Asia/Africa update: August 14 2018



Afghan officials say that their forces have regained much of Ghazni city, which is swell except for a couple of things. One is that the Afghans said they were on the verge of driving the Taliban out of the city over the weekend, a claim that quickly proved to be bullshit, so there’s no particular reason to believe them now. The other consideration here is that the Taliban may have just left of their own accord. Obviously they might have liked to have taken the city but it would have been difficult for them to hold it. So instead, their attack on Ghazni city may have effectively been a giant diversion, sucking up all the attention while the Taliban took almost all of Ghazni province outside the city and also overran an Afghan military base in Faryab province. That’s a pretty good haul for five days’ worth of work. And they showed that they can still, almost 17 years into The War That Never Ended, hand the Afghan government and the mighty US military a major setback.

Late last month the New York Times reported that the US has been advising the Afghan military to cede the countryside to the Taliban and concentrate on protecting major population centers. We’re seeing the fruits of that shift now, and as it turns out those major population centers still aren’t all that safe. Writing off the Afghan countryside to the Taliban isn’t exactly the behavior of a government that thinks it’s winning the war, and in fact it’s a recipe for losing the war more quickly. It’s a tacit admission of defeat, of Kabul’s failure to assert control over the nation it’s supposed to be governing. And the United States, The World’s Only Remaining Superpower®, has spent almost 17 years on this war and has only that failure to show for it.


India plans on launching its first manned space mission in 2022. It will be the fourth country to do so, after the US, the Soviets/Russia, and China.


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte criticized China’s behavior in the South China Sea in a speech on Tuesday:

“They have to rethink that, because that would be a flashpoint someday and even, you know, warning others,” Duterte said of China’s actions to uphold its claims in the disputed waters. “You cannot create an island, it’s man-made, and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours.”

“That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea,” the president said. He added that “the right of innocent passage is guaranteed. It does not need any permission to sail through the open seas.”

Duterte is generally pretty solicitous toward Beijing, but the last several weeks have apparently seen a sharp increase in the number of warnings issued by Chinese authorities toward Philippine vessels in disputed SCS waters.


The Chinese government’s intimidation and repression campaign against the Uyghurs apparently goes well beyond herding hundreds of thousands of them into concentration camps and even goes well beyond China’s internationally recognized borders:

Yet even for those who have escaped China, surveillance and intimidation have followed. As part of a massive campaign to monitor and intimidate its ethnic minorities no matter where they are, Chinese authorities are creating a global registry of Uighurs who live outside of China, threatening to detain their relatives if they do not provide personal and identifying information to Chinese police. This campaign is now reaching even Uighurs who live in the United States.

A few months ago, Barna, who lives in a major U.S. city and requested that her real name not be revealed, received an odd message from her mother, who lives in China. Barna’s mother asked her to send her U.S. car license plate number, her phone number, her U.S. bank card number, and a photo of her ID card. Barna’s mother said that China is creating a new ID card system that includes all Chinese, even those who are abroad.

Since her mother was located in China and they were talking via WeChat, a Chinese chat app permitted by China’s internet regulator since it gives authorities access to messages and phone calls, Barna knew that their conversation was likely being monitored. So she told her mother that she did not have a car in the United States and that she only uses her Chinese bank card, though her mother knows this isn’t the case.

But Barna agreed to send the photo of her ID card. “From her unsettled voice, I can tell she has been pushed by the authorities,” said Barna. “For the sake of my mom’s safety, I said OK.”



Mali’s incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has claimed victory in Sunday’s runoff. Keïta’s campaign apparently conducted its own vote count, because official results have yet to be released. Turnout estimates are almost comically low, somewhere in the 25-30 percent neighborhood, but international observers say that, while they noticed irregularities, there was no evidence of a systematic pattern to manipulate the results.


The Nigerien government is reportedly clamping down on public opposition to the presence of foreign militaries–like, say, America’s:

The Nigerien government allows foreign powers free rein to build military bases and send soldiers to defend their interests in the region, while suppressing any dissent, according to those civil society leaders not in jail, and key opposition figures.

“Today there’s terrible repression of those who are against the government line. They put seven of my colleagues in prison because we said no to foreign bases,” said Mariama Bayard, leader of the opposition. She said that the government was “illegitimate” because the main challenger, Hama Amadou, was in jail at the time of the last election, and that it was being propped up by foreigners in the absence of domestic support.

“Dictatorship is taking hold of this country. The people don’t want the bases. But the Sahel has become an important geo-strategic space for the great powers,” she said.


Nigerian Vice President/Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has ordered the Nigerian Police Force to reform its Special Anti-Robbery Squad due to “persistent complaints and reports” of human rights abuses. The unit has been the target of a months-long public campaign by people who allege they’ve suffered mistreatment at its hands.


Political scientist Yohannes Gedamu argues that the latest outbreak of violence along the border between Oromia and Ethiopia’s Somali region should lead to a rethinking of Ethiopia’s federal system:

PM Ahmed should consider the recent events in the Somali and Oromia provinces as a wake-up call and start working towards implementing structural reforms to the federal system that could help improve ethnic relations.

The ethnic-federalist system that has been in place in Ethiopia since 1995 has clearly failed to nurture tolerance among the country’s various ethnic groups. The current form of federalism is accentuating conflicts of interest between ethnic groups and fueling polarisation instead of promoting values of coexistence, unity and solidarity.


The DRC’s latest ebola outbreak has spread from North Kivu province into Ituri province, obviously a troubling sign from a containment standpoint. Both provinces sit along the DRC’s border with Uganda and any concerns that the outbreak could spread there certainly won’t be allayed by this news.

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