Asia/Africa update: September 16-17 2017



Two bombings in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday–one in Khost province and the other in Laghman province–killed at least six people in total. These are likely to have been Taliban attacks.

Hey, exciting news! Kabul’s Green Zone is getting bigger:

Soon, American Embassy employees in Kabul will no longer need to take a Chinook helicopter ride to cross the street to a military base less than 100 yards outside the present Green Zone security district.

Instead, the boundaries of the Green Zone will be redrawn to include that base, known as the Kabul City Compound, formerly the headquarters for American Special Operations forces in the capital. The zone is separated from the rest of the city by a network of police, military and private security checkpoints.

The expansion is part of a huge public works project that over the next two years will reshape the center of this city of five million to bring nearly all Western embassies, major government ministries, and NATO and American military headquarters within the protected area.

Sure, you may say that the fact that they have to build a citadel within Kabul to try to keep important government buildings safe is a sign that the war against the Taliban is, you know, not going so well. But why do you always have to be such a downer about this stuff? Think about how nice all those new checkpoints are going to look!


At least seven people were killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday in Pakistan’s northern Bajaur district. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack.

Nawaz Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom, won Sunday’s by-election in Lahore to fill his former seat in parliament. However, in a seat that’s been easily carried by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party in every election since 1985, this race was extremely close–Kulsoom won by a scant 14,000 votes amid turnout of only about 35 percent. The PML-N may want to take this result as a sign that they haven’t been able to rally voters behind the idea that Nawaz Sharif’s removal from office was a politically-motivated hit job, and that maybe some of the corruption allegations against Sharif have actually stuck.

Worryingly, one of the parties that really did surprisingly well in Sunday’s election was the Milli Muslim League. The MML’s founder is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who is the founder of a charity called Jamaat-ud-Dawa that is widely believed to be a front-group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attack and is designated a terrorist group by the United Nations and a host of countries around the world. The MML’s candidate in this election was Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh, who is personally designated a terrorist by the United States. So even as China gets into the act of pressuring Pakistan to divest itself of ties with terrorist groups, it’s clear that’s going to be easier said than done.


So many Rohingya have now fled into Bangladesh–over 400,000–that the country is going to build a massive new camp along the Myanmar border to house them. The new camp will contain 14,000 units each capable of holding up to six families, who will then effectively be treated as prisoners, unable to leave the camp. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to use her trip to the UN General Assembly session to ask for international assistance for this project, which Bangladesh likely can’t afford on its own.


Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be skipping the UNGA–and, you know, she’s been through so much, having to read and listed to criticism of her simply because one of her country’s minorities is being ethnically cleansed by the Myanmar military and she won’t say anything about it. The military is going with the story that the Rohingya are the vanguard of a massive Bengali invasion or something–it’s all basically science fiction, but because the Rohingya are Muslim Myanmar is able to get away with making claims about them that would be dismissed out of hand were they talking about anybody else.


The head of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, is concerned about the fact that Manila cops killed two teenagers in August as part of Rodrigo Duterte’s Actual War on Drugs. So, on Saturday, Duterte asked if Gascon is a pedophile.

As one does. It’s a very normal question asked by a very normal president.

Gascon, to his credit, did not respond by asking if Duterte is a necrophiliac, though there’s more evidence to support that argument than there is that Gascon is a pedophile. The CHR is struggling to remain open after the lower house of the Philippine parliament budgeted it just $20 for all of next year, but the Philippine senate appears inclined to restore its funding.


Kim Jong-un says he will continue his nuclear weapons and missile development programs until North Korea has achieved “military equilibrium” with the United States. China suggests that it might help ease tensions if members of the Trump administration–Donald Trump himself, for example–stopped threatening to vaporize Pyongyang and the like. And so here’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster:

US national security advisor HR McMaster said: “We have been kicking the can down the road and we’re out of road. For those who have been commenting about the lack of a military option – there is a military option. Now, it’s not what we prefer to do, so what we have to do is call on all nations to do everything we can to address this global problem, short of war.”

And here’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley, the administration’s loudest foreign policy voice:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday the U.N. Security Council has run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States may have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that she was perfectly happy to hand the North Korea problem over to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

To be clear, there absolutely is a theoretical military option for dealing with North Korea. It’s one that requires the administration to be comfortable consigning potentially tens of millions of South Korean, North Korean, and Japanese citizens to a very quick death and maybe risks the loss of Guam and/or an American city. I grant you we’ve seen nothing from the Trump administration to suggest they’d particularly mourn the destruction of Seoul, but even I have to believe they’d think twice about risking, say, New York City. And so, ultimately, there is no actual military option, and McMaster and Haley are bluffing. But the longer they keep bluffing, the more avenues to diplomacy they close off, the closer they get to the point where the US really doesn’t have any other options, either.


Shinzō Abe may call snap elections as soon as October, after recent polling showed that his approval rating has rebounded from the mid-30s during the summer to 50 percent or higher now. Abe has to weigh the likely loss of his coalition’s 2/3 majority in the lower House of Representatives now against the possibility that his support could start dropping again and/or that a stronger opposition could threaten his majority if he waits until next year (when the elections are supposed to be held). Another consideration is that, given the immediate threat from North Korea, Abe could be accused of playing politics at a time of genuine emergency if he calls for a vote now.



About 1500 Tunisians took to the streets of Tunis on Saturday to protest against parliament’s passage of a corruption amnesty law last week. Supporters say the law will boost the Tunisian economy through the collection of fines as well as vague and conveniently unmeasurable improvements in stability and investor confidence. Opponents say that, you know, the government just offered impunity to corrupt public servants.


Southeastern Mauritanian is home to a bit over 50,000 Malian refugees who have crossed the border since the height of the violent Tuareg uprising in that country in 2012.  This is one of the poorest parts of Mauritania, which is saying something, and the United Nations has found Mauritanian nationals infiltrating the Malians’ Mbera refugee camp to get access to the kind of aid that’s provided to those refugees. The UN’s efforts to root out those Mauritanians, as well as the pressure the Malian refugees have put on the region’s meager natural resources, is raising tensions between the Malian and Mauritanian communities.


The president of Ethiopia’s Oromiya region says that around 50 people have been killed and 50,000 displaced in the past week due to fighting along the border between Oromiya and Ethiopia’s Somali region. The border between these two regions is historically problematic, with farmers and herders on both sides contesting ownership, and this isn’t the first time things have turned violent.

Ethiopia’s administrative divisions (Wikimedia)


Nine people were killed on Saturday in Mogadishu in fighting between the Somali military and, uh, Somali police. The police were apparently told by Somali intelligence that there were armed militia members in the capital, and those “armed militia members” turned out to be soldiers in the Somali army, but nobody figured that out in time to stop the shooting.


Presidential candidate Raila Odinga plans a national campaign calling for an overhaul of Kenya’s electoral commission in advance of the scheduled October 17 repeat of the country’s annulled August presidential election. Odinga has said that without major reforms on the commission he’ll refuse to participate in the revote, which would really make the revote impossible–I mean, they could go ahead with it anyway, but its legitimacy would be, let’s say, not high.


Clashes between Burundian refugees and DRC soldiers in the town of Kamaniola on Friday ended with one DRC army officer and at least 36 refugees dead. Apparently a crowd of refugees protested the expulsion of four Burundians from the DRC and things turned violent. The soldiers escalated to firing live ammunition into the crowds of protesters, but there are also reports of armed refugees firing at the DRC soldiers.

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