Sanctions for South Sudan?

So it looks as if Russia and Angola have blocked new sanctions against leaders of South Sudan‘s opposing factions.

Once again there are diverging opinions on the best course of action among campaigners and academics. The Enough Project, Amnesty International
and Human Rights Watch have written to the UN Security Council demanding action. Here’s what John Prendergast, founding director of the Enough Project, said:

It is imperative that continued human rights abuses and ceasefire violations in South Sudan be met with real consequences from the international community.  Decisions are being made on both the government and rebel side to undermine the implementation of the peace deal. If there is no cost for that intransigence and for the human rights crimes that result, then we can expect the war to continue, business as usual.

But Alex de Waal takes a very different view, arguing that a “political marketplace” analysis suggests it would back the protagonists into corners:

With a tightened political budget, the only way for a leader to stay in position is to narrow his political base. Hence Salva must reward his closest circle of supporters (who are his most immediate threats), which means discarding others. He must shift from buyout to coercion.

That is why an international squeeze on political payments may cause Salva to increase repression. He will do this because it is demanded by the logic of survival. Salva’s not a good leader, but bad international policies can compel him to become a worse one.

I’ve generally found de Waal to have offered the more convincing analysis of conflicts in Darfur and elsewhere.

Diplomats and the club

UN member flags - Aotearoa

UN member flags – Aotearoa

Yesterday the United Nations General Assembly voted 119-8 in favour of allowing non-member flags to be raised outside its New York headquarters, including such states as Palestine and the Vatican. The US and Israel voted against… the latter describing the plan as nothing more than a photo opportunity.

France voted in favour, describing it as a vote for the two-state solution.

The UK, despite being in favour of the two-state solution, voted against. This is how Tom Meek, the UK’s deputy political co-ordinator, explained the stance:

The United Kingdom Government decides its voting position based on the text of each resolution.  It has traditionally been the case that only flags of United Nations Member States are flown at the Headquarters.  Despite our long-held support for the creation of a Palestinian state, we have not been provided with any compelling reason to justify changing this longstanding practice. Therefore, we have chosen to abstain on this resolution.

Sometimes it’s hard not to think of British diplomats as old buffers at a club, ready with a history lesson, rule book and the black ball.

Why is Trump doing it?

Two questions to ask about Donald Trump’s run for the White House:

  1. Why is he doing it?
  2. Why is anyone supporting him?

I’ve had a crack at the latter, with a trip to New Hampshire on my other blog here, and Time has the answer to the first: his business and himself…

The other reason I wanted to do this for myself. I didn’t want to look back in ten years and say I could have done that or I could have done that. My family would look at me and say, “Ugh, stop.” I had to do it for myself.

Trump’s end game


Forget the circus act, ignore the hooplah, put aside the boos. What did Donald Trump tell us last night?

I’ve pulled out three key passages from last night that I think give us an idea of Donald Trump’s strategy and his end game: Get in behind Jeb Bush, leverage his position and walk away with some very big business deals. Maybe in Cuba?

On running as an independent:

But — and I am discussing it with everybody, but I’m, you know, talking about a lot of leverage. We want to win, and we will win. But I want to win as the Republican. I want to run as the Republican nominee.

On transactional politics:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

On liking Jeb Bush:

And I have really started to see some of the negatives — as an example, and I have a lot of liking for this man, but the last number of months of his brother’s administration were a catastrophe. And unfortunately, those few months gave us President Obama. And you can’t be happy about that.

So it’s all about leverage. And when Donald Trump puts something in he expects something back.

Mullah Omar’s potatoes

When I lived in Pakistan I was frequently (three times maybe) offered the real story about the location of Mullah Omar. He was hiding in plain sight in Karachi selling potatoes from a handcart, I was told by people very clearly convinced it was true and by some people who clearly thought it was toss.

They never knew quite where. Or whether he favoured the Maris Piper or the Golden Wonder. So I never wrote the story. But now the fella is dead (as far as we know) I guess we can write pretty much anything we like. Like this from my old pal Tom Hussain for McClatchy

If Mullah Omar is dead, then what comes next?

If it is true that Mullah Omar died in Pakistan in 2013 then there are some pretty serious consequences:

  1. What happens to peace talks? Things were ticking along in the right direction. The crucial issue was always what does Mullah Omar want? And there was a clear feeling that credible negotiators could do nothing without his say so. So what if Omar is dead…? Can peace talks survive?
  2. The Taliban’s coalition of militias essentially held together over two issues: Loyalty to Mullah Omar and opposition to US troops in Afghanistan. If Omar is dead, can the Taliban hold together… particularly when the well-financed Islamic State is trying to attract converts…?
  3. Who sent Mullah Omar’s last few Eid messages? Given that diplomats in Islamabad believed the ISI was able to get a line to the leader of the Taliban when it needed to, it will reinforce the idea that Pakistan has been the hidden hand behind the group

Update… on reflection

Jihadist approaches to social media

The director of the FBI was at a security conference this week and discussed Isil’s use of social media.

“Isil’s MO is to broadcast on Twitter, get people to follow them, then move them to Twitter direct messaging” to evaluate if they are a legitimate recruit, he said, according to The Aspen Times. “Then they’ll move them to an encrypted mobile-messaging app so they go dark to us.”

He contrasted it with al-Qaeda, which required much more of an effort on behalf of a would-be Jihadist to seek them out online. Emails may or may not be answered. (In the trial of Abid Naseer it was notable that many of his emails to a handler in Pakistan went unanswered, for example, much to his frustration.)

It all shows the difference in approach between AQ and Isil. While one saw itself as a core cabal of revolutionaries whose task was to wake the ummah, the other is a mass movement open to all. While one vetted would-be recruits for strength of mind and devotion, the other is open to the lonely and lost. While one is elitist, the other is populist.

And it seems AQ has lost out not only because of drone strikes over Pakistan and its failure to react rapidly to the Arab Spring, it has also failed to react to the growth of social media.