World update: February 18 2019



It would appear that a Taliban delegation’s planned trip to Islamabad this week, which maybe/probably would have included a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, fell through for a host of reasons. A formal Afghan government complaint to the United Nations about the Taliban’s violations of its travel ban was part of the issue, but not that big a part considering the Taliban already operate in Pakistan. Of possibly more importance are internal disagreements within both the Taliban and within the Pakistani security state. The Taliban doesn’t want to appear too enthralled to Pakistan, while the Pakistanis are trying to distance themselves from the Taliban to some degree in order to present a more respectable image to the West and downplay their ties to extremist groups in general.


Six Pakistani paramilitaries were killed over the weekend in two separate attacks in Baluchistan province. Both ISIS and Baluch militant groups are active in the area and it’s unclear who was responsible for these incidents.


A gun battle on Monday between Indian security forces and Kashmiri militants left nine people dead (five Indian forces, three militants, and one civilian) in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama district. That’s the same district where more than 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed in a suicide attack on Thursday that was claimed by the Kashmiri extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Indian officials claim that one of the planners behind Thursday’s attack, a man named Abdul Rashid Gazi, was among the three militants killed.


With India heading into a parliamentary election in May, last week’s Kashmir attack could have gone one of two ways politically: either it could have made Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look weak and ineffectual or it could have produced a “rally around the flag” effect. So far, the effect seems to be the latter. Some voters who had started to sour on Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party now seem inclined to give the BJP another chance in the name of stability and security, which makes sense given that security is part of the right-wing Modi’s pitch to voters.

Mohammad bin Salman will head to India on Tuesday to continue his Asia tour. He and Modi are expected to discuss security issues and of course do some business deals, mostly in the energy sector. The Saudis have been negotiating a major investment in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, so some announcement about that may be forthcoming. MBS may also try to play peacemaker between Pakistan and India, though I have my doubts about his skills in that regard.


According to The Washington Post, the Chinese military has established several small military bases inside Tajikistan, in order to monitor attempted infiltrations from Afghanistan into western China:

During a recent trip along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, The Post saw one of the military compounds and encountered a group of uniformed Chinese troops shopping in a Tajik town, the nearest market to their base. They bore the collar insignia of a unit from Xinjiang, the Chinese territory where authorities have detained an estimated 1 million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.

The crackdowns against the Uighurs have been internationally condemned as a violation of human rights, but the Chinese government says they are part of a campaign to insulate its restive far west from Islamic extremism seeping in from Central Asia.

“We’ve been here three, four years,” a soldier who gave his surname as Ma said in a brief conversation while his Chinese comrades, guided by a Tajik interpreter, bought snacks and topped up their mobile SIM cards in Murghab, a sprawl of low-rises about 85 miles north of the base.



Nigeria’s electoral commission has given the green light to candidates to resume campaigning, which presumably means that the presidential election scheduled for this past Saturday, and postponed hours before the polls opened, will in fact take place this Saturday. Incumbent Muhammadu Buhari says he’s ordered his police and military to be “ruthless” in combating any electoral shenanigans, which is actually kind of troubling when you think about it.


Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa forced four of his generals into retirement on Monday in what appears to be a purge related to the heavy-handed military crackdown against protesters unhappy with the outcome of last July’s presidential election. Interestingly, Mnangagwa made this move while his vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, was out of the country. Chiwenga, then the commander of the Zimbabwean military, led the coup that ousted longtime dictator Robert Mugabe back in 2017, and there’s good reason to believe he’s actually more powerful now than Mnangagwa.



The Ukrainian government is looking for European Union aid for its impoverished and war stricken southern and eastern regions. Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin made his pitch for help in Brussels on Monday. Ukraine is holding a presidential election next month, and incumbent Petro Poroshenko is running behind in the polls in part due to challenges associated with the frozen military conflict in eastern Ukraine. He could use the assist.


Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party on Monday announced that it’s scrapping planned changes to the country’s electoral laws. Those changes prompted the Bulgarian Socialist Party to announce over the weekend that it was quitting the Bulgarian parliament, potentially leaving the body without a quorum to pass legislation. It’s unclear at this point whether the BSP will now return to the legislature.


A couple of additional polls suggest that the campaign ahead of April’s snap election is going to be chaotic. Mostly this has to do with the vagaries of Spain’s electoral system, but three parties–the far-right Vox, center-right Ciudadanos, and far-left Podemos–are all polling in the low teens, which is a range wherein the number of seats they win could be anything from the mid-teens to upwards of 50. So predicting how the election will come out and which parties will be in a position to form a government is extremely difficult.

Spanish and British officials clashed on Monday after an incident in which a Spanish warship apparently entered the Gibraltar harbor and ordered all vessels there to leave anchorage. Gibraltar being British, Spain doesn’t have the authority to do something like that. The Spanish government says the vessels were actually in Spanish waters and left after being given the order. Officials in Gibraltar say the Spanish vessel left after being approached by British naval vessels and that the other ships stayed where they were. Gibraltar, which is British but is also subject to territorial claims by Madrid, is one of many areas around which things could get very ugly post-Brexit.


Seven former Labour Party legislators quit the party on Monday and announced the formation of a new independent bloc in the Commons. In part they cited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s unwillingness to back a second Brexit referendum, highlighting the degree to which Brexit is creating fissures in both of Britain’s major parties, not just among the Tories. They also accused Corbyn of antisemitism, which has become a standard line of attack against him. What really seems to be happening here is that these are seven Blairite center-right MPs who don’t like the more leftist direction in which Corbyn has taken the party.



Donald Trump on Monday made his strongest pitch yet to get the Venezuelan military to turn on Nicolás Maduro:

He spoke five days before a deadline that his administration and the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, have declared for getting humanitarian aid into the country — a move aimed at weakening Mr. Maduro, who is no longer recognized by the United States and roughly 50 other nations as the country’s president. Mr. Trump was the first to recognize Mr. Guaidó last month as Mr. Maduro’s replacement until new elections can be held.

“We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open,” Mr. Trump said. He urged all members of the Venezuelan military to permit the aid into the country, and advised them to accept the opposition’s amnesty offer — or they will find “no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out.”U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, left, tours the warehouse where tons of humanitarian aid is stored in Colombia, across the border from Venezuela.

“You will lose everything,” the president said.

Saturday, when Guaidó has promised to bring his humanitarian aid into the country, increasingly looks like the make or break day for his attempted coup. Without some movement within the Venezuelan military it’s difficult to see how Guaidó can be successful.


This is weird and I’m not sure it means anything, but Haitian police arrested eight people late Sunday and found lots of guns, drones, and satellite phones in their possession. Seven of them were foreigners and five of those were from the US. According to Reuters, Haitian media reported their names, and all five “corresponded to social media profiles of U.S. citizens claiming military backgrounds.” Given the extremely tense political situation in Haiti right now, with protesters demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse (and maybe given Washington’s history of meddling in Haitian affairs, though I’m not sure how the pieces would fit into place since as far as I know Moïse isn’t on Washington’s bad side and there are reports of protesters chanting anti-US slogans) I figured this was at least worth mentioning.

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