Asia/Africa update: September 7-8 2017



The Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments appear to have reached an agreement this week to delineate their shared border and, in principle, to collaborate on a major hydroelectric project , the Kambarata-1 dam, on the Naryn River in Kyrgyzstan. Former Uzbek President Islam Karimov opposed Kyrgyzstan’s plans to construct dams on its rivers over fears that they would impede water flow to Uzbek farmers downstream. But current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev seems eager to cut a deal that would see some of the electricity generated by the dam sent to Uzbekistan. There’s no deal on paper yet so it could always fall apart, but if the two sides reach this agreement it’s likely to lead to closer relations across the board.


Pakistan and China are both taking shots at Donald Trump’s new/old/different/same plan for Afghanistan. Foreign ministers from both nations met in Beijing on Friday and bemoaned the fact that Pakistan isn’t getting the credit it deserves for fighting terrorism while also calling for talks with the Taliban.


However, China actually smacked Pakistan around a bit earlier this week, at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit in Xiamen. Among other things, the five member states did this:

“We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIS…Al Qaeda and its affiliates, including Eas­tern Turkistan Islamic Move­ment, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Jaish-i-Mohammad, TTP and Hizbut Tahrir,” the leaders said in the declaration.

Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad in particular, both Kashmir-centric organizations, are tied to Pakistani intelligence. So this statement is very much a shot at the Pakistanis, and the fact that their great patron participated in it ought to serve as a wake up call to Islamabad.

Analyst Shashank Joshi has put together what I think is a very worthwhile readout on the US-Pakistan relationship as it stands now, post-Trump speech, and moving forward:

In the coming months, Pakistan will seek to clarify Washington’s intentions, to judge how seriously to take the rhetoric. After all, U.S. criticism of Pakistan is not wholly unprecedented. If the Pakistan Army feels that it can placate Trump with an easy win, such as the arrest of a few well-chosen Taliban leaders, perhaps those drifting closer to rival powers, or the sharing of intelligence that allows U.S. drones to target less important Haqqani network figures, this might be seen as offering a way out. It is noteworthy that Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, inadvertently contradicting most of his colleagues, publicly suggested on Sep. 6 that “we should impose some restrictions on the activities of elements like [Lashkar-e-Taiba] and [Jaish-e-Mohammad], so that we can show the global community that we have put out house in order.” Although meaningful steps against these groups should be welcomed, there is ample precedent for cosmetic reforms to ease American pressure. Moreover, as we know from the leaked phone callwith Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump is sometimes happy to concede in private as long as he maintains the appearance of victory.

At the same time as exploring this U.S. threshold, Pakistan is likely to seek to increase its real and perceived leverage over Washington. Asif quickly announced that he intended to visit Beijing ahead of a previously scheduled trip to Washington, and Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa met his Chinese counterpart, among others, at a regional security forum in Taijikistan at the end of August. Pakistan will be eager to play up China’s political, economic, and military commitment to Islamabad.

I recommend checking it out, he goes into quite a bit of detail about where things are headed assuming that nothing changes during this preliminary feeling out period.


The Guardian has put together an account of the Myanmar army’s massacre–there’s no other word for it–of the Rohingya village of Tula Toli on August 30:

It was the fast-flowing river that doomed the inhabitants of Tula Toli.

Snaking around the remote village on three sides, the treacherous waters allowed Burmese soldiers to corner and hold people on the river’s sandy banks. Some were shot on the spot. Others drowned in the current as they tried to escape.

Zahir Ahmed made a panicked dash for the opposite bank, where he hid in thick jungle and watched his family’s last moments.

“I was right next to the water,” he recalled in an interview a week later at a refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh, his eyes bloodshot and his shirt stained with sweat and dirt.

Ahmed said teenagers and adults were shot with rifles, while babies and toddlers, including his youngest daughter, six-month old Hasina, were thrown into the water.

He cried as he described seeing his wife and children die, meticulously naming and counting them on both hands until he ran out of fingers.

At least 270,000 Rohingya, fleeing this violence, have now crossed into Bangladesh in the past two weeks, far more than the United Nations is able to accommodate. And Amnesty International now claims the Myanmar military is planting mines on the Bangladesh border to kill Rohingya trying to get into Bangladesh, not just to keep the ones who are already in Bangladesh from coming back. There is absolutely no reason to do something like that unless you’re trying to kill people, and, you know, I’m pretty sure we have a word for the attempted mass extermination of a particular ethnic or religious group.

Bangladesh, which doesn’t want the Rohingya to begin with, is proposing the creation of internationally-run “safe zones” in Rakhine to try to keep the Rohingya in place, but there’s virtually no chance Myanmar would voluntarily go along with something like that. Malaysian authorities say they’re ready to welcome any Rohingya fleeing Myanmar by boat, but that voyage requires the Rohingya, in whatever rickety craft they can get, to survive choppy waters during monsoon season. So the Rohingya still in Myanmar are running out of places to go.

