Asia/Africa update: June 30 2017

I know it’s a little early this evening, but I’m beat and so I’m deciding to call it a night barring some major thing happening.



Two incidents of note on Friday. In western Afghanistan’s Farah province, Taliban fighters attacked a police outpost, killing six Afghan police officers in a battle that also saw nine Taliban fighters killed. In eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, meanwhile, seven civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. Nobody has claimed that bombing, and since Nangarhar contains both active Taliban and ISIS elements it’s hard to know who it was without a claim.


I guess not everybody was pleased with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington this week:

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday expressed his disappointment over what he termed Washington’s “silence” despite human right violations in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, where scores of youths have been killed or wounded in months-long violent clashes with the Indian forces.

Sharif made his remarks during a visit to the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, where officials briefed him about the recent Gulf Crisis, the situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban have stepped up attacks against government forces, as well as Pakistan’s relations with the United States, China, Russia and other countries. He was also briefed about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States this week, according to a statement issued by Sharif’s office.

It said Sharif expressed his satisfaction over Pakistan’s strategic ties with China, revival of the strategic dialogue with the United States and Islamabad’s strong relations with Russia. He praised China’s recent efforts aimed at defusing tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it said.

Sharif’s mention of China is important, because as Chinese investment in Pakistan grows and Pakistan’s ties with the US fray (over India and over Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban), Pakistan is increasingly tilting in Beijing’s direction.

Pakistani Shiʿa who have been protesting for a week in the country’s Kurram region ended their sit-in on Friday after receiving several security assurances, for example that more Pakistani soldiers would be posted in Kurram and that CCTV cameras would be installed there to monitor for potential terrorist activity.


Let’s check in on the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient and Champion of Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights:

Myanmar will refuse entry to members of a United Nations probe focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, an official said on Friday.

The government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had already said it would not cooperate with a mission set up after a Human Rights Council resolution was adopted in March.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Myanmar would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

Ah, yes, how human rights-y of her, refusing to allow people investigating ethnic cleansing charges into the country to investigate them. Suu Kyi’s explanation for this is that investigating the Rohingya problem would make it worse, somehow.

Well, OK, we knew Suu Kyi was useless when it comes to protecting the Rohingya. But surely she’s done better championing human rights in other areas, right? Well, funny you should ask:

The Burmese army arrested and filed charges against three local journalists this week, sending shock waves through the Burmese press corps.

The country is still emerging from decades of military rule, and journalists remain uncertain of what can be safely reported. They are also unsure how much backing they will receive from Burma’s democratically elected leaders. The government, led by the National League for Democracy party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been slow to condemn this and other infringements on media freedom since taking power last year.

What makes Suu Kyi’s silence so especially deafening in this case is that, back when she was a jailed political dissident who professed a genuine concern for human rights, it was the Myanmar media that credulously sold what now appears to have been an elaborate con job to the rest of the world. Suu Kyi wouldn’t be running Myanmar today if she hadn’t been made the central figure of the political resistance to military rule. And now that she is running the country, she’s colluding with the same military that imprisoned her and oppressed her country for almost 50 years.


US-China relations seem to be fraying again, President Donald Trump having done a full 360 on Beijing less than half a year into his first term:

This week, the United States imposed sanctions on two Chinese citizens and a shipping company for helping North Korea’s weapons programs, announced a $1.4 billion arms sale for Taiwan, and said it would like sick Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo to be treated “elsewhere”.

It has also placed China on its global list of the worst offenders in human trafficking and forced labor and senior U.S. officials have told Reuters that Washington is considering trade actions against Beijing, including tariffs on steel imports.

Trump met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday at the White House and made a point of noting that the United States, India and Japan would be joining together in naval exercises soon in the Indian Ocean, a point that seemed aimed at China.

