Asia/Australia/Africa update: August 14-15 2017



Uzbekistan may be liberalizing just a little bit:

Uzbek authorities are removing large numbers of people from its blacklist of potential militants and political dissidents, state officials and media said, in a move likely to raise hopes for a more liberal climate in the ultra-secretive ex-Soviet republic.

Western countries and rights activists have long criticized Uzbekistan’s record on democracy and human rights and have accused it of using the blacklist indiscriminately to stifle political and religious dissent in the mainly Muslim nation.

Uzbekistan says it faces serious security threats, including from militant Islamists, but President Shavkat Mirziyoyev also needs to attract more foreign investment to help modernize the creaking economy and create sorely needed jobs.


Three aid workers from Catholic Relief Services were gunned down in Afghanistan’s central Ghor province on Monday. It’s not known who killed them but both the Taliban and ISIS are active in that province. On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber killed one person at a military checkpoint in Kunduz province.

On the plus side, Afghan forces on Tuesday were able to recapture Mirzawalang village in Sar-e-Pul province, the site of that bloody joint Taliban-ISIS assault earlier this month. But when the Taliban send an open letter to Donald Trump warning him to withdraw American forces and telling him that “the war situation in Afghanistan is far worse than you realize,” it’s hard to see where the lie is.


Eight Pakistani soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Balochistan province on Monday.


There are fears among Kashmiris that Narendra Modi’s government may try to repeal article 35A of the Indian constitution. Article 35A says that non-natives of Jammu and Kashmir are not allowed to own property or have political rights in those provinces, and it’s key to another part of the constitution, article 370, which enshrines Kashmir’s legal autonomy within India. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been after this article for a couple of years now. Its repeal would open the doors to Indians settling in Kashmir, and if that sounds similar to what’s happening right now in, say, the West Bank, well, there’s a pretty strong case to be made that it is similar. The BJP would ultimately like to do away with article 370, but that would be a very tough legal hurdle. Repealing article 35A could be easier and would effectively achieve the same outcome.


India’s plan to deport Rohingya who are in the country “illegally” is going to include all Rohingya in India, not just those who haven’t registered with the United Nations refugee office. Previously I had said India is party to international agreements about the status of refugees, but that was wrong and I apologize for the error. They’re under no legal obligation to care whether these people have registered with the UN or not. Morally, well, that’s a different question. And the UN argues that there is some international law at play in this case–there’s a legal principle called “non-refoulement” that means you can’t return somebody to a place where they’re likely to be in danger, like a war zone. Or a place where their community is being ethnically cleansed. That principle goes beyond the refugee accord and is still binding on India. Or it would be, if international law were actually binding on anybody.


Indonesian authorities said Tuesday that they’ve broken up a terrorist plot to bomb the country’s presidential palace later this month.


Manila says it’s reached an agreement with Beijing that China will not occupy new territory in the South China Sea. This is part of a broader agreement the two countries are negotiating over resource extraction in the SCS, but it’s notable I think that the Chinese government hasn’t actually commented yet.


Government forces are now working alongside fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to fight the ISIS-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on the island of Mindanao. The MILF (yes yes, let it all out children) carried out a violent campaign against Manila from 1978 through 2014, and there have been threats that the campaign would resume since then. But it (smartly, I think) sees the presence of ISIS-aligned Islamists on Mindanao as poisonous to its goal of political autonomy for Philippine Muslims. Some 25 people have been killed this month in fighting between the MILF and the BIFF, with Philippine forces joining in recently over fears that the BIFF might attempt to aid Maute Group fighters in Marawi.

Some 21 32 (Jesus Christ) people were killed overnight between Monday and Tuesday in the bloodiest single night of Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody vigilante campaign against drug users. He must be thrilled.


The people of Guam can relax, if they were ever tensed up, because North Korea is walking back its threats to fire rockets in the island territory’s general direction. Kim Jong-un now says he’s going to assess what America does next before deciding whether or not to go through with the missile exercise. In fact, that 38North piece suggests Kim was never actually planning to go ahead with the exercise because there has been no sign of any mobilization toward that end inside North Korea. He may try to resume diplomatic engagement now, and there have been signals from both South Korea and the US in recent days that they might be receptive to such an overture.

