Asia/Africa update: March 2 2018

ASIA

ARMENIA

Armen Sarkissian, former prime minister and ambassador, is your new Armenian president. Congrats to him, even though the job has been mostly downgraded to ceremonial levels now.

AFGHANISTAN

At least two people were killed in Kabul on Friday when a car bomb, apparently targeting a NATO convoy, detonated in the Afghan capital. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but if it was the Taliban then you can consider it yet another sign that they’re rejecting President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to negotiate.

PAKISTAN

James Dorsey says that China’s refusal to stick out its neck to protect Pakistan from being put back on the Financial Action Task Force’s graylist suggests that it’s trying to strike a balance between supporting its Pakistani ally and recognizing that its Pakistani ally has a real problem–one that impacts China–in how it deals with extremist groups:

Politically and economically heavily invested in Pakistan, China’s statements and actions in recent days have highlighted the squeeze the People’s Republic finds itself in. A Chinese official, quoted by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said China had not shielded Pakistan in FATF because it did not want to “lose face by supporting a move that’s doomed to fail.”

 

Yet, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson days later noted that “in recent years, Pakistan has made important progress in actively strengthening financial regulations to combat terror financing… China highly recognises that and hopes all relevant parties of the international community could arrive at an objective and fair conclusion on that,” the spokesperson, Lu Kang, said.

INDIA

Indian police say they killed 12 Maoist rebels on Friday in a raid in the country’s eastern Chhattisgarh state. One police officer was killed. Among the dead was the secretary of the Communist Party of India, Haribhushan.

CHINA

So far, at least, it appears that Donald Trump’s idea to levy new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum is more likely to cause a trade war with Europe than with China:

China reacted with cautious criticism Friday to President Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, urging the United States to abide by multilateral trade rules and do nothing to damage the fragile global economic recovery.

 

In Europe, however, Thursday’s announcement triggered a sharp backlash, including threats of retaliation.

 

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levi’s,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, according to the Reuters news service. “We cannot simply put our head in the sand.”

 

China is the world’s dominant steel producer, but experts said the tariff plan would not greatly affect it, because the country accounts for only 2 percent of U.S. imports. Beijing is not about to start a trade war over the decision, they added, framing it as self-defeating.

NORTH KOREA

China has put a hold on a US request for the UN Security Council to blacklist 33 ships and 27 shipping companies for violating sanctions against North Korea. They haven’t explained their decision, which might only be temporary.

AFRICA

LIBYA

Libya’s Amazigh (Berber) minority wants to make sure that its position in the future Libya is stronger than it was when Muammar Gaddafi was in power:

For Gadhafi, the Amazigh represented a separatist threat to his efforts to consolidate power and proclaim Libya an Arab nation. Today, the Amazigh are thought to comprise an estimated 10-15% of Libya’s population of 6 million. While the Amazigh are dotted around Libya, they are concentrated in the northwest, with the town of Zuwara considered to be their unofficial capital.

 

Abdullah Kabousa, a Zuwara municipality councilor, explained during an Al-Monitor visit to Libya, “Our conflict with Gadhafi was about our culture. … We are a part of this country.” Anti-Gadhafi protesters and fighters took control of Zuwara on Feb. 23, 2011, a few weeks after the rebellion against the longtime leader erupted in Benghazi.

 

Today in Zuwara’s Martyrs’ Square, the Amazigh flag blows in the wind. Shop signs advertise products in large Tamazight script, with Arabic below in smaller lettering. At the Zuwaran branch of Zawia University, a faculty focusing on Amazigh studies has been inaugurated.

The Amazigh want local autonomy, greater representation in the national legislature, and for their language, Tamazight, to be given official status alongside Arabic.

SAHEL

A new experts report to the Security Council’s sanctions committee warns that the two main jihadi groups in the Sahel–Nusrat al-Islam, AKA al-Qaeda in Mali, and ISIS in the Greater Sahara–may be working together to disrupt the new G5 Sahel multinational counterterrorism force. The groups’ activity in both Mali and Niger seems to have picked up over the past year (the G5 force was first announced last February).

BURKINA FASO

To wit, the Burkinabé group Ansarul Islam, which is linked to Nusrat al-Islam and therefore al-Qaeda, carried out two coordinated attacks in Ouagadougou on Friday–one against the country’s military headquarters and the other against the French embassy. So far the official death toll is hovering around seven or eight killed along with six attackers, but in all likelihood that number will rise considerably as the dust clears. Already there are unconfirmed reports putting the death toll close to 30.

NIGERIA

A group of suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked a military base in the northeast Nigerian town of Rann on  Thursday night, killing at least 11 people including three aid workers. They may have abducted at least one civilian.

SOMALIA

A coordinated al-Shabab attack appears to have killed at least four Somali soldiers on Friday. A suicide bomber first struck a Somali military base northwest of Mogadishu, killing one soldier, and then another bombing struck a convoy transporting wounded to the capital following the first attack, killing another three soldiers. On top of that, al-Shabab forces were also able to capture the town of Balad, north of Mogadishu.

These attacks are partly intended to drive African Union peacekeepers out of the country, and the AU is talking about a 2020 withdrawal:

KENYA

Another group (most likely) of al-Shabab fighters appears to have killed five Kenyan police officers in an attack in northern Kenya on Friday.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

New fighting between the Hema and Lendu communities in DRC’s Ituri province has killed at least 33 people and probably several more than that. Violence in the province has claimed over 100 lives since mid-December. The Hema and Lendu have been at war with one another on and off going back to the 1970s, with a particularly intense phase in the late 90s through the mid 00s in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

ituri province drc
Ituri province, marked in red (Google Maps)

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