Asia/Africa update: February 25 2019

ASIA

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed a new prime minister on Monday–Askar Mamin, who had previously served as first deputy PM. Nazarbayev forced the resignation of his entire cabinet last week, citing its economic policy failures.

KASHMIR

India and Pakistan are both mobilizing their forces in Kashmir, and Kashmiris living along the Line of Control are evacuating the area, after more than a week of Indian security crackdowns and other escalations since the February 14 Jaish-e-Mohammad bombing. India accuses Pakistan of aiding JEM. The chances of a conflict are low, but maybe not low enough given that nukes are on the table here. Widespread outrage in India is fueling tensions, while the Pakistani government seems to be adopting a fairly conciliatory approach to the situation given that international sympathy seems to be with India.

UPDATE: After I packed it in, hoping for an early night, Indian aircraft apparently conducted an airstrike on Pakistani soil:

The Indian news media, quoting local military officials, said Indian Mirage 2000 fighter jets dropped bombs on a terrorist camp in Pakistan-controlled territory at 3:30 a.m. local time.

Jets from Pakistan confronted the Indian aircraft, and no casualties or damage were reported, General Ghafoor said. The planes had dropped the bombs near Balakot, which is close to the disputed border of India and Pakistan.

“Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot,” General Ghafoor wrote.

There have been no reports of any casualties or serious damage. Obviously this is a developing story and I’ll be able to say more tomorrow, but for now I think this tweet from a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is relevant:

There are two places called “Balakot” or “Balakote” in the relevant region. One is a town in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It’s close-ish to the India-Pakistan border, but not so close that you could attribute the strike to pilot error or an overzealous effort to strike a Kashmiri militant site. The other is a town in Jammu and Kashmir that is right on the Line of Control. A strike there could easily be attributed to pilot error or overzealousness, or India could simply claim it was acting in self defense against a militant threat operating out of Pakistan. The former means the Indian government just escalated this situation in a very provocative and dangerous way. The latter, maybe not so much. At this point it appears the “Balakot” in question is the Kashmiri one, but things are still really preliminary at this point.

All of this is, of course, assuming that the Indian aircraft actually did cross into Pakistani airspace. At this point that’s still got to be considered up in the air, so to speak.

UPDATE 2: The Indian military now seems to be acknowledging the strike and says it destroyed several JEM camps in Pakistan. Indian reports also say the Pakistanis scrambled fighters to intercept the Indian aircraft but the fighters turned back rather than engage. This is obviously in contrast to Pakistani reports that their fighters forced the Indian planes to drop their ordinance in haste and flee back into Indian airspace.

CHINA

The US Navy on Monday sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on another “freedom of navigation” mission.

NORTH KOREA

Donald Trump may be losing leverage as he prepares to meet with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi later this week, because his “maximum pressure” sanctions policy is eroding:

In recent months, North Korea had defied international sanctions through a “massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal,” U.N. monitors said in a confidential report seen by Reuters in early February, describing the sanctions as “ineffective”.

During 2018, the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee blacklisted some 25 vessels for breaching sanctions, but the United States has faced opposition from Russia and China in attempts impose further designations.

Stanton said a number of governments had committed “wilful” violations of sanctions. The Trump administration had “relaxed U.S. enforcement of both financial sanctions and diplomatic pressure that are meant to force Kim Jong Un to choose between his nukes and the survival of his regime,” he added.

AFRICA

SUDAN

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced on Monday that his government is banning all “unlicensed” protests, which means it’s banning all protests since it’s the government that does the licensing. Bashir is empowered to take this step thanks to the state of emergency he declared on Friday.

ALGERIA

The Algerian regime has only itself to blame for the ongoing protests against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s possible fifth term as president. The regime’s various factions could have finally replaced the elderly and physically unwell Bouteflika this time around (he certainly wouldn’t have complained, considering he’s practically an invalid), but they couldn’t agree on a successor and so a fifth term it was. But the Algerian people are ready to move on, hence the protests.

GABON

Gabonese President Ali Bongo returned to Gabon from Morocco for the second time on Sunday. Bongo has mostly been recuperating in Morocco since suffering a major stroke in October, and his absence has emboldened opposition forces. He made a brief return to quell the opposition last month before returning to Morocco. It’s unclear whether he’s back for good this time.

BURKINA FASO

The Burkinabe military says it killed 29 militants last week in an operation in the eastern part of the country. It’s unclear who these “militants” were.

NIGERIA

The early returns from Saturday’s presidential election are in and they put Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the lead. Opposition leaders are calling the returns “inaccurate” but seem to be keeping their powder dry for when the full results are announced.

SOMALIA

US Africa Command says it undertook an airstrike on Sunday in central Somalia that killed around 35 al-Shabab militants. As usual it insists there were no civilian casualties.

MAURITIUS

The International Court of Justice ruled on Monday that the United Kingdom must return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius. The islands have been part of a long-running dispute in which Mauritius has argued that they were illegally separated from the rest of the former British colony as the UK’s price for Mauritian independence. It’s a landmark ruling about the rights of colonizers versus the rights of the colonized, and one that the UK will probably ignore because who’s going to enforce it? Certainly not the United States, which has one of its most important naval bases on one of the Chagos Islands (Diego Garcia) and definitely does not want to see that situation change.

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