Asia/Oceania/Africa update: February 16-17 2019



A roadside bomb in Kandahar province killed three Afghan civilians on Sunday. Presumably the Taliban was responsible. On Friday, the Taliban attacked an Afghan border outpost in Kandahar and killed all 32 border guards posted there. So far it appears that one Taliban fighter–the one who drove the truck bomb that was used to breach the base–was killed.


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman just arrived in Pakistan on Sunday and already his visit is paying off for Islamabad. MBS, kicking off an Asia tour that he’s hoping will help rehabilitate his image after the Jamal Khashoggi murder, promised some $20 billion in new investments in Pakistan, more than what the Pakistanis were expecting. Most of the investments are naturally in the energy sector. Pakistan desperately needs this money and it wants to diversify its foreign investment to reduce Chinese influence and help minimize the risks associated with its Belt and Road projects.

The Afghan Taliban were due to have a meeting with MBS while he’s in Islamabad, but that’s apparently off the table now. In announcing the cancellation, Taliban officials cited travel blacklists that prevent their senior leaders from going to Islamabad. Which is a little strange since the Taliban have been working both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for several years now.


Thursday’s deadly militant bombing in Kashmir is raising concerns about radicalization among young Kashmiris like the bomber:

Just a few miles separate the place where Adil Ahmad Dar grew up from the place where he ended his life in an act of wanton violence.

When Dar drove an SUV packed with explosives into a convoy of Indian security personnel on Thursday, he carried out the single deadliest attack in decades in a region torn by strife.

The bombing may mark a turning point in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where an insurgency against Indian rule has waxed and waned since 1989. The militancy is far smaller than it was at its peak, but it is increasingly drawing local recruits.

The escalation of violence comes as tactics by India that critics decry as heavy-handed have alienated a new generation of Kashmiri youths and social media has proved a potent recruitment tool for militant groups, some of which are based in Pakistan.

Indian security forces have so far arrested 23 people believed to have ties to Jaish-e-Mohammad, the militant group behind the bombing. They’re looking for Mohammed Umair, JEM’s commander in Kashmir, who is believed to have masterminded the whole thing. Indian security is out in force in Kashmir and the Indian government has cut mobile internet in the province, spurring a general strike by Kashmiri workers. Indian authorities have also taken other retaliatory steps against both Kashmiri separatists (withdrawing their security details) and against Pakistan (a 200 percent tariff on Pakistani imports), which they accuse of aiding JEM. Meanwhile, Kashmiris living in other parts of India are complaining of discrimination and reprisals since Thursday’s bombing.


The US government is blocking a United Nations plan to create a new civilian air route over North Korean airspace. The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization wants to open the route, which would potentially help airlines that currently redirect around North Korea due to concerns about unannounced missile tests, and it would help improve North Korea’s civilian aviation sector. But Washington fears doing so would ease the pressure on Pyongyang to negotiate over its nuclear weapons program.



A new Ipsos poll finds that Australia’s governing coalition has closed the gap with the opposition Labor party ahead of elections starting in May. The new poll finds Labor ahead 51-49, much closer than the 54-46 spread Ipsos found in December. Labor leader Bill Shorten continues to be a drag on the party–his approval rating fell from minus nine to minus 12 points. This finding shows a much closer race than any other recent Australian poll, and it remains to be seen whether it’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend.



Anti-government protests continued in Sudan on Sunday, with one fruit vendor in Khartoum dying after choking on tear gas fired by Sudanese police to break up a demonstration. His death makes the unofficial body count 58 since protests began in mid-December. Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee established to draft a constitutional amendment that would allow President Omar al-Bashir to run for a third term in office canceled its initial meeting scheduled for Sunday. The committee gave no explanation apart from citing “emergency reasons,” but it’s hard not to see a connection between the protests and the cancellation.


Journalist Simon Cordall says that the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s longevity reflects deep concerns about the potential for economic and demographic changes to destabilize the country:

Few would deny that the incumbent’s health is poor. Since suffering from a devastating stroke in 2013, he has rarely appeared in public. Rumors of ill health are rife. In 2017, the abrupt cancellation of a diplomatic visit by Angela Merkel was enough to spark rumors of the president’s death.

However, after nearly two decades in power, the announcement of Bouteflika’s fifth bid for the presidency provides further evidence of the Algerian leadership’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding the country’s stability. Faced with the potentially destabilizing conflict between maintaining a generous subsidy package at home and falling hydrocarbon prices and shifting market tastes abroad, it is not yet clear how well equipped Algiers’ entrenched status quo may be to navigate the stormy weather ahead.

“There is a deep wariness of instability within Algeria,” professor Jonathan Hill, director of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College, told Al-Monitor. “There’s also a deep awareness of the presence of the security services within the country and what they could do in the case of any major upheaval,” Hill said.


A Boko Haram attack on the city of Maiduguri late Friday killed at least eight people along with two suicide bombers. The attack came shortly before the Nigerian government announced that it was postponing Saturday’s presidential election by at least a week.

Opposition leaders have been deeply critical of the decision to postpone the vote, suggesting that it’s part of a plot to rig the election in favor of incumbent Muhammadu Buhari. The president and his main challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, spent the weekend expressing their frustration with the delay and blaming one another for causing it. Nigerian elections officials say the delay is logistical, owing to difficulties getting voting machines and supplies distributed to polling places around the country. But there seems to be a good deal of anger over the postponement among Nigerian voters, as well as a strong sense that they’re not being told the whole story. This would seem to work against Buhari since he’s the incumbent, but what do I know?


The Kenyan government has recalled its ambassador to Somalia after the Somali government reportedly began auctioning offshore oil and gas rights in an area still disputed between the two countries. The Somali government denies the accusation. Somalia and Kenya are having their maritime boundary adjudicated by the International Court of Justice, after Somalia brought a case against Kenya back in 2014.

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