Asia/Africa update: January 22 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The official death toll from Monday’s Taliban suicide bombing in Maidan Wardak province stands at 43, for now, but unofficial reports still put the total killed at well over 100. The Afghans may only be reporting deaths among the National Directorate of Security staff–some of the wording in the stories I’ve read today has seemed a bit dodgy in this regard. It’s believed that there were local militias training at the facility at the time of the attack so the casualties are likely to go beyond just NDS staff.

A US soldier was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan on Tuesday. The US military offered no details. This is the second US service member killed in Afghanistan so far this year.

With the Taliban gaining strength and momentum building behind peace talks that would undoubtedly favor them, Afghan women are beginning to wonder if they’re about to get sold down the proverbial river:

Eighteen years ago, at the height of the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan, Roshan Mashal secretly taught her daughters to read and write alongside a dozen local girls who smuggled school books to her house in potato sacks.

Mashal’s daughters have since gained university degrees in economics and medicine. But she now fears the looming prospect that the hardline Islamist group, whose rule barred women from education, could once again become part of the government.

“They say they have changed, but I have concerns,” she said in an interview in her office in Kabul. “There is no trust … we don’t want peace to come with women losing all the achievements of the last 17 years.”

As talks to end Afghanistan’s long war pick up momentum, women such as Mashal fear the freedoms eked out since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 are about to slide backwards, and complain their voices are being sidelined.

BANGLADESH

At least two people involved in monitoring Bangladesh’s controversial December 30 election now apparently regret their roles in that process, according to Reuters:

A top official at an observer group that monitored Bangladesh’s election, as well as one of its foreign volunteers, have said they regret participating in the process, casting doubt on the credibility of a vote won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling alliance.

The president of the SAARC Human Rights Foundation told Reuters he now believed there should be a fresh vote after hearing accounts from voters and officials presiding over polling booths that activists from Hasina’s Awami League stuffed ballot boxes the night before the poll and intimidated voters.

“Now I have come to know everything, and can say that the election was not free and fair,” said Mohammad Abdus Salam, a 75-year-old former high court division justice.

A Canadian observer who was brought in by the foundation has also said she now wishes she had not been involved.

International organizations have questioned the legitimacy Hasina’s supposed victory–her party won 95 percent of the seats in the new parliament, which is on its face absurd–and this report is only going to add to the uncertainty.

SOUTH KOREA

Talks between the US and South Korea over continuing to base American soldiers on the Korean peninsula appear to have hit a wall, with South Korea balking at US demands for a 50 percent increase in Seoul’s monetary contribution. Korean personnel working at US bases have been told they may be furloughed starting in April due to lack of funds. Depending on your perspective on US talks with North Korea, a breakdown in the US-South Korea relationship is either the key to achieving a real breakthrough in peace talks or an unimaginable gift to Kim Jong-un.

JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe visited Moscow on Tuesday in part for talks with Vladimir Putin over the ongoing Kuril Islands dispute. They seem, on that front at least, to have made no progress. It’s hard to imagine how they could–Japan wants the islands back and Russia refuses to give them up, so there’s not a lot of potential for common ground. Tokyo has offered a compromise that would give two of the four Kurils to Japan immediately and then determine the status of the other two later on. Which is not really a compromise, but it is part of an agreement Japan reached with the USSR in the 1950s that was contingent on a full peace treaty between the two countries that never materialized.

AFRICA

SUDAN

Again it sounds like we’re in reruns, but hundreds of protesters turned out in Khartoum and Omdurman on Tuesday demanding Omar al-Bashir’s resignation and were met by police wielding tear gas. Demonstrators blocked main roads and burned tires while chanting for Bashir to go. Which he did! To, uh, Qatar, with his hand out for aid. Bashir has promised to increase public salaries and food subsidies, but Sudan has very little money now that most of its former oil wealth lies in South Sudan. Qatar, on the other hand, has lots of money and is eager to buy friends, so eager that the Qataris are apparently willing to overlook the fact that Bashir has until recently been siding with Saudi Arabia and company in their boycott of Qatar.

LIBYA

The Seventh Brigade and Tripoli Protection Force militias have agreed to stop their latest clash in southern Tripoli and return to their respective corners. At least 16 people were killed in fighting between the two groups that began last Wednesday. It was not the first outbreak of violence between these two groups and, unless Libya miraculously gets a functioning government soon, probably will not be the last.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Both the African Union and the European Union on Tuesday pledged to work with apparent DRC President-elect Felix Tshisekedi but conspicuously did not congratulate him on winning the country’s December 30 presidential election. Tshisekedi’s alleged victory, confirmed by the country’s Constitutional Court over the weekend, has been challenged by second-place finisher Martin Fayulu, who claims he actually won with over 60 percent of the vote–a figure that independent observers seem to support. Several African leaders have congratulated Tshisekedi on his victory, but the AU in particular has expressed “doubts” about the validity of his supposed win.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said via Twitter on Monday that he will investigate reports of “misconduct” by Zimbabwean security forces during a harsh ongoing crackdown against protesters in which at least 12 people have been killed:

A couple of Mnangagwa’s allies have alleged that elements within the Zimbabwean government are trying to “impeach” him, but it’s not clear (at least to me) what they’re talking about.

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