Asia/Africa update: June 6 2017



Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov is now ex-deputy prime minister. He’s been given a different government post, undoubtedly further removed from the levers of power, as President Shavkat Mirziyoyev works to sideline him and consolidate power. Azimov was once one of the three most powerful political figures in Uzbekistan but his fortunes have declined precipitously since Mirziyoyev came to power and set out to humiliate his potential rival.


Last week’s horrific week in Kabul got a little more horrific on Tuesday, when the death toll from the Kabul bombing was raised to more than 150. Previous counts put the death toll around 90, and it’s not clear if this increase is due to more bodies having been found in the blast area or due to some of the injured having succumbed to their injuries. Amid the fear and lingering anger about the events of last week, the Afghan government did host a regional peace conference in Kabul today. President Ashraf Ghani said his government wants to negotiate with the Taliban–the Taliban refuses to negotiate as long as foreign troops are stationed in the country–and repeated is increasingly frequent accusations that Pakistan has been aiding the Taliban and Haqqani Network.

Somebody decided to welcome the foreign dignitaries to Kabul by firing a rocket at the Indian embassy. There were no casualties. The same unfortunately cannot be said in the city of Herat, where at least seven people were killed on Tuesday when a bomb went off outside a mosque.


Five Indian farmers were killed on Tuesday, presumably by police, during protests in Madhya Pradesh state. Farmers there and in Maharashtra state began protesting last week over demands for debt relief and anger at low prices for produce.


There is growing concern that the Malaysian government may be disappearing religious minorities. Over the past several months, three Christians and one Shiʿa Muslim have been abducted by…somebody, and their whereabouts all remain unknown. All were accused at some point of trying to convert ethnic Malays, which is illegal under Malaysian law. The government says it’s looking for all four men, but the circumstances of their abductions makes it likely that the government is the one responsible for abducting them.


Philippine forces believe that they’re beginning to finally put a real squeeze on ISIS-aligned militants holed up in the city of Marawi because, well, today they stumbled on some of the militants’ cash:

Philippines troops found bundles of banknotes and cheques worth about $1.6 million abandoned by Islamist militants holed up in Marawi City, a discovery the military said on Tuesday was evidence that the fighters were increasingly penned in.

Fighters linked to Islamic State have been cornered in a built-up sliver of the southern lakeside town after two weeks of intense combat. The military said that over the past 24 hours it had taken several buildings that had been defended by snipers.

It’s unknown how the militants’ got that money–it could have come from abroad, but it’s possible (and maybe more likely) that they robbed a bank amid their flurry of activity when the Marawi crisis began a couple of weeks ago.


It’s a few days old now, but I think this 38North piece by Alexander Vorontsov, makes a interesting argument that the United Nations heavy-handed treatment of North Korea could prove harmful to the UN in the long-run:

Being in contact with a wide circle of international experts professionally studying Korea, I am assured that I am not the only one frustrated by renewed attempts by the UN, presented as the main agent of justice and peace in the world, to impose a de facto economic embargo on the DPRK, a state with a population of 25 million people; in essence, it is an unarmed war.

If the habit to discriminatorily punish “bad guys,” selected by the “stakeholders” in the UN’s elite at their own will persists, the majority of the ordinary members of the UN General Assembly may rebel and start asking rather sticky questions: if such a practice becomes standard, what will become of the UN itself?

How did we get to this point, using the UN in such a provocative way? In my mind, it is very simple: Washington wants to force Pyongyang to start talks from a position of capitulation, while Pyongyang wants to enter talks from a position of equality. Frankly speaking, this is nothing special or new.

The US has a habit of refusing to entertain negotiations until the other party has already preemptively surrendered, which makes the negotiations superfluous. Which is part of the reason why we so rarely opt for negotiations instead of war–almost nobody will agree to our terms for those negotiations.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in

John Feffer suggests that new South Korean President Moon Jae-in needs to take a more assertive role in trying to engage North Korea diplomatically, rather than continuing to let the Trump administration take the lead:

It will take time before the groundwork is prepared for another inter-Korean summit. In the meantime, the Moon administration is hoping to reestablish lines of communication with Pyongyang that were cut in February 2016 around the time of the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Also in the works are an expansion of civil society contacts and humanitarian assistance to the North. Moon has talked about not only reopening the Kaesong complex, which was administered by South Korean managers and staffed by North Korean workers, but even enlarging it.

At the moment, Moon Jae-in is caught in the middle between two missiles – the ones launched by North Korea and the ones the United States has deployed as part of THAAD in South Korea. It’s a frustrating position because South Korea has been largely passive. It’s time for South Korea to become a more active participant.



Representatives from Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria met today in Algiers and agreed to pursue a political settlement in Libya over a military one. It will be interesting to see how this plays out particularly for Egypt, which would likely be quite happy with a military settlement in Libya so long as Khalifa Haftar came out of it the victor. Egyptian interventions to support Haftar may have to be curtailed if they’re going to hold to the terms of this Algiers deal.


The Tunisian government arrested eight prominent business figures on May 23 on corruption charges, announcing that it had begun an “unprecedented” anti-corruption campaign. But there are many people in Tunisia who think those arrests were a smokescreen, an attempt to throw a handful of sacrificial lambs at the Tunisian public while turning a blind eye to corruption elsewhere.


France is pushing the United Nations to back the new pan-Sahel joint military force, called FC-G5S and made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, to which the European Union just gave 50 million euros this week. The force is intended to complement French forces deployed to West Africa in order to counter jihadi activity across the region, but particularly with respect to Boko Haram and al-Qaeda’s Mali affiliate.


Though he has now spent a month in London seeking unspecified medical treatment, President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife Aisha says that he is “recuperating fast.” Buhari’s presidency is important to Muslims in northern Nigeria and his continued occupancy of that office is important to keeping northern Nigeria relatively calm.


Foreign Policy has an amazing photo essay on the environmental disaster unfolding in Somalia, caused by a heady mix of unrelenting violence and severe drought. People are barely surviving, and that fact is made quite stark in these photographs. I’ve noted this before, but the situation here is so precarious that refugees are still fleeing Somalia to go to Yemen, despite…well, you know. What kind of nightmarish existence would you have to be living to think that life in Yemen would be an improvement?


Apparently it’s a bad time to be bald in Mozambique:

Police in Mozambique has warned that bald people could be the targets of ritual attacks, after the brutal killing of two men whose body parts were thought to have been used in witchcraft.

The two bald men, one of whom was found with his head cut off and organs removed, were killed in a part of the country already notorious for the persecution of albinos.

“Last month, the murders of two bald people led to the arrest of two suspects,” said the national police spokesman Inacio Dina.

“Their motivations come from superstition and culture: the local community thinks bald individuals are rich,” he said.

I read the headline to this piece, “Mozambique police warn that bald people could be targets of ritual killings,” and honestly thought it was good fodder for a joke. I had no idea that two bald people had already been ritually killed, which seems like a headline-writing failure. Don’t ritually kill bald people, folks. In fact, don’t ritually kill anybody. That seems like a good place to call it a night.

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