Asia/Africa update: March 1 2018



With his second and therefore final five year term as Armenian president expiring in April, Serzh Sargsyan is most likely preparing to do the Half Putin (AKA the Reverse Erdoğan) by shifting into the office of prime minister at the same time as (not coincidentally) that office is becoming more powerful than the presidency. The constitutional changes necessary to turn Armenia from a semi-presidential republic to a parliamentary one were made in a referendum in 2015, so now all that’s left is to find some patsy to serve as figurehead president. To that end, Armen Sarkissian, the Armenian ambassador to the UK, is set to be elected president by the Armenian parliament in the coming days. He’ll only get to serve one seven year term–another result of that 2015 referendum.

Serzh Sargsyan (Wikimedia | Saeima)

If Sargsyan decides he’d rather not become PM–perhaps deciding that it would be too much trouble to sideline the well-connected and very Russia-friendly incumbent, Karen Karapetyan–then he’s likely to remain chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. That should give him effective control over the government anyway.


Two Taliban attacks in Kandahar province this week have left at least six dead and 30 people abducted:

A group of fighters wearing army uniforms kidnapped 30 people, including 19 policemen, after stopping a bus on Tuesday night at the border between Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces.


“There were civilians in the bus as well and we are trying to identify the people kidnapped in the attack,” Qudratullah Khushbakht, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor, told Al Jazeera.


In the second incident, a police checkpoint in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province came under attack by the Taliban fighters leaving six policemen dead and wounding five others, General Abdul Razik, Kandahar’s police chief, told local media.

Perhaps these incidents could be viewed as the Taliban’s reply to Ashraf Ghani’s offer to make them legitimate in return for a peace deal. They don’t seem to be too fond of it.


Two Pakistani soldiers and a civilian were killed in Kashmir on Thursday by what the Pakistanis say was an “unprovoked” attack by Indian forces across the line of control. The Pakistanis also say they returned fire, but there’s been no indication of Indian casualties.


The Myanmar government has begun massing soldiers near the country’s border with Bangladesh, drawing warnings from the Bangladeshi government. There is a group of displaced Rohingya, estimated to be about 5000 people, who are encamped in that area, on Myanmar soil but outside the country’s border fence. Myanmar authorities say that there are Rohingya militants in that camp, but given the treatment the Rohingya have suffered at the hands of the Myanmar military this is a fairly ominous developing situation.


Donald Trump picked Thursday to begin his big trade war:

President Donald Trump on Thursday announced he would impose steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, sparking outraged threats of reprisals from countries around the world, howls of dismay from Republican lawmakers, and fears of massive job losses across the rest of the U.S. economy.


Trump said after a White House meeting with steel and aluminum executives that he plans to impose next week the toughest of the three remedies proposed by the Commerce Department, a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum. The recommendations came after the department found that the underperforming U.S. steel and aluminum sector posed a threat to national security.

The roll out of this announcement about an announcement that may or may not happen next week was, per usual, completely botched by this unending shitshow of an administration. Trump tweeted something about raising tariffs this morning, which prompted denials from the administration that anybody was actually planning on raising tariffs, which was then followed by the announcement that there will be an announcement on raising tariffs next week.

I put this story under “China” because that’s where the potential for the most economic damage is, but the tariffs are intended to be universal and will hit several nations, ally and frenemy alike, including South Korea, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and others. All spent the day vowing reprisals, by raising their own tariffs on US goods. The stock market didn’t take the news very well either, though frankly who gives a shit.

Assuming that somebody doesn’t talk Trump down by next week–which is a legitimate possibility given that he’s, you know, an imbecile–then it very much remains to be seen what these tariffs are going to mean. They’ll obviously help the domestic steel and aluminum industries, though their benefit will be mitigated if other countries raise their own tariffs on US metal products. They’re likely to hurt other industries, which could mean layoffs, and almost certain to raise domestic prices. They’ll also weaken America’s relations with the nations affected and encourage more and more retaliation, and thereby inject a little more uncertainty into world politics and the global economy at a time when I think we’re pretty full up on that sort of thing.

“Free trade” has been at best a mixed bag for the United States. It’s been great for corporations and rich people, but it’s put a lot of people out of work and there’s only so much benefit you can reap from LOW LOW PRICES if you don’t have a decent job. The solution to this problem is more internationalism, not less. It’s making other countries play by the same labor and environmental standards we do, not retreating into Fortress America and hoping for the best. And it’s certainly not springing Fortress America on everybody all of a sudden like this.

China, by the way, is also angry over a bill, awaiting Donald Trump’s signature, that would significantly tighten relations between the US and Taiwan. Beijing is even threatening to go to war with Taiwan if Trump signs the measure into law, but most likely that’s a bluff.



A United Nations investigation has found that combatants in Libya are continuing to receive foreign military aid in violation of a UN arms embargo on the country. More specifically, Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army is continuing to get aid from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates:


An al-Shabab mortar attack on Mogadishu on Thursday left at least three people dead. Prior to that, the group carried out a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint just outside the city. There were no fatalities in that attack apart from the attacker(s), but several people were wounded.


The Ethiopian government has reportedly agreed to take a 19 percent stake in DP World’s new port project at Berbera, in Somaliland. As part of their involvement, the Ethiopians will finance a road connecting the port to Ethiopian territory. This move will come as a blow to Djibouti, which has traditionally handled over 90 percent of Ethiopia’s maritime import-export business but will now presumably lose a substantial portion of that business to the Somaliland facility.

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