International Crisis Group

Aug 20

Al-Shabab: A Close Look at East Africa’s Deadliest Radicals | Peter Dörrie
More than any other organization, Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen, widely known as al-Shabab, has left its mark on the recent history of Somalia. Political and radical Islam have a long history in the country, but no group has survived longer than al-Shabab, and no group has emerged stronger from challenges and setbacks.
More than any other actor involved in the two-decade-old Somali conflict, al-Shabab has demonstrated its ability to adapt. Today, the group has emerged from an existential crisis and looks stronger than it has in years. Though al-Shabab is often referred to as simply a “terrorist group,” the term does not accurately describe the range of the group’s activities. As perhaps the most important spoiler on Somalia’s way toward peace, al-Shabab’s current situation warrants an assessment.
FULL ARTICLE (World Politics Review)
Photo: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa/flickr

Al-Shabab: A Close Look at East Africa’s Deadliest Radicals | Peter Dörrie

More than any other organization, Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen, widely known as al-Shabab, has left its mark on the recent history of Somalia. Political and radical Islam have a long history in the country, but no group has survived longer than al-Shabab, and no group has emerged stronger from challenges and setbacks.

More than any other actor involved in the two-decade-old Somali conflict, al-Shabab has demonstrated its ability to adapt. Today, the group has emerged from an existential crisis and looks stronger than it has in years. Though al-Shabab is often referred to as simply a “terrorist group,” the term does not accurately describe the range of the group’s activities. As perhaps the most important spoiler on Somalia’s way toward peace, al-Shabab’s current situation warrants an assessment.

FULL ARTICLE (World Politics Review)

Photo: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa/flickr

Aug 19

The Waxing Crescent | MARIANA BAABAR
On Independence Day, along with revered state heroes, a nation needs to celebrate contemporary feats of heroism too. This August, Pakistan has been celebrating the achievements of 21-year-old Samina Baig. After conquering Mount Everest, Samina, with her brother Mirza Ali, is now heading towards Mount Elbrus in Russia. Having already had the better of the highest continental peaks in Argentina, Antarctica, Tanzania and Alaska, Elbrus will make them the first Pakistani siblings to have conquered all the highest peaks in seven continents.
But Pakistan’s government of the day has little time for celebrating the feats of the girl from Shimshal valley in upper Hunza. At the vanguard of the forces bes­­ieging it are hijab-clad, sloganeering women from Punjab, headline-grabbing footsoldiers of Can­ada-­­­­based firebrand cleric Allama Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awa­mi Tehriq (PAT). With expectations and apprehensions surro­u­n­ding Qadri’s Inq­ilab March from Lahore to Islam­abad on Aug­­ust 14 reaching a fevered pitch as the date draws near, all eyes are on the so-called ‘chicks with sticks’.
FULL ARTICLE (Outlook)
Photo: Gul Hamaad Farooqi/GroundReport/flickr

The Waxing Crescent | MARIANA BAABAR

On Independence Day, along with revered state heroes, a nation needs to celebrate contemporary feats of heroism too. This August, Pakistan has been celebrating the achievements of 21-year-old Samina Baig. After conquering Mount Everest, Samina, with her brother Mirza Ali, is now heading towards Mount Elbrus in Russia. Having already had the better of the highest continental peaks in Argentina, Antarctica, Tanzania and Alaska, Elbrus will make them the first Pakistani siblings to have conquered all the highest peaks in seven continents.

But Pakistan’s government of the day has little time for celebrating the feats of the girl from Shimshal valley in upper Hunza. At the vanguard of the forces bes­­ieging it are hijab-clad, sloganeering women from Punjab, headline-grabbing footsoldiers of Can­ada-­­­­based firebrand cleric Allama Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awa­mi Tehriq (PAT). With expectations and apprehensions surro­u­n­ding Qadri’s Inq­ilab March from Lahore to Islam­abad on Aug­­ust 14 reaching a fevered pitch as the date draws near, all eyes are on the so-called ‘chicks with sticks’.

