Asia/Africa update: February 14 2018



The ruling Republican Party of Armenia’s chosen candidate in the country’s March 2 presidential vote (Armenian presidents are voted into office by parliament), former Prime Minister Armen Sargsyan, may not be eligible for the office. Everyone agrees that Sargsyan was a dual Armenian-British citizen between 2002 and 2011. The Armenian constitution requires presidents to have been Armenian citizens only for at least six years prior to election. No worries, right? Well, opposition research has apparently dug up evidence that Sargsyan may have still held British citizenship as recently as 2014. Oops. Sargsyan is denying this but it still complicates things in the run up to the election. Recent Armenian constitutional changes have drastically depowered the office of president, so this isn’t a huge issue but it is still an issue.


The word “Taliban” is the Pashto word for “students,” taken from the Arabic word for “student,” talib. So I guess you could look at the very long (17,000 words!) letter the Taliban released on Wednesday as a school project to find some pen pals in America. Apart from declaring the organization’s interest in reaching a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war, the letter tried to make the case to Americans that the war has been very bad for America:

The letter, whose authenticity was confirmed in a brief telephone conversation with insurgent spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, was primarily aimed at a U.S. audience. Unlike previous statements issued by the Taliban, it used published statistics and logical arguments — not just ideological harangues — to persuade the American citizenry that its government’s lengthy investment in the war has been a dire mistake.


“Prolonging the war in Afghanistan and maintaining American troop presence is neither beneficial for America nor for anyone else,” the document said, calling on U.S. citizens, legislators and others to “read this letter prudently” and evaluate the costs and benefits of continuing to fight. “Stubbornly seeking the protraction of this war,” it added, “will have “dreadful consequences” for the region and the “stability of America herself.”

Well that’s just nonsense. Prolonging the Afghan war has…been…um…hey you know what, screw these guys. Moving on.


The Pakistani Taliban killed four Frontier Corps (government paramilitaries) fighters in Quetta on Wednesday.

Contra the Trump administration’s approach, former Pakistani diplomat Touqir Hussain says that the route to peace in Afghanistan runs through improving US-Pakistani relations, not imperiling them:

Pakistan has limited influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, and has little incentive to do so when there is lack of clarity about American policy and Pakistan’s own relations with Washington are strained. The upshot is that Taliban themselves are divided. Some are irreconcilable, but those who want peace worry that if they do lay down the arms and accept a deal while the American forces are still there, they might be shortchanged.


The Taliban trust China and its guarantees that they would not be betrayed. But the Chinese need support from Washington and Kabul. The Quadrilateral Consultative Group process offered the prospect of such a support.  But the Trump administration prefers military option and going it alone, and that also suits Kabul: this way, at least the Americans will likely stay for the long haul.


It’s no secret that India and China are in the middle of a diplomatic clash over the Indian Ocean, each country racing to establish maritime relations with various players in the region. China has its new naval base in Djibouti and deals/friendly relations with Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, all of which have important Indian Ocean port facilities that could be used for both commercial and military purposes. This is part of the reason why the ongoing political turmoil in the Maldives is more dangerous than you might think at first glance, with India and China each backing different factions in Malé. India has now struck back, negotiating an arrangement to use Oman’s Duqm port for both commerce and its navy. This expands India’s presence in the region and potentially deepens its influence in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, India’s Punjab National Bank says it has found almost $1.8 billion in fraudulent loans on the books of one–just one!–of its branches. The concern is that this could be the beginning of a much larger Indian banking scandal that would have ripple effects all over the Indian economy.


The Pentagon is considering building more missile defense systems in Hawaii and other western states to counter the looming threat of a North Korean ICBM. Which is great news, because missile defense definitely works and is definitely not just a decades-long scheme to hoover up taxpayer money and spit it back out at contractors.


Forget Kim Jong-un’s sister–Korea scholar Ramon Pacheco Pardo argues that the real winner of the Pyeongchang Olympic Diplomatic Games has been South Korean President Moon Jae-in:

Months of hard work have been rewarded with a diplomatic victory for the Moon government. In terms of soft diplomacy, the sight of both Koreas marching together during the Opening Ceremony under the unified Korean flag was a powerful and moving image. It was not the first time they have marched together, but it was more meaningful because it took place on South Korean soil. Meanwhile, the unified women’s ice hockey team has been a success, despite some initial criticism in South Korea about the idea. South Korea was very unlikely to win a medal in the sport in any case. Thanks to the unified team, there is a now a powerful metaphor about South and North Koreans quickly blending together – regardless of the team’s heavy losses to better squads.


It is at the high table where Moon’s diplomatic move is likely to have greater immediate significance though. Kim Yo-jong’s visit was very successful from a South Korean perspective. Hopes might not have been especially high, but the fact that Moon and Kim shook hands in front of possibly hundreds of millions of people watching the games’ Opening Ceremony sent a powerful message. Subsequent meetings and an invitation for Moon to visit North Korea were also very meaningful. Kim Jong-un’s public thanks to South Korea for the way it handled the visit was as well. In a matter of days, Moon has made the possibility of an inter-Korean summit and warming ties a no-brainer. This seemed fanciful only a few weeks ago.

Basically, Moon has swiped the initiative in the North Korea situation away from Donald Trump, which has to be a good thing. The losers here have been US and Japanese hawks, but those people would kill millions if they actually got their way so screw them.



A Wednesday ruling from the Libyan Supreme Court blocking lower court legal challenges to the country’s draft constitution puts the country on track to hold a referendum on the constitution soon and ideally to hold elections under the constitution by the end of the year. However, those arrangements still need to be negotiated between Libya’s competing governments, and it is still possible that a legal challenge could emerge at the Supreme Court that would gum up the process. There are also logistical questions about holding a national referendum vote in a country that’s still at war. Perhaps that’s why a United Nations expert panel has determined that there is still no political solution to the Libyan civil war on the table in the near future.


Algeria’s public sector unions have called a general strike–affecting schools and hospitals among other things–over high inflation and stagnant wages.


Longtime Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died on Wednesday of cancer. He was 65 years old. Tsvangirai spent most of his political career as the only game in town in terms of standing up to Robert Mugabe and came close to unseating Mugabe in the 2008 presidential election–one wonders how Mugabe would have dealt with that–so at least he lived long enough to see the end of Mugabe’s reign. His death leaves the already weak Zimbabwean opposition scrambling for a new standard bearer.


You officially won’t have Jacob Zuma to kick around anymore. South Africa’s (now former) president resigned “with immediate effect” on Wednesday. He most likely will not be missed. Zuma was going to lose a no confidence vote in parliament, perhaps as soon as Thursday, and probably spent Wednesday morning watching news that the home of his political patrons, the Gupta family, had been raided by police investigating corruption charges that tie directly to Zuma himself. Now the question becomes whether he’ll be immediately succeeded by new African National Congress party leader (and current acting president, I guess) Cyril Ramaphosa, or if there will be an interim president installed until next year’s election. Most likely it will be the former.

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