Asia/Oceania/Africa update: August 21 2018

ASIA

GEORGIA

The Georgian and Iranian governments have gotten themselves into a row after Georgian security forces allegedly forced several Iranian women to remove their headscarves at Tblisi International Airport. The Georgian government says it’s investigated the charge and found no evidence that the women were mistreated. What’s interesting here is that many Iranian women vacation in Georgia precisely because there they don’t have to cover their hair or follow any of the other expectations for how women should dress in Iran.

CENTRAL ASIA

At Al Jazeera, journalist Mansur Mirovalev looks at claims that Central Asian despots use supposed Islamist threats as tools to justify repressing their political opposition:

“Tajik authorities have always emphasised the threat of radical Islamist movements and organisations to pursue their own goals – to either get international aid or justify harsh steps within the country,” Parvina Khamidova, a US-based Tajik publicist, told Al Jazeera.

Other Central Asian leaders have used imaginary or real threats posed by ISIL, al-Qaeda or homegrown groups to justify purges of opposition, critics and worshippers who attend mosques the state considers suspicious.

“Since there is only a handful of ISIL fighters in Central Asia, [authorities] present anyone they can as such – radical Islamists of all kinds, criminals and even undesired adherents of traditional Islam,” Valentin Bogatyrev, a former adviser to several Kyrgyz presidents, wrote in an opinion piece published by the Ferghana.ru news agency.

AFGHANISTAN

A group of insurgents–it’s unclear whether they were Taliban or ISIS–fired mortars into Kabul’s diplomatic quarter on Tuesday just as President Ashraf Ghani was delivering an Eid al-Adha address:

Afghani officials say their forces killed four of the nine militants involved in the mortar attack. There don’t seem to have been any casualties from the mortar blasts.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have reportedly agreed to release 160 of the people it took captive in northern Afghanistan on Monday. The group is keeping 20 soldiers and police officers as hostages. It would appear those triumphant reports from the Afghan government that its forces rescued 149 of the Taliban’s captives did, in fact, turn out to be bogus. The Taliban have also reportedly accepted a Russian invitation to attend peace talks in Moscow on September 4. Their representatives will join envoys from 11 countries to discuss settling the Afghan conflict. The US says it will not send any representatives to the talks.

MYANMAR

It’s been one year since the Myanmar military began its most recent attempt at ethnically cleansing the Rohingya from Rakhine state. And while the United Nations says it still has not been given access to Rakhine to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, and Myanmar’s military leaders insist that they did nothing wrong and that the real problem was the threat of terrorism from the Rohingya, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi availed herself of the opportunity to once again make everybody wonder how the fuck she ever got a Nobel prize in the first place:

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday defended her government’s actions in Rakhine state, where about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled from a brutal counterinsurgency campaign to neighboring Bangladesh. She said terrorism, not social discrimination or inequality, triggered the crisis.

Suu Kyi made the comments in a lecture in Singapore in which she reviewed her two years in power.

“We who are living through the transition in Myanmar view it differently than those who observe it from the outside and who will remain untouched by its outcome,” she said, in an apparent response to criticism of how her government has handled the plight of the Rohingya.

Suu Kyi also said that her “relationship with the army is not that bad” and described the three generals who currently hold posts in her cabinet–because Myanmar is still largely controlled by its military–as “all rather sweet.” This is either a reflection of who Suu Kyi really is or it’s the most public case of Stockholm Syndrome ever observed.

MALAYSIA

At the end of a visit to China on Tuesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters that he’d canceled several Chinese-financed infrastructure projects in Malaysia. Mahathir cited the amount of debt they’d require Malaysia to take on and the necessity, or more to the point the lack thereof, of the projects. Mahathir has been one of the most prominent Asian skeptics about China’s Belt and Road initiative, and his willingness to cancel these projects–despite the risk of angering China and despite the fact that canceling them puts Malaysia on the hook to pay penalties to Beijing–could start a trend among other countries that are maybe having second thoughts about the project.

NORTH KOREA

Terming its findings a “grave concern,” a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency concludes that North Korea has not frozen or even significantly reduced its nuclear weapons-related activity. It believes Pyongyang is even continuing to build a new plutonium reprocessing facility and a uranium enrichment facility. Frankly I’m not sure how this could be, since Donald Trump ended this whole crisis two months ago.

Meanwhile, the US levied new sanctions against two Russian companies and six Russian ships for alleged violations of the international ban on oil sales to North Korea. It’s a sign that, despite the rhetoric coming from President Trump, the US may be returning to a more aggressive posture with respect to North Korea sanctions.

OCEANIA

AUSTRALIA

Several members of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet attempted to resign on Tuesday because they supported Peter Dutton’s bid to unseat him as leader of the Liberal Party. Turnbull rejected at least seven of those resignations, in an effort to stabilize his position and tamp down this latest threat to his leadership.

AFRICA

NIGER

The Intercept’s Nick Turse reports that the cost of the new US Air Force drone base in Agadez, Niger, generally cited at $100 million, will climb to well over a quarter of a billion dollars by 2024:

A U.S. DRONE BASE in a remote part of West Africa has garnered attention for its $100 million construction price tag. But according to new projections from the Air Force, its initial cost will soon be dwarfed by the price of operating the facility — about $30 million a year. By 2024, when the 10-year agreement for use of the base in Agadez, Niger, ends, its construction and operating costs will top a quarter-billion dollars — or around $280 million, to be more precise.

And that’s actually an undercount. The new projections from the Air Force do not include significant additional costs, such as salaries of the personnel stationed at the base or fuel for the aircraft flying out of Agadez. The facility, which is part of the expanded U.S. military footprint in Africa, is now the largest base-building effort ever undertaken by troops in the history of the U.S. Air Force, according to Richard Komurek, a spokesperson for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.

Much of the reason for the high cost is due to the remoteness of its location and the lack of available infrastructure in the area on which to build.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

The governments of Russia and the CAR signed a new military cooperation agreement on Tuesday. The nature of the agreement is unclear, but Russia already provides training to the CAR military so the deal presumably builds and/or expands upon that relationship. There’s been a good deal of controversy about Russia’s role in the CAR–specifically, how much of it is filled by active-duty Russian soldiers as opposed to contractors from its Wegner mercenary outfit. Three Russian reporters were killed in the CAR late last month while investigating Wegner’s operations there. Russian authorities have attributed their deaths to banditry but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about what actually happened.

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