FULL ARTICLE (Outlook)

Photo: Gul Hamaad Farooqi/GroundReport/flickr

Hundreds of Taliban fighters battle Afghan forces near Kabul: officials | AHMAD SULTAN
(Reuters) - As many as 700 heavily armed Taliban insurgents are battling Afghan security forces in Logar, a key province near the capital Kabul, local officials said on Tuesday, in a test of the Afghan military’s strength as foreign forces pull out of the country.
Militants have this summer mounted increasingly intensive assaults across several provinces, often involving hundreds of fighters, as the country braces to stand on it own feet militarily for the first time in nearly 13 years.
"There are some 700 of them and they are fighting Afghan forces for territorial control and they have also brought with them makeshift mobile (health) clinics," Niaz Mohammad Amiri, the provincial governor of Logar province, told Reuters by telephone.
The Taliban have dug-in in Logar, which lies about an hour’s drive south of Kabul, and nearby Wardak province to the west, in recent years. They have used the provinces - gateways to the capital - as launchpads for hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings on Kabul.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Alexandre Cadieux/NATO/flickr

Hundreds of Taliban fighters battle Afghan forces near Kabul: officials | AHMAD SULTAN

(Reuters) - As many as 700 heavily armed Taliban insurgents are battling Afghan security forces in Logar, a key province near the capital Kabul, local officials said on Tuesday, in a test of the Afghan military’s strength as foreign forces pull out of the country.

Militants have this summer mounted increasingly intensive assaults across several provinces, often involving hundreds of fighters, as the country braces to stand on it own feet militarily for the first time in nearly 13 years.

"There are some 700 of them and they are fighting Afghan forces for territorial control and they have also brought with them makeshift mobile (health) clinics," Niaz Mohammad Amiri, the provincial governor of Logar province, told Reuters by telephone.

The Taliban have dug-in in Logar, which lies about an hour’s drive south of Kabul, and nearby Wardak province to the west, in recent years. They have used the provinces - gateways to the capital - as launchpads for hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings on Kabul.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Alexandre Cadieux/NATO/flickr

Houthi Shia rebels threaten Yemen’s transition to democracy | Peter Salisbury
An offensive by a militant Shia movement in Yemen that has taken its fighters to within 50km of the capital has reignited fears of a new wave of sectarian violence on the Arabian Peninsula.
Moderate Islamists and western diplomats are increasingly concerned that military successes by the Houthis, coupled with the re-emergence of the local al-Qaeda franchise, could ignite the kind of debilitating ethnic fighting that is raging elsewhere in the region – pushing Sunnis towards the violent rhetoric of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, the jihadist group engaged in a campaign of sectarian warfare in Syria and Iraq.
Western and local officials fear a surge in sectarian violence could derail Yemen’s internationally backed political transition to democracy aimed at putting an end to decades of conflict. Thousands of Houthi supporters protested in the capital on Tuesday, the day after their leader publicly called for the government to be dissolved.
FULL ARTICLE (The Financial Times)
Photo: Rod Waddington/flickr

Houthi Shia rebels threaten Yemen’s transition to democracy | Peter Salisbury

An offensive by a militant Shia movement in Yemen that has taken its fighters to within 50km of the capital has reignited fears of a new wave of sectarian violence on the Arabian Peninsula.

Moderate Islamists and western diplomats are increasingly concerned that military successes by the Houthis, coupled with the re-emergence of the local al-Qaeda franchise, could ignite the kind of debilitating ethnic fighting that is raging elsewhere in the region – pushing Sunnis towards the violent rhetoric of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, the jihadist group engaged in a campaign of sectarian warfare in Syria and Iraq.

Western and local officials fear a surge in sectarian violence could derail Yemen’s internationally backed political transition to democracy aimed at putting an end to decades of conflict. Thousands of Houthi supporters protested in the capital on Tuesday, the day after their leader publicly called for the government to be dissolved.

