Asia/Africa update: September 28-30 2018



Two Afghan police officers were killed in Kandahar province late Friday in yet another insider attack by a fellow officer who then ran off, likely to join the Taliban.

There were reports this week, based in part on anonymous quotes from Taliban officials, that Taliban representatives were meeting in Saudi Arabia with officials in the Afghan government to discuss next month’s parliamentary election and the possibility that the Taliban might lay off and allow it to happen relatively peacefully. But the Taliban officially denied any such contact on Friday.


The prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, Farooq Haider Khan, claims that Indian forces on the other side of the Kashmiri line of control shot at his helicopter while it was in Pakistani airspace on Sunday. Indian authorities say that the helicopter had violated Indian airspace. Just riffing here but this is probably not going to help jump start Imran Khan’s plans for negotiations with India.


The Maldivian elections commission certified the results of the country’s September 23 presidential election on Saturday, meaning that challenger Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s victory over incumbent Yameen Abdul Gayoom is official.


There were a couple of small steps toward a return to democracy, or something that looks like democracy at least, in Thailand this weekend. The military junta that’s been running Thailand since 2014 has announced plans for an election by May, and it seems to be looking for ways to maintain power once civilian rule has been reinstated. For one thing, four ministers in Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s cabinet announced they’re forming a new political party, one that will probably support keeping Prayuth in office (he may even join their party, it’s not clear). Also, General Apirat Kongsompong was appointed as the new head of the Thai army–Prayuth’s old job–with responsibility for managing the handover of power to the civilian government. His appointment allows Prayuth to transition entirely out of military affairs and into civilian politics.


Natural disasters aren’t our focus here but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the death toll from a major earthquake (and resulting tsunami) that hit the Indonesia island of Sulawesi on Friday now stands at 832 and is likely to rise considerably once recovery operations get started.


The Chinese government has canceled security talks scheduled for next month with Defense Secretary James Mattis:

The decision to withdraw from the high-level encounter, known as the diplomatic and security dialogue, was the latest sign of bad blood between China and the United States, and capped a week of tit-for-tat actions by both nations as they settled into a newly chilly relationship.

The cancellation of the dialogue, an event that China until recently had advertised as a productive way for the two sides to talk, showed how quickly the tensions over an escalating trade war have infected other parts of the relationship, particularly vital strategic concerns including Taiwan, arms sales and the South China Sea.

A senior American foreign policy official summarized the administration’s attitude to China last week, telling a crowd at the celebration of national day at the Chinese Embassy in Washington that the United States was intent on competing with China — brittle language that is usually absent from formal events.

Beijing seems to be particularly angry about the US decision to levy sanctions against China over the purchase of Russian-made military equipment a few days ago, but in general the relationship is deteriorating and the hostile rhetoric is just the latest sign of that deterioration.


In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho blamed ongoing sanctions against Pyongyang for creating mistrust and hampering denuclearization talks. Ri said there is “no way” North Korea would agree to “disarm” without some trust-building measures from the US. The North Koreans are insisting on a phased approach to nuclear talks, where each North Korean step is met by a corresponding relaxation of sanctions, which is what they believe Donald Trump promised them in June when he met Kim Jong-un in Singapore. But the US, ostensibly concerned that North Korea might find a level of sanctions that it can live with and decide not to denuclearize completely, has held that sanctions can only be relaxed once the denuclearization process is complete. This disconnect is going to continue to make these negotiations rocky.

But it’s all OK, because Trump and Kim are apparently in love:

Good for them.



UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said over the weekend that “it may not be possible” to hold a national election in Libya by December 10, as Libyan leaders agreed back in May and as the French government has been advocating. I mean, no shit. Apart from the fact that the city of Tripoli still isn’t secure, let alone the rest of the country, the Libyan government still hasn’t adopted an electoral law. It was supposed to do that via referendum at least three months before the election itself. At this point there’s no plan for holding the referendum, let alone anything beyond that.


There’s a debate happening in Moroccan schools over whether to teach children Modern Standard Arabic (called “Classical Arabic” in the video though “Classical Arabic” can have other meanings) or the Moroccan dialect:

This is a serious debate in the Arabic-speaking world–should students learn the language they’ll encounter in literary usage and formal settings (Modern Standard), or the language they’re more likely to use in everyday life (Moroccan dialect)? As you can see in the video, it can have serious, even legal, consequences. I was barely hanging on in Modern Standard Arabic in grad school, let alone any dialects. But when I was living in Qatar, where there were a lot of Moroccan nationals working especially in hotels, Qataris would frequently say that Moroccan Arabic was (to them at least) practically a separate language, owing to a lot of Berber and French intermixing. So the Modern Standard vs. dialect dichotomy is an especially big one in Morocco.


Horst Köhler, the UN envoy for Western Sahara, has reportedly invited Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and the Polisario Front to talks in Geneva in early December on resolving the situation in Western Sahara. Morocco and Polisario have been fighting over the fate of Western Sahara since 1975, though the conflict has been frozen since the end of their war in 1991. The UN has been charged with holding a referendum in Western Sahara since 1991 but so far has not managed to work out the details.


At least six people were killed overnight Friday-Saturday in two ISIS-West Africa attacks on the villages of Moussarom and Ngueleya in the Lake Chad region. A counterattack by the Chadian military reportedly killed 17 ISIS-WA fighters.


Cameroonian President Paul Biya says his military has “defeated” Boko Haram. And while Boko Haram is still kicking around in Nigeria–one “Boko Haram,” the aforementioned ISIS-West Africa, is thriving–it is true that there hasn’t been a Boko Haram attack in Cameroon in over a year. However, that’s come at the cost of multiple allegations of serious human rights abuses by the Cameroonian military in the northern part of the country.


Congolese opposition leaders are sounding alarms over new electronic voting machines that will be used in the DRC’s presidential election later this year, warning that Joseph Kabila’s government is going to rig them:

A key common concern relates to the introduction of tablet-style devices for voting, which some say are more vulnerable to vote-rigging and could be compromised by the unreliability of Congo’s power supply.

The authorities argue the system will cut costs, help reduce electoral fraud and accelerate the counting of votes in the vast central African country where past elections have been marred by voting irregularities or violence.

“They are not voting machines they are cheating machines,” opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba said via video-link from Brussels.

“They are not reliable, too slow and there are 10 million fake voters who have already been registered. We, the opposition, have united to say no to the machines,” he said.

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