Asia/Australia/Africa update: July 1-2 2017



Afghan politics look like they’re about to get more chaotic:

Leaders of Afghanistan’s three major ethnic minority political parties, all of whom hold senior positions in the government, announced from Turkey Saturday that they have formed a coalition to save Afghanistan from chaos, issued a list of demands for reforms by President Ashraf Ghani, and vowed to hold mass protests unless they are met.

The stunning development followed weeks of gathering political turmoil and public unrest after a devastating terrorist bombing in the capital on May 31. It brought together a group of powerful ex-militia leaders, once rivals in a civil war, in an extraordinary alliance that could present Ghani and his shaky government with its most serious challenge since taking office in 2014.

The group’s statement was issued from Ankara, where Abdurrashid Dostom, an ethnic Uzbek strongman who is still technically first vice president in the Ghani government, moved recently on grounds of ill health despite being under investigation in Kabul for sexual assault against an elderly political rival. Dostom’s aides circulated the statement on social media.

Joining Dostum were leaders of the country’s Tajik and Hazara minorities. They want Dostum’s authority restored–even though he’s ostensibly in Turkey of his own free will–and for Ghani to devolve power to his ministers. Aligned against them are Ghani, obviously, and ex-rebel warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, whose made up job title will never not seem ridiculous and whose base of support is within the Tajik population (he’s part Tajik), so far hasn’t had a comment about the new coalition.


Two civilians and two Kashmiri rebels were killed on Saturday in fighting in the village of Dialgam. Indian authorities say they were pursuing a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander named Bashir Ahmad Wani and protesters, as often happens in these cases, came out to try to disrupt their operation. That’s presumably how the two civilians were killed.


Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 10.39.59 PM
Triton Island via Google Maps

A naval destroyer, the USS Stethem, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the South China Sea on Sunday in one of the Navy’s periodic “freedom of navigation” missions. Triton, in the Paracel Islands, is administered by China, but claimed by them, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and the US disputes all three of those claims. Beijing, as you might expect, reacted badly, calling the US move a “serious provocation.”


Marawi, in case you were wondering, has still not been cleared of insurgents. Philippine officials estimate 100 to 120 Islamist fighters still remain in the city, and that they still hold around 100 hostages. The fighters are (probably) running out of ammunition and supplies, but the closer they come to defeat the greater the danger becomes for those hostages, who are in danger of being killed in the ongoing fighting and who may be killed en masse if the insurgents find themselves about to lose.

Meanwhile, Philippine and Indonesian naval vessels are jointly patrolling the Celebes Sea, south of Marawi, in an effort to prevent additional foreign Islamist fighters from reaching the city and reinforcing the ones already there.


Chinese President Xi Jinping commemorated the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s administrative handover to China by swearing in a new chief executive for the city and then basically telling anybody interested in preserving an open Hong Kong society to get bent:

Hong Kong is a “plural society” with “different views and even major differences on some issues,” Mr. Xi said while speaking to dignitaries at the inauguration of Hong Kong’s government at the city’s convention center along Victoria Harbor.

He cautioned that “making everything political or deliberately creating differences” will “severely hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development.”

Mr. Xi warned that “any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government” or to “use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.”

One expert interviewed by the NYT interprets Xi’s comments as a threat to bring back Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23, a measure proposed in 2002–and abandoned in 2003 after considerable public protest–that would have effectively outlawed criticism of mainland China.


Malcolm Turnbull vowed to reporters on Monday that he would still be leading Australia’s Liberal Party in the 2019 parliamentary election. This is a bit of a defiant stance in the face of a campaign by former Liberal Party leader and prime minister Tony Abbott to undermine him.

Turnbull, who is on the conservative Liberal Party’s left, is responding to the challenge from the more conservative Abbott by, go figure, embracing Donald Trump:

Voters haven’t warmed to Turnbull as prime minister, and he almost lost an election last year. Now facing what appears to be a guerrilla campaign by a bitter Abbott to undermine his leadership, Turnbull is not only copying elements of Trump’s conservative populist approach, he is awkwardly buddying up to the president in person.

At a recent ceremony at the Intrepid aircraft carrier museum in New York to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, Turnbull congratulated Trump after the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I got to say, it’s always satisfying to win a vote when people predict you’re not going to win it,” Turnbull told Trump from a podium. “So keep at it. It’s great.”

He’s also trying to copy Trump’s xenophobic, nationalist message, though it doesn’t seem to come as naturally to Turnbull as it does to Trump.



President Omar al-Bashir has extended a ceasefire with rebels in the south and in Darfur through October. In two weeks, the US is planning to lift its trade embargo on Sudan, which was put in place in 1997 in response to the Sudanese government’s involvement with al-Qaeda, in recognition of the efforts Bashir–who’s been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, let’s bear in mind–has made in helping to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups. That decision was announced in January but was placed on a 180 day hold to monitor Sudan’s human rights situation. Bashir’s decision to extend the ceasefire can be seen in light of making sure nothing happens to stop Washington from lifting the embargo.


French President Emmanuel Macron led the opening ceremonies for the new G5 (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) joint anti-terror force in the Sahel on Sunday. The force is expected to deploy in September and will be 5000 strong. The new force’s first target may well be Nusrat al-Islam, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Mali. That group released a video on Saturday to show that its six foreign hostages, including one French national, are still alive, presumably to jumpstart ransom negotiations. In his remarks, Macron vowed to “eradicate” them.


Two people were killed on Saturday when their bus was hit by a roadside bomb north of Mogadishu. It’s hard to imagine al-Shabab not being responsible.

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