Asia/Africa update: September 10 2018


Almost 17 years later, LA Times correspondent Nabih Boulos argues that al-Qaeda’s adaptations may have brought it to a stronger position today than the one it was in prior to the 9/11 attacks:

What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence. Estimates say it may have more than 20,000 militants in Syria and Yemen alone. It boasts affiliates across North Africa, the Levant and parts of Asia, and it remains strong around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It has also changed tactics. Instead of the headline-grabbing terrorist attacks, brutal public executions and slick propaganda used by Islamic State (Al Qaeda’s onetime affiliate and now rival), Al Qaeda now practices a softer approach, embedding itself and gaining the support of Sunni Muslims inside war-torn countries.



Multiple Taliban attacks across Afghanistan killed at least 57 Afghan security forces on Monday. Around 20 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed in six Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Kunduz province, while 14 were killed in an attack in Samangan province, 17 in Sar-i-Pul province, and another seven in Jowzjan province. In that Jowzjan attack, the Taliban reportedly took control of the Khamab district.


Imran Khan’s top commerce adviser, Abdul Razak Dawood, said on Monday that all $57 billion worth of China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects could be suspended pending review by Khan’s new government. In particular he questioned tax breaks that Chinese firms have received under CPEC. It’s rare for a senior Pakistani official to criticize the Pakistan-China relationship like this, and Dawood later said he’d been “misconstrued.”


According to the New York Times, the Chinese government and its citizens are beginning to get a little nervous about inflation:

Pork is up. Vegetables are up. Gasoline is up. Even the official numbers, usually tame, are up.

Prices are rising in China — and that could complicate Beijing’s efforts to prop up a slowing economy and navigate President Trump’s trade war.

Chinese officials said Monday that an index of consumer prices rose in August for the third consecutive month. The increases are not particularly sharp, and Chinese economists point to a number of temporary factors pushing up prices, like floods that have damaged crops and a swine flu epidemic that led farmers to cull pigs.

Still, investors and the Chinese public alike are casting a wary eye on prices.


Donald Trump is reportedly planning a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un even as I type this sentence. On Monday, Trump apparently received what was, in Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ words, a “very warm, very positive” letter from Kim asking for another face-to-face meeting. So that’s something. It is at the very least better than the alternative. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is supposed to visit Pyongyang next week so now he and Kim will have something else to talk about.

While the fact that half of this process is in Donald Trump’s hands continues to be terrifying, the fact remains that it is a process. Whatever the end goal looks like–a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, a limited North Korean nuclear program, everybody deciding to work together to nuke Antarctica, etc.–it’s only going to come after the US and North Korea build up some trust, and that’s going to take a while:

Though the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is an important long-term objective, Washington’s focus on that issue puts the cart before the horse. Avoiding military conflict is the paramount objective for the United States and the region. Moreover, North Korean nuclear proliferation is a consequence of its precarious geography (surrounded as it is by major powers with a history of bloody conflict) and the antagonism and mistrust that has persisted on the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War. Like the U.S. arsenal, the primary purpose of North Korea’s nuclear weapons is deterrence. In that sense, North Korean nuclear proliferation is a symptom of a larger problem. Rather than simply striving to compel the DPRK to relinquish its nuclear weapons, Washington should endeavor to alleviate the suspicion that has convinced Pyongyang that its survival depends upon such terrible weapons. Even though U.S. conventional and nuclear dominance is sufficient to deter North Korean aggression, it would certainly be preferable to establish a relationship in which deterrence is unnecessary.

Overcoming decades of mistrust will necessarily depend primarily upon the governments in Pyongyang and Seoul. Although that relationship has largely been overshadowed in the United States by the Trump administration’s interactions with North Korea, the fact that the North and South have recently undertaken a number of socioeconomic confidence-building measures is vital.


As expected, the Japanese government proposed bringing back commercial whaling on Monday at the International Whaling Commission conference in Brazil, and–also as expected–it didn’t go over very well. Japan, which still does commercial whaling anyway while dubiously labeling it “scientific research,” is arguing that some whale stocks have rebounded to levels where sustainable commercial whaling is possible. Opponents counter that, well, human beings don’t ever do anything sustainably and we know historically that whaling is no different.



Two people were killed on Monday in an attack on Libya’s National Oil Corporation offices in Tripoli. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but Libyan officials pointed the finger at ISIS.


Alex Thurston examines the patterns of violence that attended Mali’s two-round presidential election earlier this year:

Islamist militants did not stage large-scale attacks in the capital or other major cities on the two voting days. There were, however, many suspected Islamist militant attacks where gunmen shut down polling places and stole or destroyed materials. These incidents were concentrated in areas like central Mali, where Islamist militants have long sought to chase out political elites. Such attacks entrenched Islamist militant influence, rather than extending it geographically. And Islamist militants seemed to do little to disrupt the vote in the far north, another Islamist militant stronghold.

Mopti, the central region that has emerged as a “Wild West” since 2015, had the highest concentration of polling office closures. After the first round of voting on July 29, authorities released a list of 871 polling offices where voters could not cast ballots “for various reasons.” More than 700 of these were in Mopti.

After the Aug. 12 voting round, authorities again listed polling offices that had been closed. Out of 493 offices, 444 were in Mopti. In the far northern region of Kidal, in contrast, Islamist militants pursued sporadic and low-casualty efforts, such as firing mortar shells at a polling office. Authorities reported not a single closure in Kidal.


Djibouti’s government announced on Monday that it has nationalized a majority of the shares in its Doraleh container port in order to protect its interests. Djibouti is mired in an ongoing dispute with the Dubai-based port operator DP World over the facility–the Djibouti government took over management of the port from DP World earlier this year, but the company has taken its case before the London Court of International Arbitration.


A car bombing in Mogadishu on Monday killed at least six people. No group has claimed credit for the blast but obviously al-Shabab is the prime suspect.

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