Asia/Africa update: April 3 2018

Hey, how’s it going? Long time no see. As usual when I take an extended break, there’s a lot to get through here and I’m not even going to try to cover every single thing that happened while I was gone. This update is mostly going to consist of stuff that’s happened in the past day or two, a couple of big stories that happened last week, and links to a few pieces I’ve flagged (though, to be honest, I tried to avoid the news as much as possible last week because I needed a break). OK, now on with the show.



On Monday, Afghan forces attacked a religious seminary in Kunduz province where several senior Taliban leaders had gathered, killing many of them.

Oh, no, wait. Actually they killed at least 60 and probably many more people (unsurprisingly the official count seems to be quite a bit lower than eyewitness accounts), some of whom probably were in the Taliban but far too many of whom definitely were not. Most of the “not Taliban” casualties happen to be children who were students at the seminary and were attending a graduation ceremony. The Afghans have tried to blame the dozens of civilian casualties on the Taliban, claiming that they fired on civilians nearby during the attack, but nobody seems to be buying that and the injuries suffered by those who were killed don’t support that claim.


The State Department on Tuesday placed the Milli Muslim League on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The MML was founded as a political party by Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, and for obvious reasons it’s regarded as LeT’s “legitimate” front group.


Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is staring at a confidence vote on Wednesday that he might not win. His United National Party’s main coalition partner, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, says it will vote against him, so assuming their party discipline holds he’s going to have to scramble for support from opposition parties to have any shot at avoiding early elections. That seems like a tough sell.


We here at attwiw respect1 the power of social media. We even, finally, have started using Facebook for more than just automatically reposting these updates every night. But let’s be clear–social media, and especially Facebook, is extremely bad:

Hate speech exploded on Facebook at the start of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar last year, analysis has revealed, with experts blaming the social network for creating “chaos” in the country.


Evidence of the spike emerged after the platform was accused of playing a key role in the spread of hate speech in Myanmar at a time when 650,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to flee to Bangladesh following persecution.


Digital researcher and analyst Raymond Serrato examined about 15,000 Facebook posts from supporters of the hardline nationalist Ma Ba Tha group. The earliest posts dated from June 2016 and spiked on 24 and 25 August 2017, when ARSA Rohingya militants attacked government forces, prompting the security forces to launch the “clearance operation” that sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya pouring over the border.

Myanmar has a large population of Facebook users, so all this hate speech had a big audience. Facebook has been saying that it’s working with Myanmar experts to try to track down and remove offensive material, but if there were ever a case of “too little, too late,” this would be it.


Philippine Communist Party leader José María Sison, from exile in the Netherlands, says his party’s National Democratic Front of the Philippines coalition is ready to resume negotiations with Rodrigo Duterte’s government on a peace deal that would end the country’s nearly-50 year long communist insurgency. Duterte’s approach to the insurgency has flipped back and forth from negotiations to hostility, but he’s been amenable to talks in the past so there’s a chance he’ll be amenable to them now.


An oil spill of apparently unknown origin has been spreading off the coast of Borneo since Saturday, and is responsible for the deaths of at least four people who were killed over the weekend when part of the slick ignited. The Indonesian government has declared a state of emergency as a result.

Speaking of Indonesia and the environment, journalist Nithin Coca writes that the progress that China and India are making on climate change is being partially washed out by the backwards steps that Indonesia is taking:

When it comes to global climate issues, attention this past year has focused on the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, or China and India’s rapid shifts to clean energy. Meanwhile, the world’s other major greenhouse gas emitter is being ignored. Indonesia, a country that, depending on the scale of its now-seasonal fires, can be the world’s third to sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has done little to implement policies that would enable it to meet its already weak Paris agreement goals.


In fact, many of its actions are pushing the country in the opposite direction, toward greater emissions. This includes government plans to build over 100 coal-fired power plants alongside the push to expand palm oil production and increase local biofuel consumption. Factor in the massive expansion of a car-centric transportation infrastructure, including new highways across the archipelago, booming air travel, a growing middle class, and, unlike many of its Asian neighbors, very little investment in renewables, and you have the recipe for a climate disaster. It’s not just Indonesia’s fault – the failure to scale up climate finance has meant that programs meant to stem deforestation have yet to bear fruit. Indonesia’s failure, since Paris, to address its emissions, could have global ramifications and if things continue on the business-as-usual path, critically damage global climate goals.

James Dorsey writes about Beijing’s efforts to undercut Uyghur nationalism, the two key components of which are its efforts to stifle the Uyghur diaspora and to block Uyghur fighters in Syria and Iraq from making their way back to Xinjiang:

The multi-pronged Chinese approach involves weaving Afghanistan more firmly into the fabric of China’s Belt and Road initiative, potentially establishing China’s first land-locked foreign military base, forcing repatriation of Uighurs abroad and preventing Uighur residents of Xinjiang from travelling abroad without first having been re-educated.


