The World This Week

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The World This Week
Trump in DMZ, Hong Kong Protests, Violence in Libya, Agreement in Sudan, Taliban's Dual Strategy and Hafiz Saeed Charged

  GP Team

In this edition, we discuss six major developments during this week: Trump's meeting with Kim in Korea's DMZ, the protests in Hong Kong turning violent, attack on the migrations centre in Libya, agreement between the regime and protesters in Sudan, Taliban's dual strategy in Doha and Kabul, and finally Pakistan charging Hafiz Saeed under terror financing.  

Sourina Bej, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh, Harini Madhusudhan, Lakshmi Venugopal Menon, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Aparupa Bhattacherjee
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS


East Asia: Trump crosses Korean Demilitarized Zone

What happened? 

On 30 June Donald Trump became the first sitting US president to cross into North Korea walking next to Kim Jong-un in the demilitarised zone. Trump has earlier in the day arrived in Seoul for talks with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in after attending the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. It was during this summit he had made the Twitter invitation to Kim making a seemingly spur-of-the-moment desire to meet the leader. However, what was intended to be an impromptu exchange of pleasantries had later turned into a 50-minute meeting. 

What is the background? 

This new diplomatic approach to North Korea comes since the fall of 2017 when Trump had mocked Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and promised to “totally destroy” North Korea if it didn’t stop developing a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile which is a threat to US shores. Pyongyang, on the other hand, had responded by calling him a ‘mentally deranged dotard.’ While the Singapore summit had achieved little and just little more than a pledge from Pyongyang to suspend nuclear and long-range missile testing, Kim has remained frustrated after the failed Hanoi summit in February this year. In addition to firing some short-range rockets, he had also made sure that the envoys to Washington meet their due ends for failing the talks. Kim’s image got a boost after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang earlier last month and now with Trump’s visit, it has been taken further.  

What does it mean? 

But was the visit a surprise to both the leaders. Not as much. Trump had just delivered to the North Korean leader a degree of global recognition and acceptance which Kim was hoping after the Hanoi fiasco. This visit had come after much deliberation from Trump about what he would gain as he heads home into his 2020 re-election campaign. The President is rightly aware that he needs to make few good choices on his negotiating and transactional skills, after all, that’s his signature tones and shifts in the US foreign policy. Thus, on 20 June when he restarted the faltering US-China trade talks in a meeting with Xi Jinping, it was in line with this thought. And later in the same day when he tweeted, “Great friendships have been made,” he was focused on the need to show the home audience that something has been done. In 2016 he had promised the electorate that the US is going to win much that it is going to be sick and tired of winning. But after Singapore nothing much has reached in the nuclear deal or denuclearization aspect, relationship with China is still stuck even after almost a year of the trade escalation, pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership didn’t mean it was America First and lastly, in West Asia, in spite of withdrawing from JCPOA the sanctions hasn't worked much in Iran adhering to the limited nuclear built up. It is in this context that the visit assumes significance.

Also, it is noteworthy that Trump has designated Stephen Biegun as the lead US negotiator on the renewed talks with North Korea as Biegun has in the past favoured a more phased approach than National Security Advisor John Bolton and other hawks. Does this mean he is now looking at more stable solutions and results than outright high tempered approach?

Afghanistan: Taliban holds peace in Doha, strikes terror in Kabul 

What happened? 
As per reports, the ongoing seventh round of negotiations between Taliban representatives and US officials from 29 June 2019 in Qatar has shown remarkable progress. The Doha talks aim at achieving a draft agreement which would facilitate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and also end the 18-year-old conflict in the region. 

But, on the contrary, when the negotiations seem to head to peace, attacks from Taliban fighters continue fading the prospects of the process. On 29 June, when the talks began, reportedly, the Taliban killed 19 people in an attack on a government office in Kandahar province. While on the very next day, they detonated a car bomb in a Kabul area killing 16 people and wounding at least 105.  Following this, Germany and Qatar announced an all-Afghan peace summit to be held in Doha without the participation of the Afghan government in the coming week.

What is the background?

The Taliban-US meeting is the seventh since October in Doha to end the 18-year long war in Afghanistan. According to the US special representative for Afghanistan, the six failed attempts indicate that faster progress would be the key as tensions escalate and innocent civilians die. 

Following this, the latest round is said to focus on four key issues. First, a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow fighters to use Afghanistan to launch attacks outside the country, withdrawal of the US and its allied forces, a permanent ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue. The Afghan government is still kept away from the process as the Taliban regards them to be a "puppet of the US and further refused to hold peace with them. 

What does it mean?

