Asia/Africa update: October 3 2017

ASIA

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis these days. Since taking over as president last year, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been taking steps to loosen up the country’s ultra-repressive political environment, for example by releasing political prisoners like activist Azam Farmonov, who was freed on Tuesday. He’s presumably doing this to make the country more appealing to Western investors. On the other hand his government still seems to be arresting dissidents at a fairly regular pace. Still Uzbek citizens appear to be pleased with the steps Mirziyoyev has taken so far to transition–at least by outward appearances–the country toward something more democratic.

Prezident
Mirziyoyev (Wikimedia)

AFGHANISTAN

According to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the plan for using the 3000+ extra US troops he’s sending to Afghanistan is modeled on the way US troops are being used in Iraq and Syria–heavy on offering advice and calling in airstrikes, but not much in the way of direct front-line combat. Mattis played coy with the Senate Armed Services Committee on just how many new forces are being deployed, but it’s believed that 2700 additional soldiers have already gone over. Additionally, he told the committee that he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are still determining if it makes sense to continue having a Taliban office open in Qatar.

PAKISTAN

Mattis additionally had some ominous-sounding things to say about Pakistan:

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday the United States would try “one more time” to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan before President Donald Trump would turn to options to address Islamabad’s alleged support for militant groups.

Relations between the two countries have been frayed over the past decade. While officials have long questioned the role Pakistan has played in Afghanistan, the comments by Mattis are likely to cause concern in Islamabad and within the Pakistan military.

“We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,” Mattis said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

It’s not clear what those “options” are, but probably downgrading Pakistan’s alliance status and increasing drone strikes inside Pakistan are on Trump’s list.

INDIA

If you want to see the Taj Mahal, my advice would be to go soon. Air pollution is ruining the marble, tourism is stressing the site, and the Hindu nationalists now running India’s Uttar Pradesh state refuse to allocate it any cultural heritage funds, possibly because it was built by a Muslim dynasty. The state government doesn’t even include the structure, which is easily India’s most iconic landmark, in its tourism literature. The state has allocated some World Bank funds to the site for beautification but it’s hard to escape the fear that they’re letting it and the whole city of Agra fall apart on purpose.

MYANMAR

You want to know how bad things are in Rakhine state right now? On Monday, the Myanmar government carefully walked 20 foreign diplomats through a stage-managed tour of the province that was undoubtedly intended to downplay fears that the Rohingya are being ethnically cleansed and play up the whole “Rohingya terrorism” angle, and those diplomats still came out of the experience talking about the dire situation in the state and asking the government to OK a United Nations investigation. They’re not going to do that, of course.

PHILIPPINES

Two Swedish nationals and their Philippine driver were wounded on Tuesday when New People’s Army fighters attempted to attack a car carrying five Philippine police officers in the town of Cauayan.

NORTH KOREA

At Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis explains the series of unfortunate incredibly stupid events that led to Donald Trump subtweeting his own secretary of state over the weekend on the subject of diplomacy with North Korea. Tillerson made what turn out to have been some very benign comments to several reporters about the fact that the US has ways of communicating with Pyongyang. That’s not in any way a surprise. The New York Times, as the New York Times is often wont to do when its chief Washington correspondent David Sanger is involved, hacked out a misleadingly inaccurate piece about the exchange that made it sound like Tillerson had suggested there are secret negotiations going on between the Americans and North Koreans even as he spoke. That story wormed its way onto cable news, and of course from there it quickly got to America’s Number One Cable News Consumer:

But for our story, only one reader matters, and he is not a careful man. So the second part of this drama played out on a golf course in New Jersey. We’ve already seen multiple stories suggesting that President Trump gets his information from television and newspapers, not briefings. One of the reasons that leaks are so endemic to this White House is that staffers know that the easiest way to get something into Trump’s brain is to get it on “Fox and Friends” or “Morning Joe.” One of new White House chief of staff John Kelly’s first tasks has been to erect barriers to prevent bad information from inundating the president. In this case, the levee broke. According to a subsequent story in the New York Times, the president had been “caught off guard” by the news — small wonder, as it was a fiction — and was “upset.”

I know I kind of just pointed and laughed at Trump’s tweets on Sunday, but they’re really a remarkable public embarrassment for his secretary of state. It’s hard to imagine how, or why, Tillerson could, or would want to, remain in that job much longer, and I’d say “good riddance” except that the next person in line for the gig is Nikki Haley, and that way madness lies. Lewis thinks this may all end with that incredibly dangerous open air North Korean nuke test over the Pacific that we’re all hoping doesn’t happen, because, since it would undoubtedly be covered on cable news, it’s really Kim Jong-un’s only reliable way to get Trump’s attention.

AFRICA

NIGERIA

Biafran separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu, head of a group called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has been missing since government forces raided his home on September 14. Maybe. I mean, he definitely seems to be missing, but the Nigerian government insists it carried out no such raid, even though Nnamdi Kanu’s brother, Kingsley Kanu, says he was there when the raid happened, and even though Nnamdi Kanu’s home sure looks like it got raided, what with the doors and windows smashed up and bullet holes all over the place. And even though at least six IPOB members’ bodies were sighted by reporters in a morgue a couple of weeks later (Kingsley Kanu says at least 20 IPOB members were killed during the raid).

IPOB is a non-violent movement, but this kind of government action is precisely the sort of thing that moves groups like that to drop the “non” from that description. And while the Nigerian government undoubtedly thinks Nnamdi Kanu is a serious threat to the state, it thought the same thing back in 2009 about a Salafist preacher and leader of a small extremist sect in Maiduguri named Mohammed Yusuf. Nigerian security forces killed Yusuf that year, and then his movement, informally known as “Boko Haram,” was taken over by his former deputy, a man named Abubakar Shekau. That didn’t work out so well for the Nigerians. You’d think they’d take a lesson about unintended consequences from that experience.

UGANDA

Uganda’s parliament has begun considering a measure that would remove age limits on the office of president and allow Yoweri Museveni, a man whose age archeologists are still trying to estimate (OK he’s 73, whatever), to stand for office yet again in 2021. So far, the bill has been met with near universal support…mostly because its opponents are being barred from attending parliament. They’re also getting grenades thrown at their houses, which must be a rare thrill.

ZAMBIA

There’s a budding refugee crisis in southern Africa, as violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is sending thousands of people–more than 3300 just since late August–fleeing over the border into Zambia. The refugees seem primarily to be escaping fighting between Pygmy and Bantu groups in the southeastern DRC, but some report being displaced by fighting between militias and government forces.

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Author: DWD

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