Asia/Australia/Africa update: July 7-9 2017



The New York Times reports on the astonishingly horrific situation for women in Afghanistan’s anarchic Ghor province:

If Afghanistan is one of the worst places to be a woman, then Ghor, a province so lawless that people often wonder if there is a government there at all, may be the country’s capital of gender-based violence and abuse. Week after week there are reports of women abused or killed in Ghor by men who never face justice.

“There have been 118 registered cases of violence against women in Ghor in the past year, and those are only cases that have been reported,” said Fawzia Koofi, head of the women’s rights commission in the Afghan Parliament, who recently visited Ghor to raise awareness about the lack of justice. “And not a single suspect in these 118 cases has been arrested.”

“There is no value for women there,” Ms. Koofi added. “It is as if she deserves to die.”

The government refuses to institute any semblance of law and order here for fear that the precious fellows who spend their free time murdering women will go over to the Taliban, though given their apparent views on gender issues it’s a wonder that hasn’t already happened. Frankly, it’s quite likely that even the Taliban would be harder on this shit than Kabul has been. If Kabul, and Washington, have no solution for this–and, spoiler alert, they don’t–then what in the hell are we still doing fighting this war? People, mostly Afghan people, are being killed every day because for some reason this kind of extremism, this kind of terrorism, needs to be protected from a slightly different kind? What sense does that make?


Seven civilians were killed on either side of Kashmir’s line of control Saturday, five of them in Pakistan, in another cross-border skirmish between Indian and Pakistani forces. Hundreds of demonstrators turned out on both sides of the border to commemorate the anniversary of the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani by Indian forces. Somewhere amid the demonstrations, the exchange of artillery fire happened. Indian authorities say the Pakistani side fired first, but on Sunday the Pakistani government summoned a senior Indian diplomat in Islamabad to complain about India’s “unprovoked” cross-border fire.


Buzzfeed reporter Megha Rajagopalan really does a great job of taking you through the context of the ongoing Marawi battle in this lengthy piece:

Mindanao, the lush, hilly island on the southern tip of the Philippines, is in the throes of a terrorism crisis. Though it has grappled with kidnappings, bombings, and unrest for decades, last month the unthinkable happened: A coalition of Islamist militant groups took over the city of Marawi, a Muslim-majority metropolis that lies on the shores of the sprawling Lake Lanao, in a siege that has dragged on for weeks and shows no sign of ending. The fighting began when the Philippine government tried to capture a militant leader, but his allies retaliated, starting a firefight. Since then, Islamist fighters have occupied schools and churches, taken people hostage, and gunned down soldiers and police as hundreds of civilians remain trapped inside the city.

What’s more, statements by Philippine government officials and the support expressed for the siege of Marawi in ISIS’s own propaganda publications suggest that these groups have been receiving backing from ISIS.

She covers many facets of the conflict, from the role that President Rodrigo Duterte has played in exacerbating the situation on Mindanao to the relationship between the island’s various Islamist militias, who all stem from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and may all still be connected to one another through their parent organization even though the MILF (yes, yes, let it out) claims to be out of the violence business these days.


Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 7.50.46 PM
Battulga celebrating (YouTube)

Khaltmaa Ballulga, the wrestler-turned-leader of the opposition Democratic Party, was elected Mongolia’s new president in the runoff on Friday. If there were ever an election that really was about the economy, stupid, then this would seem to have been it. Mongolia’s GDP grew up a whopping 17.3 percent in 2011 but it’s been steadily downhill since then, with estimates of its 2016 performance basically hovering around stagnation, and its currency was the worst-performing in the world last year. The Mongolian People’s Party still controls the legislature, so it remains to be seen how much Battulga is actually going to be able to get done.


One thing that seems clear about the Trump White House in its early months is that however collectively stupid you think they are, they’ll manage to find a way to raise the bar:

Bar? Raised.

There’s just one problem with that press release–Xi Jinping isn’t president of the Republic of China:

A formal statement from the White House was issued with a very public error – mixing up China and Taiwan.

A press release following Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit called him president “of the Republic of China”.

That is the official name of Taiwan. Mr Xi is, in fact, President of the People’s Republic of China.