It means that despite the optimism, the present situation suggests that the possibilities of full-on peace in Afghanistan seem afar. First, the trend of continuing talks on one hand while perpetrating violence, on the other seems to be the Taliban’s strategy to effectively consolidate its influence by all possible means. If negotiations succeed, the insurgents will easily expand their influence and eventually return to power. If it doesn’t find fruit, then, the Taliban would continue acquiring territory using terror. 
Second, given the above strategy, the divide within the present governmental institutions over domestic issues is only dragging the war further and complicating the process. This is thereby pushing the conflict in the Taliban’s favour. 
Third, the US and its allied forces have tried to argue that military pressure which included multiple airstrikes and raids have kept the Taliban at bay even as talks progressed. But the latter seems to have a counter-approach to the same. The Taliban seems to view its participation towards peace signifies their growing influence in the country. 

Hence, the faster progress to peace indicated by the six failed attempts to negotiations previously might remain bleak even as the present scenario seems optimistic.  


Hong Kong: Civilian Protests takes violent turn

What happened?

Protestors bashed through Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building this week. On the occasion of the 22nd Anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, a bunch of young protestors took to the streets, smashing windows, defaced walls and destroyed property in the vicinity have filled the headline news around the world. One of the city’s most sacred political institutions has been spoilt shockingly; the protestors have begun resorting to hardline tactics in the name of democracy- which is both counterproductive to the cause and also crossing the red line. There is concern among the moderates after how uncontrollable the movement might continue to become, the effects of the turmoil on the city’s reputation, economy and investments. 

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, this week warned that Beijing would face ‘serious consequences’ if it failed to honour the terms of the agreement to hand over Hong Kong. Hunt said that the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984 and setting out the terms for Hong Kong’s return to the Chinese sovereignty, was a “legally binding” agreement to be honoured and if it is not, there will be serious consequences. 

What is the background?
Demonstrations erupted last month against the proposed extradition law that would allow the mainland to take decisions on the crimes that were committed on the autonomous regions. The protests did not stop despite the promise of postponement of the hearing of the legislation. 

The protests rose to a new level this week, on 1 July 2019,  when demonstrators stormed the city’s legislature, left anti-Beijing messages on the walls such as “Hong Kong is not China”, and hung the colonial-era flag. This was coupled with the provocative response from Jeremy Hunt and the western media who did not fail to target the Chinese government. 

What does it mean?
Hong Kong police have arrested a few people over the protests, but the authorities and the Chinese government have their hands tied. It seems like the protestors, and the world is waiting for a response from them, and any response from their side would have a drastic impact on their reputation. Neither of them wants another Tiananmen-like incident. 


Libya: Attack on Migration Centre kills 60

What happened?

On 4th July 2019, at least 60 people were killed and scores more wounded by two air raids on a migration-refugee detention centre in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, sheltering African migrants – the latest victims of the Libyan civil war. According to the UN’s special envoy, the attacks amount to ‘war crime’. Meanwhile, Tripoli has blamed Khalifa Haftar, the renegade military commander attempting to seize the city, for the attacks.

What is the background? 

The contemporary Libyan civil war, as we know it, is the second in the history of Libya. The first Libyan Civil War also is known as Libyan Revolution or 17 February Revolution (2011) essentially commenced during the fag end of Gaddafi’s rule. Ever since the lynching and crude killing of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s revolutionary politician, the power vacuum has only further skewed and strained the country’s domestic politics; the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, and ethnic targeting and refugee crisis have peaked.
The second Libyan Civil War (2014) is the ongoing conflict with parties seeking to seize Tripoli and control Libya’s oil resources. In this scenario, Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army, escalates the threat of military bulldozing of Libya. 
Egypt, UAE, Qatar, and Sudan have all time and again assisted different factions in this strife hence reflecting regional conflicts within the domestic political scenario of Libya and in turn gradually escalating the Libyan civil war into a regional conflict. 

What does it mean?

Recently, WHO released reports stating that over 1000 had died as a result of the three-months fight for Tripoli. The conflict is claiming more and more lives every day. The air raids were orchestrated on the detention centre despite the UN providing the conflicting parties with precise coordinates of the detention centre. The Libyan guards also shot at refugees and migrants fleeing the centre. These point towards the attacks were planned and deliberate. In this scenario, the UN’s inefficacy in resolving the Libyan crisis is creating a dent in the organization’s credibility. 

Whether this eruption of conflict is a boon or curse in disguise for Italy is yet to be comprehended. Nonetheless, with militias about, fewer boats will transport refugees and migrants across the waters. 
This conflict is not going to fizz out shortly. Only time will tell if Haftar will succeed in seizing Tripoli and if the only solution left to Libya is one requiring military might. The larger worry – the world’s reluctance to condemn Haftar is looming large!


Sudan: The Military council and Opposition reaches a power-sharing agreement

What happened?

