Asia/Africa update: July 21-22 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum returned home on Sunday after spending the past 14 months in exile in Turkey dodging legal charges that he and his men kidnapped and tortured one of his political rivals in late 2016. He was welcomed home by a suicide bombing, later claimed by ISIS, at the airport that killed at least 14 and likely more (the NYT has 20) people. Dostum had just left the airport when the bomber struck. The status of the charges against Dostum is unclear, as are the terms under which he managed to negotiate his return, but the prevailing wisdom seems to be that he’s agreed to support President Ashraf Ghani in the country’s parliamentary election in October and again in next year’s presidential election.

Ghani’s government is considering another unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban to take place during Eid al-Adha, which should begin on August 20 or thereabouts. This would follow up on the ceasefire it imposed toward the end of Ramadan and through Eid al-Fitr, which really seemed to create some momentum toward peace talks. That momentum has since largely dissipated, but maybe it’s like knocking over a heavy thing and they need to rock it back and forth a few times before it finally tips over.

PAKISTAN

A parliamentary candidate from prime minister hopeful Imran Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement was killed on Sunday by a suicide bomber in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

There are growing fears that the Pakistani military is trying to rig this week’s national election to ensure that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party loses and that Imran Khan’s party emerges victorious:

That military campaign has been likened by some candidates to a soft coup, and has included sidelining candidates who are out of the military’s favor, censoring major news outlets and persecuting peaceful political movements.

The most likely beneficiary of the military’s manipulation is the party led by the former cricket star Imran Khan, who has called the Taliban’s war against the United States military in Afghanistan justified, and is seen as the military’s favored candidate — a notion he denies. Mr. Khan has positioned himself as a fighter against corruption, taking aim at the dynastic politics and nepotism of parties like the PML-N while maintaining a good relationship with the military, which he credits with protecting the country.

Khan’s party appears to be doing very well for itself in the Punjab, which has been a PML-N stronghold but where many of PML-N’s members have defected to Khan. But some PML-N members are now saying they’ve been coerced into defecting by the Pakistani military, and the military may try to coerce smaller parties away from forming a coalition with PML-N if the party emerges from the election with the most seats but is shy of a majority. They’re apparently expecting Khan to run a weaker government that cedes more authority to the security establishment.

KASHMIR

Indian forces killed three Kashmiri separatists in the village of Khudwani on Sunday, a day after separatists killed a police officer there.

INDIA

Residents of India’s Assam province are worried that a new effort by India’s Hindu nationalist government to count the number of Indian citizens there is going to exclude many Muslims who should be counted as citizens. The effort is ostensibly meant to identify undocumented migrants from Bangladesh but there is reason to fear that Indian Muslims will be caught up in the campaign.

SRI LANKA

A new United Nations report excoriates Sri Lanka’s human rights record and its lack of progress in building a just civil society following the country’s 1983-2009 civil war:

Ben Emmerson QC, the UN rapporteur on countering terrorism, met most senior members of the government, military judiciary and prison staff – including inside high security Anuradhapura prison.

Sri Lanka suffered three decades of civil war as Tamil fighters fought for a separate state, culminating in 2015 in the election of a national unity government.

Emmerson concluded on the basis of his visit that progress towards reconciliation and a fair judicial system had virtually ground to a halt. The British barrister said “impunity is still the rule for those responsible for the routine and systemic use of torture, and countless individuals are the victims of gross miscarriages of justice resulting from the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)“.

He added: “The Tamil community is stigmatised and feels disenfranchised, while the trust of many minority communities that the government is able to deal with all forms of nationalism equally, is eroding.”

PHILIPPINES

Manila is on the verge of passing a law that will give substantial autonomy to the country’s predominantly Muslim Bangsamoro region:

The law will allow the Bangsamoro government to have its own parliament, retain the lion’s share of local revenues, regularly receive a fixed portion of the central government’s revenues and manage the territory’s natural resources.

It will also incorporate Islamic law into the region’s justice system.