Already Afghanistan’s largest investor with a $3 billion, 30-year lease of a copper mine, China is seeking to link the country to its $50 billion plus investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in a bid to stabilize the Central Asian nation and stop Uighur fighters from regrouping in the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip on Afghanistan’s 76-klimoetre long border with China.

US President Donald Trump announced new tariffs on some $50 billion in Chinese products on Tuesday, again over Beijing’s treatment of intellectual property rights. China has promised to retaliate in kind.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited China on March 25 to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in advance of his expected meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and possible meeting with Trump. Kim wanted to shore up the wobbly Pyongyang-Beijing relationship to help secure his negotiating position before heading into the meeting with Moon and (potentially) with Trump, and it appears he accomplished that goal. Xi, meanwhile, was presumably happy to remind everybody that China is a player in the North Korea drama, recent evidence to the contrary.

Speaking of the potential Kim-Trump summit, Sino-NK has published some very interesting original research into the history of North Korean state media that suggests its silence about the possible summit is in fact its standard operating procedure around such events and should not be taken as evidence that Kim might be having second thoughts. So that’s good news. Less good is the fact, as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz points out, that Trump’s new National Security Advisor John Bolton has been arguing for some time now that a US strike against North Korea is already legal under international law under the principle of pre-emption. Whether or not Bolton is correct is irrelevant (as is frequently the case when talking about international law)–what matters is whether he can convince Trump and Congressional Republicans that he’s correct.



Morocco and the United Nations are at odds over the UN’s operation of buffer zone outposts in Western Sahara. The Moroccans say that UN peacekeepers are failing to keep Polisario Front fighters, who support Western Saharan independence, from re-entering they’d previously agreed to evacuate. The UN says it has no evidence that this is happening, and the Polisario Front is accusing Morocco of whipping itself up an excuse to intervene in the buffer zone.


A Boko Haram attack in Maiduguri killed at least 15 people and injured 83 more late Sunday. This attack comes at a particularly difficult moment since the Nigerian government announced late last month that it’s been negotiating with Boko Haram “for some time.” Though the way that announcement was made it seems that the government is only negotiating with the Abu Musab al-Barnawi-led faction of Boko Haram, and it’s possible (likely even) that this attack was carried out by the competing Abubakar Shekau-led faction of the organization.


New Ethiopian PM Abiye Ahmed (Wikimedia | Odaw)

Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiye Ahmed, took office on Monday promising democratic reform focused on civil and economic rights. Abiye is a member of the ruling coalition but he’s also an ethnic Oromo, which makes him the first Oromo to lead Ethiopia in its history even though the Oromo are the country’s largest ethnic group. They’re also its most restive, and the hope is that Ahmed will be able to calm the protests and occasional violence that have gripped Oromia for several months now. It’s early, but as yet there’s no indication that Ahmed is prepared to revisit the country’s severe anti-terror law, which has been abused again and again to criminalize protest.


One UN peacekeeper was killed and 11 more wounded early Tuesday when their base in the central CAR was attacked by an anti-Balaka militia. Later Tuesday morning, after they’d fended off the attack, the peacekeepers found the bodies of 21 civilians in the nearby town of Taghbara, presumably killed by the same militia. Meanwhile, the UN also says its peacekeepers freed 15 people over the weekend who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. So apparently they’re back in business now, which is fantastic.


Finally, Africa Is a Country’s Laura Phillips tries to explain why many South Africans seem to be looking fondly back on the autocratic Bantustans of the apartheid period:

How then do we explain this particular Bantustan nostalgia that many South Africans seem unable to shake off? Nostalgia, in many ways, has far more to do with the present moment than the past, and for some residents of the former Bantustans there is a sense of disappointment with the failures of democratic South Africa. Criminality and a widespread sense of precarity and insecurity characterize the lives of most poor, black South Africans. To many, the Bantustans represented spaces of law and order – albeit repressive and patriarchal law and order – that contrasts with the tumult of the post-apartheid world. As the acclaimed scholar of Xhosa history, Jeff Peires notes about the former Transkei, “the old [Bantustan] government structures were corrupt and inefficient, but a bribe in the right place could always get your road fixed in time for a wedding or funeral.” The rules for getting ahead in democratic South Africa are often fairer in theory, but more opaque in practice. While many of the former Bantustan patronage structures remain intact at provincial level, they are now overlaid with ANC networks and decades-long gender and generational struggles that have rewritten much of the older social order.

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