The Taliban captured the Anardarah district of Farah province on Monday morning before being driven back out of the area later in the day by Afghan reinforcements and air support. Farah province has become a serious battleground, given its proximity to Taliban strongholds in Helmand province and its position along western smuggling routes into Iran that are used in the opium trade. The capture of Anardarah seems to have been the culmination of a weekend-long Taliban offensive in the province, although I suppose the worst could be yet to come. In eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, meanwhile, seven civilians were killed on Monday in what authorities are calling another Taliban attack, though the Taliban have denied involvement.
The Taliban are unlikely to attend a regional peace conference in Uzbekistan later this month that is intended to build momentum for peace talks in Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be there, along with representatives from the European Union, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United Nations, and the United States.
Protests broke out across Indian-controlled Kashmir on Monday after Indian forces killed three Kashmiri separatists in a shootout in Anantnag district. Schools were ordered closed for the day and a curfew imposed over parts of Srinagar.
The Sri Lankan government is taking heat over its response to last week’s anti-Muslim violence in Kandy:
Testifying before the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee described Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as “bear[ing] the hallmarks of genocide.” In particular she cited the government’s apparent use of forced starvation against the Rohingya. Lee also testified on the government’s war against insurgents in Kachin and Kayin states and its treatment of civilians in those areas.
Part of the reason I think it’s OK to be skeptical that the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit is ever going to happen is that, at this point, nobody has heard anything from the North Koreans. Aside from whatever Kim said to those South Korean envoys a week and a half or so ago, there’s been silence out of Pyongyang. Presumably they’re going to have to say something to somebody before the summit can actually be arranged. At the very least, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are supposed to meet before Kim and Trump get together.
Jeffrey Lewis, who knows a bit about North Korea and has been advocating talks with Pyongyang for years, but who admittedly is not a Donald Trump fan, doesn’t think this whole thing is going to work out:
North Korea has been desperate for a state-visit from a sitting U.S. president since at least the Clinton administration. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has said that the United States has not made any concessions, but let’s be clear: THE MEETING IS THE CONCESSION.
Although President Trump seems to be under the impression that the meeting would be to discuss the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the North Koreans haven’t said anything remotely like that.
In fact, all we have from the North Koreans is the secondhand account of a South Korean diplomat of his boozy dinner with Kim Jong Un and an email sent by the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations to Anna Fifield at the Washington Post.
What Kim said, according to the South Korean envoy Chung Eui-yong, was pretty thin gruel: that North Korea would not need nuclear weapons if “military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed.” The email to Fifield didn’t seem to mention it at all, merely offering to explain North Korea’s position to the United States.
The dawning realization that Trump might be getting played could explain why his administration has been unable to take a position on this hypothetical summit and just stick to it. They’re trying to save face after Trump and his staff, either not knowing the full facts or not understanding the US-North Korea dynamic (my money would be on both), got out over their skis with no plan to keep themselves from tumbling down the mountain. The danger, as I’ve written and as Lewis writes, is that if Trump himself starts to believe he’s been played, he could lash out.
Again, talking is good in principle, but if everybody isn’t on the same page when the talks happen then they could make things worse. That’s especially true with somebody like Trump involved. But since Trump, as Paul Pillar writes, actively rejects any kind of ordered policy-making process, what you get are impulsive decisions that can lead to other impulsive decisions. And while those impulsive decisions might occasionally seem like good ideas, more often than not they’re likely to be the opposite.
Shinzō Abe may be in a bit of hot water. He and his wife, Akie, are implicated in a brewing scandal involving the heavily discounted sale of a parcel of public land in Osaka that was sold to a school operator with political ties to Abe. Akie was even supposed to serve as the new schools “honorary principal” until people started asking questions about the land deal. This story has been simmering for a while now, but it’s escalating in advance of Liberal Democratic Party meetings later this year in which Abe will need to be reelected to lead the party.
Sudanese researcher Rabah Omer looks at the reasons for Sudan’s continuing economic struggles. Sanctions, mostly from the United States, are hurting, and austerity requirements from the International Monetary Fund are having their usual impact. But much of the problem, according to Omer, is its homegrown–albeit with a big assist from Washington–Altamkeen policy, which essentially seems to be Islamist neoliberalism:
Islamists in Sudan, like other political Islamist groups in the region, were nurtured by the West during the Cold War to combat leftist parties. The West had been maneuvering to influence the policies of Sudan since its independence in 1956, pushing it to take right-wing positions through a series of events that included coups, interventions in parliamentary politics and assassinations. In the mid-1970s Islamists’ influence was particularly powerful and the party imposed the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) policies of lifting subsidies, liberalization and privatization. It also worked to impose Sharia Law. The IMF policies created a climate of profiteering and corruption that benefited the Islamist group through the creation of multiple businesses, banks, and companies. However, in 1985 the Sudanese public rebelled against the IMF policies and its social impacts, and also against the Sharia Law toppling the dictatorship through a popular uprising. The election of a democratic government jeopardized the economic power of the Islamist group and threatened its political goals. It then moved to retake power, and eventually did so through a military coup in 1989.
The Altamkeen policy is a continuation of the project the Islamist group started in the mid-seventies with the support of the US. The Sudanese government adopted neoliberal policies: privatization, lifting subsidies and a free-market economy. It sold major enterprises that were owned by the public and the government. Selling those enterprises was accompanied by major corruption, and profits from these businesses were reaped by a minority of stakeholders.
The Nigerian government says it will attempt to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the 110 girls abducted from a school in Dapchi last month rather than pursue a military option to try to rescue them.
Rex Tillerson’s visit to Chad on Monday saw him harangued by Chadian authorities over their country’s inclusion in the Trump administration’s most recent iteration of its travel ban. Despite suggestions, back in September, that Chad could get out from under the ban in a matter of a couple of months and constant praise for its efforts to comply with US demands since then, the country remains on the banned list. But Tillerson says that a US report on Chad’s progress will be issued in April, and that report’s findings could lead to an end to the ban.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Several Congolese opposition leaders met over the weekend in South Africa to form a coalition in support of the candidacy of Moïse Katumbi, former governor of Katanga province, to succeed Joseph Kabila in elections that are supposed to be held before the end of this year. Katumbi fled the DRC in 2016 due to corruption charges that he claims were fabricated by Kabila.
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