FULL ARTICLE (The Financial Times)

Photo: Rod Waddington/flickr

Aug 18

Surge of radical Buddhism in South Asia | Roma Rajpal Weiss
A series of religious clashes in Myanmar and Sri Lanka in recent years has increased international concern about the role of Buddhist clergy in fuelling anti-Muslim violence.
Deadly riots broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in southern Sri Lanka on 15 June. Three people were killed and 80 injured in the towns of Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dhagra. The violence was sparked by reports that a Muslim man had allegedly attacked a Buddhist monk. Further reports indicated that the argument had actually been between the driver of a monk and the driver of a Muslim man.
Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, the Buddhist Strength Force), a nationalist Buddhist group with a notorious reputation, is being blamed for the incident. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, the group’s leader, gave a speech around the time of the riots in which he claimed that the Sinhalese Buddhist population was under serious threat from the Muslims. This instigated further violence by large mobs, which attacked mosques and burned down shops and houses in Muslim neighbourhoods.
FULL ARTICLE (Qantara.de)
Photo: Vikalpa/flickr

Surge of radical Buddhism in South Asia | Roma Rajpal Weiss

A series of religious clashes in Myanmar and Sri Lanka in recent years has increased international concern about the role of Buddhist clergy in fuelling anti-Muslim violence.

Deadly riots broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in southern Sri Lanka on 15 June. Three people were killed and 80 injured in the towns of Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dhagra. The violence was sparked by reports that a Muslim man had allegedly attacked a Buddhist monk. Further reports indicated that the argument had actually been between the driver of a monk and the driver of a Muslim man.

Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, the Buddhist Strength Force), a nationalist Buddhist group with a notorious reputation, is being blamed for the incident. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, the group’s leader, gave a speech around the time of the riots in which he claimed that the Sinhalese Buddhist population was under serious threat from the Muslims. This instigated further violence by large mobs, which attacked mosques and burned down shops and houses in Muslim neighbourhoods.

FULL ARTICLE (Qantara.de)

Photo: Vikalpa/flickr

Cricket star Imran Khan overplays hand in Pakistan power game | Katharine Houreld
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Cricket hero Imran Khan rode a wave of discontent to finally break through as a serious player in Pakistani politics at last year’s election. Now he is aiming even higher, leading thousands on a march to the capital in a bid to unseat the prime minister.
But in taking his campaign to force out Nawaz Sharif on to the streets of Islamabad, Khan may have overplayed his hand. This weekend his crowd of followers was already thinning out, and without overt support from the military his protests are unlikely to be a game-changer.
Thousands showed up for his rally on Saturday, but some supporters grumbled they had slept out in the rain while Khan relaxed in his nearby mansion.
"The path he’s chosen is one of protest," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank. "Now the question is: does he have a strategy beyond the protest?"
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: Carol Mitchell/flickr

Cricket star Imran Khan overplays hand in Pakistan power game | Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Cricket hero Imran Khan rode a wave of discontent to finally break through as a serious player in Pakistani politics at last year’s election. Now he is aiming even higher, leading thousands on a march to the capital in a bid to unseat the prime minister.

But in taking his campaign to force out Nawaz Sharif on to the streets of Islamabad, Khan may have overplayed his hand. This weekend his crowd of followers was already thinning out, and without overt support from the military his protests are unlikely to be a game-changer.

Thousands showed up for his rally on Saturday, but some supporters grumbled they had slept out in the rain while Khan relaxed in his nearby mansion.

"The path he’s chosen is one of protest," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank. "Now the question is: does he have a strategy beyond the protest?"

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: Carol Mitchell/flickr

All eyes on Mugabe as he takes Sadc chair | RAY NDLOVU
HARARE — AT 90, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe assumes chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) this weekend.
Mr Mugabe’s year at the helm of the 15-nation grouping will begin at Sadc’s 34th summit on Sunday and Monday at Victoria Falls.
The imposing setting will provide the backdrop as Mr Mugabe seeks to polish his profile, worn out in the last decade of Zimbabwe’s political and economic instability.
"Mr Mugabe has never been chair of Sadc before so it’s very symbolic. It is also an opportunity for him to use this platform to rescue some vestiges of a positive legacy," the Southern Africa director of the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou, said.
FULL ARTICLE (Business Day Live)
Photo: GovernmentZA/flickr

All eyes on Mugabe as he takes Sadc chair | RAY NDLOVU

HARARE — AT 90, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe assumes chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) this weekend.

