Asia/Africa update: October 31-November 1 2017



The big story of the day is obviously the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in New York, and we’ll get to that later but here I wanted to try to say something about the US media’s immediate obsession with Uzbekistan. The attacker, alleged I guess, was an Uzbek national named Sayfullo Saipov, and so of course this has produced an avalanche of stories about UZBEKISTAN’S PROBLEM WITH EXTREMISM and how CENTRAL ASIA IS A BREEDING GROUND FOR TERRORISTS etc. The Washington Post got in on the act, as did the New York Times, and the Atlantic. And, look, there is a serious Central Asian component to global terrorism that needs more study. There are a lot of Central Asian and Caucasian fighters in ISIS’s ranks, for example. Uzbek nationals have been responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in recent months. And the region’s repressive governments–none more repressive than the dictatorship Islam Karimov ran in Uzbekistan until his death last September–act in ways that are almost textbook examples of how to alienate and radicalize people, though that repression hasn’t translated to many attacks in Central Asia.

But Saipov wasn’t radicalized while he was in Uzbekistan. Or at least there’s no evidence that he was, while there is evidence that he was radicalized after he came to the US. What we need to be asking is what happened after he got here to lead him to commit Tuesday’s attack. And the answer is likely to be similar to the reasons why many other Uzbek nationals have carried out terrorist attacks: the immigrant experience–so often characterized by isolation, alienation, poverty–is leaving Central Asian migrants susceptible to terrorist propaganda. For someone like Saipov, what he experienced as a child and young adult before leaving Uzbekistan undoubtedly contributed to his evolution into a terrorist, but it wasn’t until he got here that he finally completed the journey.


Eight people were killed on Wednesday in a bombing in the town of Charikar in Parwan province. Additionally, a suicide bomber killed at least one person in Balkh province.

On Tuesday, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that the Taliban either controls or has a significant presence in 43 of Afghanistan’s districts, up from 40 percent in February. Not to be ignored, ISIS killed four people on Tuesday in a terrorist bombing in Kabul.


Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan from Britain on Thursday to stand trial on the corruption charges that forced him from office.


Because we live in an utterly surreal time, Myanmar is now accusing Bangladesh of deliberately keeping Rohingya refugees in order to secure some sweet international humanitarian aid moolah. You know, the really lucrative shit. The actual reasons why the Rohingya are slow to return might have something to do with, I don’t know, fear of being slaughtered en masse, or logistical problems based on the fact that Myanmar wants returning Rohingya to prove their residency even though it deliberately stripped them of any legal proof when it made them stateless back in the 1980s. But those reasons make Myanmar look bad, so it must be that Bangladesh won’t let the Rohingya go home.

Aung San Suu Kyi made her first trip to Rakhine state on Thursday to get a firsthand look at the ethnic cleansing she doesn’t actually believe is taking place.


Thailand’s ruling military junta said Tuesday that it’s not ready to lift its ban on political activity, which it had previously suggested it would revisit after the funeral for former King Bhumibol Adulyadej. With the junta promising elections by November 2018, this is not exactly a promising sign for Thai democracy.


The Diplomat’s David Hutt questions whether General Gatot Nurmantyo stage-managed his “snub” by the United States last month for politican gain.


Also at The Diplomat, Jonathan Brookfield looks at the makeup of China’s new Politburo Standing Committee and what it might mean for the future:

While most immediate news stories have emphasized the absence of any clear cut successor to Xi Jinping in the new line up and have taken that as a sign that Xi is planning to continue on as China’s leader for the indefinite future (rather than simply oversee the next five years and step away), I read the composition of the new PSC somewhat differently.


I grant that, outside of the new PSC line up, there are a number of indicators of Xi’s considerable strength – for example, the massive reorganization of China’s military and recent promotions, his designation as “core leader,”Sun Zhengcai’s sacking and purge, and the recent change of the CCP’s constitution to include the phrase “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.” Still, from my perspective, the PSC line up itself seems to indicate both a willingness to defy conventions as well as some respect for institutional norms.


