Asia/Africa update: August 4-5 2018



Taliban fighters reportedly killed at least 42 Afghan soldiers on Sunday in an attack in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan. Also on Sunday, a Taliban suicide bomber killed three NATO soldiers in an attack believed to have taken place in Parwan province, near the Bagram airbase that is the primary US base in Afghanistan. The latter attack is part of a string of attacks in eastern Afghanistan this year, mostly by ISIS (like Friday’s bombing in Paktia province) as that group has changed tactics. As in other places where it’s suffered major battlefield losses, ISIS is reverting to a more purely terrorist organization. And as its fortunes have particularly taken a turn for the worse in northern Afghanistan, it’s focusing most of its efforts in eastern Afghanistan.

You may recall that just a couple of days ago some 250 ISIS fighters–including the group’s northern Afghanistan commanders, who go by the names Maulavi Habib ul-Rahman and Mufti Nemat–surrendered to the Afghan government in Jowzjan province after having been battered by both the government and the Taliban. Now it appears they’re being feted by Afghan officials, kept in nice accommodations and promised protection as though they’d voluntarily switched sides rather than having surrendered to avoid capture by the Taliban. They claim that the Afghan government has promised not to punish them for their actions. Afghan officials deny those claims, but so far their treatment is raising eyebrows, especially among the people of northern Afghanistan who have been terrorized by these guys for the past couple of years.

Hamza bin Laden, Osama’s son, has reportedly wed the daughter of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. Good for those two kids. To be honest I’m mentioning this under “Afghanistan” because really it’s the likeliest place for Hamza to be right now, but nobody really has any information as to his whereabouts. He’s considered the heir apparent to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri but it’s not clear how much of his reputation is genuinely earned versus al-Qaeda propaganda.


Imran Khan’s first and biggest priority as Pakistani prime minister is going to be fixing the economy:

The country’s current account deficit, a broad measure of the imbalance between imports and exports, has soared to an alarming $18 billion. Foreign currency reserves would cover less than two months of imports.

The Pakistani rupee is shaky, tax collection is scandalously low (last year, in a country of 200 million, fewer than a million people paid any taxes) and Pakistan was recently returned to an international “gray list” for failing to curb terrorism financing, making foreign transactions more complicated and expensive.

So what’s a new prime minister to do?

In Khan’s case it’s not clear. Chinese loans have been paying for a lot of Pakistani infrastructure projects, but the country is probably looking at an International Monetary Fund bailout over its debt and weak currency. Khan likely will have to convince the US government that IMF funds aren’t going to go toward paying Islamabad’s debt to Beijing before any bailout will be approved. And if the bailout is approved, Khan can say hello to IMF-mandated austerity, which has wrecked plenty of economies and dashed myriad political hopes all around the world over the past several years.


Indian security forces fired upon a funeral procession in the town of Shopian on Saturday, killing at least one person and wounding two others. The funeral was for a Kahsmiri separatist who was one of five rebels killed by Indian forces in gun battle in a nearby village that stretched from late Friday night to early Saturday morning. Two more rebels and one Indian soldier were killed elsewhere in Kashmir on Friday.


Tens of thousands of students have been protesting in Dhaka for eight straight days over the issue of road safety. The demonstrations turned violent over the weekend and government forces began using tear gas and rubber bullets against the crowds:


There are some signs lately that the bloom might be coming off of Xi Jinping’s rose:

Rumours have swirled in Beijing in recent weeks that China’s seemingly invincible leader, Xi Jinping, is in trouble, dogged by a protracted trade war with the US, a slowing economy and a public health scandal involving thousands of defective vaccines given to children.

Xi’s name seemed to have disappeared for a while from the cover of the People’s Daily, replaced with articles about his deputy, Li Keqiang, and large portraits of him were said to have been taken down after a young woman filmed herself throwing ink at his image.

On 13 July, online reports claimed there was gunfire in central Beijing as a coup unfolded. A cryptic slogan emerged online: “No. 1 will rest while Ocean takes over the military,” a reference to a rival politician taking power.

For now, Xi remains in full control of the government and party, and mentions of him in state-run media are as frequent as ever, but the hearsay is a sign all is not right with China’s most powerful leader in decades.


A new United Nations report argues that North Korea is continuing work on its nuclear and missile programs while also trying to evade UN sanctions, despite the vague denuclearization promises that Kim Jong-un has made to Donald Trump and to South Korean President Moon Jae-in in recent months. On Saturday at an ASEAN forum in Singapore, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho argued that the US hasn’t been holding up its promises. Ri complained that the US hasn’t eased sanctions or been willing to talk about a permanent peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, but has instead complained ever more loudly about North Korea’s behavior. Pyongyang wants a staged process whereby its moves toward denuclearization are met with corresponding US moves to reduce tensions, but the US wants full denuclearization (by which it means disarmament, which isn’t how North Korea defines “denuclearization”) before it will agree to drop sanctions.

Heo Kang-il, a North Korean national who managed a restaurant in China and defected to South Korea along with 12 waitresses in 2016, now says he was coerced and misled by South Korean officials into defecting and that the waitresses didn’t even know they were defecting until they arrived in South Korea. The mass defection was a PR coup for South Korea at the time but now looks more like a kidnapping than a defection, and this actually lends credibility to North Korea’s longstanding claim that the group did not defect voluntarily.



South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed an agreement to end that country’s civil war in Khartoum on Sunday. Time will tell if this agreement holds where many others have failed.


Ethiopian soldiers seized control of the city of Jigjiga in the country’s Somali region on Friday due to a dispute between the local government and Addis Ababa. That triggered a violent uprising in the city on Saturday as a mob damaged buildings and targeted non-Somalis for violent attack.


A car bombing killed at least three people in Mogadishu on Sunday. That came after a suicide bomber killed three Somali soldiers in the town of Afgooye, a short distance northwest of the Somali capital, and after Somali soldiers killed two suspected al-Shabab fighters at a checkpoint in Mogadishu.


There are now 13 confirmed cases in the DRC’s latest ebola outbreak, which has so far been localized to the country’s North Kivu province. There are serious concerns that the outbreak could spread given that North Kivu is an unstable region with little central government control and that it’s close to the Uganda border.


While newly reelected Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa talks about freedom and national unity, his army is hunting down supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party in Harare. It’s not necessarily that Mnangagwa is a hypocrite, and in fact the more chilling possibility is that he doesn’t have any control over said army. It was the army that put him in power, after all, by overthrowing former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe in a coup last year. And Mnangagwa did make former Zimbabwean army commander Constantino Chiwenga his very powerful vice president/defense minister after that coup. So there’s reason to fear that even if he gave the order for the army to knock it off, the army could just ignore him.

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