Asia/Africa update: June 21 2018

ASIA

UZBEKISTAN

Voice of America’s Navbahor Imamova believes that the US should help bolster what increasingly appears to be a genuine reform effort underway in Uzbekistan:

Americans stand to benefit from progress in the largest country in Central Asia. Just north of war-torn Afghanistan, a successful Uzbekistan would be a more reliable partner, not just in ensuring regional security but as a source of economic opportunity and greater openness in this too-closed region.

Concretely, that means seizing the moment by substantially supporting the reform process in Uzbekistan. This is not so much about spending aid money or signing multibillion-dollar commercial contracts to sell Boeing 787s or other big machinery. Rather, it is about opening America’s doors. Uzbekistan has been locked down for a generation, thus people like me — who have studied, worked, and thrived in the West, and transition easily between two nations and their two distinctive cultures — are too rare.

Openness to Uzbek students will shape the next generation. So will greater flows of American capital and investment back into Uzbekistan, not just through sales but also through investment that can stand as a vote of confidence in Uzbekistan’s economic future. Educating students who can return while helping to create jobs and opportunity there will mean an everlasting impact on Uzbekistan’s political and economic system but also the minds of people.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban killed eight Afghan police officers in attacks in Ghazni and Baghlan provinces on Thursday.

The Saudi government on Wednesday declared its support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s ceasefire and called for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan War. Their message is undoubtedly intended for the Taliban, though it’s unclear how much it will resonate, if at all.

A new study by the Overseas Development Institute finds that the Taliban has made significant advances in creating a shadow government over the parts of Afghanistan that are under its control:

The main conclusions of the report, written and primarily researched by Ashley Jackson, are that the Taliban sets the rules in “vast swaths” of Afghan territory but is far more concerned with influencing people. It has largely shifted from outright coercion to “creeping influence” over Afghans through services and state activities, it is often part of the local “social fabric,” and it views itself as preparing to govern the country, not just to participate in political life, whenever the 16-year conflict ends, the report says.

In many areas, the report finds, Taliban representatives interact almost routinely with local government officials, aid agencies and other groups, negotiating terms in a hybrid system to deliver health care, education and other services. Taliban bureaucrats collect taxes and electric bills, and their judges hear civil and criminal cases — some traveling by motorbike between hearings.

INDIA

India and Turkey became the latest US allies to impose tariffs on US imports on Thursday. The Turkish government put $266.5 million in new tariffs in place while India’s tariffs add up to $240 million. Both countries are feeling the effects of the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

NORTH KOREA

You know how we talk around here sometimes about how Donald Trump seems to be very adept at either lying or gaslighting himself? Well he’s doing one of those right now over his June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un:

In an abrupt change of topic from his televised remarks on immigration at a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Trump praised his “tremendous success in North Korea” at the historic meeting with Kim Jong Un.

“It will be a total denuclearization, which is already starting taking place,” he said, adding that it was beginning “immediately” — contradicting his defense secretary, who was sitting next to him at the same table. Less than 24 hours earlier, Jim Mattis had told reporters at the Pentagon that he had not seen any indication that North Korea had done anything to dismantle its weapons program or move toward denuclearization.

“No, I’m not aware of that,” Mattis had said, adding that “obviously it’s the very front end of the process. The detailed negotiations have not begun … I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Trump is also telling people that the US has gotten back the remains of 200 servicepersons killed during the Korean War, but that too seems to be news to everybody else in the US government except him.

The question of whether Trump is consciously lying about this stuff or has convinced himself that it’s true looms fairly large. If he’s knowingly lying then at least it suggests he knows the truth. But if he’s gaslighting himself, and at some point he realizes that North Korea isn’t denuclearizing yet and may not completely denuclearize ever, we get into a situation where he could get very angry and lash out. And that wouldn’t be good for anybody.

SOUTH KOREA

Trump may also soon find himself back at odds with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Moon is riding high at the moment domestically because he engineered all this recent Korea-related diplomacy. But at some point he’ll need to deliver economically for South Korean voters, and it seems increasingly clear that he’s relying in part on the opening up of North Korea’s economy to spur South Korea’s economy. But with the Trump administration insisting that there won’t be any sanctions relief for Pyongyang until after it denuclearizes, it seems like Washington and Seoul may not be on the same page.

JAPAN

The Japanese government says it will halt the regular public missile drills that it began conducting in the face of more provocative North Korean missile tests last year. It’s a sign that, whatever may happen over the next several months, for right now at least tensions in East Asia are ebbing.

