Asia/Africa update: October 6 2017



Several Obama-era foreign policy officials wrote a piece for Foreign Policy today arguing that closing up the Taliban office in Qatar–as the Trump administration seems inclined to ask Doha to do–would be a mistake. They acknowledge that having a Taliban office in Qatar has done pretty much nothing to further the cause of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, but there’s a strong argument to be made first of all that it costs the US and Afghanistan nothing to allow this office to stay open on the chance that it might contribute to negotiations at some point. Additionally though, they argue that closing the office would send a counterproductive message to other countries in the region:

In addition to making the prospects for a peace process more remote than ever, expelling the Taliban representatives from Doha and, more broadly, declining to seek opportunities for contact, would further erode Washington’s already tenuous ability to shore up a regional consensus in support of the Afghan government. China, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia are all averse to the idea of an American policy of indefinite military presence in their backyards. They have largely appreciated the necessity of that presence for the time being, but the more permanent-seeming the presence becomes, the greater the likelihood that they will act to undermine it. The expressed intent of the United States to work toward a negotiated political solution has in the past held together the fragile consensus. Without that intent, the spoiling will escalate. Without a U.S.-led peace initiative, the region will pursue its own solutions, which are not likely to advance American interests. At the same time, European support for the U.S. strategy will be put at risk. Washington may have closed its eyes to the near-term necessity of pursuing a settlement, but Berlin, London, and others have not.


The Myanmar government says it’s put a stop to the mass evacuation of Rohingya from Rakhine state over the border into Bangladesh. Sure, absolutely. Meanwhile, in the real world, the United Nations says it’s “bracing” for potentially hundreds of thousands more Rohingya to cross the border, and since 2000 of them are crossing each day, that seems fairly plausible.


After charging Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha with treason several weeks ago, the Cambodian government on Friday took the next step in eliminating the CNRP–the country’s only substantial opposition party–by filing suit to have it dissolved. You know, democracy. The CNRP did much better than expected in the 2013 election, which basically put a giant target on its back heading into next year’s election. With them out of the picture, Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party should have no more worries.


While the Trump administration withdraws from international organizations, China is scrambling to fill that void, working to get its representatives into top jobs at UNESCO, the World Bank, Interpol, and so on. And while you won’t get an argument from me about the way the US can use its influence in organizations like that to further its own foreign policy aims, swapping out the US for China isn’t exactly an improvement:

But China’s pursuit of crucial international posts has raised alarm among human rights and free speech advocates who fear Beijing will wield its influence to advance its security and economic interests and set back progress on human rights and freedom of expression.


In the year since a former Chinese official was appointed head of Interpol, Beijing has successfully used the organization’s “red notice” system to pursue critics living abroad. Beijing has also pressed to cut funding for human rights investigators in U.N. peacekeeping operations. In Geneva, the U.N. has stifled Chinese human rights advocates from making their case before the world.


“China has worked consistently, often aggressively, to silence criticism of its human rights record at the United Nations,” Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director, told FP. “With China’s international influence growing and growing, there is a worry that what it’s doing could undermine the U.N. human rights system overall.”


A Russian member of parliament named Anton Morozov just took a visit to North Korea, and he came away declaring that Pyongyang is about to test a new long-range missile that it believes will be able to reach the west coast of the mainland United States. American intelligence believes a test may be coming around October 10, the anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers Party, so I guess we should know soon.

The North Koreans have reopened the industrial facility at Kaesong, which used to be a joint venture between North and South Korea until Seoul pulled out last year.



The State Department made it official Friday, lifting long-standing US sanctions against Sudan. It cited Sudanese improvements on humanitarian access, counter-terrorism cooperation, and contributions to regional stability. The process of ending these sanctions started last year under the Obama administration and is one of the more repulsive under-the-radar episodes in recent American foreign policy for the way it so blatantly subordinates human rights concerns (Omar al-Bashir is still wanted at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, you know) to America’s WAR ON TERROR priorities. But that’s par for the course.


Witnesses of the government’s violent crackdown on protesters in the English-speaking part of Cameroon last Sunday are telling some very troubling stories about what they saw:

Troops and attack helicopters opened fire on protesters at the height of separatist rallies in English-speaking areas of Cameroon over the weekend, killing and wounding people, witnesses and rights groups said.

The army dismissed the reports from sources in five towns as “completely false” and said helicopters had only been used for surveillance.

Any use of air attacks would mark a major escalation in a government crackdown on separatist protests that have been rumbling in Anglophone districts of the central African oil producer for almost a year.


Hold on to your hats, folks, there’s some shocking news out of the DRC:

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission is expected to announce in the coming days that a vote to replace President Joseph Kabila cannot take place until the end of 2018 at the earliest, people familiar with the process said.

WOW. I really thought that Kabila would get that election in this year. I mean, I know he was supposed to hold the election last year and didn’t, but I’m sure he genuinely tried to hold them and isn’t just going to perpetually put this election off year by year in order to remain in power indefinitely. There’s a lot of work that goes into holding elections, you know? And it’s hard to finish all that work when you never really start it in the first place.

Anyway, I think we all can rest assured that he will definitely try to do whatever it takes to maybe possibly hold this election next year, or by the end of 2019 at the latest…maybe 2020 if things don’t come together right. Well, that might be a little ambitious, so let’s say Kabila will definitely hold another election sometime before the heat death of the universe and we’ll call it a deal. OK?


Something screwy seems to be happening in Zimbabwe. Vice President and possible Robert Mugabe successor Emmerson Mnangagwa told reporters on Thursday that he’d had to be hospitalized in August because he’d been poisoned. First Lady and other possible Robert Mugabe successor Grace Mugabe quickly denied having anything to do with it (which, if you’ve got to deny it…) and accused him of lying to stir up public support. She then started talking about a “coup” plot wherein Mnangagwa’s supporters have been threatening to kill other members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party if their guy doesn’t become president when the time comes.

So far, Robert Mugabe himself has stayed out of the feuding, perhaps because–as I have often theorized–he realizes that he’s never going to need a successor since he’s actually an immortal wight.


Madagascar is coping with a serious pneumonic plague outbreak that probably needs some additional international attention lest it turn into another 2014 West African ebola outbreak. Plague is endemic to Madagascar, which is usually good for about 400 cases during every September-April period. But it’s already reporting over 200 cases and this is only October–worse, the cases are coming from urban areas rather than the isolated rural areas where the disease is usually found. That puts this outbreak at higher than normal risk for spreading beyond Madagascar’s borders.

On the plus side, it’s not believed that the strain of the plague bacterium behind this outbreak is antibiotic-resistant. On the minus side, there are apparently strains of the plague bacterium in Madagascar that are antibiotic-resistant. Anyway, have a good night.

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