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CWA # 90, 25 February 2019

The World This Week
Doha Dialogue with the Taliban, Saudi Arabia in Asia and the Crisis in Venezuela

  GP Team

Three major developments during this week: First, the talks with Taliban resumed in Qatar. Does this show a progress towards conflict resolution? Will this help in putting an end to the long-running war in Afghanistan? Second, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia completed his Asia tour to Pakistan, India and China. Does Salman’s eastward turn indicate a strategic shift? Finally, the deepening Venezuelan crisis took a new turn with the opposition leader coming to support the American VP’s latest threat over military intervention into the nation. 

Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Harini Madhusudan & Sourina Bej
ISSSP, NIAS


Doha Dialogue with the Taliban

The US special representative for Afghanistan met with one of the founding members of Taliban in the latest round of peace talks in Qatar. This was following the earlier meeting in January where representatives agreed in principle to a framework that could eventually bring Afghanistan’s long-running war to an end.

The peace talks began on 25 February 2019 and with the presence of Afghan insurgents deputy leader, there are hopes for progress towards ending the war. The issues on the table include a Taliban agreement to keep the Afghan territory from being a haven for terrorists wanting to attack the United States and its allies, and in return, US’ withdrawal of its troops out of Afghanistan.

According to an annual UN report of 24 February 2019, a record number of civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2018. The increase in bombings and US-led airstrikes have led to over 4,000 deaths. The report also showed 7,189 wounded. The report was released following US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s  intensified efforts to find peaceful solutions to the 17 years’ war. The report blames insurgents for 63% of the deaths and injuries of civilians. The Taliban were reportedly responsible for 37%, ISIS for 20%, and other armed groups 6%. The government and NATO allies were blamed for 24%. 


Saudi Arabia’s Asia Tour: What’s behind Salman’s Eastward Turn?

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman completed his Asia tour in three of the key Asian countries Pakistan, India and China from 17 February to 22 February. 

Apart from signing investments of up to $20billion dollars with Pakistan, Salman pushed for a secure oil market with India and, deepened economic and technical ties with China. The visit comes at a time when Saudi Arabia’s relation with the West, primarily US had taken a sour turn. Hence, do these visits send a clear political message of Saudi Arabia looking beyond a transactional (oil) relation with Asia? Is the ‘eastward turn’ also a way out for Saudi Arabia to look for allies in Asia in the internal regional politics of West Asia?   

What struck more was the cordial and trumpeted welcome given to Saudi prince by India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, with a 21-gun salute and fighter jet escort, President Arif Alvi not only granted Salman Pakistan’s highest award but also gave him a gold-plated assault rifle. Significantly, the $20bn Saudi-investment in Pakistan comes when the country is reeling under an economic crisis and would need an IMF bail-out. In India, Salman was welcomed with drumming and a bear hug from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Given the current crisis and pressure on India to maintain its relation with Iran, Saudi’s offer to India over oil was well taken note off as an important economic strategy and option for New Delhi. Lastly, China-Saudi cooperation has deepened in the past few years. The visit was symbolic of this deepening tie and also a way of acknowledging the importance attached to the country by Saudi.   

 

Escalation of Venezuelan Crisis

The Venezuela crisis has reportedly aggravated even further this week, because of the clash between the opposition and the soldiers, police and, government loyalists. Nicolás Maduro has been blocking most aid from coming into Venezuela due to his belief that this could lead to an external intervention and later invasion. To defy this order and bring in aid supplies, the opposition under the leadership of Juan Guaidó went to the Colombian and Brazilian borders. It was expected that the military wouldn’t use force against unarmed civilians, especially as they are there to bring in humanitarian goods. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan units were prepared and hence, led to the clash with the anti-Maduro crowds.

Maduro, who first came to power in March 2013, has consolidated his power by arresting and intimidating his rivals. Hence, when he came back to power for the next six-year term as president, after the 2018 elections, there was a suspicion regarding the fairness of the election being conducted. Therefore, when Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader declared himself the interim president of Venezuela in January 2019, he was well-received by the international community and certain sections of Venezuelans.

Guaidó position has been supported by America, Canada, the European Union and the Venezuelan neighbours such as Brazil and Columbia. In contrast, Maduro enjoys the support of the military and also China and Russia. The clash between the loyalist and the opposition has further deteriorated the crisis. Guaidó’s recent meeting with the US Vice President, Mike Pence might indicate a support to the military intervention threat made by the latter. However, countries such as Brazil, Columbia and Latin American groups such as Lima have expressed their aversion towards support for military intervention. It is true that military intervention will not only escalate the crisis and impact the dipping economy but the American interference is sure to make Maduro a socialist fighter.

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