Asia/Africa update: November 5-6 2018



Unless you’re rooting for the Taliban, it has not been a good couple of days in Afghanistan:

In perhaps the most severe blow, insurgents captured battalion headquarters of the Afghan Border Force in Farah Province, in western Afghanistan, killing or taking prisoner nearly the entire contingent of officers, with as many as 20 dead. In Kandahar Province, in the south, three separate attacks killed a total of 17 police officers. And in Ghazni, a central province, a joint military and police outpost fell only two days after it had been set up, with all 16 security officials there killed or wounded.

The attack on the headquarters in Farah, close to the Iranian border, destroyed the first battalion’s base in the district of Poshti Koh. Sgt. Gholam Mohammad, the senior noncommissioned officer, said from a clinic where he had been taken with a minor head wound that, in addition to the 20 border force officers killed, 25 had been taken captive by the Taliban. Three others escaped.

Despite the recent spate of “insider” attacks in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, visiting Kabul, says that NATO is committed to its Afghan mission. The risk of insider violence has increased since the killing of former Kandahar warlord Abdul Raziq on October 18, because the usual Taliban-organized insider attacks are being supplemented with attacks by angry Afghan security forces who believe the US arranged Abdul Raziq’s death.

While we’re on the subject of violence, the United Nations released a report on election violence in Afghanistan on Tuesday. The UN found that 52 Afghan civilians were killed and 339 wounded during the October 20 election. From the start of the campaign in April, the UN counted 156 killed and 340 wounded in “election-related security incidents.”

This comes as no surprise to anybody who’s been paying attention, but The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the consensus among military analysts at this point seems to be that the Taliban is stronger than it’s been at any time since the US invaded Afghanistan back in the Late Bronze Age. It’s so secure in the parts of the country it controls firmly that it’s starting to act like a government again, with professional bureaucracies and everything. This is going to both complicate potential peace talks, with the Afghan government unwilling to negotiate from such a position of weakness, and simplify them, with the Taliban eager to capitalize on their position and the US maybe itching to get the hell out of Dodge.


The Italian government may be about to offer asylum to Asia Bibi and her husband. Bibi is the Christian woman who was sentenced to death in a Pakistani court back in 2009 on a blasphemy charge only to have her conviction overturned last week. The Pakistani government is currently barring her from leaving the country under a deal it reached with the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik to end days of nationwide protests over her acquittal. She and her husband are now likely in mortal danger. The German government is also considering an offer of asylum, but in either case it’s unclear how Bibi and her husband would get out of Pakistan.


An estimated 120,000 people (at least–some reports put the number closer to 200,000) people protested in Colombo on Monday in support of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and his new Prime Minister (?) Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena sacked (?) former Prime Minister (?) Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26, but Wickremesinghe has insisted that his dismissal was unlawful. Sirisena, who suspended parliament just a day after canning (?) Wickremesinghe, will reconvene parliament on November 14 to allow legislators to determine which is the legitimate PM.



The South Sudanese government is barely managing to sustain the peace deal that’s supposed to be ending its own civil war, but on Monday it’s hosting the government of Sudan and the constellation of Sudanese rebel groups for peace talks in Juba. The Sudanese government has agreed to allow South Sudan to mediate its conflict with rebels in its South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, both of which are along the South Sudan border, but apparently rebel groups from the Darfur region will also be attending the event. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir have their own mutual mediation society going now, each helping the other try to tamp down conflict with their respective rebel opposition.


Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed shook up his cabinet a bit on Monday, appointing 13 new ministers but leaving his most important ministers in place. Chahed is mired in a conflict with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and his son, Nidaa Tounes party secretary Hafez Caid Essebsi. The elder Essebsi rejected the cabinet moves, but he doesn’t really have the authority to block them. Parliament could vote against the new appointments but Chahed’s position in parliament is more secure in parliament than it is in his own party. Several members of Chahed’s cabinet–many of whose loyalties like more with Essebsi than with Chahed–are caught in the middle here.


Somebody has kidnapped 79 students and three employees from a school in Bamenda, capital of Cameroon’s restive North-West region. I’d like to be more specific here, but both anglophone separatists and the Cameroonian government have accused one another of perpetrating the kidnapping, and if it was separatists then there’s been no indication about which specific separatist group was behind it. Cameroonian President Paul Biya has called on separatists to stop fighting in the wake of the kidnapping.

The kidnappers have released a video of the children, who are all between the ages of 10 and 14 and were taken from Bamenda’s Presbyterian Secondary School. At least one church official who’s been in contact with the kidnappers has said they don’t want ransom–what they want is for schools in the region to be shut down. This is a common demand of anglophone rebels, who oppose the teaching of French in schools in the English-speaking part of the country. However, evidence from the video suggests that the kidnappers are French-speaking, which would suggest they’re government supporters doing some sort of false flag operation. The school apparently hasn’t released the names of the students who were kidnapped so many parents don’t know whether or not their children are OK.


Voters in Madagascar will elect a new president on Wednesday from among the 36 (!) candidates on the ballot. Of those, only three are expected to have a shot at winning and they’re all former presidents: Marc Ravalomanana, Andry Rajoelina, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina (who is functionally the incumbent but technically resigned in September in order to run again).


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