Asia/Africa update: January 16 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan Taliban leaders say they’re taking pressure from Pakistani authorities to reengage in peace talks with the United States and ultimately the Afghan government. One senior Taliban commander was reportedly arrested in Peshawar by the Pakistanis over the weekend (he was later released) and Taliban safehouses in Pakistan have apparently been targeted by raids. The Pakistanis are increasingly coming over to the US position that the Taliban should engage in talks, partly due to fears about instability across the border and partly I’m sure because Pakistan may still apply for an International Monetary Fund bailout and it won’t get one unless the US acquiesces.

PAKISTAN

Pakistani police say they killed three suspects behind a terrorist bombing last November in a raid in the town of Hangu on Tuesday. Meanwhile, a bombing in the town of Rojhan killed one person on Wednesday. There’s been no claim of responsibility and authorities are investigating.

CHINA

I’m afraid I have some bad news: China is cornering the market on armed drones in the Middle East. I know, I know–if there’s a technology that’s helping people kill each other anywhere in the world then dammit America should be the one supplying it, but stupid US rules about arms sales, such as that the purchaser not turn around and resell the weapons to another country or like ISIS or whatever, and also that the purchaser promise not to use them to blast the shit out of some pain in the ass protesters or liquidate a town of undesirables, are tying US hands when it comes to closing the deal. It’s total bullshit, man.

Journalist Will Doig writes that new evidence from Malaysia suggests the Belt and Road Initiative is turning out to be a wonderful conduit for corruption:

If true, the report puts tangible proof behind widely held suspicions that China exploits corrupt regimes to propel its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI requires China to build infrastructure in other countries—a process that’s fraught with official approvals, feasibility studies, stakeholder engagement, and other bothersome procedures. In corrupt countries, however, many of these obstacles can be bypassed with bribes and back-room dealing—in fact, some of the red tape exists primarily to extort money from businesses. For this reason, it’s easy to understand why China might prefer working with corrupt regimes.

But not just China benefits from corruption in BRI projects. In many cases, the leaders of BRI-recipient countries see the projects as opportunities to sustain and legitimize their own corruption, as well.

NORTH KOREA

With Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump circling around a second summit, it appears the biggest hurdle on the road to North Korean denuclearization–defining exactly what “North Korean denuclearization” means–still hasn’t really been addressed:

It is one of the central questions in the negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program: What does Kim Jong Un want in return for giving up his weapons?

Specifically, the issue is what Kim means by his insistence on the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — and whether that includes a demand for U.S. troops to leave South Korea and pull nuclear-armed American bombers and submarines out of the surrounding region.

South Korea’s government is playing a key role in mediating between the United States and North Korea. But it is increasingly apparent that Seoul isn’t entirely sure about interpreting the North’s demands, displaying a lack of clarity that clouds preparations for a second summit between President Trump and Kim.

JAPAN

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow isn’t putting pre-conditions on any talks with Japan by insisting that it will not give up control over the disputed Southern Kuril Islands, but that it simply wants Tokyo to “accept the results of World War Two in their entirety.” Those results did include Japan losing and the Soviet Union annexing the Kurils. But Tokyo still seems to think the provenance of the islands should be on the table.

AFRICA

SUDAN

More protests against Omar al-Bashir were met with tear gas by police on Wednesday, this time in the eastern city of Kassala.l

LIBYA

If the people of southern Tripoli were getting tired of unchecked militias battling one another on the streets of their city, then they must have been really stoked on Wednesday when clashes resumed between the 7th Brigade and the Tripoli Protection Force. Those were the primary combatants in the last round of fighting in Tripoli, in August and September of last year. The United Nations is warning that any faction that initiates violence will face consequences, and that would probably be enough to quell these ongoing and utterly pointless clashes if anybody had any reason whatsoever to believe it. Sadly, they don’t.

TUNISIA

Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, the body set up to investigate reports of corruption and human rights abuses under the pre-Arab Spring government of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, delivered its report to the current government of President Beji Caid Essebsi on December 30. Now Tunisians are waiting to see what, if anything, Essebsi plans to do with its findings:

While fellow Arab Spring states have succumbed to war and repression, the IVD remains a potent symbol of Tunisia’s fight to cement a culture of accountability and rule of law. On Dec. 31, the body’s steely president, Sihem Bensedrine, submitted a report of the IVD’s findings to the country’s president, Beji Caid Essebsi, along with a set of recommendations on how to proceed. The dossier is the fruit of five years of painstaking excavation, which saw victims, among them Balaai, describe, on live national television, the horrors they endured.

What happens next is a critical test of where Tunisian democracy is headed. “The IVD and transitional justice represent the moral high ground in the public space,” Bensedrine told Al-Monitor at her office in Tunis. “You have to pick your sides. Either you take the necessary measures [to address the report’s findings] or you are in the other camp.”

MALI

Local officials say that gunmen attacked two Tuareg villages in northern Mali on Tuesday, leaving at least 34 people dead in their wake. There’s been no claim of responsibility for the attack but its style is in keeping with the back-and-forth violence between the country’s Tuareg and Fulani communities. Similar attacks last month left over 40 Tuareg dead in northern Mali and at least 15 Fulani dead in central Mali.

KENYA

The al-Shabab attack on Nairobi’s DusitD2 hotel and office complex that began on Tuesday finally appears to have ended on Wednesday, with the death toll now at 21. At least 19 people are still missing and 28 have been wounded severely enough to go to the hospital. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta says the five people who attacked the compound were “eliminated” so I suppose you can add them to the overall body count as well. Al-Shabab called the attack a response to Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, as though that explanation makes any sense.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwean security forces cracked down hard on Wednesday against people who have been protesting recent fuel price hikes, arresting “scores” of people and allegedly beating some of them.

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