Asia/Africa update: September 12 2017



The Azerbaijani government is threatening to stop cooperating militarily with Western nations unless those Western nations cram it with respect to Azerbaijan’s lousy human rights record. Unfortunately for Baku, Azerbaijan’s military assistance just isn’t that crucial to Western interests. Officially it’s helped out with peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and its Silk Way Airlines runs humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, but these are small contributions at best. The most substantive thing Azerbaijan has been doing for the West, allegedly, has been its alleged role, again via Silk Way, allegedly running weapons to Syrian rebels. But in case you haven’t noticed, nobody’s really all that keen to keep supporting the Syrian rebels anyway.


This very interesting Foreign Policy piece posted on Tuesday looks at life in Afghanistan’s desolate Nimruz province, in the far southwest of the country. Isolated and ungoverned, it’s become a haven for the Taliban and the drug trade, and it’s the route by which many Afghans are getting the hell out of the country:

Of all of Afghanistan’s lawless provinces, Nimruz is perhaps the rawest and most untamed. The desert in southwestern Afghanistan, cornering up against Iran and Pakistan, looks like something out of Mad Max: a post-apocalyptic wasteland where only camel herders and smugglers seem to thrive. Sandstorms kick up without warning, swallowing the horizon in a thick beige mist. Out of the haze, a group of motorcyclists suddenly rides past, their hair stiff with grit and their eyes hidden by goggles.

This is wild country.

Nimruz is a microcosm of what has gone wrong in the Afghan war. The province’s lawlessness is a testament to the Western-backed government’s failure to assert authority and curtail rogue strongmen. As Afghanistan’s drug-smuggling hub, it provides a financial artery for the Taliban, who appear stronger than ever. And because of its largely unprotected borders, and complicity from the few forces that actually guard them, it has long been a gateway for the growing number of Afghans who, facing increasing violence and a stagnant economy, have simply lost hope that their motherland can be their home.


The Pakistani government says that it would be open to “joint patrolling” and “joint posts” along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pakistanis insist that the vast majority of militant activity coming out of the border region is directed at them rather than at Afghanistan, so this could be a real put-up-or-shut-up proposal depending on the details. It’s certainly something Kabul should take up, if only to see if it’s a serious offer.

Kulsoom Sharif is running to fill the legislative seat formerly held by her her husband, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a snap election being held this coming Sunday. But she’s not the most watched figure in this race. That would be the Sharifs’ daughter, Maryam, who is seen as the long-term successor to her father as the leader of Pakistan’s PML-N party. Maryam has been connected to the corruption investigation that brought Nawaz down, but she insists neither of them did anything wrong and has been pretty frank, for a Pakistani politician, in suggesting that the military was behind Nawaz’s ouster.


Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited a Rohingya refugee camp on Tuesday and promised that Bangladesh would shelter them while also calling on Myanmar to take them back. This is good news for the Rohingya, some 370,000 of whom have fled into Bangladesh since late August–there was a time not long ago when they would have been just as unwelcome in Bangladesh as they apparently are in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s government, meanwhile, has identified the Real Problem in this whole Rohingya mess, which is that people keep talking about it. They’re now objecting to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling the Rohingya situation, which is a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The UN Security Council will take up the Rohingya crisis on Wednesday, and even the United States is starting to (rhetorically) put pressure on Naypyidaw to put a stop to the violence.


Cambodian legislators on Monday stripped opposition leader Kem Sokha of his parliamentary immunity, clearing the way for Hun Sen’s government to prosecute him on the charge of threatening to win an election. The government seems intent on using Kem Sokha’s prosecution as an excuse to disband his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which would virtually clear the field heading into next year’s general election.

The charges against Kem Sokha revolve around aid he allegedly received from the United States, ostensibly in the form of party building though I think we’ve all been around the US foreign policy community long enough to know that it’s at least possible there was more to it than that. This has forced US ambassador and wretched scumbag William Heidt to publicly deny the allegations and demand Kem Sokha’s release.


Donald Trump hosted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House on Tuesday.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 9.05.45 PM
Yep, that’s the stuff

It’s unclear if President Deals and PM Embezzlement talked about the 1MDB corruption scandal currently surrounding Razak and hampering his electoral outlook going into next year’s elections, but if they did it was probably just so Trump could congratulate Razak on looting the treasury so thoroughly. They might have talked about Malaysia’s human rights record…no, wait, I forgot who the president was for a second. They did, apparently, talk about Malaysia buying $10 billion in new aircraft from Boeing over the next five years and Razak’s plans to invest Malaysian pension monies in American infrastructure projects.


Never let it be said that the Philippine government doesn’t want to investigate alleged abuses by police in the context of Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. There’s a whole office dedicated to just that purpose, and the Philippine legislature just voted Tuesday to fully fund it for next year to the tune of a whopping $20. Give or take. The office had a budget of just under $15 million last year, so admittedly this is a slight cut. But as very normal and fully hinged Philippine Speaker of the House Pantaleón “Pants” Alvarez said, “If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals.” He pretty much works for Duterte, so he should know, right?


