Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is supposed to visit Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on Friday, but things are already off to a rocky start. The Afghan government on Thursday accused Pakistan of carrying out airstrikes in Kunar province. Islamabad has made no comment but regularly accuses Afghanistan of harboring Pakistani Taliban militants.
Student protests in Srinagar against Indian rule were met with force by Indian security forces on Thursday. The students were protesting the upturn in violence this week that has left at least 20 people dead and caused strikes and demonstrations across Kashmir.
Analyst Angshuman Choudhury is pessimistic about the prospects for a quick and full repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar:
March 23, 2018 marked two months since the first wave of repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was to begin through a bilateral agreement with Myanmar signed in November 2017.
Since then, not a single refugee — of the 688,000 new arrivals — has been returned to northern Rakhine state, from where they fled after Myanmar security forces began a violent “counterinsurgency” campaign in August 2017. As of March 2018, the Myanmar government has verified only 374 refugees for repatriation, out of the 8,032 names that Dhaka had sent across for the first phase.
There are several restraining factors that make full repatriation not just difficult under prevailing circumstances, but impossible.
Malaysian authorities have disbanded the political party led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in advance of what will be a (slightly) early election next month. Mahathir is the PM candidate for the four-party opposition alliance attempting to take down current Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government. Malaysian election officials say his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia failed to file the right paperwork, but if this move strikes you as an abuse of power by Najib, well, it probably is.
Leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines reiterated their openness to talks with Manila on Thursday but rejected any preconditions for those talks. The Philippine government wants a ceasefire in advance of new negotiations, but it’s not clear if the rebels would see that as a “precondition.” It also wants the rebel New People’s Army to stop “taxing” areas under its control, which the communists probably would see as a precondition.
Officials within the Trump administration say they’re prepared to hold “serious” talks with China on trade and that they have “ongoing communications” with Beijing on the issue, but there are as yet no plans for formal talks. President Trump, meanwhile, says he’s considering an extra $100 billion in new tariffs on Chinese goods to retaliate for China’s retaliation for his initial $50 billion in sanctions announced earlier this week. What a time to be alive.
In his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly expressed interest in reopening the “six party” (North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States) talks on its nuclear and missile programs that were closed down by Pyongyang in 2009. He may carry the same message into his meeting with Donald Trump in May, assuming that meeting does in fact happen.
New Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio wants the man he just defeated, Samura Kamara, to give up any legal challenge to the just-announced election results, and is dangling a possible role in his government as a potential reward. Kamura has talked about challenging the results, which came amid significant rumors of electoral fraud, but sounded open to the possibility of taking a position in Bio’s government. His party, the All People’s Congress, won a slim majority in parliament, so he would have a power base if he did join the cabinet in some capacity. It’s not at all clear what his role would be, however.
At least two United Nations peacekeepers were killed in northern Mali on Thursday when their camp, in the Kidal region, was struck by several mortar blasts. It’s not clear who was behind the attack.
There will soon be a US military presence in Ghana, under a deal signed by its president, Nana Akufo-Addo, and approved by its parliament last month. So that’s exciting. Akufo-Addo tried to calm critics–though why anyone would criticize the US military is beyond me–on Thursday by arguing that the deal doesn’t allow for a US base in Ghana, it just entitles the US to, uh, station troops and equipment there, and use its airport facilities, and its radio spectrum. Oh, well, that’s nothing then.
A recent analysis from West Point argues that al-Shabab is in the strongest position it’s been in for several years, despite a stepped up US air campaign against it. Why? Well, it apparently has to do with corruption in the Somali military…but also with that stepped up US air campaign. Oops:
U.S. air strikes — numbering more than 40 since 2016 — and commando raids, while successful in killing Al Shabab militants, may have also increased opposition to the Somali government, the U.S. military and the African Union in a country marked by local divisions characterized by tribal loyalties.
Case in point, in August 2017, a firefight between a joint U.S.-Somali force and Al Shabab reportedly resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians including children during a raid in Bariire. The U.S. military denied it killed any civilians in the raid. The Daily Beast later reported that U.S. commandos fired on unarmed civilians, and placed weapons seized during the raid next to the bodies of slain civilians before photographing them.
