World update: August 16 2017



Former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann writes that, outward appearances to the contrary I guess, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is reforming the country, starting with its top military brass. The issue, Neumann says, is that the country is so corrupt that Ghani can’t tackle all the challenges at once and progress will necessarily seem slow to outsiders. I’m unconvinced, but apparently there have been some signs that Kabul is tackling the problem:

Another critical area of performance is the justice sector, particularly with regard to corruption. In the nearly 40 years Afghanistan has been at war, bribery, predatory behavior, and corruption have become a way of life. Elites steal not only to enrich themselves but to maintain a circle of supporters and security on which their power is based. But this tradition now is being threatened by the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC), an Afghan government effort to go after serious graft in senior ranks launched last year. It is specifically limited to defendants of at least the rank of major general or their civilian equivalent or theft of over the value of $7,500. Cases are referred from the Afghan attorney general, the older Major Crimes Task Force (long thwarted by courts releasing those they had charged), and other sources. Some 140 new staff members and investigators have been polygraphed to keep corruption out of the ACJC.

To date, there have be 36 convictions in 14 trials with sentences ranging from 6 months to 22 years. Two major generals have been sent to prison along with four deputy ministers. These convictions are still only a drop in a sea of corruption. They have not yet reached the most senior levels and many Afghans seem unaware of what is happening, perhaps because the court does a poor job of publicizing its activities. Nevertheless, it’s a start. The conviction of senior generals and deputy ministers is cutting away at the ability of those more senior to protect them.

Another commission has, according to Neumann, made progress on cleaning up patronage in the civil service.


The US Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that it’s listing Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the largest and oldest Kashmiri militant groups, as a terrorist organization. Hizbul Mujahideen is a pro-Pakistan group, which sets it apart from other, more independence-minded, Kashmiri separatist groups, and this designation seems like another sign that US policy in South Asia is shifting toward a more pro-India position. The death of former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani at the hands of Indian security forces in July 2016 that ratcheted tensions in Kashmir up to a level from which they haven’t yet really come down.


Speaking of US policy in South Asia, CSIS’s Richard Rossow argues that the recent India-China standoff in Doklam is in part about India trying to show the US that it can be useful in a regional context. In standing up to what it feels is a Chinese incursion on Bhutanese territory, he writes, India wants to show that it can play a role in Asian security affairs and countering China’s regional ambitions.

Aaaand speaking of India-China relations (and Kashmir, for that matter), I suspect it’s probably not a great sign that Indian and Chinese soldiers along the countries’ disputed Himalayan border started lobbing rocks at one another on Tuesday. Of course, on the other hand I guess there are worse things those two countries could be lobbing at one another.

After a fair amount of international outcry, the Indian government said it is not planning to deport Rohingya refugees and is simply trying to learn how many of them have fled persecution in Myanmar. Which sounds like a thing you might do right before deporting them, but again the Indian government says it hasn’t made any decisions in that regard.


Contrary to a story I mentioned yesterdayThe Diplomat reported today that the US intelligence community does not believe North Korea purchased its ICBM engines from a former Russian missile factory in Ukraine. It’s not ruling that out, mind you, it just doesn’t have a strong collective assessment to that end. It seems more likely that North Korea is manufacturing its own engines based on Russian designs.

Joint US-South Korean military exercises are scheduled to begin Monday, with tensions still pretty high even after Pyongyang backed off of its threat to fire missiles toward Guam. These regular US-South Korean exercises are so troubling to the North Koreans that if there’s a deal to be made to contain North Korea’s nuclear program, it’s likely to involve some change to the exercises. Washington might not want to cancel them altogether, but it could, say, reduce their scope as a carrot for Pyongyang.



The Libyan National Army is planning to ignore a warrant from the International Criminal Court for the arrest of senior officer Mahmoud al-Werfalli. What a shock, really, who could have seen this coming.


The AP has more on Sunday’s terror attack in Ouagadougou, which killed 18 people and seemed like almost a carbon copy of an attack in January 2016. There’s still been no claim of responsibility but it’s likely the attack was carried out by Ansar ul Islam, which is closely connected to neighboring Mali’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Nusrat al-Islam.


Defeated and/or cheated presidential candidate Raila Odinga says he plans to challenge the results of last week’s election in court. There’s still no evidence to support Odinga’s charge of electoral fraud, but Kenya’s elections board has curiously not made the election’s results forms available to the public as it should.