Beijing has been increasing its outreach to Nepal over the past couple of weeks. Why? Well, for one thing it want Nepal to be part of its continent-spanning One Belt One Road initiative, but more urgently, China now sees Nepal as an important potential ally in any future border disputes with India/Bhutan, like the one they just had over Doklam.


So, earlier this evening, reporter Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor tweeted thusly:

Rozen is an excellent reporter, so if she says she’s heard this you can assume it’s credible. This of course doesn’t mean that the Trump administration is actually planning a war, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re planning to start a war–these could be contingency plans in the event that North Korea fires the first shot. But think tanks don’t just undertake big new projects for shits and giggles, they do it because that’s where they think the money is leading. Which means they have some reason to think that people are going to be interested in studies on the aftermath of war with North Korea, and not, say, studies on the millions of people in South Korea and Japan who are likely to die in the first few hours of a war with North Korea. Make of that what you will.

Whatever Rozen has heard certainly seems to align with wherever Donald Trump’s head is at. After the UN Security Council unanimously approved a new sanctions package aimed at Pyongyang on Monday, and Pyongyang threatened the US with “the greatest pain” in response, Trump–during his press availability with Razak on Tuesday–said “those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen” with respect to North Korea’s nuclear program. Make of that what you will.

One thing that probably should happen, like, yesterday, is some kind of global regulation around cryptocurrencies. North Korea has reportedly been getting around international sanctions in part by hacking into online currency exchanges and stealing BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies. The return has probably been a fraction of what Pyongyang has made hacking into more traditional banks–and, hey, maybe some better fucking cybersecurity overall wouldn’t be a bad idea–but it’s probably not nothing either.


South Korea has apparently formed a brand new military unit, the “Spartan 3000,” just for the purpose of assassinating Kim Jong-un. The fact that Seoul has announced the existence of this unit is evidence that it’s not actually intended to assassinate Kim Jong-un so much as it’s meant to threaten to assassinate him and thereby put a little deterrence punch back on South Korea’s side. But who knows if that will have any effect. Forming this unit may also be President Moon Jae-in’s way of appeasing South Korean conservatives short of giving them what they really seem to want, which is an indigenous South Korean nuclear weapons program.


Mutual antipathy toward China is making bedfellows out of India and Japan. India will begin construction this week on a Japanese-financed high-speed rail line connecting the cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the latest and largest sign of the growing alliance between the two countries.



Popular demonstrations have continued throughout Togo against President Faure Gnassingbé, forcing parliament to suspend its session on Tuesday amid an opposition protest over progress on potential constitutional reforms. A committee is reviewing a draft bill on reinstating Togo’s 1992 constitution, which crucially included presidential term limits and a runoff round in presidential elections.


A Biafran separatist group called the Indigenous People of Biafra is accusing the Nigerian army of besieging the home of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, on Sunday. The army denies this, but there are reportedly video clips circulating that appear to show otherwise. Either way, tensions are rising in the country’s southeastern Abia state and the government there has imposed a curfew.


Opposition politicians boycotted President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address opening the new session of parliament on Tuesday, arguing that Kenyatta has no right to address parliament as president after his “reelection” last month was annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court.

The outcome of the October 17 re-run of the election will obviously have a lot to say about this, but I think Samson Kaunga Ndanyi’s warning that Kenya may be backsliding into a more repressive form of government under Kenyatta is worth reading now:

In the months leading up to August 8, David Murathe, the President’s advisor, hinted that Kenyatta’s second term “[would] be lethal, brutal and ruthless.” Very few Kenyans paid attention to the ominous warning, perhaps because they believed, rather erroneously, that Kenyatta would not singlehandedly return the country back to its darker days under Daniel Moi’s tenure (1978-2002). They gloated on social media about how Kenya had made significant progress, citing as examples the new and progressive Constitution limiting presidential terms, decentralized political and economic infrastructures, the bicameral legislative body, and, above all, the independent Supreme Court.  

Only a few hours after the Court nullified Kenyatta’s victory, a seemingly rattled President, who had advised his challenger to seek redress in court, organized an impromptu roadside meeting at the Burma Market in Nairobi and censured the very Court whose outcome he had earlier promised to respect. Echoing Murathe’s words, Kenyatta promised to “fix” the Court in his second term. Specifically, he raised a finger of contempt at David Kenani Maraga, the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, and belittled him and the other justices as wakora (crooks/thugs). Without equivocating, Kenyatta promised to nyorosha (straighten up) the Supreme Court and threatened to do the same to his political detractors. He laid down his marker, and Kenyans should bear in mind that he who lifts up a finger at others with contempt will surely do the same to you.


The DRC’s electoral commission is just now getting around to registering voters in the country’s chaotic Kasai region and–oh wow, this is a stunning development–it looks like, gosh, President Joseph Kabila isn’t going to be able to stand down and hold new elections this year after all. And he was definitely going to do that! He must be super disappointed. You can expect another round of protests in Kinshasa to close out 2017, and a new promise from Kabila to definitely, no excuses, absolutely, probably, maybe hold elections by the end of 2018.

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