“Different parts of the government’s security forces … rely on the control of lucrative checkpoints and the fees and bribes they can charge civilians,” Anzalone writes, “and they have engaged in gun battles over these checkpoints and regular protests decrying the government’s failure to pay them.”
Here’s a strange story. You know how yesterday I wrote about the Cameroonian military’s rescue of some 18 people who had allegedly been kidnapped by anglophone rebels in southwestern Cameroon? Well, the tour company that had arranged for those people to be in Cameroon in the first place is now insisting that there never was any kidnapping. It says its clients were held up briefly at a checkpoint but were then allowed to pass unharmed.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The United Nations is downgrading the DRC from the category 3 humanitarian disaster it had made it in October, thanks in part to the arrival of some desperately needed aid and also over government objections that the classification was hindering foreign investment.
Africa Is a Country’s Ben Cousins looks at the controversy surrounding the African National Congress’s recent push for rapid land reform:
The ANC is clearly attempting to regain political ground lost to the small but vocal opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which first tabled the land expropriation motion in Parliament. The unresolved land question, and in particular the issue of compensation, has been a key rallying cry for the EFF since it first emerged in 2013. It is sure to make land a central issue in national elections due to take place in 2019.
One effect of the controversy is that land and property rights have become key topics of public debate. This presents both dangers and opportunities for South African society, which has one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, and continues to experience deep tensions around race. The danger is that polarization obscures the real complexities of land reform and constrains effective action. The opportunity is to begin to pay serious attention to the land question, and to develop solutions to the many problems that plague government’s program.
Apparently Muammar Gaddafi’s money really got around Europe. After former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was arrested last month for allegedly taking the dearly departed former Libyan president’s money in the 2007 French presidential campaign, Ukrainian authorities said on Thursday that they’re going to investigate charges that Gaddafi funded Yulia Tymoshenko’s presidential run in 2010. Tymoshenko denies the allegations, and to be honest this investigation may have something to do with the fact that she’s currently running ahead of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in polling for next year’s presidential contest.
This week’s talks on forming a new Italian government ended Thursday having made little or no progress. The parties will reportedly give it another crack next week.
The UN Security Council on Thursday rejected Russia’s demand for a joint investigation into the Sergei Skripal incident. In debate over the proposal, the Russian delegation accused London of slander for accusing Russia of perpetrating the attack without proof.
As expected, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the presumptive favorite to win this year’s Brazilian presidential election, is going to prison over his corruption conviction. The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that he could not remain out of prison while appealing the conviction, and he’s been ordered to turn himself in by Friday. Lula could probably continue to run in October’s election while he appeals his conviction, but there would be a great deal of uncertainty as to whether he’d be allowed to remain on the ballot or to take office if he were to win. If his appeal fails, Brazilian law bars people convicted of a crime from running for office for eight years, so he would presumably then be ineligible to serve. Plus he’d be, you know, in prison.
Venezuela and Panama recalled their respective ambassadors on Thursday after the Venezuelan government announced it was cutting all commercial ties with Panamanian firms over alleged money laundering. Caracas claims that Panama’s financial system is being used by corrupt Venezuelan nationals to destabilize the Venezuelan economy. That move was retaliation for a Panamanian statement released last week that identified Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and 50 other Venezuelan nationals as “high risk” candidates for money laundering and terrorist financing.
Finally, at LobeLog, researcher David Isenberg gets into the Cambridge Analytica case and specifically the involvement of death merchant Erik Prince:
Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. As The New York Review of Books notes, Cambridge Analytica is one of the “boutique companies specializing in data analysis and online influence that contract with government agencies.”
So, it should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater and the Energizer Bunny of the world of private military and security contractors (PMSC). Having left the country years ago in a well-publicized huff for more comfortable, and less democratic, environments like the United Arab Emirates, Prince has once again popped back up to pitch his wares.
Prince has had more than his share of scandals since he started in Blackwater in 1997. But the ongoing revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica may prove his greatest challenge yet. The number of links between Prince and propaganda and psychological operations is getting harder and harder to pass off as mere coincidence.
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