Asia/Africa update: August 29 2018



Contrary to what the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday, the Chinese government insisted on Wednesday that it is not preparing to build a new military facility in Afghanistan, let alone planning to send its own soldiers to man that facility. Of course there’s no particular reason to believe anything Beijing says, so take this denial with a grain of salt.


Pakistani religious conservatives affiliated with the hardline Tehreek-i-Labbaik party have taken up as their new cause a plan by Dutch fascist Geert Wilders to hold a “draw Muhammad” competition later this year. The party organized an estimated 10,000 people on Wednesday to demonstrate against Wilders by marching on Islamabad. It’s not clear what the protesters or Tehreek-i-Labbaik leaders expect the Pakistani government to do, exactly, but rhetoric around the issue has grown heated, with some people talking about attacking Wilders and/or anyone who participates in the contest.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan would presumably just as soon not have to deal with this right now, but he can’t afford to alienate religious conservatives, who are part of his base, nor can he afford to piss off Tehreek-i-Labbaik. The group came in fifth overall in terms of total vote count in July’s election, and while it failed to win any seats in parliament its candidates (and those of other explicitly Islamist parties) likely siphoned votes away from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which helped Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party win the election.


Kashmiri rebels killed four Indian police officers in an attack on Wednesday, while two rebels were killed in a separate battle with Indian forces. The latter incident sparked an anti-India protest in which at least 40 people were injured.


Partisans of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party engaged in a gun battle with one another in West Bengal province on Wednesday, leaving at least two people dead and 13 more injured. At least nine people have been killed this week in violence between supporters of the two parties.


The United States, Australia, and New Zealand say they plan to be more active on the diplomatic and economic aid fronts in the South Pacific in order to counter rising Chinese influence there. Beijing has become the second-largest source of financing for Pacific Island nations after Australia, distributing more than $1.3 billion in loans there since 2011.


Donald Trump says he thinks “we’re doing well with North Korea.” Hey, at least somebody does, right? Obviously I’m using “thinks” loosely there. The big news here today is a scoop from Vox’s Alex Ward about Trump, in keeping with his overall business aesthetic, stiffing people on his promises to pay up:

President Donald Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their Singapore summit in June that he’d sign a declaration to end the Korean War soon after their meeting, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.

But since then, the Trump administration has repeatedly asked Pyongyang to dismantle most of its nuclear arsenal first, before signing such a document.

That decision is likely what has led to the current stalemate in negotiations between the two countries — and the increasingly hostile rhetoric from North Korea.

The statement that emerged from the June summit said that the US and North Korea “will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” But this is something beyond that–a promise from Trump to end the Korean War “soon.” Your definition of “soon” may vary from mine but I would think two months with absolutely no progress toward keeping that promise is grounds for Pyongyang to feel like Trump has failed to keep his word.

Assuming Ward has the story right here–and of course we don’t really know because Trump initially met with Kim in private, which was itself a pretty bad idea–it’s exceedingly stupid. Ending the Korean War? Great. Not ending the Korean War until North Korea has done some measurable thing you’re demanding of it? Less great but at least a coherent policy. Promising to end the Korean War and then not doing that, while engaged in high-stakes talks with North Korea whose success depends to a great degree on building trust between the two parties? Asinine.

Again, it’s not like this is unusual behavior for Trump–ask anybody who subcontracted for him while he was pretending to be a real estate mogul about whether he keeps his promises. But it is really pretty dangerous for a US president to blurt out things like this and then not follow through on them. The South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh is now reporting that the North Korean letter that derailed Mike Pompeo’s plan to visit Pyongyang this week apparently included a demand for an agreement to end the war, presumably from a North Korean government that now feels–justifiably–like it’s been misled by Trump and/or his administration. That uncertainty could also explain why recent North Korean rhetoric has heavily criticized Trump’s advisers while mostly praising Trump–they may believe he’s being dissuaded by John Bolton, et al, from fulfilling the promise he made to end the war. And maybe they’re right! But Trump’s own history makes it clear that he ignores promises without any outside counsel.

Trump, for his part, is continuing to blame his North Korean woes on China:



A new ceasefire ending days of fighting between militias in Tripoli seems to be holding:

In less good news, the fighting reportedly left hundreds of migrants trapped in detention facilities whose guards and other personnel have fled. Those people could be in imminent danger with nobody to provide them with food and water.

The recent fighting highlights a new variation on an old problem for Libya. Since the Government of National Accord took power (well, in theory at least) in Tripoli in 2016, control of the capital has gone to the handful of large militias supporting it. But now instead of multiple groups vying for control of the capital what’s happening is that militias who have been shut out of the city now periodically attempt to regain their footing there, and violence naturally ensues. Large militias outside Tripoli increasingly feel like they’re getting screwed, raising the potential for bigger, if less frequent, clashes than under the old way of doing things. Those clashes and the resentments they cause are also going to make it harder to someday put the country back together–militias that back the GNA aren’t going to want to give up their privileged positions, and their opponents aren’t going to want to stop fighting unless they can share in the privilege.


British Prime Minister Theresa May and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari signed a defense agreement on Wednesday that includes British aid for the fight against Boko Haram and funding for a joint project with France to tackle human trafficking through the Sahel. The extra British aid will be going to a Nigerian military that is renowned for its ability to commit major human rights abuses while still failing to resolve or even really tamp down any of the country’s security challenges, from Boko Haram to Niger Delta rebels to the herder-farmer violence in the central part of the country to banditry in the northwest. Currently, Nigerian authorities are forcing displaced persons to return to unsecured villages in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram continues to thrive, in order to burnish Buhari’s credentials ahead of next year’s election.


A US airstrike reportedly killed three al-Shabab fighters southwest of Mogadishu on Wednesday. US officials say there were no civilian casualties.


Five Kenyan soldiers were killed on Wednesday by a roadside bomb in Kenya’s Lamu County. Al-Shabab is the prime suspect though no group has taken credit for the bombing.


Cameroon’s major cocoa producers are fleeing the increasing violence between separatists and government forces in the country’s English-speaking Ambazonia region. Both sides of the conflict have engaged in intimidation and kidnapping against cocoa farmers and people working for cocoa exporting firms as well as property violence.


Anti-immigrant violence in the South African township of Soweto on Wednesday killed at least two people, though the specific circumstances of their killings remain unknown. Several foreign-owned shops were looted amid the violence.

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