Asia/Africa update: June 20 2018



The chair of Kazakhstan’s Senate (who functions sort of as a vice president), Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, told the BBC on Wednesday that incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev will not stand in the country’s 2020 election. Considering that Nazarbayev has been Kazakh president since 1990, that’s kind of a big deal if true. Tokayev stressed that he was only expressing his opinion, but it’s unlikely he would’ve talked out of turn about something like this. Nazarbayev could be playing a game to create a wave of public support demanding he stay in office or something like that. Or maybe Nazarbayev really is thinking about retirement. He’s nearly 78 and has spent the last couple of years making plans to change the constitution and devolve many of his nearly absolute powers onto other state institutions like parliament and the prime minister’s office. He’ll likely remain the de facto leader of Kazakhstan until he dies. Why not slow down a little entering your 80s?

UPDATE: Never mind. Apparently Tokayev really was talking out of turn for reasons that make no apparent sense.


The Taliban’s Eid truce is definitely over now, after they attacked two army checkpoints in Badghis province overnight and into Wednesday, killing around 30 Afghan soldiers.

The Afghan war somehow continues to get more dangerous. A new report says that 2017 was its deadliest year yet:

Seventeen years into the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history, violence has never been worse. In 2017, more than 20,000 Afghans died, a new record.

The dead include an estimated 10,000 Afghan security forces, 10,000 Taliban forces, and 3,438 civilians. Although there is no reliable data on Afghan casualties available to the public, reports published by the Costs of War Project at Brown University indicate that the annual death toll for the Afghan population has never been higher than it was in 2017.

For civilians, the last four years of the war have been the deadliest, with more than 3,400 civilians killed each year from 2014-2017, according to data from the United Nations and the Costs of War Project.


Gunmen attacked a Pakistani police officer in Quetta on Wednesday, killing his uncle and son and severely wounding the officer. The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attack, which may have been a retaliation for an overnight police raid in Quetta in which authorities say that four suspected “militants” of some description were killed.


As expected, the collapse of Kashmir’s regional government has led to direct Indian government rule over the province. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to pull out of its provincial coalition with the People’s Democratic Party seems to have centered primarily on a law that exempts Indian soldiers from prosecution for actions in Kashmir. The predominantly Muslim People’s Democratic Party is apparently not a fan. Direct rule may continue until a new regional election is held in 2020, though it’s possible an earlier election could be called.


The over 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are now entering the heart of monsoon season in rickety refugee camps built in storm-prone areas. The United Nations has classified some 200,000 of them as particularly at-risk due to the annual storms and, while work is being done to relocate them, it’s going to take a while.


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak tried to explain to Reuters that he had nothing to do with the 1MDB scandal that helped cost him his job. This is a batshit interview in which Najib explains the hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and merchandise that have found their way into his family’s possession over the past several years were just examples of, like, people being nice to them:

Nearly 300 boxes of designer handbags and dozens of bags filled with cash and jewelry were among the items taken away by police in raids at properties linked to Najib’s family. Items included Birkin handbags from the luxury goods maker Hermes, each worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Najib said the public seizure of handbags and other luxury items created a negative perception but most were gifts given to his wife and daughter and had nothing to do with 1MDB.

“Yes these were gifts, particularly with my daughter’s they were tagged, they were actually labeled: when, by whom,” adding that a lot of them were wedding presents.

It gets much crazier, believe me. Go read it.


Recent fighting between Philippine forces and Islamist militants in Lanao del Sur has reportedly displaced around 11,000 people from their homes near the city of Marawi. The militants are remnants of the ISIS-aligned Maute Group, which took control of Marawi for several months last year.


Michael Klare thinks a seemingly innocuous change in Pentagon nomenclature could signal an impending conflict with China:

On May 30th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced a momentous shift in American global strategic policy. From now on, he decreed, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), which oversees all U.S. military forces in Asia, will be called the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). The name change, Mattis explained, reflects “the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans,” as well as Washington’s determination to remain the dominant power in both.

What? You didn’t hear about this anywhere?  And even now, you’re not exactly blown away, right? Well, such a name change may not sound like much, but someday you may look back and realize that it couldn’t have been more consequential or ominous.  Think of it as a signal that the U.S. military is already setting the stage for an eventual confrontation with China.

The new INDOPACOM oversees about half of the planet and, just coincidentally, practically surrounds China. So its mission seems pretty clear.