I’m not familiar enough with my One China protocols to say who should be offended here. It seems to me that identifying Xi as the president of Taiwan is at least as offensive to the Taiwanese, most of whom would like to be independent, as it is to the Chinese, who at least claim Taiwan as part of their country. But I’m happy to say that this, apparently, was not the only Asian leader error the White House made on Saturday:

Earlier, the White House had also labelled Shinzo Abe president of Japan. He is the prime minister.

UNESCO made a couple of World Heritage decisions on Friday that didn’t go over so well. One upset the Israeli government, and the other upset Tibetan activists. In the latter case,  those activists are worried that the agency’s decision to designate the Hoh Xil region of China’s Qinghai province as a heritage area could be used to justify relocating indigenous Tibetan nomads from the area into villages. This would have the dual effect of destroying their culture and potentially wrecking the ecosystem, which is ironically what the UNESCO designation is supposed to protect. UNESCO says that Beijing has pledged not to forcibly relocate the region’s nomads, and the Chinese government itself has issued a statement to the same effect.

Hospitals in both America and Germany have offered to take in cancer-stricken political prisoner/Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and say that they believe not only is it safe for him to travel, but that there are more options for treating his condition than the palliative care his Chinese doctors have recommended. Liu wants to be treated overseas and there is growing international pressure on Beijing to allow him to leave the country, but so far there’s been no indication that the Chinese government is prepared to acquiesce.


Apart from Russia, North Korea was certainly the major focus of American attention at the G20 summit in Hamburg. Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the conference, mostly over North Korea, and seemed to be quite deferential, in contrast to recent reports of his frustration with China’s lack of movement against Pyongyang. He met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and likewise North Korea was the topic of conversation.

Away from the G20, the US, South Korean, and Japanese air forces conducted a joint drill on Friday involving two American B-1 bombers and the actual use of dummy weapons dropped on training targets in South Korea. Pentagon sources also say they’re planning to test their THAAD missile defense system in the coming days against targets simulating intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Both of these are obviously intended as messages to Pyongyang, which responded to the bomber drill in its usual reasonable manner, by calling it a “military provocation.” And, sure, it is, but so is testing an ICBM, you know?

The good news is that the administration seems to realize that war isn’t an option, but it’s facing an uphill battle trying to get Russia and China to back harsher sanctions at the UN Security Council.


The Australian government has taken a great deal of heat over the past several months due to the frankly inhumane conditions at its refugee detention center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Australia pays PNG to house its migrant processing center, and it’s now also paying a major settlement to people who were detained there between 2012 and 2016–almost US$53 million, to be precise, the largest settlement it’s ever paid out for a human rights claim. The detention center is supposed to close at the end of October (its detainees are supposed to go to the US under the terms of that deal that set off President Trump’s ugly phone call with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull in January), which is fine, but the Australians are shutting down parts of the facility while people are still detained there, and those detainees say conditions are deteriorating from the already abysmal state they were in to begin with:

On June 23 detention centre staff and local police closed down the on-site gym and removed the equipment, refugees have told BuzzFeed News.

“[The gym] was so important for our mental health,” a refugee from Afghanistan, who asked not to be identified, told BuzzFeed News.

“We could easily spend two hours a day in the gym because it helped us to sleep well, as we felt tired afterwards.

“When we had appointments with mental health doctors they always told us to do exercise because many guys focus on their bodies instead of thinking about harming themselves and thinking negatively.”

The facility has shut down its internet facility and has decided to stop serving enough food to feed its remaining detainees, and to serve what food it does have without properly cooking it. These detainees, it’s important to remember, haven’t done anything wrong, other than pick the wrong country to try to enter. They’re not criminals, they’re not being punished for anything. The Australian government has treated them this way simply to try to dissuade them, or anyone else, from coming to Australia in the first place.



There’s new fighting near Tripoli, as a group allied with the National Salvation Government–or as I like to call it, the third of Libya’s two governments–tried to advance on the capital from the east and was met by forces allied with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord. The GNA’s claim to govern all of Libya would be substantially bolstered if it could manage to govern all of Tripoli, if you ask me.

