Asia/Africa update: March 17-18 2018



It was another weekend packed with attacks. On Sunday, five people were wounded in Kabul in what appears to have been a failed suicide attack that has not been claimed. The attacker’s bomb vest apparently failed to explode and so he detonated a grenade instead to considerably less effect. The nature of the attack and the fact that it took place in a predominantly Hazara section of the city suggests ISIS was responsible.

On Saturday, a Taliban car bombing in Kabul killed at least three people and probably several more than that. They also killed five police officers in an attack in Ghazni province and one person in Ghor province via a roadside bomb. Two people were killed by another roadside bomb in Khost province that hasn’t been claimed, and a retired Pakistani army officer who may have been working with the Taliban was killed by a bomb in Zabul province.


Fighters with Pakistani Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar attacked a polio vaccination team in Mohmand Agency on Saturday, killing at least two medical workers as well as at least one member of tribal security forces that responded to the attack.


Five Indian civilians were killed on Sunday by Pakistani artillery fire, amid yet another in the alarmingly frequent recent exchanges of artillery fire by India and Pakistan across Kashmir’s Line of Control. Nine people were reportedly wounded in the exchange on the Pakistani side of the line.


The Sri Lankan government has lifted a state of emergency that had been imposed after a series of Buddhist attacks against Muslims in Kandy earlier this month.


Xi Jinping’s second of what could be an infinite number of terms as Chinese president began when he was sworn in on Saturday. In addition, Xi was able to get his longtime advisor and ally Wang Qishan elected as his new vice president. While you rarely hear much about Chinese vice presidents, Wang is already a prominent figure by virtue of his close relationship with Xi and his stewardship of Xi’s anti-corruption efforts. He had to leave the Politburo last year because he was past the informal age limit for serving in that body, but as VP he can retain a significant formal role in the government. Wang is expected to be tasked with managing China’s relationship with the US under Donald Trump.


On that front, Wang already has a situation to handle. Beijing is upset over a new non-binding congressional resolution, signed by Trump late last week, that encourages high-level contact between the US and Taiwan. China is complaining that the resolution sends a “seriously wrong signal” to the Taiwanese independence movement.


North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho’s talks in Sweden–which were probably related to planning a meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un–wrapped up on Saturday with Swedish officials talking about how productive they’d been. As the official protecting power for US interests in North Korea, Sweden is a natural go-between as the details of the negotiations are worked out. Choe Kang-il, an official involved in North American affairs at the North Korean foreign ministry, is now attending a meeting in Finland involving South Korean officials and former US officials where they will likely talk further about the proposed summit. South Korea continues to insist that Kim committed to full denuclearization when Seoul’s envoys met with him a couple of weeks ago, but I think you need to take that with a handful of salt until Kim says it himself.

Russian North Korea analyst Anastasia Barannikova has an interesting perspective on the hostilities between the US and North Korea–basically, that Washington welcomes the excuse that North Korea provides to maintain strong military alliances with South Korea and Japan. Those alliances then serve a larger American purpose: containing China. I’m not sure Barannikova is correct here but it’s an interesting argument and reflects how US foreign policy can be interpreted differently from abroad:

Charles Knight: Georgy Toloraya, perhaps Russia’s most senior North Korea expert, has recently written that “policymakers in Pyongyang believe the only purpose of U.S. policy is to liquidate the DPRK as a state or even ‘physically destroy’ the country and its leadership.” Do you agree that this is a deeply held belief in North Korea policy circles?


Anastasia Barannikova: I can only partially agree. Perhaps this is the external expression by diplomats and politicians. Among the North Korean leadership, there are smart people who understand that their country is a means, not a goal, for the United States. The U.S. military presence in the region is aimed at containing China and, to some extent, Russia. In the event of the destruction of the North Korean regime, the United States would lose most of the rationale for their military presence in South Korea. And, of course, they would be face to face with China. I think that the current regime in North Korea serves the interests of the U.S. and their forward military presence in the region, at least for now. Of course, a regime in the North that was friendly to the U.S. would be more convenient, but neither Russia nor China would allow this (not to mention North Korea itself). The North Korean regime is presently stable. The only means to force a regime change would be an external military intervention, which many countries would object to. Especially now that North Korea has become a de facto nuclear state, military intervention can lead to nuclear war!


Around two-thirds of the Japanese people believe that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is directly implicated in an effort to cover-up evidence surrounding his and his wife’s involvement in a shady land deal, according to a pair of new polls. The burgeoning scandal is throttling Abe’s approval rating, which the polls show at somewhere between roughly -10 and -15.



Ethiopian state media is reporting that authorities recently seized weapons intended for “destructive” groups that were being smuggled into the country via Eritrea. Obviously that’s unconfirmed, but Ethiopian-Eritrean relations have certainly had their rocky periods in the past so this bears watching.


Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza is planning to hold a national referendum on May 17 on amending the constitution to extend presidential terms from five years to seven years–which will also, purely coincidentally, allow him to serve two more terms as president. Nkurunziza ran for a questionably constitutional third term in 2015, which led to protests and violence that left some 1200 people dead. In addition to extending presidential terms, the constitutional changes will reset the clock and allow him to run for two brand new terms, which could leave him in office until 2034.


In addition to the 150 or so people who have been killed in recent fighting between the Hema and Lendu communities in Ituri province, some 60,000 people have been displaced. Of those, 32,000 have been internally displaced while an estimated 28,000 have fled across the border into Uganda.


Zimbabwe’s first Robert Mugabe-free elections will be held in July, according to remarks made by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Saturday evening.


Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim has been forced to resign, effective March 23, amid her own corruption scandal:

Gurib-Fakim has been accused of buying jewellery and clothing using a credit card provided by an NGO, founded by an Angolan banker interested in doing business in Mauritius.


Last week, Gurib-Fakim said she would not leave office despite Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announcing she would resign.

Well, kudos to her for being flexible about this, I guess. Mauritius’s presidency is a ceremonial office so her departure shouldn’t cause too much strife. Gurib-Fakim apparently racked up $26,000 in personal charges on a credit card she’d been issued by the Planet Earth Institute in 2016. She insists that she got the PEI card confused with a personal card from the same bank, but come on. Using the wrong card at a gas station is confusion. Charging thousands of dollars in jewelry means you’re either doing it willfully or you shouldn’t be trusted to perform basic consumer functions. To her credit (ha ha), Gurib-Fakim repaid the money to the PEI, but what did her in politically is that the PEI was founded by an Angolan businessman named Alvaro Sobrinho, who has had business dealings in Mauritius. There aren’t a lot of dots you need to connect here to start seeing a troubling picture.

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