Asia/Africa update: July 27 2018



Georgian plutocrat Bidzina Ivanishvili gave what must have been a fascinating interview to Georgia’s Channel One earlier this week in which he likened his role as the country’s de facto dictator to something akin to that of a newspaper’s ombudsman:

Ivanishvili, who is widely seen as a behind-the-scenes puppetmaster of Georgian politics, was disarmingly honest in the interview about the influence that he has maintained over the government and the ruling Georgia Dream party since stepping down as prime minister in 2013. He expounded on how he has participated in key government decisions, such as selecting the new prime minister and searching for a candidate for new president, but denied that all that amounted to being the shadow ruler of Georgia.

“They are confusing informal governance with public oversight,” Ivanishvili told Channel 1. “The public put a degree of trust in me and I can use this trust at any moment and criticize any leader. […]We don’t have an extensive experience of public oversight of the government and I’m there to fill that gap.”

Ivanishvili is currently auditioning presidential candidates for the Georgian Dream party he runs, though he said in the interview that he would prefer a “non-partisan” president or even one from another party. The Georgian presidency is a mostly powerless office. He asked the public to let him continue to steer the country on his own until 2030, when he promises everything will be great.


At last count, with only five districts yet declared, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has won at least 116 seats in Pakistan’s next parliament. That’s 21 seats shy of a majority, which means Khan will need to form a coalition to govern, but it’s not an insurmountable number by any means. It’s small enough that he can, if he wants, negotiate with small parties and independents instead of with a large opposition party that might be more inclined to impose its will on a coalition. Despite its complaints that the election was rigged, the former ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, conceded on Friday and said it will participate in the forthcoming parliament.

Those complaints, by the way, have been echoed by international observers. The European Union team that monitored the election said on Friday that the campaign featured “a lack of equality and opportunity” as the powerful Pakistani security establishment seemed to put its finger on the scale in Khan’s favor. The US State Department has also expressed some concerns with how the campaign was conducted.

So Khan looks like he’ll be the guy. He’ll come into office as a popular figure but one who couldn’t pull his party to an outright majority and who now has to answer questions about the degree to which the military engineered his victory. He is wielding a populist economic and anti-corruption message that obviously played fairly well during the campaign. But Pakistan’s economic challenges are great–in particular, the rupee is collapsing and a painful International Monetary Fund bailout may be unavoidable. Khan’s economic populism and big spending plans (on infrastructure that Pakistan desperately needs, I might add) will run smack into the IMF’s austerity fetish if that comes to pass. Khan has said he could pursue a bailout from Beijing rather than the IMF, but increasing Pakistan’s dependence on China carries its own risks.

Khan also now has to deal with the US, a country he’s heavily criticized in the past and that wants Pakistan to cut its support for the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani military, which got Khan elected and can presumably get him unelected someday if it wants, doesn’t really want to cut its support for the Afghan Taliban, so Khan will have to find a way to split that difference.


Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday raised the possibility of US military teams deploying to North Korea to search for the remains of US soldiers still missing in action from the Korean War. The Pentagon has done that sort of work in the past, but not since 2005 as relations with Pyongyang took a sharp turn downward.

At 38 North, the Carnegie Endowment’s Richard Sokolsky offers a “road map for demilitarizing North Korea”–including its conventional forces in addition to its nuclear forces–that links US-South Korean concessions to specific steps that would be taken by Pyongyang:

Denuclearization is at the top of the negotiating agenda with North Korea, but reducing the size and capabilities of its conventional defense establishment should be a high priority for the US and South Korea as well. Success in accomplishing this goal will help normalize relations with the North, which will not only help build a new peace and security regime for the Korean Peninsula, but also improve prospects for denuclearization. The core of such a demilitarization program should consist of reductions in North Korea’s conventional military capabilities, confidence building measures to reduce the risk of surprise attack or an inadvertent conflict, multilateral cooperative threat reduction programs, and assistance for defense conversion and military demobilization. Changes in the US military posture in South Korea—if implemented in a prudent manner—are compatible with this initiative and could even contribute toward its success.



Citing a lack of evidence, Tunisian authorities have released a man named Sami Aidoudi, who is suspected of having at one time been Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. Aidoudi had been in German custody but Berlin deported him to Tunisia despite concerns that his human rights might be violated there. Instead he’s going free. Aidoudi has denied serving as bin Laden’s bodyguard and it should be noted that the accusation was leveled against him by right-wing anti-immigrant German politicians after he sought asylum in that country.


An attack by Dozo hunters on a Fulani village outside the central Malian town of Djenne on Friday left at least 18 people dead. The Dozo are a predominantly Mandé hunting society, not really an ethnicity per se but more of a club, and they and farmers frequently clash with Fulani herders in central Mali. The ongoing tension in central Mali is feeding jihadi groups in the region who recruit among angry Fulani. It is a major issue as Malian voters decide whether to support President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta or challenger Soumaïla Cissé in Sunday’s election:

Ironically, the instability and violence may help Keïta’s reelection chances if it discourages people from taking the physical risk to go out and vote. There are anecdotal reports that some polling stations may not even open on Sunday because the risk is so high.


The Nigerian government has appointed a new commander, Major General A.M. Dikko, to lead its fight against Boko Haram. He’s the fourth person tabbed for that job in the past 14 months, which is a little wild considering that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated” back in, uh, 2015.

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