Another group of migrants has been found abandoned and dead in the desert on their way to Libya, though in this case they appear to have been coming from Egypt, not Niger, and were found in Libya’s eastern desert. Seven of the 19 bodies found were Egyptian.


Much of the momentum in Morocco’s Hirak protest movement now seems to be coming from women. Groups of women demonstrated in Casablanca and Rabat over the weekend in protest over conditions in the Rif region and the government’s efforts to repress the movement by arresting protest leaders:

“We want the voices of Moroccan women to [convey] those of Hirak’s political prisoners. Just as in Al-Hoceima women continue the fight, we will continue it,” Kahlaoui said.

The demonstrators also replicated a well-known form of protest in Al-Hoceima known as “tantana”, which involves repeatedly banging a ladle on a pot.

“[The demonstrations are] a Moroccan initiative against political arrests, called by different actors across the Moroccan political spectrum [who are] gathered and united around one goal, which is this quest for freedom, dignity and social justice and solidarity,” human rights activist Iqbal Chaqqaf told Al Jazeera.


IRIN’s latest report on Boko Haram activity in Niger’s Diffa region is well worth your time:

There has been a worrying upsurge in Boko Haram violence in Niger’s southeastern Diffa region, adding to the caseload of an already underfunded humanitarian crisis.

In the latest attack on 2 July, the jihadists raided the village of Ngalewa, near Kablewa, killing nine and abducting 37 – all of them young girls and adolescent boys. The gunmen, arriving at night, looted food supplies and rustled cattle, before escaping.

On 29 June, two female suicide bombers attacked an internally displaced persons camp in Kablewa run by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, close to the main town of Diffa. Four people were killed, including the two bombers, and 11 others were injured in the twin blasts.

Diffa Governor Dan Dano Mahamadou Lawaly has ordered the transfer of the 16,500 IDPs in Kablewa to a new camp a few kilometres north of Route National 1, the road running to the Chadian border in the east.

These attacks seem to be coming from the Boko Haram branch operating out of the Lake Chad region, the one under ISIS-appointed boss Abu Musab al-Barnawi, and they appear aimed at gathering supplies in advance of the rainy season, when movement around the region becomes more challenging. Counter-insurgency work in the area is ongoing but that too is creating hardships for civilians.


Somali forces undertook a raid on Sunday against al-Shabab in Puntland that killed either 18 insurgents or none, depending on which version of events you believe.


Speaking of al-Shabab, its fighters are suspected of carrying out an attack on the village of Jima in southeastern Kenya on Friday night that resulted in nine men being beheaded.

Kenya’s presidential election, scheduled for next month, has been thrown into some turmoil over accusations that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta threw the ~$24 million contract for printing ballots to a Dubai-based firm called Al Ghurair. Kenya’s High Court on Friday ruled that presidential ballots cannot be printed because of allegations about Kenyatta’s ties to the company.


Who could have seen this coming:

Long-overdue presidential and legislative polls can only be held at the end of year in troubled Democratic Republic of Congo, the head of the national election commission said Friday.

“It will not be possible before December,” Corneille Nangaa told reporters in Kinshasa.

Elections are due this year under a transitional deal aimed at avoiding fresh political violence in the sprawling country of 71 million people after long serving President Joseph Kabila failed to step down when his mandate ended last December.

Under the deal, Kabila was allowed to remain in office pending the elections, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new premier, to be chosen within opposition ranks.

Oh, right, pretty much everybody saw this coming. I remember now.

I’m sure Kabila will reluctantly serve out year seven of his five year term next year, in the middle of which we’ll find out that, gosh, there’s just not enough time to plan an election this year, what with all the challenges. I mean, the DRC is a vast, sprawling, chaotic place, you can’t just throw a national election together on the spur of the moment! Or even, apparently, when you’ve had like six years to prepare for it! He’ll sadly serve out year eight of his five year term, only to realize in July 2019 that, wow, have you seen how hard it would be to hold an election this year? We’d have to be crazy to even try! So he’ll have no choice but to serve year nine of his five year term, and so on in perpetuity, or until the full-scale civil war that Kabila has now pretty much made inevitable.

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