Asia/Oceania/Africa update: August 20 2018

As always when I take a few days off we’re going to skip over what happened while I was gone unless absolutely necessary.



Over the weekend, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani extended an offer for a months-long ceasefire to the Taliban contingent on their favorable response. On Monday, they responded, but not favorably:

The Taliban rejected on Monday an Afghan government offer of a ceasefire and said they would persist with their attacks, militant commanders said, while insurgents ambushed three buses and nearly 200 passengers traveling for a holiday.

That’s quite an emphatic “no.” Taliban leaders believe that their last ceasefire, in June, helped the US, so they’re disinclined to do it again. More likely, hardline factions within the Taliban didn’t like that earlier ceasefire and are balking at the possibility of another. And from a tactical standpoint it makes sense–the Taliban are riding high from their recent Ghazni offensive, so why stop fighting now and give the Afghan government a chance to catch its breath? The Afghan government says its forces responded quickly to the abduction and have managed to free 149 of the hostages, but my opinion would be not to place a huge amount of stock in that report just yet.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports on the very severe drought compounding Afghanistan’s problems:

Tom Engelhardt has written his meta-recap of the Afghan War to date:

Fair warning. Stop reading right now if you want, because I’m going to repeat myself. What choice do I have, since my subject is the Afghan War (America’s second Afghan War, no less)? I began writing about that war in October 2001, almost 17 years ago, just after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. That was how I inadvertently launched the unnamed listserv that would, a year later, become TomDispatch. Given the website’s continuing focus on America’s forever wars (a phrase I first used in 2010), what choice have I had but to write about Afghanistan ever since?

So think of this as the war piece to end all war pieces. And let the repetition begin!


New Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to put Pakistan’s financial house in order, but not–at least so far–by immiserating the poor. In fact, Khan wants to establish “an Islamic welfare system” while raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting government waste, such as the PM’s servants, bulletproof cars, and lavish official residence. Presumably Khan would like to avoid an International Monetary Fund bailout, which would entail said immiseration of the poor as those things always do, but it’s unclear whether he can bring Pakistan’s debt load down enough to take the IMF out of the picture.

Khan also says he wants talks with India, particularly over Kashmir, a sentiment the Indian government appears to be reciprocating. At least, so far. Khan’s ability to negotiate with India will be limited by the Pakistani military, which many Pakistani opposition politicians still believe put Khan in office. The military is traditionally not terribly keen on talking with India, so on this issue we may see just now beholden to them Khan really is.


One topic of conversation for Islamabad and Delhi may be India’s dam projects in Afghanistan. India will soon begin work on a hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Kabul River, which Pakistani officials fear will impact the flow of water into Pakistan. The Pakistanis are also concerned that this may only be the first of multiple dams the Afghan government is looking to build. India has dismissed these concerns, arguing that Pakistan’s real worry is closer Indian-Afghan relations, but similar Indian projects on the Harirud and Helmand Rivers are increasing tensions between Afghanistan and Iran over downstream waterflows. With the entire region struggling amid a years-long drought, these are the sorts of things that can escalate to war if they’re not properly managed.


The Wall Street Journal on Friday produced the latest in a string of exposés on China’s brutality toward the Uyghurs:

Up to one million people, or about 7% of the Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang region, have now been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to U.S. officials and United Nations experts.

As the camps have swelled in size, some Uighurs living outside China say that relatives—mainly, but not all, older people—have died in detention or shortly after their release.

Satellite images reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and a specialist in photo analysis show that camps have been growing. Construction work has been carried out on some within the past two weeks, including at one near the western city of Kashgar that has doubled in size since Journal reporters visited in November.

Reports from inside the camps describe a massive effort to stamp out any sense of Uyghur or Muslim identity in favor of full devotion to the Chinese state. The Chinese government is now calling the camps “vocational training centers.”


