Asia/Africa update: January 29 2019



With the US and Taliban circling a peace accord, Afghans are starting to wonder what’s in store should the militant group regain some degree of legitimate political authority:

Haroun Mir, an analyst in Kabul, said Afghans are anxiously waiting for the insurgents to clarify their demands in the next round of talks, especially their willingness to talk to a broad array of Afghan leaders but not to the Ghani government directly. 

“We don’t have any insight into their plan for a future form of government, the amendment of the constitution, and the rights of minorities and women,” Mir said. “The most worrisome question is who could guarantee the implementation of potential accords, especially after the American military withdrawal. But we have to accommodate the Taliban and make large concessions, because they are winning.”

But Raihana Azad, an outspoken member of parliament from the minority ethnic Hazara community, said she has no trust in the Taliban and believes the group would like to regain the power it once had.

“They are very dangerous, and they are playing a double game,” she said. “A lot of blood has been shed in this war, and we should not be rushing to make peace with them.”


Gunmen attacked a police station in Baluchistan province on Tuesday, killing at least nine people and wounding 21 others. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld Asia Bibi’s acquittal on blasphemy charges. The court overturned her 2010 conviction and death sentence in November but Pakistani authorities had promised angry Islamist groups that it would appeal the decision. Now that it has, and lost, it is imperative that Bibi be taken out of the country as soon as possible. She’s being kept in protective custody now but those same Islamist groups have repeatedly threatened to kill her.


Myanmar’s parliament has voted to form a committee to amend the country’s constitution, a step opposed by its still-powerful military since it aims to reduce that power. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy made reducing the military’s role in government one of its main pledges during the country’s 2015 election, but it’s done virtually nothing in that regard and now with an election due next year the NLD is scrambling to make it look like it’s doing something.


An unknown attacker threw a grenade into a mosque on the Zamboanga peninsula on Tuesday, killing at least two people. The attack could be a response to this weekend’s bombing at a church in nearby Sulu province in which 21 people were killed.


For all of its big environmental promises, China is still extracting and burning far more coal than human civilization can bear:

China, the world’s coal juggernaut, has continued to produce more methane emissions from its coal mines despite its pledge to curb the planet-warming pollutant, according to new research.

In a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, researchers concluded that China had failed to meet its own government regulations requiring coal mines to rapidly reduce methane emissions, at least in the five years after 2010, when the regulations were passed.

It matters because coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, and China is, by far, the largest producer in the world.



Sudanese authorities have ordered the release of all protesters detained since widespread demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir began over a month ago. That’s over 1000 people, so no small thing by any means. Protests continued Tuesday in the cities of Khartoum, Omdurman, and Port Sudan.


The head of Libya’s National Oil Company, Mustafa Sanalla, is calling for the creation of a specialized military unit whose job is to secure the country’s oil facilities. Libya’s oil fields and export facilities have been a frequent target for combatant militias taking advantage of the country’s near-total lack of a functioning government. How that unit would be organized is anybody’s guess. The soldiers would probably have to come from Khalifa Haftar’s so-called “Libyan National Army,” but the funding and political oversight would ideally come from the internationally recognized Tripoli government, which Haftar opposes.


The United Nations expects to hold new talks on the status of Western Sahara in March, according to its Western Sahara envoy, Horst Koehler. The UN organized talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front last month for the first time since 2012, but with Polisario demanding a referendum on independence and Morocco offering nothing more than autonomy, there’s quite a ways to go before they can settle this decades-long conflict.


It looks increasingly as though, instead of trying to pursue a controversial third term for himself, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is instead looking to see his defense minister, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, succeed him. Alex Thurston has some thoughts on what that would mean:

I would add that an Ould Ghazouani presidency would represent continuity not just with the administration of Ould Abdel Aziz, but with trends in Mauritanian politics dating back to the beginning of military rule in Mauritania in 1978. At that time, of course, Ould Abdel Aziz and Ould Ghazouani were just starting their careers, and they reportedly met in 1980 at the military training academy in Meknes, Morocco. Their rise through the ranks coincided with the reign of military dictator Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed al-Taya (1984-2005); ironically, however, they (and the late Ely Vall) became the key movers in overthrowing Ould al-Taya in order to preserve the system while shedding its increasingly erratic top man. They then staged another coup in 2008, following a short-lived experiment with a civilian president, and installed Ould Abdel Aziz. He then removed his uniform and ran as a civilian in 2009, and again in 2014, which brings us more or less up to the present. Ould Ghazouani has been a key figure in all these events, and it was Ould Ghazouani who acted as de facto president in 2012 while Ould Abdel Aziz was recuperating after being shot.


Some 30,000 Nigerians from the Rann region fled across the border in to Cameroon over the weekend due to fears of another Boko Haram attack on their city. Cameroon had sent forces into Nigeria to help secure Rann, as part of its participation in the multi-national task force combating Boko Haram, but then withdrew those forces. The overextended Nigerian military then pulled its forces out of Rann, causing the exodus. Sure enough, Boko Haram did reenter the city on Monday, doing some damage before pulling out again.


Two people were killed in what appears to have been a car bombing near a gas station on Mogadishu on Tuesday. Presumably al-Shabab was responsible.


Cameroonian authorities arrested opposition leader Maurice Kamto on Tuesday. Kamto continues to claim that he won last October’s presidential election, even though official results had President Paul Biya winning reelection. It’s unclear why they suddenly decided to arrest Kamto now, though he and his Cameroon Renaissance Movement have been leading semi-regular protests since the election.


The United Nations says that a CAR militia called “Union for Peace” attacked a funeral service in the town of Ippy on Friday, killing 18 people and wounding 23 more.

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