World update: November 2 2017



Eurasianet helpfully tries to counter the emerging media narrative that Uzbekistan is little more than ISIS’s training facility:

Such instant analysis falls short, mainly because it has to oversimplify in order to make a pattern plausible, many regional scholars contend. Edward Lemon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, warned against drawing in such broad strokes.


“We are talking about at least three issues here. Those who actually go to Syria and Iraq, those who have limited links to the [Islamic State] and conduct attacks in its name, like Stockholm earlier this year, and then you have those who stay in Central Asia and are recruited there. There is a tendency to conflate all three,” Lemon said.


Speaking from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said he was appalled by the way in which the attack in New York was being characterized.


“They [television pundits] seem to be drawing this line between this attack, which looks like it is ISIS-inspired, to the issue of Uzbeks directly fighting in Iraq and Syria, which is a total different demographic,” Swerdlow said.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some commonalities. Uzbeks who have gone to Iraq and Syria and Uzbeks who left to seek work in Europe and the US do have at least one thing in common: they left Uzbekistan, to one degree or another because of its stifling inequality and repressive politics. But Uzbeks who go elsewhere to try to make a decent living and then radicalize are clearly not the same as Uzbeks who were radicalized at home and then left to go fight for the “caliphate.” They’re getting an extra push into extremism from somewhere.


An Afghan woman has caused a stir by covertly videotaping her boss, a colonel in the Afghan air force, coercing her into having sex with him in exchange for a promotion. Sexual exploitation is a huge problem in Afghanistan and is part of the reason why less than 18 percent of Afghan women enter the workforce.


As I noted yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi toured Rakhine state on Thursday to get a sense of the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya there. She apparently told people she encountered during the visit that “they should not quarrel among each other.”


I occasionally quarrel with my wife. When I do, I don’t incinerate her half of our bedroom and chase her to our neighbor’s yard. That would be a little bit beyond quarreling.


Indonesian police on Thursday killed two suspected members of the extremist group Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (a Jemaah Islamiyah offshoot) in an operation in East Nusa Tenggara province. They arrested nine others. The militants are believed to have been responsible for two attacks on Indonesian police officers back in September.


With Donald Trump heading out on an Asian tour starting this weekend, China is seething over the Commerce Department’s recent announcement that it will continue to categorize China as a Non-Market Economy. China’s NME status allows its trade partners to measures to protect their companies from unfair Chinese trade practices–measures that would be against World Trade Organization rules if China were considered a market economy. That’s why Beijing actually cares about this designation.


The main focus of Trump’s Asia trip will be shoring up international resolve to keep pressure on North Korea to denuclearize. He will especially press Chinese President Xi Jinping to cut oil shipments to Pyongyang and isolate North Korea from China’s banks.

South Korean authorities say they see evidence that Pyongyang is preparing another missile test, and realistically if they wanted to maximize the troll value of their next test they’d doing while Trump is in South Korea (the second leg of his trip). On a related note, the North Koreans are denying a Japanese news report that their September 3 probably-hydrogen bomb test killed as many as 200 people when it collapsed the chamber in which it was held.



The Libyan government says it’s considering an extradition request from Britain for Hashem Abedi, the brother of Manchester bomber Salman Abedi. Hashem was arrested after the Manchester bombing by a militia aligned with the government, and while that militia initially said it would not turn Hashem over to the UK, its leaders are now saying that they’ll abide by the government’s decision.


An attacker stabbed two Tunisian policemen near the parliament building in Tunis on Wednesday, and today one of those officers died of his wounds. The attacker, whose name is Zeid Gharbi, doesn’t appear to have ties to any specific terrorist group but says he was heavily influenced by jihadi/takfiri thought.


Al Jazeera offers a decent explainer on the new G5 Sahel Force, including concerns that throwing more military force at the region is unlikely to produce a positive result:

[Political scientist Bruno] Charbonneau says the G5 Force is an ill-conceived escalation: “You have about 12,000 UN troops, 4,000 French, at least 800 American, and now maybe 5,000 G5. And what for? Maybe 500-1,000 terrorists who plant road bombs here and there?


“Their attacks are hence limited to asymmetric attacks. But what happens if you send in 5,000 troops to do counterterrorism, potentially harass people and impact their livelihood from trafficking? Don’t you create incentives for more violence and recruitment? Don’t you create an environment where asymmetric attacks are no longer enough?


“Perhaps, then, the terrorist recruits start believing the ideology, the ranks grow, and thus the nature of combat and the threat change,” Charbonneau added.


Witnesses along the Somali-Ethiopian border reported, and it was later confirmed by the Ethiopian government, that “thousands” of Ethiopian soldiers crossed into Somalia on Thursday as part of a major African Union offensive against al-Shabab. The operation is a response to the bombing in Mogadishu last month that killed more than 350 people.



Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski says Poland intends to ban Ukrainians with “anti-Polish views” from entering the country. As one does. Statues in a Polish cemetery in the Ukrainian city of Lviv have apparently defaced, or covered up, or something, and so Warsaw is reacting with this totally realistic and implementable plan to punish thoughtcrime.


Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić told Reuters on Thursday that Serbia will not choose between close relations with Russia and close relations with the West. He was prompted to make this declaration after US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee felt the need earlier this month to remark that Serbia “cannot sit on two chairs at the same time,” a turn of phrase both needlessly provocative and just plain dumb. Serbia’s historic affinity with Russia aside, it gets its oil and gas from Moscow, so abandoning that relationship is simply not an option. Delivering an “us or them” ultimatum to countries like this pretty much ensures they’ll gravitate away from the European Union and toward Russia, which presumably isn’t what Yee was after. But in his defense, Yee is a career diplomat, so it’s not like he usually has to measure his words carefully to avoid international incidents.


Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz Party is polling at 40 percent, its strongest showing since 2011. With parliamentary elections scheduled for April, this is obviously welcome news for Orbán, as well as for fringe right-wing antisemitic xenophobes the world over.


Madrid is holding nine former Catalan leaders who may stand trial over the region’s independence effort–but it does not have Carles Puigdemont, who remains in Belgium. If Spain pursues extradition for Puigdemont the case could take years to resolve as it works its way through Belgium’s court system. Madrid has asked for Puigdemont to be held on a “European arrest warrant,” which is actually supposed to streamline the extradition process between EU members. But even under an EAW the request still has to pass muster with Belgian courts before it can be processed.


Iceland’s president, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, is giving the Left-Green Movement the first crack at forming a new government following Saturday’s election, even though the Left-Greens came in second in that vote. The formerly ruling Independence Party finished first, but as I noted on Sunday its path to a governing majority was actually very uncertain. The Left-Greens, on the other hand, can squeak into a single vote majority in a relatively straightforward coalition with the Social Democrats and the Pirate Party. Left-Green leader Katrín Jakobsdóttir, now in line to become prime minister, says she might try to form a broader coalition, but the only real path to that is by including the Independence Party, and that could make for a shaky coalition considering that Independence does have more seats in parliament.

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