Asia/Oceania/Africa update: August 27 2018



According to Afghan officials, either the Russian or Tajik military conducted airstrikes in northeast Afghanistan’s Takhar province on Monday, but whatever did or did not happen there is being lost amid a flurry of denials from just about everybody who might have been involved. The Afghans say that Tajik helicopters or possibly jets killed six Taliban fighters in the strike, which was a response to a cross-border skirmish in which two Tajik security officers were killed over the weekend. But both the Russians and Tajiks have denied carrying out any such strikes. The US, just in case you were wondering, has also denied conducting any strikes in that area. The Taliban likewise says that none of its fighters were involved, leading to speculation that the target might have been local drug smugglers instead. But the Tajiks say the Taliban were responsible for the strikes, which would presumably make them artillery strikes unless the Taliban went and got itself an air force while nobody was looking.


The Russian government has decided to postpone its planned September 4 Afghan peace talks after the Afghan government declined to attend. The Taliban had agreed to attend, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be willing to reschedule.


Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met with his boss on Monday:

So that’s nice.

Bruce Reidel looks at the competition between Iran and the Saudis to see who can make friends with Khan first:

Pakistan’s position is crucially important to both Riyadh and Tehran. Pakistan is the second-most populous country in the Muslim world and the only Muslim state with a nuclear arsenal. Over 1.5 million Pakistanis live in the kingdom. Pakistan and Iran share a 900-kilometer (559-mile) border in Baluchistan. Pakistan’s population includes a significant Shiite minority, perhaps as much as 30% of the country. In the Saudi-Iranian competition for influence in the Islamic world, Pakistan is crucial.

Prime Minister Khan says he wants Pakistan to play a “positive and constructive role” between Saudi Arabia and Iran. He has spoken by phone with the leadership in both countries since his election and is expected to travel to both early in his term. He has expressed interest in reducing tensions between the two and lowering sectarian violence. Khan visited the kingdom earlier this year, after his marriage, to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.


Maldivian opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who will run against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom in next month’s election, warned on Monday that Yameen is preparing to rig that vote. Solih is basically the last man up after Yameen either imprisoned or forced into exile every other prominent opposition leader, which is of course itself a form of rigging.


A new United Nations report is calling for Myanmar’s top military officials to be tried for genocide over their attacks against the Rohingya last year:

Six senior officials in the Tatmadaw, the name of the country’s armed forces, including Commander-in-Chief and Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, have been singled out for investigation and prosecution.

“The Mission concluded, given these considerations on the inference of genocidal intent, that there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State.”

The report also criticized Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to…well, to do literally anything at all to try to stop or even stem the attempted genocide. Suu Kyi has instead helped enable and cover up the military’s activities. She may be the first Nobel laureate to be accused of complicity in genocide in this way, though to be fair I’m sure many of us have had similar things to say about Henry Kissinger at one time or another over the years.

It is exceedingly unlikely, in case you’re wondering, that any tangible action will come of this report. Its recommendations include a trip to The Hague for those Tatmadaw bosses and an international arms embargo against Myanmar–the former is logistically almost impossible and there’s no real appetite for the latter.


The Chinese government may be about to drop its two-child policy and allow families to have as many children as they like. The mercenary economic reason behind this is that China’s population is starting to age and there are big concerns about whether that’s going to hurt Chinese growth moving forward.


The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin is reporting that Donald Trump made the decision to cancel Mike Pompeo’s planned trip to North Korea after Pompeo received a letter from top North Korean official Kim Yong-chol that was “sufficiently belligerent” to convince both Trump and Pompeo to call the trip off. Rogin suggests that Trump may be approaching the point where he’ll return to his own previous belligerence toward North Korea, influenced by John Bolton and by the perceived failure of his June summit with Kim Jong-un.



University of Texas Professor Joshua Busby looks at the role climate change has been playing in Australia’s recent political turmoil:

Political instability in Australia’s rough-and-tumble parliamentary democracy has been pervasive, with climate issues often at the heart of recent turmoil. In the past decade, Australia has had five prime ministers — Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Rudd again briefly, Tony Abbott and Turnbull. Nobody served a full term.

The most recent kerfuffle is the latest in a string of political fights. Most recently, Turnbull, facing resistance from his own party, backpedaled on legislation to curb carbon emissions under a plan called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Sensing vulnerability, Turnbull opponents challenged his leadership. Turnbull toppled Abbott, a fellow Liberal, in a similar manner in September 2015. With elections looming in May 2019 that the opposition Labor Party looks likely to win, Turnbull’s internal opponents decided the time was ripe to oust him.

As expected, ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is quitting parliament altogether, which throws his seat open for a special election that his Liberal Party might actually lose. A loss would cost the party its very narrow majority and leave new PM Scott Morrison trying to pass legislation while only controlling exactly half of the seats in parliament (75 of 150).



At least five people were killed and 27 wounded in fighting between rival militias on Monday in Tripoli. Definitely the sign of a country that’s ready for national elections.


Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika headed to Geneva on Monday for “regular medical tests.” My guess is that somebody thought they picked up a pulse and sent Bouteflika off to Europe to make sure he’s still dead. I kid, of course. Sort of.


The French Defense Ministry said on Monday that its forces killed two members of ISIS-Greater Sahara, along with two civilians, in a military operation in Mali on Sunday. One of the ISIS members, Mohamed Ag Almouner, was allegedly a senior leader of ISIS-GS, at least according to French officials.


Ethiopian police on Monday arrested Abdi Mohammed Omer, the former governor of the country’s Somali Region, on charges that he’s been “stoking” ethnic violence in the province and along its border with Oromia.

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