Asia/Oceania/Africa update: November 10-11 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban overran and then blew up a small Afghan army base in Baghlan province late Saturday, killing 16 people. The initial attack killed 12 soldiers while the bombs the group set to destroy the base killed four more people who had come to try to help recover the bodies. On Saturday, the Taliban probably (though nobody has claimed responsibility) killed a district administrator in a bombing in Herat province.

Meanwhile, at least 25 people were killed on Sunday in Taliban-Hazara fighting in Ghazni province. Of those, ten were members of the Afghan security forces who were sent to the province to try to assist Hazara fighters. The ongoing fighting in Ghazni is raising concerns of a wider sectarian conflict between the Sunni extremist Taliban and the predominantly Shiʿa Hazara.

KASHMIR

Indian officials say that two of their soldiers were killed on Sunday by Pakistani snipers firing across Kashmir’s line of control. Indian forces supposedly “retaliated strongly and effectively,” but there’s no indication what they might have done.

SRI LANKA

With Sri Lanka’s parliament dissolved and a new election presumably forthcoming, Sri Lankan Prime Minister (?) Mahinda Rajapaksa and a group of some 44 other politicians have up and abandoned the Sri Lanka Freedom Party of President Maithripala Sirisena in favor of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna party formed in 2016 by Rajapaksa’s brother. In fact, Rajapaksa is hoping to take 65 of the SLFP’s 82 members of parliament with him to the new party, potentially crippling Sirisena’s party ahead of the election though the two parties say they plan on running as a coalition. Basically, Sri Lanka’s political situation has become a perfect example of what political science scholars call “a total fucking shitshow.”

Sirisena, by the way, says that he had no choice but to dissolve parliament in order to avoid the possibility of violence over its choice of prime minister. What he means is that he was unable to get a majority of parliament to back Rajapaksa as PM, and that he would have refused to abide by parliament’s decision. And that would have led to violence.

MYANMAR

The Myanmar government says it’s ready to receive a first group of over 2200 returning Rohingya refugees by November 15 under the agreement it reached with Bangladesh last month. But the United Nations continues to warn that conditions are not safe enough in Myanmar for those refugees to be sent back and there’s little indication that the refugees themselves are eager to return. The Bangladeshi government insists that it will not force any refugees to return against their will, but we’ll see.

PHILIPPINES

The Philippine government says there are at least 40 and perhaps as many as 100 ISIS-aligned foreign fighters on Mindanao island now trying to rebuild Islamist groups that were decimated following last year’s siege in Marawi. Local Muslims, fed up with Manila’s unfulfilled promises of local autonomy, are receptive to ISIS’s message and so the group appears to have had a great deal of success recruiting there.

CHINA

The just-concluded US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue produced a statement in which the US called on China to remove its missile systems from its artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it’s not going to do. Both countries did commit to protecting freedom of navigation in the SCS, but failed to agree about what that means:

In addition to the call on China to remove missiles from the South China Sea, the statement noted that both sides “committed to support peace and stability in the South China Sea, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea in accordance with international law.”

China and the United States interpret freedom of navigation differently, with Beijing differentiating between navigational rights for military and civilian vessels. China, additionally, opposes military surveillance activities within its exclusive economic zone.

Exposing these differences in interpretation, Yang noted that “There is no such problem of freedom of navigation and overflights being obstructed, so to use this issue as an excuse to military action is unjustifiable.”

“The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests,” he added.

NORTH KOREA

The two Koreas finished withdrawing from 22 guard posts on either side of the Korean border on Saturday, part of an overall effort to demilitarize the, uh, Demilitarized Zone. The plan eventually is to close down all guard posts along the border but this first group of 11 on either side is meant as a confidence building exercise. All but 2 of the posts, one on each side of the border, is scheduled to be demolished by the end of the month as part of an agreement Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in made in September.

On the other hand, the South Korean military has also resumed conducting small-scale military exercises with the US, something that North Korean state media said on Monday violates that demilitarization arrangement. The newspaper Rodong Sinmun argued that the drills are “directly against the inter-Korean military agreement that promised to eliminate practical threats of war and fundamental hostile relations from the Korean peninsula.” South Korean officials responded by insisting that the drills are purely defensive in nature and therefore allowable.

SOUTH KOREA

Meanwhile, South Korea has begun shipping 20,000 boxes of tangerines to North Korea. Seoul will eventually ship 200 tons of tangerines north under the terms of a gift exchange that Kim and Moon also made in September. North Korea sent two tons of mushrooms to South Korea as their part of the arrangement.

OCEANIA

AUSTRALIA

Another Newspoll shows Labor with a commanding lead over Scott Morrison’s Liberal-led government in a head to head matchup, 55-45. Morrison’s personal approval rating is declining, though voters still prefer him as PM to Labor leader Bill Shorten. Morrison doesn’t have to hold an election until next May for the Australian Senate and next November for the Australian House, so he’s got time to turn things around in theory. But so far he’s heading in the wrong direction.

AFRICA

NIGERIA

The Nigerian government has placed Major General Benson Akinroluyo in charge of its war against Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. He’s probably not going to have the gig for very long. Akinroluyo is the fifth Nigerian general to take a crack at the Boko Haram operation in the past two years, and needless to say none of them have exactly distinguished themselves. His predecessor, Major General Abba Dikko, has been moved to a bureaucratic post on account of overseeing a revival of ISIS-West Africa’s insurgency.

SOMALIA

A new report from a Somali-based research group argues that while US airstrikes are killing a lot of al-Shabab fighters, they’re not having much effect on al-Shabab as an organization. The loss of manpower has simply caused al-Shabab to change tactics. Instead of undertaking large scale attacks against military targets it’s focusing on terrorist attacks against softer civilian targets, like Friday’s hotel bombing in Mogadishu that’s so far killed 53 people. Part of the problem is the weakness of the Somali military, which has been unable to capitalize on airstrikes by taking territory away from al-Shabab.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

DRC opposition parties have decided to unite in support of businessman Martin Fayulu as their candidate in next month’s presidential election. He’ll be mainly contesting the election against former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the handpicked candidate of outgoing President Joseph Kabila. Opinion polling suggests that the combined opposition has vastly more support than Kabila and Shadary, but of course that can’t account for the possibility that Kabila will rig the vote.

Martin_Fayulu
Martin Faylulu (Wikimedia Commons)
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