Asia/Africa update: October 23 2017



Rex Tillerson’s remarks during his surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday didn’t offer much of note, though he did reiterate a Trump administration interest in negotiating with “moderate” Taliban. Tillerson said that “there’s a place…in the government” for any Taliban who renounce violence.

However, Tillerson’s visit itself did cause a bit of a stir. He met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Bagram air base, but somebody in Ghani’s office for some reason decided to doctor a photo taken of their meeting in order to make it look like they were in Ghani’s offices in Kabul. I suppose Ghani is trying to convey the idea that Kabul is perfectly safe after last week’s heavy violence all across the country, but instead he’s now been caught in a very stupid lie, and that’s probably not good for his public image.


Tillerson will be in Pakistan on Tuesday, where he’ll presumably be trying to get the Pakistanis to do more to undercut Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network types that are destabilizing Afghanistan from inside Pakistan. He will also undoubtedly face some questions about America’s increasingly tight relationship with India.


The Indian government is appointing a new Jammu and Kashmir envoy, Dineshwar Sharma, with the promise that he will meet with “all parties,” including separatists, to try to end the violence in the restive state. Sharma is the former head of India’s Intelligence Bureau, so it very much remains to be seen how much credibility he’ll have as a peacemaker.


Unhappy with the Russian prototypes it’s seen, the Indian government reportedly wants to pull out of its joint 5th generation fighter aircraft development program with Moscow. Basically, the problem seems to be that the program is all Russia, and none of India’s ideas–on weapons, on modularity, on compatibility–are getting in. India doesn’t want to be reliant on a fighter that only the Russians can repair, for example. This could be a major setback for Russia in its race to keep up with the US technologically–now if World War III breaks out its wildly outclassed 4th generation fighters will have to watch helplessly as an armada of American F-35s dissolves in midair in front of them because the humidity is too high and/or not high enough.


The United Nations on Monday called on Sri Lanka’s government to speed up the process of investigating war crimes committed during its 1983-2009 civil war. Colombo agreed to begin a UN-recommended national reconciliation process in 2015 but asked for a two-year delay in beginning it. It’s still dragging its feet, largely over concerns about alienating the country’s majority Buddhist population.


Bangladesh’s government says that nearly a million Rohingya have fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar into Bangladesh, and it’s calling for more support from the international community to help alleviate what it says is an “untenable situation.”


The Indonesian government is demanding an explanation from Washington after its top military commander, General Gatot Nurmantyo, was invited to the US to attend a conference on Monday and Tuesday, then was told before he flew out on Saturday that he would be denied entry into the country. It’s still not clear what happened or why, but the whole affair may work to Gatot’s political benefit since it’s turned his snub into a matter of national pride.


As started to become apparent Sunday evening, the Marawi battle is officially over. The Philippine military says it is mopping up “stragglers” in the city, but at some point soon residents will begin returning to a city that’s been left in ruins by the fighting. Philippine citizens elsewhere on Mindanao island are now worried about the possibility of smaller ISIS-aligned groups popping up to commit isolated attacks against the island’s small towns and villages. Christian militias that formed to counter the Moro Islamic Liberation Front during its 1978-2014 insurrection are putting the band back together in anticipation of this new threat. Even the MILF, which was always an ethnic and territorial movement and not an Islamist one, is remobilizing, but this time with the Philippine government and against the ISIS threat.


Last week, amid the Chinese Communist Party, current Chinese leader Xi Jinping had his theories codified by name, as the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”–or, as I like to call it, “New Socialism, Now With 75 Percent More Crony Capitalism.” This is a huge thing for Xi in that it puts him alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping as Chinese leaders who have had their theories added to the Chinese Constitution with their names attached.

Mostly Xi’s theories have to do with why it’s OK for one man to have almost total control over the Chinese state and ruthlessly suppress dissenting voices and a free press, not that he’s referring to anyone specific mind you.



Liberia’s Liberty Party, whose presidential candidate (Charles Brumskine) came in third in the first round of voting on October 10, filed a formal protest with the country’s election commission on Monday alleging irregularities in the vote. If the board upholds their complaint–unlikely but not impossible–the first round will have to be done over again.


In the wake of the October 4 ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers, the US looks like it’s getting ready to–what else–escalate its involvement in both Niger and Mali. In a region where al-Qaeda and ISIS have both grown significantly by carefully crafting their approaches to respond to very specific local grievances that Washington doesn’t–and almost certainly won’t bother trying to–understand, you can expect the usual diet of drone strikes, special forces raids, and mass arrests to go down really, really smoothly.


The Niger ambush investigation is still in limbo, with the latest wrinkle being James Dunford’s statement that the American soldiers in the patrol that was attacked may have waited over an hour before they requested assistance. It took another hour for French helicopters and warplanes to arrive in relief (this timeline is disputed by James Mattis, who says it took only 30 minutes), by which time they were unable to fire because the two sides were in such close combat that the French would have hit American soldiers. If the Americans did wait before requesting help, and it’s not completely certain they did but it seems that way, then the question becomes why. Additionally, a village chief in the village of Tongo Tongo, near the ambush site, has apparently been arrested and may have played a role in setting the patrol up.

Donald Trump plans to get to the bottom of this incident just as soon as he’s done repeatedly berating one of the dead soldiers’ widows on Twitter, which should be sometime early in his second term.


Nikki Haley says the United States is thinking about cutting aid to South Sudan but that it’s trying to do so in a way that will hurt President Salva Kiir and not the South Sudanese people. Kiir has shown a pretty high tolerance for enduring things that cause pain to other people, so a ham-fisted aid cut would probably do nothing to encourage him to change course.


Raila Odinga is relying on legal precedent to render Thursday’s election do-over null and void without his participation, but things haven’t gone his way so far:

Odinga seems to be banking on an obscure legal provision to force an electoral reset. And until Oct. 11, the law was arguably on his side. The Supreme Court had previously ruled, in response to a petition following the 2013 election, that a rerun would feature only the petitioner and the winner of the invalidated election. Furthermore, it ruled that if either of those candidates withdrew from the race, all eligible parties would need to seek fresh nominations, effectively restarting the electoral calendar. But by allowing Aukot back on the ballot, the lower court departed from this reading (and the commission took it further and allowed all but one of the original candidates back into the rerun). This reading is being challenged by some of the election cases before the Supreme Court this week, and Odinga might still get his moment. But for now, the lower court ruling has blunted the impact of his political theater — averting the farce of Kenyatta running alone in a presidential election.

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