Asia/Africa update: November 16-17 2017



Under the radar, there seems to have been a bit of recent progress in peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh:

With relative quiet continuing on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Line of Contact, bilateral negotiations were set to resume a full month after Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev held talks in Geneva, Switzerland, described as “constructive” by the mediators. While both presidents have made clear that they disagree on the key matter of Karabakh’s status, both agreed that it was necessary to reduce frontline tensions for a new round of talks.

Preliminary ground work is being prepared. Sargsyan met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on November 15. Putin had already met with Aliyev two weeks earlier. Also this week, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met with American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, whereas Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced plans to visit Baku and Yerevan on November 19-20. A meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers was expected to take place in the near future, presumably followed by another presidential summit.


An ISIS suicide bomber struck a meeting of the predominantly Tajik Jamiat-e Islami political party in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 12 people. The intention (apart from just killing people) was likely to stoke conflict within Afghanistan’s political system. Jamiat leader Atta Mohammed Noor is an opponent of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (likewise no Ghani booster) is also a Jamiat member. After the attack Atta seemed to suggest he believed Ghani’s government was involved in the plot, so mission accomplished I guess.


Pakistan forces killed Younas Taukali, a senior commander in the Baluch Liberation Front, in a raid on Friday in Turbat. Taukali was wanted in connection with an attack on Wednesday in which BLF fighters killed at least 15 Punjabi men in Turbat. Those men appear to have been economic migrants trying to cross the border into Iran.

The Islamabad High Court has asked protesters from the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party to end a protest they began last week that has clogged traffic on a main road into and out of the Pakistani capital. This protest is another phase of the protest movement that began in Islamabad earlier this month over a change to the country’s electoral law that seemed (to some) to soften the political candidate oath’s position on whether Muhammad was the last prophet. If the protesters don’t voluntarily pack it up there’s a decent chance this could escalate to a violent confrontation with police.


As expected, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, on Thursday. The party’s future was kaput the minute Cambodian authorities arrested its leader, Kem Sokha, in early September on charges of collaborating with the United States to plot against the Cambodian government. All remaining CNRP party members have been barred from political activity for the next five years. The Cambodian government is likely to face American and European sanctions over what appears to mostly be a move to consolidate Prime Minister Hun Sen’s authority in advance of next year’s parliamentary elections. But China praised the move and continues to support Hun Sen.


Indonesian forces have apparently secured the villages of Kimbeli and Banti, which were seized by Papuan separatists last week.


The North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea earlier this week despite being shot multiple times by border guards is apparently also suffering from huge parasitic worms, hinting at just how bad life has gotten in North Korea.

38 North says that satellite imagery it’s analyzed shows North Korea making progress on the the construction of its first ballistic missile submarine:

The continued movement of parts and components into and out of the parts yards adjacent to the construction halls indicates an ongoing shipbuilding program. The presence of what appear to be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull in the yards suggests construction of a new submarine, possibly the SINPO-C ballistic missile submarine (SSB)[1]—the follow-on to the current SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA).[2]

A probable launch canister support, or launch canister, appears to be present within the service tower at the missile test stand suggesting the ongoing ejection testing of submarine launch ballistic missiles (SLBM). Such testing could support the continued development of SLBMs, a new ballistic missile submarine or a combination of both.



United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame told the UN Security Council on Thursday that he is “quite confident” that the two rival Libyan governments “are close to a consensus” on ending that country’s civil war and forming a unity government. The ceasefire agreed to by the two sides in July has mostly held, work is progressing on writing a new Libyan constitution, and Salame says that he may hold a “national conference” in Libya in February if conditions allow.


Sudanese President (and wanted war criminal) Omar al-Bashir has picked a candidate for the 2020 Sudanese presidential race (he swears he’s not going to run): Gezira state governor Mohamed Tahir Ayala. It’s not clear Ayala is running, of course–this is 2020 we’re talking about–but he’s at least savvy enough to know how to respond to something like this. After Bashir said he’d support Ayala’s candidacy, Ayala said he wants Bashir to run for a third term.

The Trump administration says it’s open to removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, where it’s been since the 1993 New York City bombing plot was uncovered. Bashir would love to get off of that list, but Washington says it wants more cooperation from him on counter-terrorism and human rights at a minimum. I’m certain that Bashir’s newfound willingness to sever ties with North Korea is part of his pitch to get taken off the list.


There are divergent reports about possible deaths following a major opposition protest in Nairobi on Friday:

The Associated Press reported that one person had been killed in the clashes, and Agence-France Presse said that one of its reporters saw the bodies of three men who had been shot to death on a road in Muthurwa, a suburb where riot police officers armed with tear gas, water cannons and rifles clashed with stone-throwing protesters.