Trump is angry that China has promised to Do More about North Korea but hasn’t actually Done Enough. This is Trump’s position, of course, which may reflect his own unrealistic estimates of just how much leverage China really has over Pyongyang, but if he’s reverting to Pre-Chocolate Cake Trump then US-China relations are likely to keep getting worse. Beijing, while it’s taken these recent events more or less in stride, seems to be getting angry too, suggesting that “cooperation” between the two countries could be affected.

The Chinese government is also angry at British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over Johnson’s statement Thursday, in remarking on the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, that “Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress toward a fully democratic and accountable system of government.” They scolded Johnson for his “incorrect” remarks, and, you know, I bet a lot of people would stop worrying about the future of democracy in Hong Kong if the Chinese government would stop doing things like using the word “incorrect” in that way. Beijing even suggested that the treaty it signed with the UK over Hong Kong in 1984, the one wherein it promised to leave Hong Kong “unchanged” for 50 years after the handover, has no “binding force” over China’s treatment of the city. Which is technically true, this being international law and all, but is one of those things you’re not really supposed to say out loud.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the White House on Friday for a meeting with Trump that focused on North Korea, unsurprisingly, and on trade. Trump was in exceptional form:

After Moon spoke, expressing his hope that the United States and South Korea could develop a more robust partnership, Trump added that many people don’t know that South Korea is a major U.S. trading partner.

Once you understand that “many people” in that sentence means “Trump himself,” then it’s clearer what he’s talking about. At some point Trump also apparently conflated trade deficits with budget deficits, which is dumb, but, hell, at least he didn’t say anything about Moon’s wife bleeding from her face, am I right? You have to take the small victories where you can find them.



At least two people were killed Friday when a pair of female suicide bombers struck a camp for displaced persons in eastern Niger. I note that these were female suicide bombers only inasmuch as it helps suggest Boko Haram’s involvement. The camp is close to the Nigerian border, the people there have been displaced by the Boko Haram conflict, and the use of women as suicide bombers has become one of that group’s signature tactics, so although there’s been no claim of responsibility there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that this was Boko Haram.


The Somali government says it has sent 300 soldiers to a village in southern Somalia in order to protect the former spokesman for al-Shabab. Wait, what? Yes, apparently Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, who at one time had a $5 million bounty on his head courtesy of the US, is in talks with the Somali government about defecting to their side. Robow hasn’t been on good terms with al-Shabab leadership for several years, but he still commands a few hundred followers as well as some territory in southern Somalia, and his defection to the government would be a blow to the al-Qaeda linked insurgent/terrorist group. So now it appears al-Shabab is trying to kill him, hence the government’s decision to send him some additional protection.


South African Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba says the country may need to seek outside financial assistance (possibly China or the IMF) to right itself and get its economy growing again. This is interesting, because it was Gigaba’s appointment as finance minister in March–part of an extremely unpopular cabinet reorganization by President Jacob Zuma–that caused South Africa’s credit rating to be dropped to “junk” status and blew open a corruption scandal that is still surrounding Zuma now, months later.

The corruption scandal has continued to grow with the leak of tens of thousands of internal government documents and emails, and Zuma is now looking at a no-confidence vote in parliament:

The recent leak of more than 100,000 documents and emails suggesting deals made between his administration and an incredibly wealthy family has triggered a no-confidence vote in August, meaning Zuma’s improbable reign, slated to last until 2019, may finally come to a premature end.

The documents, released by non-profit group AmaBhungane, appeared to demonstrate that the rich business family Gupta made deals for government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the Guardian, there is an investigation into allies of Zuma who are linked to corruption at three state-owned companies, one of which is worth $411 million. Both Zuma and the Gupta family have denied all allegations.

Zuma on Friday delivered a speech in which he sort of vaguely acknowledged corruption, in general, in the South African government and the African National Congress, while angrily attacking those who have raised the issue of his own, personal, corruption. Zuma has survived no-confidence votes before, but there’s a move to make this one secret, which could free up some worried fence-sitters to vote against the president. It’s not clear how the vote will actually be conducted yet.

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