Asia/Oceania/Africa update: March 14-15 2019



Violence between a crowd of Tajiks and a crowd of Kyrgyz in Vorukh on Wednesday left at least two Tajiks dead. Vorukh is a Tajik exclave, completely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan and connected to the rest of Tajikistan by one road running through Kyrgyz territory. The clash apparently was over a road that Kyrgyz authorities are planning to build that the Tajiks in Vorukh say would affect a nearby river on which the town’s residents rely for irrigation. There was apparently some gunfire as one of the fatalities was due to a gunshot, but the incident doesn’t seem to have escalated into a full-on border skirmish.


Fighting broke out in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Thursday after supporters of local warlord Atta Mohammad Noor rejected the Afghan government’s appointment of a new police chief for Balkh province. Noor is the powerful former governor of Balkh who was dismissed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last year but refused to vacate his office until he cut a deal with Ghani that left him with significant influence in the province. At least seven people were reportedly wounded in the fighting.

In a remarkable press event in DC on Thursday, Afghan national security adviser Hamidullah Mohib suggested that the Trump administration’s Afghanistan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, is deliberately capitulating to the Taliban and undermining Ghani’s government because he has designs on becoming president of Afghanistan:

“In the space of information and reconciliation, there is no transparency . . . and a hell of a lot of tension,” [Mohib] said. “We are told that Zal,” as Khalilzad is widely known, “is a great diplomat. I’m not sure I buy that. He is ostracizing and alienating a very trusted ally. . . . We think either Zal doesn’t know how to negotiate, or there are other reasons behind” his actions.

Asked what those reasons were, Mohib said Khalilzad had twice before expressed interest in running for president of Afghanistan and has numerous friends and contacts among Ghani’s political opponents.

As it directs its ire toward Khalilzad, Ghani’s government seemed to be trying to avoid blaming Trump.

Ghani was by all accounts blindsided by Trump’s announcement earlier this year that he’s looking to pull all US forces out of Afghanistan, and he’s been clearly frustrated that the US-Taliban peace talks have deliberately sidelined his government (he’s not the only one, by the way–US NATO allies who have contributed soldiers and money to the Afghan war effort are also reportedly frustrated with how little they’re being kept in the loop by Washington). The Taliban don’t recognize the Afghan government as legitimate and refuse to negotiate with it, and until recently that was a red line for the US. Kabul’s frustrations are not entirely unreasonable and certainly aren’t surprising, but at some point the question becomes whether soothing Kabul’s feelings is worth continuing the war indefinitely.


Two people were killed on Thursday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Quetta. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but Quetta is in Baluchistan province, where both separatist militants and Islamist extremists are active.


Indian and Pakistani officials have resumed talks about opening a new border crossing so that Indian Sikhs can more easily access an important pilgrimage site in the Pakistan village of Kartarpur. Would-be pilgrims will be able to use the crossing to visit the site without having to apply for a visa to enter Pakistan. This is perhaps the best signal yet that relations between the two countries are improving after last month’s clashes over Kashmir.

On the other side of the country, Indian officials have deployed several army units to Mizoram state in the east to block the border against incursions from Myanmar. Mizoram has received refugees from Myanmar’s war against rebels in Chin state and from its operations in Rakhine state against both the Rohingya and the Arakan Army, and the Arakan Army itself has been known to enter India to escape Myanmar military forces.


North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun-hui told a gathering of diplomats and foreign press on Friday that Pyongyang was disappointed with the failure of the Hanoi summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, saying that “the US has thrown away a golden opportunity” with its “gangster-like” demands. Choe seemed to suggest that the North Koreans are done talking unless and until the US moves away from its all-or-nothing negotiating stance and agrees to a step-for-step process–and agrees to talk a step to reward North Korea for suspending nuclear and missile testing.

Choe was careful to blame National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the breakdown while absolving Trump. This is in keeping with North Korea’s high level approach to its talks with the US. The problem is, that approach doesn’t typically work unless the groundwork has been laid to enable it to work, and that simply hasn’t happened in this case. North Korea is an unusually authoritarian system so it makes sense that negotiating with it means negotiating directly with Kim, but even in this case the details need to be worked out by lower-level personnel on both sides. As the North Koreans readily acknowledge there’s a huge trust deficit between Washington and Pyongyang that makes these talks ultra challenging. That deficit isn’t going to be solved by Trump and Kim on their own.


