Asia/Africa update: March 13 2019



At least five Afghan soldiers in were killed on Wednesday when their checkpoint in Uruzgan province was destroyed by US airstrikes. The soldiers may have fired on a joint US-Afghan unit maneuvering nearby, which then requested air support.


China has blocked a United Nations Security Council move, requested by India, to add Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar to the UN’s list of “global terrorists.” This is the fourth time Beijing has prevented the UN from blacklisting Azhar, mostly because if he were so designated it would be a huge embarrassment to the Pakistani government that allows him to live freely in Pakistan and whose intelligence services (uh, allegedly) collaborate with JEM. The Pakistanis say there’s no point to sanctioning Azhar anymore because he’s old and little more than a figurehead for the militant group, though that doesn’t really explain why they’ve opposed sanctioning him in the past.


The United States and India have reportedly agreed to collaborate on the construction of six new nuclear power plants in India. Liability issues have hampered US-India nuclear collaborations in the past, and it’s not clear what’s changed but to the extent that this agreement will reduce India’s use of fossil fuels and therefore its imports from Iran, it will benefit the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” approach toward Tehran.


Nepalese journalist Kamal Dev Bhattarai says that Nepal may be on the brink of another Maoist insurgency along the lines of the one that caused its 1996-2006 civil war. The latest troubling sign is the February 22 bombing of Ncell’s Kathmandu office, which was apparently carried out by a Maoist splinter group:

Two days after the blast, leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal, helmed by Netra Bikram Chand, telephoned correspondents of major media outlets to take the responsibility for the blast. The party leaders said that they had attacked the Ncell office to punish the company for not paying taxes to Nepal’s government. The party said that they had no intention of attacking the general public and apologized for the death of a civilian.

On February 6, Nepal’s Supreme Court had ordered Ncell and its parent company Axiatia to pay a tax bill of 61 billion Nepali rupees (roughly $550 million), excluding late fees and fines. The Chand-led Maoist party used this issue as an excuse to show their strength. Along with attacking the Ncell office and towers, the group also exploded bombs at the construction site of the Arun-3 hydropower plant, which is being constructed by an Indian company.

The Chand-led Communist Party is a splinter group of the Maoist party, which in 1996 launched 10-year long insurgency. The resulting conflict claimed the lives of more than 16,000 people, leaving thousands injured. Hundreds still remain missing. Since joining the peace process in 2006, the Maoist group has split more than four times. One of the offshoots is the Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal, which claims to be an original Maoist party. Chand and other leaders were against joining hands with parliamentary parties in 2006 to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).


The wife and son of a suspected member of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah apparently blew themselves up on Sumatra island early Wednesday morning after a lengthy standoff with police outside their apartment. Not much is known about JAD but it appears to be affiliated with ISIS and is believed to have been behind last May’s bombings in the city of Surabaya. The group was outlawed by Indonesian authorities last year.


The US State Department’s annual human rights report described China’s treatment of Muslims in its Xinjiang region in stark terms, with the head of its human rights and democracy bureau, Michael Kozak, saying “you haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s.” He didn’t elaborate but I think the analogy is pretty clear. Beijing has herded perhaps more than two million Uyghurs and other Muslims into reeducation camps in Xinjiang that it describes chillingly as “vocational training centers.” In rolling out the report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described China as being “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.” Coincidentally or not, some Chinese officials have started to talk about “phasing out” the camps, though whether that’s because they’re feeling international pressure or because the camps have fulfilled their purpose is unclear–probably more the latter.


38 North says it can’t find any evidence of new activity at North Korea’s Sohae satellite launching facility since March 8:

Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) shows no changes to the launch pad or engine test stand between March 8 and March 13.

In imagery from March 8, the construction observed over the past few weeks seemed to have been completed and the two facilities had been cleared of debris. At the launch pad, the rail-mounted transfer/processing structure had been moved to the edge of the pad and the environmental cover had been closed around the gantry tower. In imagery from March 13, the transfer structure remains in the same position and the environmental cover still conceals the gantry tower.



At LobeLog, Giorgio Cafiero argues that achieving peace in Libya is going to require international actors to lean on their various clients and proxies to make it happen:

The UN has attempted to push Libyans toward compromises that build institutions that represent the country’s different communities. For the Ghassan Salamé-led UN process to succeed, international and regional states sponsoring different players in the Libyan civil war must communicate to their clients that boycotting such a process is not an option.

This will not be an easy lift. The civil war can only be resolved if the different actors agree on a security architecture, a form of government, economic reforms, geographic locations for major national institutions, and more. Legitimizing such reforms and institutions via popular referendums would require the various actors in Libya to accept the outcomes regardless of the results. Such an outcome is only remotely possible if the foreign players cut back on their support for rejectionist forces in Libya. In practice this will require UN-authorized measures to stop illegal oil exports. Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed how the UAE and Haftar entered secret talks to facilitate Libyan oil exports beyond the UN-endorsed channels. Failure to enforce the UN process will subject Libya to graver threats of secession and intensification of violence waged over natural resource control.

Late last month, the head of the GNA, Faiez Serraj, met Haftar in Abu Dhabi for talks on resolving the Libyan civil war. The invitation came from Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler. Serraj and Haftar agreed to hold elections that end Libya’s transitional phase and built strong and unified national institutions that can ensure peace and security in the country. The two have met before, most recently in Palermo (November 2018) and earlier in Abu Dhabi (May 2017). That no breakthrough was reached last month in the Emirati capital illustrates how deep the current impasse is.


Algerians are continuing to protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the ruling clique he nominally heads despite Bouteflika’s announcement that he will not seek a fifth term in office. Mostly this reflects skepticism about Bouteflika’s deal, which postpones next month’s election and thus extends his fourth term indefinitely while promising no fifth. The Algerian government is saying it wants to reform the country’s political system to reflect “the will of the people,” but there’s no reason for the Algerian people to believe it at this point and it seems clear enough that they don’t. At Foreign Policy, Stephen Cook argues that there are too many parallels between Algeria now and Egypt in 2011, when an essentially military regime (with only a veneer of civilian control) gave the appearance of responding to public demands only to ultimately find a way to hang on to power in the end, to be too optimistic about the chances for real change here.


A new International Crisis Group report says that South Sudan’s peace deal, the one the government and rebel leaders struck back in September, “is at risk of collapse” because its implementation has stalled. In particular, the government and the main rebel faction led by former (and maybe future) Vice President Riek Machar have not made any progress on unifying their forces into a single national army, with a deadline approaching in May by which point they’re supposed to have put together a national unity government. There are additional administrative issues that need to be worked out as well as at least one ongoing rebellion, in the country’s Equatoria region, involving a militant group that didn’t accept the September agreement.


Eight people, all civilians, were killed on Wednesday when al-Shabab (presumably, they haven’t claimed it) bombed a marketplace in Somalia’s southern Bay region. All eight were civilians and it’s believed al-Shabab attacked the market after merchants there refused to pay protection money.

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