinet.


Al-Shabab has captured the town of Af Urur, in Puntland. It’s a small town but control over it offers al-Shabab access to the main highway that runs between Mogadishu and the Puntland regional capital, Garowe. Authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland say they will retake the town.

Puntland is only semi-autonomous, unlike the outright breakaway region of Somaliland. The Guardian has published an excerpt from Joshua Keating’s new book, Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood, in which he describes his own experiences in a place that acts like an independent state but can’t get anyone to recognize it as such:

When you are in Somaliland, there is never any question that you are in a real country. After all, the place has all the trappings of countryhood. When I arrived at the airport, a customs officer in a Somaliland uniform checked my Somaliland visa, issued by the Somaliland consulate in Washington DC. At the airport, there was a Somaliland flag. During my visit, I paid Somaliland shillings to drivers of cabs with Somaliland plates who took me to the offices of ministers of the Somaliland government.

But, according to the US Department of State, the United Nations, the African Union and every other government on Earth, I was not in Somaliland, a poor but stable and mostly functional country on the Horn of Africa. I was in Somalia.

Even among unrecognised states, Somaliland is a special case – it is both completely independent and politically entirely isolated. Unlike South Sudan before its independence, Somaliland’s claim for statehood is based not on a redrawing of colonial borders, but an attempt to re-establish them. Unlike Taiwan, it is shackled not to a richer, more powerful country, but a poorer, weaker one. Unlike Palestine, its quest for independence is not a popular cause for activists around the world.


Surprising new polling has Zimbabwe’s July 30 general election much closer than I think anybody would have expected. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the support of 40 percent of voters against 37 percent for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. What’s surprising about this is that Chamisa, a somewhat last minute replacement for deceased opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai, is still struggling to boost his name recognition. But it’s a sign that Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF aren’t as strong as expected heading into what Mnangagwa has at least promised will be a completely free and fair election.

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