Mr Mugabe’s year at the helm of the 15-nation grouping will begin at Sadc’s 34th summit on Sunday and Monday at Victoria Falls.

The imposing setting will provide the backdrop as Mr Mugabe seeks to polish his profile, worn out in the last decade of Zimbabwe’s political and economic instability.

"Mr Mugabe has never been chair of Sadc before so it’s very symbolic. It is also an opportunity for him to use this platform to rescue some vestiges of a positive legacy," the Southern Africa director of the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou, said.

FULL ARTICLE (Business Day Live)

Photo: GovernmentZA/flickr

Iraq refugees ‘terrified to be sent back’ | Noah Blaser
Silopi refugee camp, Turkey - After a four-day trek through the barren, sun-blasted terrain of northern Iraq, Murad Kasim Rashow shook with anger as he remembered the family members he left behind.
Newly arrived at a makeshift refugee camp in Silopi, a remote border town in Turkey’s southeast, he grieved for his two aunts who have been missing since armed fighters from the Islamic State group overran their hometown of Sinjar one week ago.
"I fear the worst. Every family now has its tale of loss or death," said Rashow, a 37-year-old former translator for the US army. "There is no way we can imagine returning there."
Rashow is one of tens of thousands of Yazidis - ethnic Kurds who practise a distinct religion - who have fled northern Iraq amid the advance of fighters from the Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
The Islamic State offensive left thousands of Yazidis trapped and starving on Iraq’s desolate Sinjar mountain, while tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled to the country’s Kurdish region in the northeast.
FULL ARTICLE (Al Jazeera America)
Photo: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Department for International Development/flickr

Iraq refugees ‘terrified to be sent back’ | Noah Blaser

Silopi refugee camp, Turkey - After a four-day trek through the barren, sun-blasted terrain of northern Iraq, Murad Kasim Rashow shook with anger as he remembered the family members he left behind.

Newly arrived at a makeshift refugee camp in Silopi, a remote border town in Turkey’s southeast, he grieved for his two aunts who have been missing since armed fighters from the Islamic State group overran their hometown of Sinjar one week ago.

"I fear the worst. Every family now has its tale of loss or death," said Rashow, a 37-year-old former translator for the US army. "There is no way we can imagine returning there."

Rashow is one of tens of thousands of Yazidis - ethnic Kurds who practise a distinct religion - who have fled northern Iraq amid the advance of fighters from the Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

The Islamic State offensive left thousands of Yazidis trapped and starving on Iraq’s desolate Sinjar mountain, while tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled to the country’s Kurdish region in the northeast.

FULL ARTICLE (Al Jazeera America)

Photo: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Department for International Development/flickr

Aug 14

Exxon Ends Oil Search With Total in South Sudan as War Rages | Ilya Gridneff 
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:US), the U.S.’s largest oil company, ended exploration plans with Total SA (FP) in South Sudan, Total and the government said, a sign of faltering investor confidence in the African nation as a civil war enters its eighth month.
Exxon in April didn’t renew an agreement with Total to negotiate for joint-exploration over parts of a 120,000 square-kilometer (46,300 square-mile) concession in Jonglei state, Total spokeswoman Anastasia Zhivulina said in an Aug. 12 e-mailed response to questions. Total is still bidding to explore in partnership with Kuwait’s state-owned Kuwait Foreign Exploration Petroleum Co. she said. Exxon spokesman Patrick McGinn said by e-mail that the company doesn’t comment on specific ventures.
“Losing the American oil company’s interest is definitely a blow for the future prospects of South Sudan’s oil industry,” Luke Patey, a researcher on the country’s industry at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said in an e-mailed response to questions. Exxon could re-enter South Sudan when security improves, he said.
FULL ARTICLE (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Photo: ENOUGH Project/flickr

Exxon Ends Oil Search With Total in South Sudan as War Rages | Ilya Gridneff 

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:US), the U.S.’s largest oil company, ended exploration plans with Total SA (FP) in South Sudan, Total and the government said, a sign of faltering investor confidence in the African nation as a civil war enters its eighth month.