A United Nations investigation suggests that two UN workers who were killed in central DRC in March were murdered by members of the Kamwina Nsapu militia. Kamwina Nspau has been in rebellion in DRC’s central Kasai region since August 2016. There have been concerns that it was DRC soldiers who committed the murders, and while these findings don’t totally eliminate that possibility they do point the finger elsewhere.


Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has finally been released from jail, the treason charges against him, for his diabolical scheme to not pull over and make way for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade, dropped.


The Zimbabwean government is asking South Africa for diplomatic immunity for first lady Grace Mugabe, who is otherwise wanted by police in South Africa on the charge that she assaulted a 20 year old woman there on Sunday. It is also saying that Mugabe is still in South Africa, contrary to reports that she’d returned to Zimbabwe without turning herself in to South African police. The technical issue with Mugabe claiming diplomatic immunity is that she may not have been traveling on a diplomatic passport, which makes claiming immunity a bit of a legal reach. South African police seem inclined to book her on the charges, which will undoubtedly mean a serious diplomatic crisis between these two countries.



The UK is likely going to have to pony up money to replace the funds the European Union has been spending on conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. All told, by the time the UK leaves the union the EU will have put just shy of $1.8 billion into projects to care for victims of the Troubles, to foster community development, and to provide jobs for former militants on both sides. These programs have by most accounts been pretty important to maintaining peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and so London would be well advised to continue at least some of them.

Speaking of Brexit, how’s that going? Let’s ask German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to weigh in:

Germany’s vice-chancellor has said he is shocked the UK appears to have “no real strategy” for Brexit negotiations and said Britain will have to accept a worse deal than the status quo as punishment for leaving the EU.

Sigmar Gabriel, who is Angela Merkel’s deputy and a former leader of Germany’s centre-left SPD party, told BuzzFeed News the UK government will have to back down on some of its demands if it wants to strike a deal on Brexit.

“Their positions are not very realistic. At the end everyone has to accept a compromise,” he said. “But the main difficulty is that you cannot see a real strategy from the British government.”

Gabriel, a center-lefty, may be doing a politics here to help out the UK Labour party, but watching the Brexit talks so far it really does seem like the UK negotiators are running around with their hair on fire, backpedaling on everything while publicly insisting that it’s all going just the way they expected.



Nicolás Maduro’s Constituent Assembly is doing some fine lawmaking:

Opposition candidates running in Venezuela’s October gubernatorial elections will be investigated to make sure none were involved in violent political protests this year, the head of a new pro-government truth commission said on Wednesday.

The panel was set up earlier in the day by the constituent assembly elected last month at the behest of socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Government critics say the commission is designed to sideline the opposition and bolster the ruling party’s flagging support ahead of the October vote.

Also before the assembly is a bill that would punish those who express “hate or intolerance” with up 25 years in jail. The opposition fears such a law would be used to silence criticism of a government that, according to local rights group Penal Forum is, is already holding 676 political prisoners.

Hot damn. Screening political candidates for ideology and criminalizing speech: two things that any healthy, vibrant democracy would naturally do.


Say, wondering how President Trump’s “some Nazis are good people” press conference on Tuesday is being received overseas? Not too well, as it turns out:

America’s closest allies condemned U.S. President Donald Trump in unusually strong and personal terms on Wednesday after he put part of the blame for violent clashes in the state of Virginia on those marching against gun-brandishing neo-Nazis.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, widely criticised at home for cultivating close ties to Trump during his first half year in office, spoke out after the president repeated his view that the white nationalists and counter-protesters were both to blame.

On the bright side, at least Ayatollah Khamenei seems to be enjoying himself:

Iran’s police are notoriously brutal, and Iranian women “have been sent to jail for publicly speaking out in favor of equal rights,” according to Human Rights Watch. But that hasn’t stopped Khamenei, whose authority is unchallenged in Iran, from offering commentary on the United States’ social ills. The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980, when Iranian revolutionaries took U.S. citizens hostage at the embassy in Tehran.

If the United States “has any power” then it should “better manage” the country and “tackle #WhiteSupremacy rather than meddle in nations’ affairs,” Khamenei posted Wednesday on Twitter, adding a #Charlottesville hashtag.

One world leader who hasn’t had much to say about Charlottesville or Trump’s response is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Which is interesting, inasmuch as Trump was defending Nazis yesterday, but also unsurprising, if you know Netanyahu and his complete lack of any basic animating principle apart from self-aggrandizement.

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