Ashraf Ghani made wholesale changes in his national security cabinet last month, installing former intelligence boss Amrullah Saleh as interior minister and putting new people in charge of the defense ministry and the High Peace Council. The point, with momentum building behind peace talks between the Taliban and US that threaten to leave Kabul out of the loop, was to send a message to Taliban leadership:
The Trump administration, having pushed hard for peace talks, suddenly said it was making plans to withdraw thousands of troops. Taliban leaders eagerly joined meetings with the United States and other foreign governments but refused to meet with Afghan officials and continued to wage attacks across the country.
“There was a need to send a different message,” said Nader Nadery, a senior aide to Ghani, describing the sweeping changes.
“One part was to show we would do everything it takes to protect our country and people, without leading the public to expect miracles,” he said. “The other was to send a clear message to the Taliban: ‘If you want to talk, we’re ready. If you want to fight, we’re also ready.’ ”
At The Diplomat, researcher Sara Mahmood says that China’s high profile economic role in Pakistan has left it extremely vulnerable to Pakistan’s array of terrorist groups:
China has invested more than $62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), developing a network of roads, pipelines, and railways to connect Balochistan province in Pakistan with Xinjiang in China. Currently, there are more than 20,000 Chinese nationals working across Pakistan, with more than 70,000 short-term visit visas being issued each year.
In 2019, Chinese economic projects, nationals, and interests will be vulnerable to terrorist attacks in Pakistan due to close bilateral ties and the significant Chinese physical presence in the country. The perception of China as a “colonizing power” and its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang will aggravate China’s existing vulnerability. The terrorist threat will not emanate only from Baloch separatist groups, but also Islamist terrorist entities, such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State’s (ISIS) local affiliates in the country.
Inside China, meanwhile, authorities continue to brutalize the Uyghurs on the mere chance that some of them might one day radicalize. The Guardian has a new investigation into the massive scope of Beijing’s Uyghur internment program:
Luopu, a sparsely populated rural county of about 280,000 that is almost entirely Uighur, is home to eight internment camps officially labelled “vocational training centres”, according to public budget documents seen by the Guardian.
In 2018, officials expected to accommodate 12,000 “students” as well as another 2,100 inmates at another detention centre – a total of about 7% of the county’s adult population, or 11% of the entire male population.
Luopu county also planned to spend almost 300m yuan ($44m) on “stability control”, including almost $300,000 on a surveillance system to cover all mosques, and funding for almost 6,000 police officers to work in “convenient police stations” and security checkpoints, as well as to patrol residential areas.
Protests against Omar al-Bashir continued on Friday, with police feeling compelled to use tear gas to break up a sizable demonstration in Khartoum. According to Reuters, Friday’s protests seemed larger than previously and they began in the middle of the day instead of after sundown as has been the pattern. Worshippers at one mosque in the capital ran off their imam after demanding to know why he wasn’t leading them in protests against Bashir. The protests have been going on since mid-December, when they began in the wake of food and fuel price rises, but increasingly the demonstrators are challenging Bashir’s rule altogether.
The Russian ambassador to Guinea, Alexander Bregadze, has kicked off a bit of a shitstorm, after saying on television on Wednesday that President Alpha Conde should remain in office. Conde’s second and legally-speaking final term as president expires next year. Opposition leaders were quick to criticize Bregadze’s comments. It’s unclear how Conde feels about all of this, but the outcry shows that there are clearly fears that he’s going to try to find a way to run for a third term.
The International Crisis Group has suggestions for curbing Mali’s drug trafficking problem, which has contributed to overall instability in the northern part of the country:
The global struggle against the drug trade has known few successes. To be effective, measures should be global, coordinated and agreed between countries of production, transit and consumption, whose interests often conflict. Meanwhile Mali, like other transit countries exposed to violent competition over trafficking, needs a strategy based on its own needs and developed with the regional context in mind. Its efforts should focus on curtailing drug trafficking’s most destabilising consequences. The Malian government and its foreign partners should seek to demilitarise trafficking in northern Mali as best possible in order to reduce associated bloodshed and facilitate the peace agreement’s implementation. They should prioritise three interlinked strategies:
- Encourage local security agreements such as the Anéfis deals, which complement the inter-Malian peace process; replicate such deals elsewhere in the north; and, without condoning trafficking, allow those agreements to include those involved to establish non-aggression pacts around transit routes and ensure that any fighting over trafficking not escalate into clashes between the major armed groups in the north that signed the 2015 peace deal.
- Use security mechanisms put in place by the peace agreement, notably the Technical Commission for Security (Commission technique de sécurité, CTS) set up to help enforce the deal and which now comprises UN and French forces, to reduce the circulation of heavy weapons and regulate the movement of vehicles used to transport such weaponry by all signatory armed groups – including those connected to traffickers – in the north. Already the CTS provides a mechanism that allows UN peacekeepers and French forces to monitor such convoys; stepping up these efforts could accelerate disarmament and thus the demilitarisation of trafficking.
- Adopt coercive measures, including targeted sanctions and the confiscation of heavy weaponry, in order to curb the activities of the most violent drug traffickers, who continue to employ the military resources of signatory groups. The Security Council, based on the findings of its panel of experts, can already sanction those who violate the 2015 peace deal while the security committee established in Mali by the peace agreement can also confiscate heavy weapons of signatory groups’ unauthorized military convoys; these mandates could provide sufficient grounds for action against those refusing to demilitarise.
A group of jihadi fighters gunned down at least 12 people on Thursday in a town called Gasseliki near Burkina Faso’s border with Mali. In response, the Burkinabe government on Friday extended its current state of emergency in the northern part of the country for another six months.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Ostensibly defeated presidential contender Martin Fayulu vowed on Friday to challenge the declared results of the country’s December 30 presidential election in court. Fayulu is claiming, based in part on information from Catholic election observers, that he won the election with over 60 percent of the vote. The real winner at this point, amazingly, seems to be Joseph Kabila, even though he’s the one out of a job and his chosen successor lost so badly that Kabila couldn’t even justify rigging the vote count for him. There are increasing concerns that Kabila has cut a deal with the declared winner, Felix Tshisekedi, because he believes Tshisekedi will be more amenable to Kabila maintaining a continued role at the center of Congolese politics.