Asia/Australia/Africa update: July 3 2017



This is a few days old, but the University of Sydney’s Hussain Nadim suggests that America’s ability to really sway Pakistani behavior vis-a-vis its support for Afghanistan’s Haqqani Network is fairly limited:

For coercion to work, it has to be credible and the United States needs to have the capacity to deliver sufficient punishment. The U.S. government cannot meet either of these standards at the moment. The Pakistani security establishment is well aware that cutting aid and imposing sanctions would not have a major impact on Pakistan’s development or economy, given that Pakistan barely receives the promised aid due to the overhead costs and bureaucratic processes that also require national security waivers to release the aid. The inability of aid agencies and the local government to put the allocated aid into action on ground also reduces the subsequent year aid budget, as can be seen under the Kerry Lugar Berman Act of 2009. As for the Coalition Support Fund, it is meant to reimburse the military costs incurred to the Pakistan Army in its war against terrorism, not the overall economic, political, and psychological cost that the country pays to be in the war. Hence, this is a tiny fraction of what Pakistan has to pay and the moment the United States cuts it, the Pakistan Army will have all the more reason not to support the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Such cuts could perhaps even lead Pakistan to enhance low cost unconventional warfare in the region, making the situation worse.

Given, especially the increasingly large presence of China in Pakistan due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, threats of economic or military sanctions on Pakistan don’t appear credible, nor does it appear the United States has the capacity to pursue that course of action. If anything, Washington’s failure to stop Pakistan from pursuing efforts it deemed vital to its national security interests – such as developing a nuclear weapon, despite sanctions via the Pressler Amendment, — should, perhaps, be instructive on this front.

Pakistani officials believe the US has already failed in Afghanistan, and supporting the Haqqanis is the only way Pakistan can keep a foot in the door to have a say in whatever eventually emerges. Given China’s increasing supremacy in terms of Pakistan’s economy, they value holding the Haqqani chip more than they value good relations with Washington.


Chinese authorities are accusing the Indian government of violating a border agreement reached in 1890 between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty. Beijing says that Indian border guards crossed over into Chinese territory (as settled under that 1890 deal) in June and blocked work on a road. The Bhutanese government claims the Chinese road is being built on their territory, and India was intervening on their behalf. Bhutan wasn’t party to that 1890 agreement, you see. In question is the region around India’s Siliguri Corridor, the very thin strip of land that connects most of India to its most northeastern states–including Sikkim, whose border with China is where this dispute is happening.

The Siliguri Corridor, AKA “the Chicken’s Neck,” marked in red (Wikimedia | Ankur)

China’s sense of this 1890 agreement is apparently much different than India’s, because the two countries put their respective borders in different places in this area–India’s further north, China’s further south. Moreover, its assertion that the Indian government has already recognized its border claims seems to be cherry-picking from a more comprehensive statement on the India-China border by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. This road project would apparently make Chinese claims about its India-Bhutan border the de facto reality. And that would seem to violate the terms of a 2012 India-China agreement to formalize the wonky border in consultation with other affected states (i.e., Bhutan, and maybe also Nepal).

The Chinese government is also suggesting that India sent its forces into Chinese territory (assuming you believe that’s what happened) in advance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington so that Modi could show Donald Trump that India can be part of a grand American plan to contain China.


The European Union is urging Myanmar’s government to take steps to protect freedom of the press after three more journalists were arrested there last week. Those arrests were part of a larger recent pattern of media suppression that has so far drawn nothing but a very loud silence from Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. Suu Kyi is admittedly somewhat hamstrung by the continued and unchecked role of Myanmar’s military in domestic politics, but she doesn’t seem especially perturbed, let’s say, at the military’s authoritarian excesses.


President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo told Reuters on Monday that Indonesia remains a model for “moderate Islam,” whatever that actually means, despite the obvious recent rise of more fundamentalist Islamism in the country:

“Pluralism has always been a part of Indonesia’s DNA,” Joko Widodo told Reuters in an interview at the presidential palace in Jakarta. “Despite many challenges, Islam in Indonesia has always been a force for moderation.”

Indonesia’s state ideology includes national unity, social justice and democracy alongside belief in God, and enshrines religious diversity in a secular system of government.

