Asia/Africa update: August 11-12 2018



The Afghan Taliban sent a delegation to Uzbekistan last week, ostensibly to talk about the Afghan peace process but probably more as a demonstration of its improving situation vis-a-vis the war and the legitimate Afghan government in Kabul. The Afghan government says that the Uzbek government had its permission to invite the Taliban representatives to Tashkent but it’s not really clear that the visit accomplished anything that Kabul would find helpful.


Fighting has continued to rage in Ghazni throughout the weekend, and word as to the city’s fortunes varies. Tracking the story has been difficult because the initial Taliban assault on Friday largely cut off Ghazni’s communications with the rest of Afghanistan, and the Taliban has apparently mined major roads leading into the city in an effort to cut off government reinforcements. Unconfirmed reports have the death toll in triple digits.

The Afghans and the US are both talking in terms of cleanup operations, which suggests that the heavy fighting is over and they’re trying to root out stragglers. But the BBC says it’s managed to speak to residents of the city who describe it as largely being under Taliban control, with the government only in control of a handful of official buildings. US and Afghan officials say that the remnants of the Taliban are hiding in heavily populated parts of the city, while an AFP reporter says that “Taliban fighters continued to roam the city, torching government offices and in control of several police checkpoints,” which doesn’t sound much like hiding to me.

If Afghanistan didn’t already have enough to deal with, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network says that the country may be on the verge of famine. Precipitation was lower than usual this winter and that’s led to a shortage of water for crops and a loss of livestock as pastures have dried up.


Three Pakistani police officers were killed in a shooting overnight Friday in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan administrative region. In a separate incident in Baluchistan province on Saturday, at least six people were wounded when a bus carrying Chinese engineers was caught in a suicide bombing. There haven’t been any further details on either attack as far as I can tell.


If you’re an Indonesian voter then the 2019 presidential ballot will seem pretty familiar to you. Incumbent Joko Widodo will be running against Prabowo Subianto, the same guy he beat in 2014. Polling has Joko well out in front, but he’s apparently concerned about attacks from hardline Islamist groups and so he’s chosen a conservative Islamic scholar named Maʿruf Amin as his running mate.


The Chinese government would like you to know, via its state-run Global Times newspaper, that its security policies in Xinjiang, where one million or more Uyghurs may currently be held in a “massive internment camp,” has prevented a “great tragedy.” Sure, some might call herding a million people into a gigantic open air prison a “great tragedy” in itself, but apparently not Beijing. No, the great tragedy would be if a few of that million had managed to carry out a terrorist attack and turn the region into another Syria or whatever. Rest assured that the very large camp, into which a lot of people have been concentrated not that I would want to evoke any analogies here or anything, represents merely a “phase” in Xinjiang’s governance and that eventually the province will “transition” to more normal arrangements, hopefully while there are still some Uyghurs left to enjoy that.


North Korean officials have reportedly detained a Japanese tourist on spying allegations, possibly for attempting to film part of his visit. This development threatens to complicate any efforts by Tokyo to improve its relations with Pyongyang in order to keep up with South Korea and the United States.


North and South Korean officials will meet for “high level” talks on Monday with the intent of organizing a summit between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, perhaps as soon as later this month.


Speaking of Japan and the United States, an estimated 70,000 people turned out on Okinawa on Saturday to protest the planned relocation of a US Marine Corps base to a different part of the island. Activists who oppose the move say that it will be an environmental disaster and argue that what people on the island really want is for the United States to leave altogether.



At this point I suspect I’m going to post this before I hear anything about the results of Mali’s Sunday presidential runoff between incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and challenger Soumaïla Cissé, so let’s just acknowledge for now that it happened, that turnout was reportedly low (maybe extremely low), that many polling places said they were attacked by militants, and that at least one elections worker was killed. Keïta is likely to win but there will be complaints about the outcome either way.


A roadside bomb presumably planted by Islamist militants struck a vehicle in eastern Burkina Faso on Saturday night, killing five police officers and one civilian.


Nigerian soldiers staged a four hour protest at the airport in Maiduguri on Sunday evening that apparently involved a lot of gunfire in the air. The soldiers are angry that they’re being deployed to the Marte region of Borno state, where Boko Haram activity has been high recently. They believe the Nigerian government is unfairly extending their deployment beyond the three years they were promised when they signed up.


The Ethiopian rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front, whose goal is independence for the country’s Somali Region, declared a unilateral ceasefire on Sunday. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed removed the ONLF from a government list of banned organizations after he came to power in April, and though the Somali Region continues to be restive and occasionally violent, the group says it wants to take advantage of the opportunity to try to negotiate a settlement to the conflict it’s been waging against the Ethiopian government since the 1980s.

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