AFRICA

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Emily Meierding argues that for as much pain as the cheap oil of the past several years, which now seems to be over, cause, it hit sub-Saharan economies the hardest:

Over the past four years, oil-producing countries have experienced a wild ride. After oil prices exceeded $110 per barrel for Brent crude in 2014, they suddenly dropped to $50 per barrel in early 2015 and to $35 per barrel by January 2016, leaving most producers unable to balance their budgets. Observers suggested that falling oil revenue could provoke political crises, as governments implemented spending cuts that could endanger their popular support. However, since last summer, oil prices have risen steadily. For the past month, Brent crude has surpassed $75 per barrel.

How have oil-producing countries navigated the recent price collapse? Most analysis has focused on Persian Gulf oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, or the cautionary tale of Venezuela. But what about the half-dozen significant sub-Saharan African oil producers? While these countries produce less oil than their Gulf counterparts, they face similar challenges in the face of low oil prices, as many of them are equally dependent on petroleum revenue. My research shows that these countries were in a particularly perilous position after the price collapse because of swift consumption of their already limited foreign reserves.

LIBYA

Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army has retaken the country’s main oil ports at Sidra and Ras Lanuf after a relatively easy operation there this week. Last week’s seizure of those oil ports by forces opposed to Haftar slashed Libyan oil production by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day. The LNA is hoping to get the ports running again in a matter of days, but it’s unclear how much damage was done and whether they’ll be able to get back up to full capacity.

Included in the new Airwars report on international air campaigns in Libya, which found that the country has been subject to 2,158 airstrikes since 2012, is information about the US drone program there, which has been much more significant than Washington has let on:

THE UNITED STATES has conducted approximately 550 drone strikes in Libya since 2011, more than in Somalia, Yemen, or Pakistan, according to interviews and an analysis of open-source data by The Intercept.

The Intercept’s reporting indicates that Libya has been among the most heavily targeted nations in terms of American remotely piloted aircraft and radically revises the number of drone strikes carried out under the Obama administration, doubling some estimates.

Alex Thurston sees in some of these figures evidence that ISIS, when it occupied the city of Sirte, enjoyed substantial local support. The Airwars study found that, between May and December 2016 the US conducted 495 airstrikes in Sirte against ISIS targets, and yet ISIS was able to hold on to the city for over six months despite that enduring that kind of pounding:

That’s a lot of strikes. And to me, the immediate inference is that the Islamic State must have enjoyed some significant popular support in Sirte. Other sources suggest a similar conclusion. The reasons are too complicated to fully examine here, but a crude version would posit that in Sirte, Muammar Qadhafi’s hometown (of sorts), the Islamic State assembled a coalition that was unhappy with the 2011 revolution’s aftermath, including tribes (Qadhadhfa), local jihadists (Ansar al-Sharia defectors), former regime loyalists, people aggrieved by the conduct of Misratan militias who wrested Sirte from regime control, etc. Here is one journalist’s account (Arabic) from February 2015:

[In 2011] I saw Qadhafi’s green flags in Sirte, and in Neighborhood Number 2, the biggest of the city’s neighborhoods that became famous for its legendary endurance against the forces of Misrata. Whoever goes now to that neighborhood will find the black flags of ‘the Islamic State’ having replaced Qadhafi’s green flags.

 

The Islamic State in Libya had a significant foreign contingent, including hundreds of Tunisian fighters and a handful of prominent leaders from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the mashriq. But to control Sirte and to hold parts of it for as long as they did against major firepower, they must have had some significant local support.

ALGERIA

Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia on Thursday called on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to stand for what archeologists say will be his fifth term in office in Algeria’s 2019 election. Bouteflika, whose last few years in office have been an inspiration to anyone who ever dreamed of running a country while being clinically dead from the neck up, hasn’t said whether he’ll run next year or not, perhaps because he’s not actually aware that he’s president. Or what year it is. But he’s still the only presidential figure upon whom Algeria’s various power brokers can agree.

SOUTH SUDAN

Talks on Wednesday between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar didn’t collapse into hostility, which is good. Kiir and Machar even hugged (with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rounding out their group embrace) after the meeting. But they don’t exactly seem to have made any progress either. Machar’s rebel group issued a statement after the meeting calling for “more time” to negotiate and expressing some resistance to proposals Kiir and Machar discussed. Which is fine for Machar, who isn’t actually in South Sudan right now. But civilians there are being brutalized by the war and by various armed groups taking advantage of the chaos caused by the war, and they don’t really have that much time to spare.

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Author: DWD

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