Asia/Africa update: February 6 2018



Thousands of young Pashtuns have been protesting in Pakistan for the past week, triggered in part by the killing of a Pashtun man named Naqeebullah Mehsud by a police officer (now turned fugitive) in Karachi last month. It seems his killing was the last straw for many Pashtuns tired of being denied basic rights and protections by the Pakistani government. They want Islamabad to stop treating the Pashtun areas of the country as “tribal areas” subject to British colonial-era laws and to begin incorporating those regions into the state. In reality, the Pakistani government mostly treats those areas like war zones filled with Taliban militants, and while it’s true that the Pakistani Taliban is a strong presence in the tribal areas, that’s as much an effect of the way those areas are administered as it is a reason why they’re administered that way. The Pakistani government has been debating a measure that would incorporate the tribal areas into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, but many Pashtun believe the tribal areas should be made into their own province instead.


Two Indian police officers were killed in Srinagar on Tuesday when gunmen stormed a hospital and freed Naveed Jutt, a former senior figure in Lashkar-e-Taiba. Jutt was captured by Indian forces in 2014 and had been brought to the hospital for a medical checkup.


Every once in a while on this blog I like to offer lifestyle advice, usually around travel. Check this place out, it’s really cool, or don’t go here it’s all screwed up, that sort of thing. While I have never been to the Taj Mahal I have always wanted to see it, and so now I am telling you that if you would like to see it too, get there soon before a mob tears the thing down. I wish I were joking:

The stunning white marble mausoleum was built in the 17th century by Mughal King Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in Agra, about 200km from the Indian capital, New Delhi.


Vinay Katiyar, a member of parliament for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told local media on Monday that “there is not much difference between Taj and Tej [Mandir]”, referring to a Hindu far-right claim that a temple existed in place of Taj Mahal.


“It was our temple. Taj Mahal will be converted into Tej Mandir soon,” he said.

Because Narendra Modi has taken India’s right-wing fringe mainstream (Katiyar is an elected member of parliament despite facing trial for participating in the 1992 destruction of a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya), it is now fashionable to insist that India was never ruled by Muslims or that its Muslim period–that brief window from roughly the 12th century through British colonial times–was a historical aberration that should be expunged from the record. Unfortunately the Taj Mahal, despite being a major tourist attraction, is by its very existence preventing that expungement, and so periodically you see these threats against it. Usually they’re based on the entirely unfounded claim that there was a Hindu temple on the site before the mausoleum was built, which by the way is the same claim Hindu nationalists used in Ayodhya in 1992.


Mohamed Nasheed, the former Maldivian president currently holed up in Sri Lanka, wants India to step in and take control of the deteriorating political situation in his country. So that’s where things stand. Unsurprisingly, President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to have his army seize control of the Supreme Court building and jail two of the court’s four judges has had the effect of getting the court to rethink some of its recent rulings, like the one about releasing a bunch of opposition politicians whom Yameen had previously imprisoned for the crime of being in the opposition. Yameen insists that the two judges he arrested were under investigation for corruption and that detaining them was the only way to end their reign of terror or whatever.

As to the chances of India intervening, they’re probably not great. Yameen, with his friendliness toward China, isn’t exactly on the Indian government’s Christmas/Eid/Diwali card list. But New Delhi will probably pursue multilateral/diplomatic steps before it considers a more direct approach.


Donald Trump got elected promising to end America’s humiliating trade deficit with China. And he has! He ended that deficit and replaced it with a newer, larger one–$375 billion in 2017, the highest it’s ever been.


Folks, if you thought the BIG-ASS BOMB that America dropped on Afghanistan last year was awesome and totally worth it despite achieving no actual tactical objective, then I’ve got great news: we’ve apparently got an EVEN BIGGER-ASS BOMB and we’re saving it for North Korea. Yes, the “Father of All Bombs” (seriously) is 30,000 pounds (compared to a mere 18,000 for the lame “Mother of All Bombs”–women, am I right fellas?) and it’s a Massive Ordinance Penetrator, which means it will drill deep and hard past North Korea’s defenses and into her soft, yielding soil before blowing its massive load all over–I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought. Father of All Bombs indeed. The Pentagon seems to think this baby will be enough to get at North Korea’s underground nuclear facilities. Which does nothing about the hundreds of above ground, non-nuclear artillery pieces that will quickly reduce Seoul to rubble if we actually strike North Korea, but apparently we’re not supposed to worry about that anymore.



Protesters gathered outside the US embassy in Juba on Tuesday to express anger over last week’s decision by the Trump administration to ban weapons sales to South Sudan. The protesters delivered a petition that accused the US of supporting South Sudanese rebels by not selling weapons to the government–which is a bit of a stretch, seeing as how the US already wasn’t selling weapons to South Sudan and this embargo is purely symbolic.


Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is reportedly “critically ill” in a South African hospital. Tsvangirai, who is suffering from colon cancer and started suggesting he might retire from politics last month, is probably the only person in Zimbabwe who could give President Emmerson Mnangagwa a run in this year’s scheduled presidential election, but it seems unlikely he’ll be able to run and Mnangagwa would still have been heavily favored anyway.


The South African parliament has postponed President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address that was supposed to happen on February 8, amid growing calls for Zuma to step down. A meeting between Zuma and several African National Congress leaders that was scheduled for tomorrow has also been postponed, as ANC officials say they’ve already held “constructive discussions” with him. Reports say that Zuma is prepared to resign if “certain conditions” are met–immunity from prosecution is presumably one of these, but it’s not clear what the others might be.

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