Asia/Africa update: December 18 2017



ISIS attacked a training ground for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security in Kabul on Monday. Fortunately nobody apart from the attackers appears to have been killed.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sacked Balkh Governor Atta Muhammad Nur on Monday. Technically Ghani’s people say he accepted Atta’s resignation–which must come as news to Atta, who’s already publicly said he rejects Ghani’s decision and will remain in his post. It seems that at some point in the past several months Atta offered his resignation under other circumstances, and Ghani is trying to pass that off as Atta’s resignation now. Even by Afghan standards that’s some shady business. The reasons for Atta’s sacking are unclear. Ghani has seen him as a potential rival, but he’s also fairly recently tried to cultivate a relationship with Atta to undermine Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (Atta and Abdullah are both members of the Jamiat-e Islami party and Atta financed Abdullah’s 2014 presidential campaign). Things seem to have turned south on that front, so I guess Ghani reverted to seeing Nur as an opponent.

The ex-warlord Nur’s position in Balkh, which he’s been running like a mafia boss for 16 years, seems on paper to be almost unassailable. But his influence nationally may not be that great. Jamiat-e Islami could pull out of Ghani’s coalition government, which would be devastating, but Nur’s support within the party isn’t universal (owing in part to his soured relationship with Abdullah). Atta was also a major player in Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum’s new Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan, but that group hasn’t even been able to leverage Dostum’s return from exile in Afghanistan, let alone make an impact in national politics. Still, Ghani could have a fight on his hands trying to get rid of this guy–maybe literally.


Pakistani journalist Alia Ahmed looks at the uncomfortable mixing of Islamist extremism and mainstream politics happening of late in Pakistan:

The case brings to light the gap between local laws and international laws when dealing with transnational terrorism. The United States calls for Saeed’s arrest and trial over the Mumbai attacks. But Pakistan, according to its own laws, cannot try him without sufficient proof, which it hasn’t found. International mechanisms don’t apply; the writ of Interpol is limited and to bring a case before the International Criminal Court, of which the United States isn’t even a member, requires a massive body of evidence. The last option—America’s favorite—of international renditions is no longer viable, even though the US has placed a $10 million bounty on Saeed’s head. To tackle such a matter calls for relationships of political coordination and cooperation, not those of coercion (as with the US) or rivalry (as with India). The government wants to keep Saeed detained, but the judiciary cannot do so indefinitely without proof. So the ongoing cycle of detention-and-release continues.


As I belatedly noted last night, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party won last week’s regional election in Gujarat state. They did lose seats in the process–16 to be precise–but their 99 seats are still a majority in the state legislature. The improved showing by the opposition Congress party might have been a major development, were it not overshadowed by the fact that Congress actually lost control of Himachal Pradesh state to BJP in that province’s election.


Authorities in Bangladesh say that would-be New York subway bomber Akayed Ullah spent a chunk of his most recent trip home handing out relief aid in Rohingya refugee camps. Interestingly, al-Qaeda had just called on Muslims around the world to send aid to the Rohingya and to carry out attacks in their name. When he returned from the refugee camps, relatives report him being very upset by what he saw there. So it’s possible that he was already on a violent path when he went back to Bangladesh, but it’s also possible that he was further radicalized by what he saw there.


What he saw, by the way, is once more being called a “genocide,” now by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Raʿad al-Hussein. He even suggested that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi could one day face genocide charges in an international forum, which would make for an interesting career bookend to go along with her Nobel Prize.


The Trump administration officially pointed a finger at North Korea for perpetrating the WannaCry cyber attack that struck an estimated 300,000 computers back in May and caused billions of dollars in damage. It’s not clear what the administration is planning to do by way of response.



Satellite imagery showing construction activity at eastern Libya’s al-Khadim airbase suggests that the United Arab Emirates is planning to ratchet up its air support for Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. The UAE has already been flying planes and drones out of al-Khadim, but the construction appears intended to equip the base to handle some of its more advanced aircraft–F-16s for example. The Emirati escalation could be a response to stepped-up ISIS activity in Libya–or it could just be an effort to help Haftar win the civil war.


Saudi authorities are reportedly outraged at…well, at this:

That’s a surprisingly grotesque–and I was prepared for it to be pretty grotesque–mashup of King Salman and Donald Trump, unveiled by fans of Algerian football (soccer) club Ain Melilla during a pro-Palestine rally on Saturday. I don’t really have anything to say here, but that banner is really something.


Ethiopian authorities say that at least 61 people have been killed since Thursday in clashes between ethnic Oromo and ethnic Somali Ethiopians. This came after, but might not be connected to, the killing of 16 Oromo protesters by Ethiopian police on Tuesday.


General Constantino Chiwenga, the man who engineered the ouster of Robert Mugabe last month, will be resigning from the Zimbabwean military soon to pursue his life’s work. Which apparently involves becoming one of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s vice presidents.


The African National Congress got its new leader on Monday, narrowly electing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma.

That’s the guy (Wikimedia | Erfan Kouchari)

The multi-multi-millionaire Ramaphosa isn’t a particularly inspiring figure, and his center-right pro-business message isn’t going to generate a lot of zealous support–Dlamini-Zuma’s populism is more dynamic. His strongest attribute is, basically, that he’s not Zuma, and has nothing to do with Zuma, whose corruption scandals have more than once threatened to take down his administration. Ramaphosa immediately becomes the favorite to replace Zuma as president, no later than 2019 but possibly next year if Zuma decides to step down early. But he’s not nearly as prohibitive a favorite as past ANC party leaders have been, and ironically much of the reason is Zuma, mostly his (alleged) corruption and his mediocre-to-poor economic performance.

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