The New York Times reported on Monday that the US intelligence community (yeah, I know) believes North Korea’s recent missile advances have been made possible by a purchase of rocket engines from a plant in Ukraine with ties to Russia’s missile industry. The plant, in Dnipro, has been underutilized since Russia and Ukraine fell out and Russia stopped having its missiles made there. If this assessment is accurate, there are obviously some serious questions as to how North Korea got its hands on these Ukrainian engines. Was Kiev involved? Russia? Did officials at the factory in question act alone? And how did international safeguards against North Korea acquiring this kind of weaponry all fail?


Well, this is awkward. It turns out that Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, is, ah, a citizen of New Zealand. Wild. It just so happens that you can’t serve in the Australian parliament if you’re a dual citizen, soooooo this would seem to disqualify Joyce from office. And that’s a problem, not just because Joyce is deputy PM but because the right-wing coalition currently governing the country has a one-seat majority. If Joyce goes, it would seem, so goes the government. Now, Joyce’s case has to go to court and he may have a case–there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that he ever knew he had New Zealand citizenship, and there are exceptions in Australian law for people who have made “reasonable” efforts to renounced their second citizenship. So we’ll see what happens. Unsurprisingly, Joyce has not been sympathetic in the past to Australian lawmakers who found themselves in similar circumstances.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister, and proud (?) New Zealander, Barnaby Joyce (Wikimedia)



On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a senior commander in Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Werfalli is wanted in connection with seven charges of war crimes committed during the LNA’s recent campaign in Benghazi earlier this summer.

In Tripoli, meanwhile, former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan has reportedly been kidnapped by a militia aligned with the country’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord. Zidan was kidnapped once before, in 2013. It’s not clear why he was taken or what his whereabouts are.


Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sacked his prime minster, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, on Tuesday, reappointing Ahmed Ouyahia to the job. Bouteflika’s control over the country is questionable at best (the Algerian military really runs the state), and he’s been mentally impaired since suffering a stroke in 2013, so it’s reasonable to ask if he was really behind this move. But Ouyahia has been PM before and is seen as a bit of a crisis fixer, and for a country in the midst of a serious budget crunch he may be a steadying force.


Seven people were killed Monday when gunmen attacked the UN peacekeeping base in Timbuktu. There’s been no claim of responsibility.


At least 27 people were killed on Tuesday in three suicide bombings in northeastern Nigeria near Maiduguri. Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram branch is almost certainly responsible.


A likely al-Shabab attack in eastern Kenya killed five Kenyan police officers on Tuesday.

Defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s call for a national strike on Monday to protest last week’s election result (in which Odinga claims he was cheated) appears to have fizzled out. Businesses were open and people at work, even in Odinga strongholds (though some of his supporters do seem to have heeded his call). Crucially there wasn’t any violence, which hopefully means things have turned a corner in that regard and that last week’s 24 deaths will be the extent of it. There’s still been no evidence to support Odinga’s charge that he was cheated, and international observers maintain that the election was conducted fairly and the votes counted accurately. However, it doesn’t engender confidence in the government’s honesty when it’s trying to shut down any NGOs that actually do raise questions about the vote.


Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema remains in government custody even though Reuters continues to report that the treason charges against him will be dropped. Their sources now say the government will move to dismiss the case on Wednesday.


Grace Mugabe, Robert’s wife and often rumored successor, was supposed to turn herself in to South African police on Tuesday on charges that she assaulted a South African woman. Instead, she, uh, went back to Zimbabwe. Seems like an easy mistake to make.


South African President Jacob Zuma is demanding that all African National Congress legislators who voted against him in last week’s no-confidence vote–which Zuma won, to be clear–be punished by the party. Which, it seems to me, would kind of defeat the purpose of the vote having been conducted by secret ballot? But hey, what do I know? It’s definitely not the kind of thing that an authoritarian demagogue would demand, though, you can be sure of that.

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