Asia/Africa update: December 16-17 2017



Two separate Taliban attacks on Sunday left at least 12 people dead. An assault on a police checkpoint in Helmand province killed at least 11 Afghan police officers (other accounts have the figure higher than that), while a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kandahar killed one civilian bystander. Elsewhere, fighting in northern Afghanistan’s Sar-e-Pul province over the past week, spurred by the defection of a formerly pro-government militia to the Taliban, has displaced an estimated 2000 families.


Suicide bombers killed at least nine people in an attack on a church in Quetta on Sunday. The attack was claimed by ISIS.


Protests broke out in northern Kashmir on Sunday after Indian forces shot and killed a civilian driver, whom they’d mistaken for a rebel fighter, in a clash late Saturday night in the village of Thindpura.


Early returns from last week’s voting in Gujarat regional elections are showing a much tighter result than polling has indicated. So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is only leading in 91 of the state’s 182 legislative seats, one shy of a majority. The race is important both because Gujarat is Modi’s home turf and as a preview of the parliamentary election in 2019. If the various opposition parties can take BJP down in Gujarat then it will have major implications for the national race.

Never mind. Three Indian TV stations are now calling the election for the BJP, which appears to have won at least 100 seats just as last week’s polling suggested.


Donald Trump is going to give a new national security speech on Monday in which he will explicitly reject the Obama administration’s policy of treating climate change as a national security threat, and in it he will also reportedly articulate that China is a US competitor. While climate change is absolutely a major national security threat, Trump’s decision to reverse that policy is completely predictable since a) he doesn’t believe in climate change and b) he does believe in trying to erase all evidence of the black guy’s presidency from the pages of history. But if he’s explicit about the China part, that would represent a clear shift in publicly-articulated American policy and a recognition of what is increasingly becoming a reality. And that actually would be surprising, given that Trump has been almost as obsequious to Xi Jinping has he’s been to Vladimir Putin and the Saudi monarchy.



Gunmen assassinated Misrata Mayor Mohamed Eshtewi on Sunday just after he’d returned from a visit to Turkey. Not sure who did this or why as yet.

Meanwhile, thousands of people in Benghazi, Tobruk, and Tripoli rallied on Sunday in support of Muammar Gaddafi Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan general who would like to run the country but is in no way basically a carbon copy of Muammar Gaddafi. The occasion of the expiration of the Government of National Accord’s two-year mandate (though the United Nations says the GNA’s mandate can’t really expire until there’s another government to replace it) has spurred calls for Haftar to take over, though he’s being coy enough that he won’t even say if he plans to run for president in…well, whenever Libya has an election again. Instead he’s talking about the failure of all efforts at a political resolution in what sounds like a case for a military takeover, which even the Tobruk government he nominally serves doesn’t seem to support.

Speaking of Gaddafi, Africa Is a Country’s Haythem Guesmi laments the extent to which the ongoing civil war has helped to scrub his terrible legacy:

One of the unintended consequences of the angry reactions to the slave auctions in Libya, is a renewed romanticization of the supposed pan-African legacy of the late Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. At its heart, it reflects a depressing understanding of African politics which rules that a fair dictator is better than a chaotic political void.


Gaddafi ruled Libya for more than forty years since the military coup in 1969. His regime maintained a bureaucratic-authoritarian rule that criminalized political participation and dissent, legitimized a continual stability mainly through a corrupt redistribution of oil revenues in the forms of free healthcare and free education, and a pervasive cult of personality. Post-Gaddafi, Libya now has two rival parliaments and three governments. The dissolution of his autocratic rule after the 2011 uprisings has led to a state of social, financial, and political lawlessness.

Guesmi’s piece is overblown–some, if not most, of what he describes as “romanticization” of Gaddafi would be better classified as lamenting what Libya is now. But there’s a lesson here for Western policymakers. The catastrophe that Libya has become since Gaddafi is obviously a product of the way he was ousted from power, but it’s also a product of his dictatorship itself. Hollowing out the state and creating a situation where it can’t function in their absence is part of what dictators do to stay in power. “Dictator or chaos” is a false choice–it’s the former that almost guarantees the latter. The lesson, then, is less about Gaddafi than it is about the Good Dictators, the ones Western governments support because they toe the right lines. Backing those guys might buy you a little short-term stability, but it always comes with a long-term cost.


According to the AP, a new military investigation into the October 4 ambush of US and Nigerien forces finds that Sergeant La David Johnson, whose body was found days after the battle, was not captured by ISIS militants as had previously been believed. Medical examiners reportedly concluding that Johnson was shot multiple times from a distance and was not executed at close range. Johnson and two Nigerien soldiers appear to have attempted to fall back to a vehicle but got separated from the rest of their force before they were killed.


Four people were killed on Sunday when Boko Haram fighters ambushed a World Food Program convoy in northeastern Nigeria.


An estimated 23,000 people, displaced from their homes by militia fighting earlier this year, have congregated on the outskirts of the town of Alindao in the southeastern CAR. Continued fighting has prevented them from even thinking about trying to return home. Al Jazeera has produced a photo essay examining their plight.


African National Congress party members began voting Monday morning on a new leader to replace departing party boss Jacob Zuma. The new leader, likely to be either Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Zuma’s ex-wife), would be the prohibitive favorite to replace Zuma as president of South Africa either after the 2019 parliamentary election or next year if Zuma steps down early. Voting was supposed to begin on Sunday, but disputes over delegates (some 400 were disqualified) delayed things. Dlamini-Zuma has adopted a populist message based around wealth redistribution in contrast with the more pro-business Ramaphosa, but Ramaphosa offers a cleaner break with Zuma, who remains under a cloud of corruption allegations.

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