Asia/Africa/Europe update: May 16-17 2017


Afghan forces were able to recapture the Qala-i-Zal district of Kunduz province on Tuesday, ten days after it fell to the Taliban. Meanwhile, in eastern Afghanistan, ISIS claimed credit for an attack on the state TV broadcaster in the city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, in which six people were killed in addition to the four attackers.


The Pakistani government said on Wednesday that two of its diplomats had been “detained” in Kabul by the Afghan government. Kabul hasn’t said anything and it’s not clear why the diplomats were detained, but the situation is serious enough that the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to Pakistan’s foreign ministry to receive Islamabad’s formal protest.


A Philippine legislator, Gary Alejano, is pursuing a case against President Rodrigo Duterte over accusations that Duterte is responsible for thousands of extrajudicial murders related to his literal war on drug (users), and his next stop may be the International Criminal Court. Alejano filed impeachment charges against Duterte in the Philippine house, but his complaint was quashed in committee on Monday.


Here’s an interesting piece on One Belt, One Road, specifically on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that China has set up to help bankroll it, from analyst Gary Sands. I’m obviously no expert in high finance, as my student loan balance would tell you (PAYPAL/PATREON UP TOP), but Sands argues that the AIIB now exists as a competitor to similar Western institutions because Western governments refused to give China a role in managing those institutions:

The United States and European Union have not joined the AIIB, but are closely monitoring its development. American and European finance officials have voiced concerns about potential overlap with existing institutions, including the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Asian Development Bank (ADB). Western officials have also wondered publicly whether the AIIB will adopt best practices in such areas as transparent procurement, environmental and social safeguards, and good governance.

Regional experts believe the reluctance of the United States, EU and others to give Beijing more of a say in the operations of existing financial institutions was a significant factor in prompting China to push for the creation of the AIIB.


US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Tuesday that the Trump administration plans to lean on China to support additional sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its ballistic missile test on Sunday. She spoke before an emergency, closed-door UN Security Council session on the test, a session that, as far as I can tell, didn’t produce anything of note.

On the plus side, any expected split between Washington and new South Korean President Moon Jae-in over how to approach Pyongyang has, so far, not manifested. Both governments are staying largely on the same page, with Moon warning that the North Koreans are on a dangerous path while Donald Trump reportedly told a South Korean envoy that he’d be willing to “engage” with Pyongyang under appropriate conditions (which presumably would mean a nuclear and missile development freeze at a minimum).


Mutinying Ivorian soldiers finally did reach an agreement with the government to stand down on Tuesday. The mutineers had rejected an earlier government offer on Monday, but that offer was apparently amended–the new deal calls for an immediate bonus payout followed by a smaller bonus payout in June. Next up, maybe, is a general strike by public sector employees who are a bit tired of seeing the army extort bonus pay out of the government on the regular.


Georgetown’s Alex Thurston, one of my regular reads on Sahel-related matters, has a new piece at The Maydan on the Salafi-Shiʿa rivalry in Nigeria. We talked about a similar phenomenon in Senegal a couple of days ago, but this is really something that’s going on throughout West Africa–backed, of course, by Saudi Arabia and Iran:

Emphasizing anti-Shi‘ism also aligns Nigerian Salafism even closer with global Salafism, where sectarian polemics often overshadow anti-Sufism. Nigerian Salafis have been close to Saudi Arabia for decades, benefiting from Saudi funding and sending promising young Nigerian preachers to study at the Islamic University of Medina. For Nigerian Salafis, anti-Shi‘ism is part of a master narrative that interprets global politics in sectarian terms. Tapping into long-standing Sunni accusations that the Shi‘a are eager to help the “infidels” against the Sunnis, Nigerian Salafis argue that “the rafida of Iran helped America and the other infidels of Europe to make war on Afghanistan and Iraq” (p. 14). As Iranian influence in Nigeria attracts more controversy, Salafis are increasing their anti-Shi‘i rhetoric and presenting Saudi-style Salafism as the only alternative. When the IMN protests Saudi actions (for example in Yemen), Salafis denounce Shi‘i regimes (including Bashar al-Asad’s Alawi regime in Syria). In this way, global conflicts become localized and local ones become globalized.


A rebel attack on Tuesday in the town of Yei, southwest of Juba, reportedly killed at least four government soldiers, though casualty reports seem very sketchy (there’s no word on rebel casualties in the engagement, for example).


The Red Cross says its workers have found 115 bodies in the town of Bangassou in the wake of a weekend-long assault by a Christian militia. Previous estimates of the death toll were around 30. There was new fighting between Muslim and Christian militias on Tuesday in the northern CAR town of Bria, where at least five people were killed.


