Asia/Africa update: October 18 2018



Eurasianet’s Peter Liakhov looks at how Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has managed to strengthen his position even though he’s a member of the increasingly discredited Republican Party:

When parliamentarians from Armenia’s old guard joined forces in early October to try to block Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s ability to hold early elections, Pashinyan dubbed the move a “counter-revolution” and called his supporters into the streets to oppose it. But what ultimately defeated the bill was a veto by an erstwhile member of the old guard – President Armen Sarkissian.

Sarkissian’s role in defusing the crisis highlighted his unlikely prominence in post-revolutionary Armenia. According to the constitution, the president is a virtual figurehead. And other members of the former administration are being aggressively prosecuted by the new authorities.

And yet, Sarkissian has taken an improbably high-profile role in the new administration. Following his veto of the election bill – which likely played a key role in convincing Pashinyan’s former parliamentary partners to return to the fold and support the elections – he undertook a whirlwind international tour, visiting senior officials in France, the United States, and Russia.

As the dust settles from the tumult of the dramatic transition earlier this year, Sarkissian has not only survived the revolution, but appears to be thriving.


A devastating Taliban attack in Kandahar province on Thursday killed the province’s governor, its intelligence chief, and its police chief/top warlord, Abdul Raziq Achakzai. All three were gunned down during a meeting with US general and NATO commander Austin Miller, who was unharmed. Abdul Raziq’s death is the most consequential–the US relied on him to keep Kandahar’s security situation under control, despite the drug activity and frequent human rights violations that were apparently his stock in trade.

The Taliban also issued another call for Afghans to boycott this month’s parliamentary election on Thursday.

Apparently US Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with the Taliban in Qatar last week caught Afghan President Ashraf Ghani by surprise–and he’s not very happy about it. Ghani is concerned that the US may cut him out of the loop on negotiations with the Taliban and seems particularly angry about the way Khalilzad handled the incident. Not only did he meet with the Taliban a day after Ghani had expressed his reservations about any such talks, but Khalilzad then refused to go into specifics when returned to Afghanistan to brief Ghani the following day.


The yuan fell to its lowest level in 21 months on Thursday, almost 6.94 per US dollar. That’s helping China cushion the blow of the Trump administration’s tariffs, but it’s not something Beijing wants (the dollar is strengthening more than the yuan is weakening). In fact the Chinese government has been intervening to periodically strengthen the yuan, hoping to avoid antagonizing Trump and triggering another escalation in the trade war.


North and South Korean officials are planning to impose a no-fly zone over their border as part of a broader package of changes meant to deescalate border tensions. But the US reportedly opposes the idea because it will basically prohibit close air support drills, a sign of more discord in the Washington-Seoul relationship.


South Korean conservatives and progressives, meanwhile, are angry over the way Seoul has decided to handle hundreds of Yemeni refugees who turned up on the resort island of Jeju earlier this year:

South Korea’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday said it would not grant refugee status to nearly 400 Yemenis, instead saying it would issue one-year humanitarian stays to 339 of them. The ministry rejected stay permits for 34 asylum seekers, who still could appeal, and postponed applications from 85 others for further interviews.

The ministry previously granted temporary stays to 23 Yemenis.

The Yemenis had arrived on Jeju using the island’s tourist policy that allows foreigners visa-free entry for up to 30 days. Thrown off by the flood of arrivals, South Korea excluded Yemenis from the no-visa benefits in June and banned the asylum seekers from leaving the island.

This decision has alienated pretty much everybody. Anti-immigrant conservatives wanted the Yemenis deported, while progressives wanted the government to grant them asylum.



Last week, a group of Ethiopian soldiers stormed toward Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offices in Addis Ababa demanding, among other things, a pay increase. Abiy defused the situation by doing calisthenics with the soldiers–no, really–but he told parliament this week that some of the soldiers had come there to kill him and suggested that they weren’t just there over complaints about pay. Abiy’s rapid changes, particularly his diplomatic outreach toward Eritrea, has angered elements of Ethiopia’s old guard, particularly in the Tigrayan community, and it’s not out of the question that they’re gunning (literally) for Abiy.


Former Somali national security adviser Hussein Sheikh-Ali earlier this week joined a growing chorus of voices suggesting negotiations with jihadi groups–in this case al-Shabab:

Today is the one-year anniversary of one of the darkest days in Somalia’s history. On 14 October 2017, al-Shabaab suicide bombersdrove a truck full of explosives into a crowded junction in the nation’s capital, Mogadishu. They killed approximately 600 people. Around 100 of those were children. The bomb scene was so large it resembled a canyon. For days, it was a crater of horror and tragedy.

There is little doubt in my mind that the perpetrators of that scene are akin to monsters. Despite this, I call for dialogue. I believe we have to compel and convince al-Shabaab to come to the political negotiating table.

I have been talking to them for years. Since 2009, members of al-Shabaab have been defecting and rejecting violence and the group’s ideology. During my time as counterterrorism advisor to the government of Somalia, I created and coordinated the country’s first and only defector programme. I managed several high-level defections from al-Shabaab, including their head of intelligence as well as dozens of soldiers. I would sit opposite them and listen to them for hours. What those defectors said in our meetings made me believe dialogue with al-Shabaab is possible.


Something really horrible may be unfolding on the Comoran island of Anjouan. The Comoran government has cut water and power supplies to the island’s capital, Mutsamudu. The island has been wracked by violent protests for several days over Comoran President Azali Assoumani’s plan to abolish term limits and end the practice of rotating the presidency around the country’s three main islands, measures that would probably lock Anjouan out of the presidency permanently. But cutting power and water isn’t going to punish protesters so much as it’s going to starve civilians to death if it goes on long enough. It could also be the precursor to a more violent government crackdown.

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