Asia/Africa update: November 12 2018



A suicide bomber killed at least six people on Monday outside a police checkpoint in Kabul. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Taliban is reportedly on the verge of overrunning the Jaghori district in Ghazni province, where its fighters have been engaged in days of violent fighting with Hazara militia fighters. On Sunday, the Taliban decimated a unit of about 50 elite Afghan special forces commandos who were sent to the district to assist the Hazara, killing more than 30 of them. It’s also killed at least 50 other combatants–police and Hazara paramilitaries–over the past day or so. Jaghori had been a relatively safe haven for the Hazara, who have been heavily targeted primarily by ISIS over the past couple of years. Many Hazara are outraged that the Afghan government hasn’t done more to protect them, and those feelings are only going to grow if Jaghori falls.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that his government is talking with the Pakistani government about offering asylum to Asia Bibi, the Christian woman whose 2010 blasphemy conviction was recently overturned by a Pakistani court and who now may be in danger of being murdered by Islamists. Whether Islamabad would be amenable to letting her go is an open question–Imran Khan’s government has already barred Bibi and her family from leaving the country as part of a deal with the powerful Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik.


“Most” of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who were supposed to be part of a first wave of returnees to Myanmar later this month appear to have fled to avoid repatriation. The United Nations says that conditions in Myanmar aren’t safe enough for repatriation and the Bangladeshi government says that repatriations will be purely voluntary, but clearly the Rohingya aren’t buying that. The UN is calling on Myanmar authorities to allow Rohingya to visit the camps they’ve set up for returnees in order to help them make an informed decision about going back.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies says it has uncovered 13 of North Korea’s estimated 20 undeclared missile bases, and that evidence shows Pyongyang has continued to make infrastructure improvements at those sites even as it’s dismantled its much higher profile Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and Sohae missile testing site. These bases are the facilities where North Korea stashes its missiles and mobile launchers until the time comes to use them, at which point it would disperse those launchers around the country to make them harder to target.

This revelation has produced a lot of overheated copy. The New York Times David Sanger and William Broad, who have never met an arms control negotiation that they weren’t thoroughly gleeful about undermining, called the discovery of the intact missile bases a “great deception.” Adam Taylor at the Washington Post suggests they “cast doubt” on US-North Korea diplomacy. It’s certainly evidence that North Korea isn’t disarming, and that there’s a long way to go before that could even become a possibility. But Kim Jong-un hasn’t broken any promises here. These facilities weren’t part of his summit agreements with either Moon Jae-in or Donald Trump. Pyongyang is under no obligation to dismantle them at this point. This is an important discovery, but it doesn’t mean North Korea has violated its obligations.



ATMs in Khartoum are running out of cash as the Sudanese pound has slid from 29/US dollar a month ago to over 47/US dollar now. Sudan’s economy has yet to recover from the loss of South Sudan, and particularly South Sudan’s oil, back in 2011, and US sanctions haven’t exactly helped either. Most of those sanctions have been lifted but the Sudanese government is trying to get itself removed from the State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors so that it can access international development aid.


Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and eastern Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar arrived in Italy on Monday ahead of a two-day conference about ending the Libyan civil war and establishing a stable national government. There was some concern that Haftar–who has been burnishing his support from Russia ahead of the summit and may be promising the Russians naval bases in Tobruk and/or Benghazi in return for their support–might skip the event, but he did finally show up Monday evening. UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame is pushing for a national election in June following a national conference early next year to iron out the details.


Alex Thurston has produced a new report on Mali that tries to grapple with the question of why the country’s politics have remained so stable even though the country has been violently coming apart at the seams for going on six years:

The West African nation of Mali has been in crisis since 2012. That year, a northern separatist rebellion led by members of the Tuareg ethnic group, set in motion a chain of events that reverberates to thepresent. The country’s challenges now include a fractious landscape of ethnically-tinged militias, a jihadist insurgency in the north, and widespread, multi-layered insecurity (including jihadism, banditry, and inter-communal violence) in the central regions of Mopti and Segou. These trends draw on larger histories of rebellion and conflict in Mali, especially since the 1990s.

This report addresses the following question: why, amid Mali’s crisis,does the political status quo persist, both in Bamako and in thecountry’s conflict zones? To answer this question, the paper examinestwo core factors – the politics that enable and drive violence, and the flaws that hamper existing frameworks for peace and stability.


Ethiopian prosecutors have brought charges against 36 members of the country’s security services and 26 officials at its Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC) on allegations of human rights violations and corruption. Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye says he has evidence that a grenade attack targeting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at a rally in June was orchestrated by security officials who arranged for Oromo dissidents to carry out the strike in the hopes that Abiy would be assassinated by his fellow Oromo. Beyond that, the security services have reportedly been brutally and systematically mistreating prisoners.


The UN Security Council will vote on Wednesday to lift the sanctions it imposed on Eritrea back in 2009 over alleged Eritrean support for militants in Somalia. The vote is expected to be unanimous in favor of lifting the sanctions as a reward for Eritrea’s recent diplomatic efforts to end long-standing conflicts with both Ethiopia and Djibouti.


Whoever kidnapped 82 people from a Presbyterian school in Bamenda earlier this month released their final four captives on Monday. They’d freed 78 captives last week. It’s still a mystery who perpetrated the kidnapping, with both the Cameroonian government and anglophone separatists accusing one another of responsibility.


Barely a day after DRC opposition parties all agreed to unite behind businessman Martin Fayulu ahead of next month’s presidential election, two opposition leaders, Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe, backed out of the agreement. Both say their supporters rejected Fayulu. Their move might improve the chances for Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor, to win the election.


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