Fighting in the DRC’s central Kasai region, primarily related to the Kamwina Nsapu rebellion, has killed more than 500 people in the past five months, according to DRC police. Some 390 rebels have been killed against roughly 120 Congolese security forces. Immediately this count seems like bullshit, because you’ll note the absence of any civilian casualties. My guess would be that the overall count is probably right or close to right, but the government is counting anybody who isn’t in the DRC military or police force as a “rebel,” probably in order to obfuscate any liberties those security forces may have taken against civilians in the conflict zone.


Several French gay rights organizations have filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court against the Chechen government and its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, over accusations that it has systematically persecuted its gay population. The Chechen government insists there are no gay people in Chechnya, and I’m sure the ICC will take that totally reasonable argument into consideration.


In a debate in the European parliament on Tuesday, most EU member states lit into Poland’s ruling hard right Law and Justice Party for its alleged violations of democratic principles and the rule of law. With only Hungary’s equally hard right government taking Poland’s side, there is a crisis brewing here wherein Poland could face some kind of EU penalty if reforms are not forthcoming.


Thousands of Greek workers walked off the job on Wednesday and took to the streets to protest against yet another round of creditor-mandated austerity. It’s really getting absurd at this point:

New austerity attached to the funds release include the 13th cut in pensions since 2010 and a reduction in tax-free allowances on income. They come after years of cuts that for a time threw the country into deep recession.

Unemployment is running at close to one in four and there is a 48 percent jobless rates among the youth.

There is no chance that the Greek economy will ever recover under these conditions. Creditors are lending money to Greece ostensibly to bail the country out, while attaching conditions to their loans that ensure it cannot possibly be bailed out. You know why Greece needs the next tranche of bailout money? So it can make payments on the loans it’s already received. The money goes in and then goes right back out the door to the same lenders. It’s madness, shock doctrine capitalism at its most grotesque. The only thing that can actually pull Greece out of this crushing debt cycle is debt relief, which the Eurozone keeps dangling out there as a possibility to entice Athens to gut its own economy some more, but like Lucy and the football, the debt relief is often promised and never delivered.


Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has accepted Ivan Pilny as his new finance minister, and for now it seems the Czech politics are safe from the war between Sobotka and his former finance minister, Andrej Babiš. Babiš offered Pilny, who is a member of Babiš’s ANO party, as a compromise who could serve as finance minister, with Babiš stepping down, without breaking up the coalition government and forcing early elections. Elections are happening later this year anyway, with Babiš looking like a safe bet to replace Sobotka as PM.


I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but sweet merciful crap:

Last month, in a phone conversation between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, the U.S. president shared his views on Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan.

“He’s a great guy”, Trump told the German chancellor, according to sources familiar with the exchange.

Merkel listened politely before pointing out that Erdogan had been lobbing vitriol at Germany and its European allies for weeks, denouncing them as the descendents of Nazis.

Trump was surprised, the sources said. He appeared unaware that Ankara and Berlin were in the midst of a fierce diplomatic row over whether Turkish ministers should be allowed to campaign in Germany for a referendum on boosting Erdogan’s powers.

It’s appalling, frankly, that the right-wing Merkel and the center-right Macron are now as far left as Western politics gets, but the more immediate problem is the utter fucking moron sitting in the Oval Office.


Emmanuel Macron is riding high at the moment, with his France Is Already Great En Marche! party looking set to take the largest share of the vote in next month’s parliamentary election, according to polling. He’s also getting a lot of sweet press coverage as a bold, Both Sides leader who isn’t afraid to draw upon a wide spectrum of French politics, all the way from slightly left of center to slightly right of center. But the overall effect, so far, of Macron’s “radical centrism” seems to be, well, pretty much the usual center-right technocratic neoliberalism:

Macron, 39, was elected on the highly unusual platform of muscular centrism — without the backing of either the center-left or center-right parties that have governed France since 1958. His list of cabinet ministers provided an early indication of what his lofty “neither-right-nor-left” platform would look like in practice.

The answer: significantly conservative on the budget and the economy, as Macron — a former investment banker — appointed two well-known conservatives, Bruno Le Maire, 48, and Gérald Darmanin, 34, to lead the Economy and Budget ministries, respectively.

These followed Macron’s appointment Monday of Édouard Philippe, 46, another member of the center-right Republican party, as his prime minister, France’s official head of government. Although other prominent posts were assigned to Socialists — notably, France’s Interior and Foreign ministries — many of the leftists who grudgingly rallied behind Macron in the election were already disappointed.

Cool. I’m certain that the same kind of economic management that made Marine Le Pen’s candidacy possible in the first place will prevent her from winning the French presidency in the future.

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