Hardline Islamist groups were banned under the authoritarian regime of President Suharto, which ended in 1998, but they have gained ground in recent years, emerging from the fringes of society in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

Jokowi wants parliament to pass a new anti-terror law that would give the government more power to arrest suspected radicals, but depending on how they’re written those kinds of laws can often be turned against domestic political opponents.


BREAKING: North Korea appears to have conducted another missile test Tuesday morning. No other details as yet, though the site of the launch suggests that it may have been another medium/long-range Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile. The projectile landed in the Sea of Japan, probably inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e., within 200 nautical miles of land). This is Pyongyang’s 11th missile test this year.

President Trump spoke by phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe on Sunday, in advance of seeing them both at the G20 summit in Germany later this week, with North Korea apparently dominating the conversations. Trump has been frustrated with China’s lack of pressure on Pyongyang, and he’s apparently planning to hold a meeting with Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the G20.


Xi, meanwhile, visited Russia on Monday, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a lovely chat about the presence of that US THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. Both countries say the presence of the THAAD unit in South Korea undermines their national interests, and to some degree this is bullshit–if for some reason we kicked off World War III tomorrow, one THAAD system in South Korea isn’t going to do much, but it might help prevent North Korea from launching a nuke or two at Seoul or Tokyo. On the other hand, Beijing’s concerns about the THAAD’s radar system potentially being able to detect activity in China isn’t entirely unreasonable, and that same THAAD system isn’t going to do anything to protect Seoul from the thousands of non-nuclear shells North Korean artillery could theoretically rain down on it if Pyongyang decided to start shooting.


Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s efforts to undermine his replacement, Malcolm Turnbull, may be hurting Turnbull but they’re not doing much for Abbott’s political future either. A new Guardian poll shows that 43 percent of Australians want Abbott out of parliament altogether, against 32 percent who want him to remain, either with a cabinet post (18 percent) or as a backbencher (14 percent). Labor is also outpolling the Liberals, so it seems the whole Turnbull-Abbott feud isn’t helping the party either.



The European Union and the governments of France, Germany, and Italy pledged more money on Monday to help the Libyan coast guard interdict migrants before they reach Mediterranean waters and to help Italy deal with those who get to Europe anyway. Thousands of people continue to migrate into Libya, despite, well, you know, but when they realize the situation there they then often attempt to continue on to Europe, generally with the help of unscrupulous people smugglers. More money for the Libyan coast guard may help, though I would imagine that a functional Libyan government would help more.


Djibouti’s government wants the African Union to deploy troops along its border with Eritrea. The two countries have a long-standing border dispute that was ameliorated by the presence of Qatari peacekeepers…until a couple of weeks ago when both Eritrea and Djibouti sided with Saudi Arabia against Qatar and the Qataris pulled their troops out. Way to go, everybody!


Marietje Schaake, the EU’s election observer, is warning of the potential for violence attending next month’s Kenyan election. Supporters of incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta have accused challenger Raila Odinga of planning some kind of violence in the event he loses, charges that could be true, could be a cheap political ploy, or could be cover for violence by Kenyatta’s supporters. Or hell, it could be all three.


At least five people have been killed in fighting between the DRC army and Mai-Mai fighters in the eastern part of the country over the past week. “Mai-Mai” is a fairly broad categorization that describes a number of different paramilitary forces in the DRCs Kivu provinces, so it’s not clear who exactly these folks are.


The nearly 30 year long Angolan Civil War ended in 2002, but the country is still rebuilding in many ways. The AP reported Monday on efforts by conservationists to gain access to the country and try to protect its wildlife:

Hippos, malaria and capsized canoes were among the hazards for National Geographic researchers paddling along an Angolan river that had been barely studied. On a separate survey in Angola, a conservationist drove on remote tracks where wrecked tanks and other remnants of decades of civil war are still visible.

“The ghosts of war are still there in the landscape,” Seamus Maclennan, a member of the New York-based Panthera group, wrote in an email. “Tanks and shrapnel from 30 years ago are still strewn across marambas (wide river valleys) in some places. Gutted buildings pockmarked with bullet holes remain in small villages.”

The southwest African country was virtually inaccessible to international conservationists because of decades of conflict that ended in 2002, leaving at least half a million people dead, several million displaced from their homes and infrastructure devastated. Now groups are getting more access to a nation with deep poverty as well as corruption and considerable suspicion of outsiders, working with Angolans to assess areas where wildlife was decimated and still faces pressure from poachers.

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