The Trump administration has identified the missile engine testing site it says Kim Jong-un agreed to destroy after his June 12 summit with Donald Trump as the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground. And, hey, this looks like a genuine concession. Sohae is where the North Koreans have developed both their space program and their intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s an important, active site. It’s also still a relatively small gesture.

Kim left China on Wednesday after a short visit that focused on Chinese-North Korean economic and diplomatic ties and on portraying the message that Kim wants to bring his country fully into the international community. Kim is doing everything he can to capitalize on the summit, even ending the sale of anti-US tchotchkes in North Korea and changing propaganda posters to trumpet closer ties with South Korea. All that’s left is to, you know, actually negotiate some kind of agreement with Seoul and/or Washington. Feels like we’re losing sight of the fact that nothing has actually been accomplished here apart from holding the summit itself.


Senegalese economist Ndongo Samba Sylla argues that the CFA Franc, the French-backed currency used by a bloc of West African nations and separately by a bloc of Central African nations, has to go. The only question is how:

The CFA franc, originally the Franc de la Communauté Financière africaine, is an instrument of monetary and financial domination formally set up for France’s African colonies on December 26, 1945 by Charles de Gaulle. Today, having survived the decolonization struggles, it operates as a political tool to control African economies and polities and also as a device for transferring, with minimal risk, economic surpluses from the African continent to France and Europe. The mechanisms laid during the colonial era remain essentially unchanged.

There are fifteen countries belonging to the CFA Franc in Africa. Eight countries in West Africa currently share the Franc de la Communauté Financière d’Afrique (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Mali and Guinea Bissau); another six in Central Africa share the Franc de la Coopération Financière en Afrique Centrale (Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea); and, finally, the Comoros uses the Comorian franc.

Thanks to the mobilization of many intellectuals and Pan-Africanist movements, the CFA Franc has been trending lately, especially in French-speaking media. The question being debated is a practical one: How can these countries get out of the CFA franc? There are two ways for exiting the CFA franc’s logic of domination: the “nationalist exit” and the “Pan-Africanist exit.”


A suicide bomber in Derna on Wednesday killed four soldiers in Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army. The LNA is still (clearly) cleaning up the last remnants of resistance to its takeover of Derna. Meanwhile, conflict over Haftar’s next target, Libya’s main oil ports at Sidra and Ras Lanuf, has cut Libya’s oil and gas output by nearly half. The ports were shut down last week after LNA rival groups moved into the area.

A new report from Airwars finds that at least 237 Libyan civilians have been killed by airstrikes since the 2011 overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. This figure may be artificially low since–as Airwars notes–the international air campaign over Libya has been extremely deceptive, with countries like France and the UAE carrying out strikes without ever acknowledging them publicly.


James Dorsey says that recent events are laying bare an emerging Saudi-Moroccan rivalry over whose version of moderate Islam will reign supreme:

Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam.

It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance and ultra-conservatism.

Yeah, the Saudis are at a bit of a disadvantage here, though they do have all the money. Still, Mohammad bin Salman’s “moderation” program is already meeting resistance and he’s already had to temper it in some areas, as Dorsey describes in the piece.


As promised, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar met on Wednesday in Addis Ababa to try to reopen peace talks to end the South Sudanese civil war. It’s unclear whether they made any progress.


The Eritrean government has finally responded to Ethiopia’s peace overture, and in a positive way to boot:

In a nationally televised speech marking Eritrean Martyrs’ Day, President Isaias Afwerki said both peoples yearned for peace and recent changes in Ethi­o­pia made that more possible.

“We will send a delegation to Addis Ababa to gauge current developments directly and in depth as well as to chart out a plan for continuous future action,” he said, according to an official translation of the speech. “The Eritrean people, but also the Ethiopian people, have lost an opportunity of two generations for over half a century,” Afwerki added.

According to his chief of staff, Ethio­pian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has responded by expressing “readiness to welcome warmly and with considerable goodwill the Eritrean delegation.”

Obviously Abiy’s offer and Isaias’s positive response to it are only the beginning of a peace process. The hard work is yet to come, especially given that an end to the conflict with Ethiopia could fundamentally affect the very underpinnings of Isaias’s heavily militarized autocracy.


The Cameroonian government says that anglophone separatists have killed 84 Cameroonian police and soldiers since last September. Cameroonian authorities have cracked down on the anglophone threat, displacing some 75,000 residents in its two English-speaking provinces.

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