The Taliban announced an “interim” cabinet on 7 September, their first step since taking power on 15 August toward forming a government and signalling how they intend to rule. The cabinet is filled with long-time key Taliban figures from their days as a government and later an insurgency, and it bears a strong resemblance to their former regime of the 1990s. The appointments will reassure the Taliban’s rank and file that their leadership remains unified and has not succumbed to pressure to show a more moderate face, but it will not be appreciated by many others. The roster does not reflect Afghan diversity, and it offers no olive branches to a wary international community.
On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a new episode of Hold Your Fire! looks at the shadow cast by the “global war on terror” across South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh discuss how Islamist militants – groups like al-Qaeda and later ISIS – have fared in twenty years marked by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the 2011 Arab revolutions, the war in Syria and U.S. counter-terrorism operations in many other corners of the world. They talk about al-Qaeda’s recovery after losing its safe havens in Afghanistan, its vicious local branch in Iraq and its expansion through affiliates elsewhere. They also discuss how al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch exploited the Syrian war and evolved into ISIS, and the later struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda. They take stock of where Islamist militancy stands today, with groups fighting in an increasing number of warzones across Africa and in light of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. They examine what efforts against militants look like today and some of the flaws of existing counter-terrorism policy.
Since mid-July, when the Taliban march toward the Afghan capital accelerated at an astonishing pace, the Somalia-based jihadist group Al-Shabaab’s media channels have covered little else. Not without reason. One of al-Qaeda’s wealthiest and most tenacious affiliates, Al-Shabaab doubtless hopes that it, too, can outwait the large international troop deployment that props up Somalia’s government and one day capture power throughout the country. Al-Shabaab’s enduring influence – it retains a capacity to levy taxes essentially unchallenged in as much as 80 per cent of the country – sums up a key lesson from two decades of the U.S.-led “war on terror” in Africa: the investment in military efforts to contain jihadism, in places where governments enjoy dismal levels of public credibility, and in situations where elites in distant capitals deliver few services to the people, has hardly helped row back the threat of jihadist militancy. That threat remains as acute as at any period in the last twenty years.
Somaliland’s parliamentary and local council elections represented rare good news in the troubled Horn of Africa. Smoothly run and fairly peaceful, the long-delayed 31 May polls handed a surprise loss to the ruling party, which swiftly accepted the results. While the vote was an undeniable success, there were nevertheless significant disappointments. Security forces harassed and detained some opposition candidates during the campaign. Not a single woman won a seat in parliament, contributing to the continued near absence of women from high-level Somaliland politics. Dismal voter turnout in eastern regions appeared to reflect disaffection with authorities in the capital, Hargeisa, while exacerbating the under-representation of eastern sub-clans in parliament.
Since 2016, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a coup attempt, the Turkish leader has added a military edge to his foreign policy. Turkey’s subsequent interventions in Syria and Libya and support for Azerbaijan in its mid-2020 war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh have paid dividends for Erdoğan, not only in those conflicts but also at home, shoring up his nationalist support. Ankara’s activism abroad has, however, unnerved not just rivals, but also some of Turkey’s allies, particularly Western powers already troubled by Erdoğan’s domestic policies and relations with Russia. To mitigate the fallout, Ankara has sought to smoothe ruffled feathers in the West. But even if Turkey and its Western allies can put some of their differences behind them, their divergent interests and worldviews suggest that tension and mistrust will persist.
Jair Bolsonaro is in a tight spot. Bedevilled by a pandemic whose seriousness he does not recognise and confronted with political rivals who are gathering strength, the Brazilian president nonetheless seems to have one ally he can count on. Bolsonaro, himself a former army captain, has filled his right-wing government with military personnel, handed the armed forces additional powers and done his utmost to rehabilitate the military dictatorship that ran the country for two decades until 1985.
A year ago, Ndayishimiye took office only days after the unexpected death of his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza. Does the new president represent continuity or change?
What’s new? Colombia has seen a wave of unrest triggered by an unpopular tax reform, fuelled by massive inequality and police brutality, and inflamed in large part by the health and economic effects of the pandemic. Protests are likely to simmer at least until the May 2022 presidential election.
As Tess Bridgeman recently noted in Just Security, the Biden administration issued a statement of administration policy (SAP) on June 14th endorsing H.R. 256, a resolution in the House of Representatives that would repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (2002 AUMF).