Moon Jae-in, who staked his presidency on rebuilding relations with North Korea, is now in limbo because of the breakdown in talks between Pyongyang and Washington and has seen his approval rating hit new lows in the wake of Hanoi’s failure. His political opponents in South Korea are accusing Moon of acting as “spokesperson” for North Korea, while both the United States and United Nations have alleged that Moon’s government is going easy on North Korea in terms of public diplomacy and sanctions enforcement, and North Korea has downplayed his role in this process, categorizing him as little more than an extension of the US. Which he is, because US policy demands it. Another way to attack the trust gap between the US and North Korea would be to let Moon and the South Koreans lead the way in terms of approaching Pyongyang, but it would be anathema in the DC foreign policy establishment to suggest that The World’s Only Superpower™ take a back seat to a mere client state on an important issue like this.



If you haven’t already heard, 49 people were murdered and 48 injured on Friday when a white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The alleged attacker is in custody, he’s a 28 year old Australian who posted an online manifesto before carrying out the attacks and then broadcast the attacks themselves on Facebook Live, so when I say “alleged” it’s only a formality. The attacker appears to have done the shooting alone, but authorities have arrested four other people in connection with the attacks suggesting that he was part of a group that may have been planning other attacks.

What is known about the attacker at this point suggests about what you’d expect: that he’s a white nationalist radicalized in some of the internet’s infamous cesspools, sites that at this point could fairly be described as “ISIS for white people.” He seems to have been influenced by the writings of racist French scumbag Renard Camus, Norwegian terrorist scumbag Anders Breivik, and US presidential scumbag Donald Trump–seen here suggesting that his own supporters in the US might have to start killing people who oppose him–who held a meeting at the White House on his entirely invented and thoroughly xenophobic immigration “crisis” on Friday just hours after these killings took place. Juan Cole suggests that Trump may be the new global mascot for lone wolf white terrorism:

A whole series of acts of terrorism have now demonstrated significant links to Donald J. Trump’s resurgent white nationalism, a key component of which is hatred for Muslims. I argued at last fall that Trumpism is in part responsible for our current worrying wave of Islamophobia or hatred of Muslims. His allegation that “Islam hates us,” his ban on most visas for 5 Muslim-majority countries, his depiction of all Syrian refugees in Europe as stealth ISIL terrorists– contribute to the degradation of our moral character as a civilization. I reminded everyone that in contrast, in the Reagan years of the 1980s, Washington was ecstatic about the exploits of daring Muslim mujahidin or jihadis fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I wrote in that essay,

The Islamophobes like to argue that Islam is an inherently violent religion, that its adherents are quite literally commanded to such violence by its holy scriptures, the Qur’an. It’s a position that, as I explain in my new book,
Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, is both utterly false and ahistorical.

Thursday’s bloody massacre of peaceful Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, appears as I write to be the be work of an expatriate Australian cell of white supremacists who wrote on the internet their admiration of Donald Trump. In his manifesto, the alleged ringleader called Trump the “symbol of renewed white identity.”

As Cole notes, the defeat of ISIS’s “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq seems to have had the effect of reducing the amount of lone wolf, or “stochastic” terrorism associated with it and its ideology. I don’t know what the analogy is to the global far right as it exists today, but whatever it is, until we do it these attacks against immigrants, against Muslims, against The Other are just going to keep happening.



Hundreds of people protested in Khartoum on Friday, again demanding President Omar al-Bashir’s resignation in defiance of his ban on protests. Bashir has instituted a state of emergency that greatly expands police powers, has installed top security officials in major provincial jobs, has made wholesale changes to his cabinet, and none of it has stemmed the tide of demonstrations. Which likely means that a still more repressive and potentially violent government response is coming.


Hundreds of thousands of people turned out across Algeria on Friday to demand the departure of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. This was the largest anti-Bouteflika protest yet, making it very clear that the Algerian public has rejected Bouteflika’s offer earlier this week to stay on while a new Algerian constitution is written but step down after that without seeking a fifth term in office. In a strong sign that the tide is really shifting away from Bouteflika, or to be clear whatever remains of Bouteflika since his 2013 stroke, many members of his ruling FLN party have begun distancing themselves from him in recent days. They seem convinced that he’s going to have to resign at some point.

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