Asia/Africa update: March 7 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

An ISIS suicide bomber killed Nangarhar province’s director of religious affairs, Abdul Zaher Haqqani, and his bodyguard in Jalalabad on Wednesday. Late Wednesday night, the Taliban carried out an attack on a police headquarters in Kandahar province in which one police officer was killed, along with all four attackers.

INDIA

Things are looking up a bit for Cape Town and its water shortage (more on that below), but the Indian city of Bangalore may be facing the same fate. Rapid population growth especially on the outskirts of the city has put significant pressure on wells to support the extra population, and back in 2014 officials started to worry that they were running out of water. But a decision in 2013 to divert water from the Cauvery into the city, which is just about to finally get put into action, looks like it should be enough to stave off disaster. For now. Conservation efforts are going to be needed in the long run to keep from winding up back in a crisis situation.

Indian authorities have banned Tibetans from holding a rally in New Delhi this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Beijing. They are undoubtedly hoping to avoid antagonizing China.

SRI LANKA

The Sri Lankan government is deploying more soldiers to Kandy to try to tamp town violent anti-Muslim rioting by Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists. The body of one dead Muslim was discovered on Tuesday, and on Wednesday a Sinhalese man was reportedly killed when his hand grenade (!) exploded prematurely (one assumes). Colombo has already imposed a curfew and clamped down on social media to try to stem the violence.

MYANMAR

The United Nations is warning that Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya is now employing starvation as a weapon:

Meanwhile, the extremist Rakhine Buddhists whose mob violence against the Rohingya started the whole ethnic cleansing campaign may now be turning against the Myanmar government:

Last week three bomb blasts hit Sittwe, the regional capital of Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, just as the international media began marking the fact it had been six months since the Tatmadaw (as Myanmar’s armed forces are called) had begun its ethnic cleansing operations in the north of the state against the Muslim Rohingya minority. Government officials told Reuters that three other unexploded bombs had been found in the city; the bombs that exploded targeted a local government official’s home, a land record office, and the local high court building. A police officer was slightly injured in one of the blasts, though fortunately there were no other casualties.

 

While the north of Rakhine state has been wracked with ethnic violence since August, the most recent bombings did not seem to be the work of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the religious-nationalist group whose attacks on Myanmar’s border posts sparked the Tatmadaw’s latest crackdown on their community. In fact the bombings seem to have been the work of local Rakhine Buddhist nationalists, others of whom had previously helped the Tatmadaw in their crackdown against their Muslim Rohingya neighbors.

It’s easy to lose sight of this while they’re burning out Rohingya villages, but the Rakhine Buddhists, AKA Arakanese, are also one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minority groups, and they have their own grievances against the country’s Bamar majority. The rise in Arakan nationalism that spurred those attacks against the Rohingya was probably bound to eventually turn on the state, but a January incident in which seven Arakanese protesters (who were commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of Arakan to Burmese invaders) were killed by Myanmar security forces definitely seems to have exacerbated the situation.

CHINA

As the New York Times reports, the degree to which Xi Jinping has asserted control over China can be seen in the speed (and relative quiet) with which he’s been able to push through the elimination of the presidential term limit:

Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, proposed less significant constitutional changes 15 months before the amendments became law and tolerated some open debate, including forums held by liberal intellectuals. The wording of Mr. Hu’s revisions was released to the public nearly three months before lawmakers approved them in March 2004.

 

By contrast, Mr. Xi first announced that he wanted to make constitutional changes in December, without specifying what they would be. The full details of the amendments, including the abolition of his term limit, were released to the public only eight days before the National People’s Congress convened.

NORTH KOREA

Having got what it’s presumably wanted from North Korea–i.e., signs that it might be willing to denuclearize as a product of negotiations with the United States–it’s unclear whether the Trump administration has any idea what to do about it. They’ve reportedly spent so much time planning new sanctions and military contingencies that they’ve devoted comparatively little attention to how to actually approach talks with Pyongyang, and with the State Department underfunded and understaffed (we don’t even have an ambassador to South Korea at the moment) there aren’t enough dedicated diplomats working on North Korea to help fill in the gaps. It’s still not even clear–as it hasn’t been for some time now–that focusing on denuclearization is the right policy for the US to be following, but it doesn’t seem like there’s anybody in the administration who is working on questions like that.

There’s some concern that North Korea could still advance its nuclear weapons program despite agreeing to freeze testing during negotiations (that in itself is not quite what the US wants, which is a freeze as a precondition for negotiations). At this point a lot of the things North Korea needs to do to progress–designing a reliable re-entry vehicle, working on solid fuel rockets, designing better mobile launchers, and producing more bomb material–don’t really require testing, at least not until the primary research and development has been done.

SOUTH KOREA

Two South Korean officials who were part of the mission to Pyongyang are heading to the United States for meetings with Trump administration officials. They’re supposed to meet with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, assuming he’s still employed by the time they get to Washington. Their boss, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said on Wednesday that he’s got no intention of relaxing sanctions against Pyongyang yet.

JAPAN

With all the fussing about talks between North Korea and South Korea, and North Korea and the US, Japanese officials are worried that they might be left out of the festivities. This would not only be bad from the perspective of Japanese national security, but because it would signal a major weakening of the US-Japanese alliance, which has broader implications (i.e., in dealing with China).

AFRICA

BURKINA FASO

The International Crisis Group’s Rinaldo Depagne argues that Burkina Faso’s vulnerability to terrorism is partly related to the aftereffects of the 2014 coup that ousted Blaise Compaoré:

One reason why Burkina Faso has become an easier target may be the weakness of the country’s security apparatus. Since the departure of former President Blaise Compaoré in October 2014, the army is significantly less organized. The special forces unit known as Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) under Compaoré was dismantled after his departure, and no equivalent has replaced it. Intelligence gathering appears to be weak, judging by the failure to detect or disrupt the major attacks that happened on Friday. Two teams totaling at least eight men were able to cross the city center carrying heavy weapons and driving a car full of explosives without being spotted.

 

Under Compaoré, intelligence capacities were based on strong individuals. Spymaster Gilbert Diendéré, Compaoré’s personal chief of staff, headed an impressive regional and international intelligence network. Those individuals have left. It is taking time to rebuild efficient institutions in their wake.

NIGERIA

Another outbreak of communal violence between farmers and predominantly Fulani herders in central Nigeria this week has killed at least 25 people.

SOUTH AFRICA

Thanks to successful conservation efforts, Cape Town’s “Day Zero,” the day the city was to have run out of water entirely, may have been averted indefinitely. It had most recently been pushed back to late August (at one point it was estimated that the day would come in April), and if seasonal rainfall totals are relatively normal it now appears that the city will be spared altogether. Seriously, the conservation effort has been pretty massive:

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