Meanwhile, Myanmar leader and Bizarro World Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has identified the real victim of the genocide her government is perpetrating: herself. People who used to think she was wonderful are now being so unfair, expecting her to, like, not oversee the slaughter and displacement of an extremely vulnerable minority. One thing about being responsible for a genocide is that you really learn who your friends are, you know?


Rodrigo Duterte’s son, Paolo, has been accused of facilitating the shipment of $125 million worth of drugs from China into the Philippines. The younger Duterte, whose father enjoys murdering non-family members who are involved in the drug trade, allegedly has ties with the businessman suspected of being responsible for the shipment. I suppose something like this was inevitable, but man would it be karmic to the extreme if Duterte’s administration were taken down by a drug scandal.


Xi Jinping appears ready to consolidate some of his power by moving out two top military leaders on the country’s Central Military Commission who are facing corruption charges. This would open two spaces for Xi to promote officers more loyal to him personally.

Xi may also be about to test the limits of Chinese constitutional governance. He seems to be angling to keep a close ally, Wang Qishan, on the Politburo Standing Committee beyond this year even though Wang has reached mandatory retirement age. Assuming he does try to leave Wang in place, it will be as a trial balloon for 2022, when Xi himself should step aside after ten years as president. At this point it seems clear that Xi has no intention of going anywhere in 2022, and while he’d be under no obligation to leave the PSC he is under constitutional obligation to leave the presidency. He’ll likely try to have that constitutional term limit changed over the next five years, but if that doesn’t work then it’s an open question what will happen in 2022.


Donald Trump says it will be a “sad day for North Korea” if the US decides to use military force against Pyongyang. Which is true, but hopefully somebody in the administration is considering the fact that it will also be a sad day for South Korea and Japan, most likely.

A US draft of a new sanctions resolution for the UN Security Council doesn’t have Russian and Chinese support yet and therefore is dead in the water. The centerpiece of that resolution is an oil embargo, which is unlikely to move Pyongyang much because it’s shown a resilience to past such measures and particularly because it can simply make greater use of its natural coal deposits. North Korea is at least even money to undertake another missile test on Saturday to commemorate its national founding day, which will raise the stakes on the sanctions front. This evening it was reported that the US is pushing for a vote in the Security Council on Monday, which may mean they’re prepared to soften the draft to prevent a Russian and/or Chinese veto.

The Guardian has published an in-depth look at life under Kim Jong-un, who has exceeded just about everyone’s expectations in the degree to which he’s been able to assume total control over the country since taking over for his father in 2011.



A new United Nations study, published Thursday, argues that African governments are driving extremism on the continent:

“In a majority of cases, paradoxically, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa,” the new report, Journey to Extremism, says.

Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.

“State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerator of recruitment, rather than the reverse,” the report says.

The study also found that recruits to extremist organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram have little religious education and are generally motivated by financial and/or family issues. In fact, six years of formal religious education was found to reduce the likelihood of an individual joining an extremist group by almost a third. This is the kind of finding that ought to cause a whole bunch of Islamophobes to reconsider their view of Islam, but I’m sure it won’t.


United Nations efforts to negotiate an end to Libya’s civil war are being undermined by European leaders–particularly the French and British governments, which can’t seem to stop slobbering all over Khalifa Haftar. While Haftar undoubtedly will have to play a political role in Libya moving forward, the support he’s getting from these European governments–who see him as the best chance of imposing order on Libya and thereby helping Europe with its terrorism and migrant problems–is emboldening him at a time when ideally he should be feeling pressure to reach a deal with the Government of National Accord.



Massive public protests against President Faure Gnassingbé

That’s the guy (Wikimedia)

have been rocking Togo this week. The demonstrators want an end to the Gnassingbé dynasty, which between Faure Gnassingbé and his father Gnassingbé Eyadéma has controlled the country for the past fifty years. Togo’s political opposition has said that only Gnassingbé’s resignation can end the protests.


Boko Haram fighters have allegedly killed nine farmers in a two-day attack on a farm near Maiduguri on Wednesday and Thursday.


Raila Odinga says he wants to make corruption the central focus of his campaign for the October 17 redo of Kenya’s presidential election. But he’s still not committed to actually contesting the vote unless Kenya’s electoral commission makes substantial personnel changes and publicly addresses inconsistencies in the invalidated August 8 vote. Odinga and his supporters are additionally warning that the lives of members of the electoral commission may be at risk from the Kenyan government.


Soldiers from the Southern African Development Community are deploying to Lesotho in the wake of Tuesday’s assassination of Lesotho military commander Khoantle Motsomotso.

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