Asia/Africa update: March 16 2018



The European Investment Bank has approved a loan package of $1.15 billion to support the construction of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP). That project will bring Azerbaijani natural gas to the European market via Turkey, but its financing has been in doubt over its environmental impact, concerns about human rights in Azerbaijan, and the sour Turkey-EU relationship (which has soured in part over concerns about human rights in Turkey).

TANAP’s proposed route (Wikimedia | Pechristener)


At least seven people were killed on Thursday night when a bomb went off at the home of Habibullah Khan in the town of Qillah Saifullah in Baluchistan province. Khan, a cleric who has been variously linked with both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, was himself one of those killed. It’s believed the bomb was being loaded onto a truck when it exploded.


Indian soldiers killed two Kashmiri militants in a gunfight just outside of Srinagar on Friday. As has been happening with increasing regularity, anti-India protests broke out in the vicinity following the battle.


Pakistani and Indian officials are trading accusations of diplomatic “harassment,” and consequently Pakistan has recalled its ambassador from New Delhi. The alleged harassment has apparently included the extremely juvenile:

The mistreatment allegedly includes tailing the cars of high commission officials, cutting off water and electricity supplies and ringing the doorbells of senior diplomatic staff at 3am and then fleeing.


It is understood that India’s deputy high commissioner in Islamabad, JP Singh,has complained about being victim of the latter, as has his Pakistani counterpart in Delhi.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi doesn’t foresee a quick end to the Rohingya refugee crisis and is seeking some $1 billion in aid funds to care for the refugees in Bangladesh for the rest of this year. Grandi says that the refugees must be guaranteed rights like citizenship and civil liberties before it will be safe for them to be repatriated, and there’s no sign the Myanmar government is prepared to make those accommodations.

Analyst Eugene Mark offers an explainer on what he calls the resource war between the Myanmar military and rebels in Kachin state:

Myanmar’s Tatmadaw has been launching air strikes in the gold and mining region inside Kachin state’s Tanai township in recent months. The area is controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its armed group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The aim is to clear out the illegal mines in the area that provide a lucrative source of income for the KIO.


But underneath this military operation is actually a “resource war” between the Tatmadaw and the KIO in Kachin state. Indeed, control of not only gold and amber but also jade, copper, and ruby mines in the area is important for both the Tatmadaw and the KIO. This competition for natural resources can be viewed as an obstacle to implementing lasting peace in the Kachin state, as it precipitates or worsens the socioeconomic crisis faced by the rest of the Kachin community.


Uyghurs in cities all over the world protested on Thursday against China’s security crackdown against their community. Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang are a problem for Chinese authorities, but Beijing is using “counter-terrorism” as a smokescreen to justify extrajudicial punishments, “reeducation,” and efforts to stamp out Uyghur culture.


Arms control expert Jon Wolfsthal argues that the Trump administration should pursue a “deep freeze” of North Korea’s nuclear program as a precondition for a Trump-Kim Jong-un summit:

Diplomacy with North Korea deserves support, but only when guided by principles. Giving talks the space and time to succeed will require both sides to take concrete steps early in the process. If the summit takes place, America should seek a “deep freeze” on the North’s nuclear program, with effective verification. Such a freeze would require North Korea to stop the production of enriched uranium and plutonium usable in nuclear weapons. This goal is ambitious but feasible. The deep freeze should be the condition for further negotiations to continue, to make sure the nuclear program is not advancing as negotiations go on. While it will be difficult for both sides to reach agreement on such a step, it is the best and most lasting way to ensure that North Korea is serious about diplomacy, not just playing the Americans for a summit that would bestow legitimacy on the regime. If a deep freeze is achieved, the United States can focus on securing a longer-term agreement that accounts for North Korea’s past nuclear production and develops a realistic step-by-step process that would lead to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Verification is the difference between a deep freeze and a “soft freeze” like the one North Korea says it’s under now. It would require full disclosure of nuclear sites by Pyongyang, which at the very least would be pretty valuable information to have, and Wolfsthal believes it would be worth making additional concessions to Kim beyond the summit in order to make it happen.


The South Korean government says it plans to pursue more “high-level” interaction with Pyongyang, including possibly a meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Those meetings could help clarify the terms and parameters of a Trump-Kim meeting, should one actually take place.


Former Defense Secretary William Perry says that if, by some miracle, Donald Trump does make peace with North Korea, it would eliminate the need for US troops to be stationed on Okinawa:

If Trump “is able to solve the North Korea threat and danger, that would go a long way to removing the rationale for even having military forces in Okinawa,” Perry told a Washington conference this week on the island chain where over 50 percent of the 70,000 US military personnel in Japan are stationed.

“I believe in time [this] would lead to a situation where the US forces in Okinawa could be removed altogether,” he added. Specifically, said Perry, a peace settlement in Korea would immediately eliminate the strategic rationale for the controversial US Marine base in Futenma, which has been a sore point between the US and Japan for decades and which a majority of Okinawans adamantly oppose.

Since the US presence on Okinawa is about as popular as an outbreak of ebola, that would be welcome news on the island. Unfortunately the chances of a real breakthrough happening here are vanishingly small.



Sierra Leone’s presidential election is heading to a runoff on March 27 between Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party and Samura Kamara of incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma’s All People’s Congress. It seems that the Chinese government, which has cultivated good relations and significant investment in Sierra Leone during Koroma’s presidency, is pitching in to help Kamara get over the hump:

A stir was caused recently by footage of ethnically Chinese men campaigning alongside the APC in full party uniform, raising the issue of direct partisan involvement by China in Sierra Leone’s political process. This is but the latest in a long string of such incidents confirming the close relationship between the APC and the ruling Communist Party in China. In 2017 construction began on a seven story “Friendship Building” donated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the APC and earlier this year at an APC rally supporters could be heard chanting “We are Chinese! We are Chinese!”, an expression of support for the country that has poured vast amounts of resources into Sierra Leone.


Jacob Zuma may no longer be president of South Africa, but at least one of the corruption scandals that have surrounded his political career is being turned into a criminal case against him:

South Africa’s chief prosecutor has said the former president Jacob Zuma will face prosecution on corruption charges that haunted much of his term in office.


Zuma, who was forced to resign by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) last month, will be prosecuted for corruption relating to a 30bn-rand (£1.8bn) arms deal in the late 1990s, Shaun Abrahams told a media conference on Friday.


“After consideration of the matter, I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of successful prosecution of Mr Zuma on the charges listed in the indictment,” the chief prosecutor said. Zuma disputes all the allegations against him, he added.

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