Asia/Africa update: July 7-8 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan soldier attacked US service personnel stationed at the Tarin Kowt airfield in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province on Saturday. One US soldier was killed and two others wounded in the attack. Elsewhere on Saturday, the chief of the Charsada district was killed by a roadside bomb in Ghor province and a Taliban ambush in Ghazni province left four Afghan police officers dead along with six Taliban fighters. Also, the US and Afghan government announced that they’d cleared ISIS out of the Deh Bala district of Nangarhar province in an operation that wrapped up late last month.

PAKISTAN

James Dorsey writes that Pakistan’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative is starting to look less like an economic partnership and more like a Chinese takeover:

Increased Pakistani dependence on China to help it avert resorting to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid a financial and economic crisis spotlights fears that the terms of Chinese investment in massive Belt and Road-related projects would not pass international muster.

Concerns that China’s US$ 50 billion plus investment in Pakistani infrastructure and energy, the Belt and Road’s crown jewel dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), potentially amounts to a debt trap, compound suggestions that Pakistan increasingly will have no choice but to toe Beijing’s line.

The concerns are reinforced by the vision spelled out in a draft plan for CPEC. The plan envisioned a dominant Chinese role In Pakistan’s economy as well as the creation of a Chinese style surveillance state and significant Chinese influence in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials have begun warning China that if the Pakistani economy suffers and Islamabad has to go to the International Monetary Fund for assistance, the terms of the CPEC project will have to become public and that could have serious ramifications for the entire Belt and Road effort.

KASHMIR

Indian police firing at Kashmiri protesters on Saturday killed three people, prompting thousands to turn out for their funerals as an act of defiance against Indian rule. Then on Sunday rebel leaders called for a general strike and protest march in the province to commemorate the two year anniversary of the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani by Indian security forces, an event that spurred a resurgence of protests that has yet to die down. Indian authorities imposed a curfew in an effort to suppress the protests before they could start.

THAILAND

Though it’s not the kind of story we usually cover around here, it’s heartening to see that the rescue effort to save the 12 boys who have been trapped in a cave in northern Thailand successfully recovered four of them on Sunday before operations had to be halted until Monday. Hopefully the other eight children and their football coach will be rescued in the coming days.

MONGOLIA

Mongolia’s traditional pastoral herding lifestyle is being threatened by–all together now–climate change:

It was another harsh winter on the central Mongolian steppe, with temperatures dropping to nearly 50 below zero and thick snow covering the rolling grasslands. More than a million cattle, sheep and goats, weakened by a dry summer, died, while nomads’ precious horses froze to death on their feet.

“It was very hard, and the snow was deep,” said 38-year-old herder Nyamdorj Tumursanaa, drinking milky tea in the nomads’ traditional circular tentlike home known as a ger. “Even if the animals dug through the snow, there was no grass underneath. We had to buy grass for them, but still many of our animals died.”

Here on the central Asian steppe, the ancient home of Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde, the nomads are brought up tough. Yet their ancient lifestyle is under threat as never before. Global climate change, combined with local environment mismanagement, government neglect and the lure of the modern world, has created a toxic cocktail.

This is a good reminder that the impacts of climate change are hitting everybody. We spend a lot of time concerned with coastal areas, island nations, and places that were already very hot and dry to begin with, but traditional ways of life all over the world are being made untenable.

CHINA

The US Navy sailed two vessels through the Taiwan Strait over the weekend in another of the US military’s frequent freedom of navigation/defense of Taiwan demonstrations. China’s response this time seems to have been relatively muted.

NORTH KOREA

As you know, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in North Korea over the weekend to try to “fill in some details” regarding the vague agreement Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un reached last month in Singapore. I think it’s fair to say that his trip was a spectacular success:

In a sharp signal that denuclearization negotiations with North Korea will be drawn out and difficult, Pyongyang on Saturday lambasted the U.S. stance as regrettable, gangster-like and cancerous, directly contradicting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s rosy assessment that his two days of talks had been “productive.”

A harsh statement from an unnamed spokesman for the Foreign Ministry was carried on the state-run Korea Central News Agency just hours after Pompeo left Pyongyang on Saturday and told reporters that significant progress had been made “in every element” of what he characterized as “good-faith negotiations.” Pyongyang crushed that appraisal, saying the United States had betrayed the spirit of the June 12 Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the statement said.

Huh, that’s weird. I mean, Trump has been saying since Singapore that Kim agreed to denuclearize, and it’s not like Trump to get important facts wrong and/or lie about stuff. The North Koreans said that Pompeo was so mean to them that their “willingness for denuclearization,” such as it ever actually was, may be negatively impacted.

Pompeo disputed Pyongyang’s characterization of him as a “gangster,” and frankly I’m sticking with “used car salesman” myself, but while insulting there’s nothing that surprising in North Korea’s comments. They’re a negotiating ploy intended to stake out a hardline position as talks with the US move into the detailed phase. The challenge here is that Trump, who despite being President Deals appears to be a lousy negotiator, may not see things that way. If Grampa Dipshit wakes up tomorrow, or some day next week, or really any time and decides that North Korea is trying to embarrass him, then we could find ourselves right back in the unfondly-remembered “Rocket Man” days with no obvious way to get off the path toward a military confrontation.

AFRICA

LIBYA

Two Libyan water facilities came under attack on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, four people were kidnapped from a water plant in northern Libya, and on Saturday two people were killed and two others abducted in an attack on a different plant 1000 km away on the same network. ISIS is suspected in the Saturday attack but the Friday attack remains an open question. ISIS also claims to have kidnapped two officers from Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army, but the LNA hasn’t confirmed that.

TUNISIA

At least six (according to Tunisia’s interior ministry) and as many as nine (according to Tunisian media) Tunisian police officers were killed on Sunday when their patrol was ambushed in the Jendouba region near the Algerian border. It’s unclear who was behind the attack.

SOUTH SUDAN

Rebel leader Riek Machar looks like he’s about to become vice president of South Sudan. Again. Sort of. Machar and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir reached an agreement in Uganda on Saturday that will hopefully end their country’s long civil war. Under the terms of a new transitional government, Kiir would remain president with four vice presidents, each responsible for a different region of the country. Machar would be one of those four VPs. The transitional government would serve for three years leading to a general election.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to iron out the details in this new arragenemtn, and South Sudan has gone through too many aborted peace deals to get too excited about this one yet, but at least things are moving in a positive direction for now.

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA

Talks between Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Asmara on Sunday seem to have gone very well:

Eritrea and Ethiopia are to re-establish diplomatic and trade ties after long years of hostility.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaia Afwerki made the announcement during a landmark meeting in the latter’s capital Asmara.

It is the first time the leaders from the two East African neighbours have met in almost 20 years.

The agreement calls for full diplomatic relations including embassies, direct phone connections and airline flights between the two countries, and even allows Ethiopia to use Eritrea’s port. Again, there are a lot of details still to be worked out, but a genuine end to the 1998 Ethiopian-Eritrean War may actually be in sight.

SOMALIA

Al-Shabab fighters carried out a multi-prong attack on Somalia’s interior ministry in Mogadishu on Sunday, killing at least 10 people in the process. The attackers detonated two car bombs in the city before gunmen assaulted the ministry building, kicking off a two hour battle with security forces.

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