Asia/Africa update: September 17 2018



Multiple Taliban attacks across three different provinces on Sunday and Monday killed at least 27 Afghan security personnel. A series of attacks beginning Sunday night in Farah province and left 17 security forces dead, while a Monday morning attack in Badghis province killed five and another Monday attack in Baghlan province killed another five. Increasingly, as attacks like these mount, Afghan police officers are demanding that if they’re going to be deployed to what are essentially military checkpoints around the country, they should be armed, trained, and paid like soldiers. The Afghan government has promised reforms that would demilitarize most police officers and allow them to return to normal police work, but it has done little to actually make that happen.


Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Monday that he aims to grant Pakistani citizenship to the 1.5 million Afghan refugees currently in the country, as well as Bengali and Rohingya refugees. This is huge departure from previous Pakistani policy and it’s unclear if Khan’s backers in the Pakistani military are prepared to go along with it. On the other hand it’s a humane and sensible way to account and care for those refugees, and it could be smart politics for Khan–he’s got a lot of support within Pakistan’s Pashtun community, and most of those Afghan refugees are Pashtun.

One of Khan’s first big ideas to raise some funds for the Pakistani treasury has been kind of a bust. Khan’s government held an auction of 100 state-owned cars on Monday, but at the end of the day it had only unloaded 61 of the vehicles for a scant $1.6 million–officials had been hoping for a return of around 10 times that amount. The symbolism of the car auction–a government tightening its belt along with the people–may be more important than the amount of money raised, but Khan is sending some mixed messages on that front via his daily, and pretty costly, helicopter commute to and from his home outside of Islamabad.


If you were anxious for another trade war escalation, here you go:

President Trump, emboldened by America’s economic strength and China’s economic slowdown, escalated his trade war with Beijing on Monday, saying the United States would impose tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods and was prepared to tax all imports.

Mr. Trump, in a statement released late Monday, showed no sign of backing down from the type of full-blown trade war between the world’s two largest economies that has rattled financial markets, saying he was prepared to “immediately” place tariffs on another $267 billion worth of imports “if China takes retaliatory action against our farmers or other industries.”

The tariffs on $200 billion worth of products comes on top of the $50 billion worth already taxed earlier this year, meaning nearly half of all Chinese imports into the United States will soon face levies. The next wave of tariffs, which are scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 24, will start at 10 percent before climbing to 25 percent on Jan. 1. The timing will partially reduce the toll of price increases for holiday shoppers buying Chinese imports in the coming months.

It’s unclear how Beijing will respond and whether or not these new tariffs will mean the end of trade negotiations between the two countries.

James Dorsey writes that pushback against the Belt and Road Initiative may be causing Chinese officials to rethink some of its components:

China, in an implicit recognition that at least some of its Belt and Road-related projects risk trapping target countries in debt or fail to meet their needs, has conceded that adjustments may be necessary.

“It’s normal and understandable that development focus can change at different stages in different countries, especially with changes in government. So China can also make some strategic adjustments when cooperating with these countries, but it’s definitely not a reconsideration of the B&R (Belt and Road) initiative,” Wang Jun, deputy director of the  Department of Information at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges told the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper.

The Chinese concession, initially made public in an August 27 speech by President Xi Jinping and reaffirmed by the Global Times.  came in the same week that Pakistan during a visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi demanded that China expand its $50 billion plus investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the single largest country infrastructure investment related to the People’s Republic’s Belt and Road initiative, to include manufacturing and poverty reduction projects.


In a heated session of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, US ambassador Nikki Haley said that Russia is “actively working to undermine the enforcement” of UN sanctions against North Korea. Haley said that the US has “photographic” evidence of a Russian vessel transferring petroleum to North Korean ships at sea in violation of those sanctions. Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya denied that the one particular Russian vessel Haley mentioned had done anything wrong, which is kind of a lame non-denial of the bigger charge, and then criticized Washington’s unwillingness to ease sanctions against North Korea as a reward for whatever progress Pyongyang has supposedly made so far toward denuclearization.


Even as I write this, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is in Pyongyang beginning a three day summit with Kim Jong-un. More on this tomorrow, assuming anything important happens on day one.



The internationally recognized Libyan government on Monday closed Tripoli’s airport over security concerns. Again. Apparently it’s decided to hand the airport and its security from one militia to another and this has naturally raised some worries about potential threats.


After the second round of national elections was held on Saturday, Mauritania’s elections commission announced on Friday that the ruling Union for the Republic party has retained its control of the national assembly as well as regional and municipal councils. The party reportedly won 93 of the 157 seats in parliament. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is undoubtedly pleased to see his party maintain control as he heads into what’s supposed to be his final year in office next year.


The Red Cross says that Boko Haram has executed one of its aid workers who was abducted by the group’s fighters in an attack in the far northeastern corner of Nigeria earlier this year. Boko Haram is still believed to be holding two other Red Cross workers it took captive during that same attack.


Thousands of people demonstrated in Addis Ababa on Monday in opposition to the ethnic violence that struck the outskirts of the city over the weekend. At least 23 people were killed and hundreds displaced in a series of attacks probably carried out by Oromo militants. Some 200 people have reportedly been arrested in connection with the violence, with police suggesting that they’d been paid to cause a national disruption. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is himself Oromo and has tried to foster better relations between the Ethiopian government and that community, which is the largest ethnic community in the country but has frequently been subject to systematic mistreatment and discrimination. The weekend violence may be a setback to that effort.


The Burundian government is threatening to quit the United Nations Human Rights Council and sue–no really–anybody who criticizes its lousy human rights record. It’s upset over a UN report, based on an investigation that began in 2016, that has accused the government of multiple crimes against humanity.


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