Asia/Africa update: May 26-27 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

A Taliban suicide attack against an army base in Helmand province on Sunday killed at least two Afghan soldiers.

On Saturday, Afghan authorities opened a 12 day period to register candidates for parliamentary and district council elections this October. This vote is three years overdue and still may be disrupted by the Taliban and/or ISIS, both of which have already begun targeting voter registration centers in an effort to prevent the vote.

PAKISTAN

Gunmen killed two police officers in Quetta and were themselves killed by more police officers responding to the initial shooting. Unclear if they were Islamists, Baluch separatists, or something else. Also on Sunday, Pakistani police killed six men in Gujarat who are suspected of involvement in a bombing in Lahore last year.

In political news, on Sunday the provincial legislature in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province approved a measure to absorb Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas into its territory. The measure has already passed both houses of Pakistan’s national parliament. Some tribes in the FATA have expressed displeasure over this plan, arguing that they’re being denied a say in their own administration.

On Saturday, meanwhile, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain approved July 25 as the date for Pakistan’s next parliamentary election. As the election approaches, the BBC says that the Pakistani military may be trying to silence media outlets friendly with former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Since being ousted by the Pakistani Supreme Court last year, possibly at the military’s insistence, Sharif has been more and more willing to talk about the Pakistani security state’s reliance on militant/terrorist groups and its efforts to undermine Pakistan’s civilian governments. Sharif may be angling to get back into politics by threatening to completely lift the lid on some things that the security establishment would much rather stay covered.

MYANMAR

Al Jazeera reports on yet another oppressed Myanmar ethnic minority–the Chin, who have been steadily driven out of the country since the 1960s:

MALAYSIA

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says his government is renegotiating the terms of a Belt and Road rail project with China as part of an overall effort to rein in major infrastructure expenditures and reduce the country’s national debt. This comes as several countries have begun having second thoughts about their Belt and Road deals with Beijing, though in this case–while Mahathir has questioned the need for the rail project all together–the problem seems to have more to do with Malaysia’s debt load than with the terms of this particular deal.

PHILIPPINES

Though it’s been about seven months since the battle in Marawi ended, thousands of people remain displaced from the city:

CHINA

The US sent two warships into the South China Sea on Sunday to buzz islands that are claimed by China, as part of the US Navy’s regular “freedom of navigation” operations in that disputed waterway. China dispatched a couple of warships of its own to monitor their movements and warn them to leave waters that China claims as its own. The Navy conducts these kinds of operations so often that it’s starting to become routine, but it is interesting that the US has decided to provoke Beijing at a time when Donald Trump is trying to negotiate trade concessions with Xi Jinping and especially at a time when he’s expecting Xi’s help to facilitate whatever in the hell is going on with North Korea today.

NORTH KOREA

Speaking of which, here’s Trump essentially gaslighting the world on Saturday by saying that preparations for his June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un–the summit that he canceled, in writing (IN FUCKING WRITING!), on Thursday–are “moving along pretty well”:

I say “essentially gaslighting” because to say he’s actually gaslighting us would imply that he’s doing it consciously, and I’m not sure Trump has enough of a grasp on reality to know that he’s doing it.

If the June 12 summit is back on, then it’s due to a flurry of diplomatic activity that has taken place since Thursday’s announcement–again, the one in which Trump canceled the meeting. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held an impromptu summit of their own on Saturday, apparently at Kim’s request, after which Moon said that Kim remains “committed” both to meeting with Trump and to “complete denuclearization.” The US advance team that was supposed to go to North Korea on Sunday to talk about preparations for the summit did so, as though the summit were still on and hadn’t been canceled. In a letter. That we all saw. The team was bolstered by the addition of US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, a former ambassador to South Korea and negotiator with North Korea who is obviously well versed in this area. Their meetings with North Korean officials will continue through Tuesday, assuming Trump doesn’t change his mind again.

The main problem here, apart from Trump’s prion disease or whatever, remains the unsettled definition of “denuclearization.” The US continues to treat it as synonymous with immediate, unilateral North Korean disarmament, but here’s North Korea’s state news agency throwing lots of cold water on that idea just this weekend:

If this summit is to have any chance of success, Trump is going to have to realize that North Korea has its own interests, its own demands, its own red lines, and they aren’t going to comport with whatever Trump demands. Above all, he’s going to have to shut John Bolton up about the “Libya model” and start, as Paul Pillar suggests, actually taking some lessons from what happened with Libya. Specifically, he needs to understand that these kinds of negotiations are lengthy, slow, deliberate, and difficult. So far, nothing about this process has inspired confidence that Trump can take the kind of level-headed, measured approach that will be needed to finally grind out an agreement.

AFRICA

LIBYA

French President Emmanuel Macron will hold his planned Libya summit this Tuesday in Paris, with leaders from both of Libya’s rival governments invited to develop a roadmap toward holding a national election before the end of this year. United Nations envoy Ghassan Salamé is circulating a draft 13 point roadmap that includes the creation of a single national bank and a unified national army and raises the possibility of international sanctions on anyone deemed to be blocking progress toward a vote.

NIGERIA

Transparency International says that Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection campaign is making use of a traditional form of Nigerian graft called “security votes”:

“The security vote is one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria today,” said Katherine Dixon, Transparency International’s director for defense and security, in a statement.

 

“Yet instead of addressing its many urgent threats, the ever-increasing use of security votes is providing corrupt officials with an easy-to-use and entirely hidden slush fund.”

 

The group said the spending “is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive nature”, adding that the funds are channeled into political activities such as election campaigns or embezzled outright.

 

It said federal-level total spending on items identified as security votes increased by 43 percent in 2018’s budget from 2017 and included payments to a university, a museum commission and a dental technology school.

The funds, which total about $670 million per year, were established to be used for sudden national security threats, but if that rationale ever made sense it’s completely obsolete now.

SOUTH SUDAN

The US is pushing for new UN Security Council sanctions against six South Sudanese officials, including Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk, for working against peace efforts and hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid. The council will consider the measures this week. Russia has expressed resistance to new South Sudanese sanctions, but it’s unclear whether they’re opposed enough to use their veto.

RWANDA

The Trump administration is imposing tariffs on clothes imports from Rwanda because Rwanda refuses to cancel a planned 2019 ban on the import of second-hand clothing. Why is Rwanda banning second-hand clothes imports? Mostly because imported second-hand clothing has contributed to the decimation of clothes manufacturing in Rwanda and throughout Africa. Apparently decimating African clothes manufacturing is big business in the US, because Rwanda’s ban alone is expected to cost thousands of US jobs. Consequently, Rwanda is losing its right to export items to the US duty-free under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

CAMEROON

The bodies of at least 29 people were discovered on Friday in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s predominantly Anglophone region. They were “riddled with gunshot wounds.” It’s unclear who killed them, but the Cameroonian military does say it responded to reports on Friday that separatist fighters were holed up in a hotel in Menka and that a battle followed between the separatists and Cameroonian troops.

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