The Chinese government is protesting a US decision to allow Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to stop in the US and tour NASA’s offices in Houston, among other events, while on her way home from a trip to Paraguay and Belize. After arriving in Taiwan on Monday evening, Tsai told an assembled crowd that “Taiwan would not bow to pressure” from Beijing. That pressure continues to ratchet up–on Monday, El Salvador became the latest country to break off relations with Taiwan at China’s behest.

The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor explains Taiwan’s precarious position in world affairs these days. On the one hand its relationship with the United States has strengthened under the Trump administration while US relations with China have worsened. On the other hand, there’s a strong possibility that Taiwan could wind up being subject to the whims of Trump’s trade theatrics with Beijing:

But while U.S.-China tension looks like a boon for Taiwan, its government is no doubt aware that a sudden policy change may not necessarily be a good thing. Last November, Taiwan’s minister for mainland affairs told a group of visiting journalists there were worries that Taiwan could become “a bargaining chip” in negotiations with Beijing, with U.S. support for the island swapped for Chinese cooperation on North Korea or trade.

The United States would seemingly have little to lose on trade by jettisoning Taipei. China is the island’s largest commercial partner, accounting for more than 30 percent of its total trade. But its business with the United States is much smaller, and the trade surplus Taiwan enjoys there could potentially draw the ire of a U.S. president obsessed with the issue.


North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper published a piece over the weekend that said that US negotiators’ comments on North Korea’s alleged “secret” nuclear facilities risked derailing negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. Consider this your latest reminder that, the Trump administration’s comments notwithstanding, North Korea isn’t planning to get rid of its nuclear weapons and it would be for the best if the US acknowledged that and worked toward a diplomatic outcome that doesn’t rely on the fantasy of disarmament.

Oh, but Donald Trump told Reuters on Monday that he’ll “most likely” have another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. So at least we can all look forward to that.


Over 190 people from both sides of the North-South Korean border participated in a family reunification event on Monday. Brothers, sisters, parents, and children all saw each other, in some cases for the first time since the Korean War and in most cases probably for the last time. If you’re having a bad day, or just like nice things, I would highly recommend taking a look at some of the photos from the event.



Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull barely survived a leadership challenge within his Liberal Party on Tuesday. Turnbull called for the vote after failing to get support on an energy bill and won the intra-party vote against Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, 45 votes to 38. For a sitting PM, that’s pretty weak stuff. But not weak enough to cost Turnbull his job…yet. The conservative Dutton quit the cabinet after the vote and will now likely devote his entire time to working to unseat Turnbull.



The Moroccan government has reinstituted compulsory 12 month military service for all citizens between 19 and 25 years of age, a policy it discontinued in 2006. As Morocco isn’t currently fighting a major war and doesn’t really have one looming on the horizon, this seems like an effort to provide a little employment and a lot of pro-state indoctrination for young Moroccans, especially in economically depressed and politically restive parts of the country like the Rif region. It’s easy to see how this could backfire, either leaving a bunch of now-militarily trained young people still struggling in the same lousy job market or leaving Morocco with a bloated military that sends policymakers looking for a conflict with which to justify the bloat.


Incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was confirmed the winner of Mali’s August 12 runoff by the country’s constitutional court on Monday. Opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé is contesting the vote on fraud grounds, and the runoff was tainted anyway by violence and very low turnout, but it’s hard to imagine his complaint going anywhere. Alex Thurston has some thoughts about how Keïta retained office, chief among them Cissé’s inability to get the opposition to coalesce around him in the runoff, and also leaves open the possibility that fraud/corruption was part of the picture.


Suspected Boko Haram fighters carried out an attack on the village of Mailari in Nigeria’s Borno state over the weekend, killing as many as 19 people.


Some 30,000 people are expected to descend on the South Sudanese town of Nyal by Tuesday, as the United Nations World Food Program makes its regular three month aid drop in the rebel-held region.


Protesters clashed with Ugandan police in Kampala on Monday over the detention and beating of opposition politicians by President Yoweri Museveni’s security forces. It was the second day of protests, and so far 68 people have been detained for participating.

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