Sudan’s military council and the pro-democracy council reached a new power-sharing agreement on 5 July 2019, with help from the African Union (AU) and Ethiopia who played roles of mediators. AU mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt stated that both sides have agreed to establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that they would rule on rotation for three years and three months, where the military would be in charge for the first 21 months, then a civilian-run administration would rule for the remaining 18 months. The agreement laid out that five seats would go to the military and five to civilians, with an additional seat given to a civilian agreed who would be selected by both sides. 
They have also agreed to have a detailed, transparent, national and independent investigation into violent incidents that the country has witnessed over the past few weeks. The deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said that this agreement would be one that includes everyone; however, the protesters did not have the same response, they stated that they wanted more from the deal and many are still sceptical about the details.

What is the background?

The deal has come after the uprising which had started with a protest against the increasing price of bread, that turned into a movement which led to the ousting of Mr Al-Bashir after 30 years of troubled and brutal rule. Since then, Sudan has witnessed turbulent times with the military taking over and determination of how the transition would take place.

The Military and representatives of the protester met to discuss who would take over control of Sudan last month, however, negotiations failed when a military clampdown took place on the 3 June 2019, leaving many dead. The army then stated that they had rejected all agreements with the opposition and that the elections would be conducted in nine months, but the protesters asserted that a transition period of three years was required to guarantee free and fair elections. When the talks failed, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed flew to Sudan to help mediate a new agreement between the two sides. It was only after a few days of talks that his special envoy, Mahmoud Dirir stated that protest leaders had agreed to suspend their strikes and return to the negotiating with the military.

What does it mean?

With this new deal, it sets the ball rolling for Sudan’s fight for democracy. The provision of the deal that was put down would help in the smooth transition of power from the military to civilians as the first phase of the rotation is given to the military and the second to the civilians, thus enabling them to make a rather easy transition. The deal also goes to imply that the military council is not hesitant to let the people taken control. Their willingness to a deal of this kind only reiterates that they are ready to work with the people.
The regional and international response that the deal has got has been positive, UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash stated that he hoped this next phase would see the foundation of a constitutional system that would strengthen the role of institutions with broad national and popular support, he also went on to say that Abu Dhabi will stand with Khartoum in "good times and bad times”.

Although thousands of protesters took to the street in celebration of this new deal, the reality of the deal rests in the implementation of it by the military, for they now are the ones who control everything in Sudan, thus it important to know how the military would react and act on this. It is no doubt a good step for Sudan in the context the fight for democracy; however, much cannot be said because of the complexities and uncertainty of the situation.


Pakistan: Hafiz Saeed charged of terror financing

What happened?

On 3 July 2019, Pakistan's Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) announced to have filed 23 cases against Hafiz Saeed and his 12 aides for terrorism financing. He is the head of Lashkar-i-Taiba, the terrorist organisation which was the perpetrator of 2008 attack on Mumbai. LeT-linked charities such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), were also charged. One of the senior counter-terrorism officials anonymously stated: “all the assets of these organisations and individuals will be frozen and taken over by the state.”
The case was registered at three places, namely Lahore, Gujranwala, and Multan.  The charges also include several trusts such as Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawat ul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, Al Hamd Trust and Al Madina Foundation Trust “for collection of funds for terrorism financing through assets/properties made and held in the names of trusts/non-profit organisations (NPO).”

What is the background?

LeT has been banned in Pakistan since 2002, and previously also Saeed has been detained in his home several times, without any success. These fresh cases filed against him seems to be a re-new effort towards curtailing terrorism financing which Pakistan has been blamed to have failed to restrict over a long period. According to the CTD, the case was filed due to the sanctions imposed by the UN on Saeed and his organisation. But UN sanction was not the only pressure points, both the US and India have been criticising Pakistan for its inaction for a long time. The US had declared prize money of US $10 million for the head of Hafiz Saeed.

Additionally, last year, Pakistan was designated on the “grey list” category by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The countries who are unable to contain over money-laundering and terrorism-financing are categorised under the "grey list". This international watchdog had given Pakistan 2019 as a deadline “to improve its efforts against terrorism-financing”. These pressures seem to have triggered Pakistani authorities to act against Saeed and his organisation.

What does it mean?

There could be two implications, one, Pakistan’s effort to appease its equation with India. To an extent, there was hope given the massive coverage of this news in Indian media even compare to Pakistani media itself. Unfortunately, the news failed to create a stir in the political clout in New Delhi. It was dismissed by Indian foreign ministry as a ‘cosmetic steps.’ As stated by Raveesh Kumar, Spokesman of Indian foreign minister, “Pakistan is trying to hoodwink the international community on taking action against terror groups. Let us not get fooled by cosmetic steps against terror groups by Pakistan.” Hence if appeasement was Pakistan’s intention, it seemed to have failed.
Second, this was essential to evade the sanctions and also for being “blacklisted” as threatened by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The international sanction would have been shameful for Pakistan and harmful for the country’s economy. But the seriousness of these charges against Saeed and also the intensity of these cases will be understood only over time.

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