The European Union and Japan are leading a UN General Assembly push to condemn North Korea on human rights. This won’t be the first time the UNGA has condemned North Korea for its human rights behavior and almost certainly won’t be the last.

North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday and argued that “disseminating outside information” within North Korea would be a more effective use of American money than building up for a potential military confrontation with Pyongyang. He also argued that Washington should have at least one meeting with Kim Jong-un if for no other reason than to try to get a sense of what he’s after.


China and South Korea said on Tuesday that they’re going to work to put their disagreements over Seoul’s deployment of the US-made THAAD missile defense system behind them and repair their relationship. There was no immediate comment out of Pyongyang. On Wednesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told parliament that his government will never accept North Korea as a nuclear power and will continue to work for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.



Sudan’s efforts to increase its agricultural productivity are being viewed with a bit of alarm in Egypt, where officials are worried that they will divert more Nile water to Sudanese farmers and away from Egyptian farmers. The thing is, though, if any country were going to assume a larger share of the Nile’s water it should be Sudan, which is home to almost half of Africa’s arable land but only cultivates a small portion of it. Sudan has probably been getting shortchanged in terms of water usage as a result, but more importantly a more robust Sudanese farming output could go a long way toward alleviating hunger issues all over Africa. But this is obviously a potential conflict point, and Khartoum would probably be well-advised to maximize its other water sources before it attempts to take any more out of the Nile.


Libya may be the main point of departure for African migrants trying to get into Europe, but Morocco is quickly producing a migrant crisis of its own. Government repression of the Rif protest movement has caused an increasing number of Rifian Berbers to give up on improving their situation in Morocco and attempt the crossing into Europe.


The second round of Liberia’s presidential election, which was supposed to happen next Tuesday, has now been suspended by the country’s Supreme Court pending an investigation into allegations of fraud in the first round. It will almost certainly now have to be postponed, as even if the investigation only takes a couple of days, the delay in preparation won’t allow enough time for the vote to be held on Tuesday.


Al-Qaeda’s Nusrat al-Islam affiliate claimed responsibility for an attack on Tuesday in central Mali that killed six people. The attack targeted the president of Mali’s High Court, who was unharmed.


The Nigerien government has asked the United States to start flying armed drones in Niger for use against groups like Nusrat al-Islam and ISIS-Greater Sahara. The Pentagon politely declined their request was basically champing at the bit waiting for them to ask, so expect to hear about drone strikes in a whole new vista very soon. The US is building/has built a drone base at Agadez that is designed to accommodate armed MQ-9 Reaper drones, though currently it only flies surveillance drones out of the facility.


South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is in Khartoum for negotiations on the countries’ shared border. The two sides have agreed on principle on a demilitarized zone and at least four border crossings, eventually increasing to ten.


A spokesman for Eritrea’s largest opposition group told the AP Wednesday that at least 28 people have been killed in protests this week in Asmara. News only comes out of Eritrea very, uh, carefully, so there’s no word as to what caused the protests or really anything that’s happening apart from this one report about the deaths.


Apparently part of the reason Kenya’s Supreme Court couldn’t hold a quorum to hear a last-minute petition on postponing the country’s presidential vote last week was that the Kenyan government denied its request for extra security. A bodyguard for one of the court’s justices was shot last Tuesday, two days before the election. The government improbably deemed the shooting part of a robbery rather than election-related, and then apparently decided the country didn’t need more protection. The justices then refused to attend Wednesday’s hearing. And President Uhuru Kenyatta won Thursday’s election with 98 percent of a low turnout vote. Funny how that all worked out.


DRC opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi said on Tuesday that he’d be OK with postponing the country’s presidential election to 2018 provided Joseph Kabila agrees not to run. Of course, Kabila agreed last year to hold the election this year and not run, and here we are talking about 2018. Which is already dated, since Kabila’s election commission says it will need until at least the middle of 2019 before it can hold a vote.

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