Kenyan police say they can’t confirm any deaths, but are sure that if there were any then they weren’t responsible for them.


Though it hasn’t been triggered by anything as acute as a major war, the UN says that the humanitarian crisis in the DRC is among the very worst in the world:

Violence and ethnic and political unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have propelled the country to the same level of crisis as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Cholera is raging at a rate never before seen in DRC and nearly 4 million people have been displaced from their homes by fighting, a quarter of them from the conflict-hit Kasai region alone. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, which revealed last month that the situation had been declared a “level-three emergency”, the highest grade of crisis, has warned that those numbers are likely to rise in the coming weeks.

Instead of suffering from one large war, the DRC is crippled by multiple small conflicts all over the country. It’s also coping with a dysfunctional government run by Joseph Kabila, a man with no legitimacy who’s about to enter the sixth year of what was supposed to be his final four year term in office. And international support for relief efforts has not been forthcoming.


If you’re looking for a very quick update on the situation in Zimbabwe, well, the Zimbabwean military is calling for a mass demonstration in Harare on Saturday to urge Robert Mugabe to step down as president. I think it’s safe to say this is not where they expected to be a couple of days ago when they stepped in and placed Mugabe under house arrest. Though it doesn’t mean they’re losing control of the situation–if anything, the longer Mugabe refuses to resign the more voices keep arising demanding that he do so. The military got the ball rolling, of course, but it was quickly joined by Zimbabwe’s influential war veterans association and now eight of the ten regional leaders of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party have also said it’s time for him to go.

Thursday, then Friday, were each supposed to be the day Mugabe announced his resignation, but instead he drove to his office and attended a graduation ceremony in Harare, his first public appearances since Wednesday’s coup. It would seem then that his house arrest is no longer in place, though I’m not sure what kind of escort he had in either case. He’s apparently just flat-out refusing to resign, but how long he thinks he can get away with that or what he’s expecting to happen is unclear. He may be buying time to get his family out of the country–his wife, Grace, was thought to have fled to Namibia in the immediate aftermath of the coup but it now seems like there’s a good chance she’s still in Harare. Their three children might have been out of the country already, it’s not clear. He might be hoping to stay on as president through next year’s election.

But if Mugabe is waiting for some popular groundswell to rise up and force the military to back down, one does not seem to be emerging. What the military did is absolutely illegal and illegitimate (there’s a reason they won’t call it a “coup”), but nobody seems prepared to defend the Mugabes even strictly on principle. Maybe his family’s extravagant wealth (I’d been having trouble finding a recent estimate but this Guardian piece suggests they’re worth over $1 billion) and utter lack of tact about displaying it has something to do with that. Which is not to say that people are particularly excited about the prospects of an Emmerson Mnangagwa presidency–mostly they seem to think it will just be a continuation of the Mugabe/ZANU-PF era under slightly changed management. Mnangagwa may move to liberalize the battered Zimbabwean economy, acting as “a kind of Deng Xiaoping” according to historian Stuart Doran.

I thought the Deng reference was appropriate because there’s one more interesting tidbit about the Zimbabwean coup to note. It appears that Zimbabwe’s military moved on Mugabe with the blessing and maybe on the orders of the country’s superpower patron. Only that patron wasn’t the US, or Russia–it was China:

According to Professor Wang Xinsong, a specialist in international development at Beijing Normal University school of social development and public policy, China has been monitoring infighting within the Mugabe regime and the country’s faltering economy for some time – and carefully weighing its options.

Beijing was particularly alarmed by an “indigenisation” law effectively seizing majority control of foreign-owned businesses and companies, many of them Chinese. “China’s political and economic stake in Zimbabwe is high enough to demand a close watch on developments,” Wang wrote in a prescient commentary in December last year.

Everything old is new again, I guess.

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One thought on “Asia/Africa update: November 16-17 2017

  1. Nagorno-Karabakh: this is a “negotiators reach agreement on shape of table” story. The Armenians will never, ever give up N-K — not any part of N-K, nor the border regions around it that they’ve occupied — unless forced out by military means. The Azeris will never give up their claim to N-K. But when they made a hard jab at the border last summer, they got a bloody nose, thereby showing that their military simply isn’t up yet to the (very difficult) job of recapturing N-K, and probably never will be.

    Meanwhile, the most influential outside power is Russia. And Russia is very happy with the status quo, which allows it to sell arms to both sides, yet also ensures that the Armenians in particular will stay firmly in the Russian orbit. The second most influential outside power is Turkey, and Turkey is also pretty content; the status quo lets them posture and keeps the Azeris on side without Turkey having to actually do anything.

    So, it’ll be more of the same old status quo. Yes, the various stakeholders have reasons to pretend to continue negotiating, or to support negotiations. But absolutely nothing is going to come of it.

    Doug M.

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