Asia/Africa update: September 9-10 2017



People are still outraged over those unintentionally (?) offensive leaflets that US forces dropped over Parwan province on Tuesday. Here, by the way, is what they look like:

To reiterate, that lion is supposed to be the US, running down a dog on which has been printed the Taliban flag. The Taliban flag is just the Muslim profession of faith, the Shahadah, against a blank background, so this amounts to the US lion chasing down a literal Muslim dog. Hard to believe that would offend anybody. About the best you can say for this effort is that it’s not the most offensive thing American forces have done in Afghanistan:

American military officials quickly apologized, and so far the reaction has been less severe than that following the NATO burning of Qurans in 2012, or the video of American Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters the same year.

But a suicide attack on Bagram Air Base on Wednesday, which wounded four people, was carried out in revenge for the leaflets, the Taliban claimed.

American military officials said they were watching the situation “very closely.” Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top American and NATO commander, was in Belgium when the leafleting took place, and his staff described him as “absolutely furious.”

If President Ashraf Ghani had any idea how to do politics in Afghanistan, he’d be publicly reaming the US out over this. There’s no risk to him in doing this, since the US is committed to him no matter what at this point, but it would be great theater. Ghani, of course, hasn’t said a word, fearing that his outrage would inflame the situation when what it would actually do is demonstrate to his people that he’s not as big a US puppet as most of them think he is.


The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on Saturday declared a one-month ceasefire in Rakhine state to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Rohingya. The Myanmar government’s response was basically “thanks, but we’re going to keep on ethnically cleansing the place.” They’ve already said that none of the nearly 300,000 Rohingya who have already fled to Bangladesh in the past couple of weeks will be allowed back into Myanmar unless they can demonstrate citizenship–which no Rohingya can do, because they were all stripped of their citizenship in 1982.


The Washington Post offers an overview of the situation in Cambodia, where Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government is pulling out all the stops to break up the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party:

The arrest of the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, in a raid of his home just after midnight on Sept. 2 sent shockwaves through a country already on edge after attacks on non-government organizations and the media.

In recent weeks, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have been forced off the airwaves, independent newspaper The Cambodia Daily was shuttered amid government pressure, and the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute was expelled from the country.

Sokha has been accused of conspiring with the United States to overthrow Cambodia’s authoritarian government. He was charged with treason on Tuesday and, if convicted, faces up to 30 years in prison while the opposition CNRP could be dissolved under a controversial law passed in February that bans party leaders with criminal convictions.

Non-governmental organizations working on human rights and democratization have also been targeted–their employees have even allegedly had their phones tapped. The cause seems to be the CNRP’s gains in local elections this year, which Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party fears could translate into gains in next year’s national elections.


Rodrigo Duterte says he will not cut any deals with the Islamists holed up in Marawi to let them go free in exchange for a release of hostages. Somewhat surprisingly, for him, Duterte also says he’s not going to rush the Marawi operation if it puts those hostages at risk. It’s believed that 20-30 hostages are still being held by the insurgents, and that some of those have been forced to join the fight against Philippine forces.


Kim Jong-un spent this weekend, the 69th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, celebrating and praising the nuclear scientists responsible for last weekend’s nuclear test. As one does, I suppose. What he didn’t do this weekend was conduct another missile test, as many observers were anticipating. On Monday, the US will pursue new sanctions against Pyongyang at the UN Security Council, including an oil embargo, a ban on the sale of North Korean textiles, and a partial naval blockade that applies to ships known to have been used to violate UN sanctions against North Korea in the past. That’s a wishlist more than a reasonable proposal, and if Washington hopes to avoid a Chinese veto it will have to ease off to some degree.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested that the Iran nuclear deal could be used as a basis for new talks with Pyongyang and pledged German participation in an international effort along the lines of the P5+1. This seems like a reasonable idea in principle, but it’s an obvious non-starter for Donald Trump, who is desperate to wreck the Iran deal as it is and would certainly not be amenable to using it as a template for talks with North Korea.



There’s some concern about a new round of violence in Darfur, as tensions between the Sudanese government and Janjaweed founder Musa Hilal are on the rise. The Janjaweed were formed by Darfur’s nomadic Arab tribes in the late 1980s and, working with the government, have carried out many of the worst atrocities of the Darfur conflict. But he’s been on the outs with Khartoum since 2013, when he started to feel like Omar al-Bashir wasn’t treating him properly, and is absolutely rejecting the Sudan government’s recent efforts to disarm the Janjaweed and other Darfur militias in an attempt to clean up its international profile. Hilal and Khartoum are also on opposite sides with respect to Libya–Khartoum is very opposed to Khalifa Haftar, but Hilal is a big fan of the Libyan general/warlord.


Fulani herders in central Nigeria attacked the village of Ancha on Friday, killing 19 people. There’s no pattern to the violence in central Nigeria as there is with respect to the Boko Haram insurgency, but there’s a constant fight between the predominantly Muslim herding community and the predominantly Christian farming community that annually kills hundreds of people.


The United Nations is warning that plans to hold elections next July are likely to exacerbate South Sudan’s ongoing civil war. President Salva Kiir is anxious for a vote to put some popular legitimacy behind his now six year old presidency–South Sudan was supposed to hold a general election in 2015, but the conflict and difficulties completing the South Sudanese constitution resulted in a decision to delay it. The problem, of course, is that the civil war is still going on, and there are large parts of the country where voting would be problematic at best, and, say, those just so happen to be the same parts of the country wherein people would be least inclined to vote for Kiir. Funny how that works. A legitimate election would go a long way toward piecing South Sudan back together again, but an election that looks rigged will do exactly the opposite.


A suicide bomber killed at least six people on Sunday in the central Somali city of Beledweyne. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility, not that there was much question about it.


Cyril Ramaphosa (Wikimedia | Erfan Kouchari)

South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is making a bid to become the new head of the African National Congress in December, and he’s basing that bid on sharp criticism of the corruption surrounding current ANC boss and President Jacob Zuma:

He also took aim — without naming them – at the wealthy Gupta family, friends of President Jacob Zuma who have been accused of using undue influence to win lucrative state contracts. Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.

“Many of these state-owned enterprises have been captured by certain people, by a certain family,” Ramaphosa said.

“All of our state-owned enterprises have been captured and we are saying we want to see an end to state capture and the money that has been stolen, we want it back,” he said, to roars of approval from the audience.

Ramaphosa’s main challenger for leadership of the ANC, a prize that includes the party’s presidential nomination in 2019, is likely to be Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is likely to be named to his cabinet in the next couple of weeks. She and Jacob Zuma divorced in 1998, and apparently that’s enough time to heal their wounds because she seems to be Zuma’s preferred choice of successor and clearly has his political machine working on her behalf. Though given Zuma’s corruption problems, his support could be a mixed blessing.

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