Asia/Oceania/Africa update: June 16-18 2018

ASIA

GEORGIA

Former Georgian Finance Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze is the country’s new prime minister. He was named on Monday to replace Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who resigned last week over disagreements with their Georgian Dream party leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili. Bakhtadze plans to shrink the Georgian government–quite explicitly, from 14 ministries to 11. He’s also looking to integrate Georgia into Europe and of course has the issue of breakaway republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia hanging over his head.

AFGHANISTAN

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani extended Kabul’s unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban for ten days. It was supposed to expire on Wednesday but will now run through the end of the month. If he was hoping the Taliban would reciprocate, though, he was quickly disabused of that idea. Taliban leaders announced that their three day Eid ceasefire would end as planned on Monday. There have already been scattered reports of Taliban attacks around the country (for example they reportedly killed a district governor in Nangarhar province on Monday), but there have not, as far as I can tell, been any reports of Taliban fighters taking particular advantage of the fact that, during their truce, many of them entered major Afghan cities to celebrate Eid. Instead they appear to have withdrawn from those cities before the ceasefire ended.

ISIS took brutal advantage of the mutual Eid ceasefire over the weekend. On Saturday, it carried out a bombing in Nangarhar province that killed at least 36 people, including both Afghan civilians and Taliban fighters. On Sunday, it (probably) was responsible for another bombing, in Jalalabad, that killed at least 19 people. ISIS was clearly targeting gatherings of unarmed Taliban in these attacks.

Hundreds of men who have spent nearly three months marching across Afghanistan to demand an end to the war arrived in Kabul on Monday. Many were treated there for dehydration and blisters, but they say they intend to keep going.

PAKISTAN

Gunmen killed three Pakistani soldiers in Quetta on Saturday. No group has claimed responsibility.

The Diplomat looks back at the life of now-deceased Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah and handicaps the race to succeed him:

The next man to lead the dwindling TTP most probably will be picked from the Mehsud Taliban, whose area enjoys the reputation of the birthplace and once de facto emirate of the group. Mufti Noor Wali alias Abu Mansoor Asim is believed to be the man in waiting.

Apart from being a Mehsud tribesman, Mufti Noor Wali is a religious scholar, a prolific writer, and a veteran of “jihad” who fought alongside the Taliban first against the Northern Alliance and then against NATO/ISAF forces.

Fazlullah was not a Mehsud Taliban, and his accession to leadership caused rifts to form in the Pakistani Taliban. It’s likely the group will try to rectify that problem in replacing him. If it doesn’t, then it’s likely there will be some kind of split and this Mufti Noor Wali fellow will probably wind up leading a breakaway group.

KASHMIR

Speaking of ceasefires ending, India’s Ramadan ceasefire in Kashmir wrapped up over the weekend with an announcement by Indian authorities that they would be resuming “operations against terrorists.” By which they mean separatists. Militants did not observe a Ramadan ceasefire, and Indian forces of course reserved the right to defend themselves in the overly violent way they usually defend themselves, and so life in Kashmir was pretty much unchanged for the month. At least one Kashmiri protester was killed by Indian forces on Saturday while one Indian soldier was killed, allegedly by Pakistani cross-border fire.

INDIA

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland took credit for an attack on Sunday that killed four Indian paramilitaries outside the northeastern village of Aboi. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland is a Christian-Maoist-Naga nationalist (!) organization that has a goal of creating a homeland for the Naga people across northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar. It’s one of many separatist groups in that part of the country.

PHILIPPINES

Philippine forces engaged in a combined air and ground operation against Islamist militants in Lanao del Sur province on Sunday, killing at least five of them. The offensive targeted a group of fighters led by Abu Dar, the man who was identified as ISIS’s leader in the Philippines earlier this year.

CHINA

Donald Trump is warning that if China imposes tariffs on US goods to retaliate for Trump’s decision last week to impose tariffs on Chinese goods, he’ll impose more tariffs on more Chinese goods. I’m no expert in international trade, but how does one get off of this ride once it gets going?

The Taiwan Sentinel’s editor in-chief, J. Michael Cole, writes that the Chinese government is using Triad organizations to target activists in Hong Kong and to disrupt Taiwan’s democracy:

In Taiwan, organized crime played a similar role in some instances, where it, too, harassed and threatened anti-Beijing elements (chief among them the pro-independence camp). However, where triads in Hong Kong were used sparingly so as not to fuel social instability, over time pro-Beijing crime syndicates operating in Taiwan would be called on to do just that, as a means to discredit Taiwan’s democracy and its leadership. By the second decade of the 21st century, the CCP’s strategy was, as sometime party mouthpiece Global Times wrote in 2016, to engineer the “Lebanonization” of Taiwan — in other words, to create division and chaos in the island.