In return for autonomy, the law will require the rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to gradually disband its thousands-strong army.

The law will have to be put to a regional referendum, and there are concerns that some of its terms–it leaves security functions completely under Manila’s control and bans the regional government from purchasing weapons–could make its passage an uphill battle. If this process breaks down it will likely result in more support from the Moro people for extremist/ISIS-aligned groups.

NORTH KOREA

According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump is not happy with how things have been progressing on the North Korea front since his June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un:

Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications, even as the once-isolated regime’s engagements with China and South Korea flourish.

Meanwhile, a missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed remains intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program.

The lack of immediate progress, though predicted by many analysts, has frustrated the president, who has fumed at his aides in private even as he publicly hails the success of the negotiations.

“Discussions are ongoing and they’re going very well,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.

The big risk here is, as it’s always been, that Trump will finally get fed up with how long the process is taking and go back to tweeting about the Angel of Death hovering over Pyongyang or whatever. Because all he really knows is TV, Trump likes to wrap issues up for his viewers, but the world just doesn’t work that way.

AFRICA

LIBYA/TUNISIA

Al Jazeera reports on a trade spat that’s closed the Libya-Tunisia border:

SENEGAL

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Senegal on Saturday on the first leg of an African tour that will culminate with the BRICS summit in South Africa. China is making huge inroads throughout Africa, particularly now that the US is in full-on “I got mine fuck you” mode under the Trump administration. It’s financing a couple of major infrastructure projects in Senagal. Chinese financing comes with some pretty onerous strings attached, but when it’s the only game in town countries are naturally going to be interested.

MALI

According to the Malian military, an ambush set by militants in the Macina region of central Mali on Sunday left one Malian soldier dead against 11 extremist fighters. It’s unclear who was behind the ambush, but the al-Qaeda linked Macina Liberation Front, which used to operate autonomously in that region, is now part of Nusrat al-Islam, aka al-Qaeda in Mali.

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reportedly told a meeting of leaders from many of the country’s political parties on Sunday that there is “no option” for Ethiopia but to embrace multiparty democracy. Despite belonging to a party within Ethiopia’s long-time ruling coalition, Abiy has been taking concrete steps to break the coalition’s hold on power. He’s not making any friends in the formerly dominant Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which used to largely control the ruling coalition, but so far the TPLF has at least publicly gone alone with his reforms.

ERITREA

Speaking of Abiy’s changes, Eritrea now has an ambassador to Ethiopia for the first time since the two countries went to war in 1998. Ethiopia appointed a new ambassador to Eritrea late last week.

RWANDA

On Sunday, Xi flew from Senegal to Rwanda, the second leg of his African visit. He’s expected to do some business deals there before heading off to South Africa.

CHAD

A Boko Haram attack on a village along the Chad-Niger border in the Lake Chad region has left at least 18 people dead, at least 10 women abducted (one reportedly escaped), and at least 3000 people displaced as a precautionary measure.

ZIMBABWE

Emmerson Mnangagwa is talking about racial unity ahead of the country’s July 30 election:

Former President Robert Mugabe’s government supported the seizure of hundreds of white-owned farms which they saw as unfairly taken by settlers.

But Mr Mnangagwa, 75, told a crowd in Harare that the controversial policy was a thing of the past.

“We should cease to talk about who owns the farm in terms of colour,” he said.

“It is criminal talking about that. A farmer, a black farmer, a white farmer, is a Zimbabwean farmer.”

At least that’s one way of looking at it. Another way would be to say that Mnangagwa, shaken by polling that shows him barely ahead of challenger Nelson Chamisa, is trying to blunt the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party’s traditional edge with white voters. Although he was partly responsible for ousting Mugabe last year, Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party are still to some degree on the hook for Mugabe’s legacy. And at the same time, Mugabe supporters who are angry at Mnangagwa over their man’s ouster are looking to opposition parties as well. The former ZANU-PF youth group G-40 has formed its own political party, reportedly with Mugabe’s blessing, called the National Patriotic Front. They’re backing Chamisa.

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