Exxon in April didn’t renew an agreement with Total to negotiate for joint-exploration over parts of a 120,000 square-kilometer (46,300 square-mile) concession in Jonglei state, Total spokeswoman Anastasia Zhivulina said in an Aug. 12 e-mailed response to questions. Total is still bidding to explore in partnership with Kuwait’s state-owned Kuwait Foreign Exploration Petroleum Co. she said. Exxon spokesman Patrick McGinn said by e-mail that the company doesn’t comment on specific ventures.

“Losing the American oil company’s interest is definitely a blow for the future prospects of South Sudan’s oil industry,” Luke Patey, a researcher on the country’s industry at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said in an e-mailed response to questions. Exxon could re-enter South Sudan when security improves, he said.

FULL ARTICLE (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Photo: ENOUGH Project/flickr

Engaging the enemy | The Economist
IN JUNE, when extremists from the Islamic State (IS) took over the Iraqi city of Mosul and hurtled south towards Baghdad, the Kurds in the north reacted with glee. They had no love for IS, a group which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, later re-emerged in Syria and now operates in both countries. Indeed IS is sufficiently vile and disobedient, not to mention power hungry, that not even al-Qaeda likes it any more. But the Kurds saw its success as a deserved kick in the teeth for Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia prime minister. And if the fight with IS broke Iraq into sectarian pieces, semi-autonomous Kurdistan would achieve long-dreamed-of independence.
That sentiment disappeared at the beginning of August when, possibly as a result of resistance to the south, IS pivoted to take on the Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed forces. The Peshmerga number at least 120,000 and are reputed to be Iraq’s best-trained force. Before June IS was reckoned to have barely more than 10,000 fighters all told, though “they have doubled or tripled since this started,” according to Helgurd Hikmet of the Peshmerga. But the IS onslaught was brutal and well equipped, thanks to American hardware provided to the Iraqi government and then captured. Suicide-bombers were dispatched ahead of high-speed convoys; the troops showed an eagerness to die in battle rather than duck bullets. The Peshmerga admit that without American air strikes against IS, which started on August 8th, the fighting would have reached Erbil, their capital.
FULL ARTICLE (The Economist)
Photo: UK Department for International Development(DFID)/flickr

Engaging the enemy | The Economist

IN JUNE, when extremists from the Islamic State (IS) took over the Iraqi city of Mosul and hurtled south towards Baghdad, the Kurds in the north reacted with glee. They had no love for IS, a group which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, later re-emerged in Syria and now operates in both countries. Indeed IS is sufficiently vile and disobedient, not to mention power hungry, that not even al-Qaeda likes it any more. But the Kurds saw its success as a deserved kick in the teeth for Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia prime minister. And if the fight with IS broke Iraq into sectarian pieces, semi-autonomous Kurdistan would achieve long-dreamed-of independence.

That sentiment disappeared at the beginning of August when, possibly as a result of resistance to the south, IS pivoted to take on the Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed forces. The Peshmerga number at least 120,000 and are reputed to be Iraq’s best-trained force. Before June IS was reckoned to have barely more than 10,000 fighters all told, though “they have doubled or tripled since this started,” according to Helgurd Hikmet of the Peshmerga. But the IS onslaught was brutal and well equipped, thanks to American hardware provided to the Iraqi government and then captured. Suicide-bombers were dispatched ahead of high-speed convoys; the troops showed an eagerness to die in battle rather than duck bullets. The Peshmerga admit that without American air strikes against IS, which started on August 8th, the fighting would have reached Erbil, their capital.

FULL ARTICLE (The Economist)

Photo: UK Department for International Development(DFID)/flickr