One of the main vehicles for this has been the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP), a pro-mainland group created by Chang An-le, the onetime head of the Bamboo Union, one of the most powerful triads. Chang spent a long period in exile on the mainland to avoid crackdowns against crime on the island, where he built up close ties with party princelings, the sons of the senior CCP leadership. Chang claims that his party has regular contact with the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office and that he has “friends in the United Front,” the constellation of agencies and organizations that handles China’s propaganda and political warfare efforts.

NORTH KOREA

Would it surprise you to learn that part of a Donald Trump tweet is untrue?

Get this: North Korea hasn’t blown up any missile launch sites. As far as we know, North Korea has all of its missiles on mobile launch platforms, so it has no “launch sites” to blow up. Pyongyang has stopped testing nukes and missiles–after successfully developing a hydrogen bomb and an intercontinental ballistic missile. Yippee.

However, the North Koreans reportedly have offered, in negotiations with South Korea, to pull some of their long-range artillery pieces out of the North-South border region. Or at least they accepted a South Korean proposal that they do so. In principle. In practice they may want something, probably from the US, in return. They’ll probably ask for long-range pieces to be removed from the border on both sides, which kind of favors North Korea since Pyongyang is further from the border than Seoul.

SOUTH KOREA

The US and South Korea have agreed to suspend their multinational Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise scheduled for August. Trump, you may recall, pledged to suspend military drills with South Korea after meeting with Kim last week.

OCEANIA

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Part of Papua New Guinea is under a nine-month state of emergency after riots and looting last week struck the city of Mendi in its Southern Highlands province. Dozens of armed men rioted in the city after a court ruled against a challenge against the election of the provincial governor last September. And since the provincial government is now suspended under the state of emergency, I guess the rioting…worked?

AFRICA

LIBYA

Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army are moving to reestablish control over Libya’s main oil ports at Ras Lanuf and Sidra. Those facilities were attacked last week by forces opposed to Haftar, led by the remnants of the Benghazi Defense Brigades and the Petroleum Facilities Guard militia, potentially crippling Libya’s oil output. Haftar’s forces announced on Sunday that they’re launching a counterattack. A lengthy cratering of Libya’s oil industry could be catastrophic to the country’s economy, and any damage to the oil ports in battle could lead to spills and could be catastrophic to the environment. Good times.

THE GAMBIA

Gambian paramilitary security forces killed two environmental activists on Monday in a town south of Banjul, while responding to a protest over the environmental impact of sand mining on the region. Farmers and activists say that sand mining destroys agricultural lands.

NIGERIA

Suicide bombers and a rocket attack killed at least 31 people in the northeastern Nigerian town of Damboa on Saturday night. It seems obvious that Boko Haram was responsible though there’s been no claim of responsibility.

Last week Voice of America interviewed Falmata Abubakar, the mother of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, in the village of Shekau in Nigeria’s Yobe state. It’s an interesting interview–she apparently, for example, believes her son was brainwashed by Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf. Alex Thurston puts this in a bit of context:

We read further that Shekau “left Shekau [village] as a boy to continue his Islamic education in Maiduguri, a center of religious studies for hundreds of years.” Crisis Group (.pdf, p. 19) places Shekau (the man) in Maiduguri’s Mafoni Ward as of 1990, when he was in his teens or early twenties (I’ve seen estimated birth dates for Shekau that range between 1967 and 1976). Shekau’s mother told Oduah that the turning point in his life was meeting Muhammad Yusuf, who is widely considered the founder of Boko Haram. Various analysts (including me) believe that by 2009, when Yusuf was killed by security forces in the aftermath of Boko Haram’s mass uprising that summer, Shekau was more hardline than Yusuf – but in the beginning it seems plausible that Yusuf heavily influenced Shekau. It would be extremely interesting, of course, to know exactly when the two men met – again, in Crisis Group’s account, Shekau enrolled in the Borno College of Legal and Islamic Studies in the 1990s, met Mamman Nur (another future Boko Haram leader) there, and then met Yusuf through Nur. But the meeting could have occurred at any point in the 1990s or even in the early 2000s.

KENYA

An explosive device planted by al-Shabab along a road in northeastern Kenya killed eight Kenyan police officers on Sunday. Al-Shabab fighters moved in after the vehicle struck their bomb and stripped the police of their weapons an ammunition.

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