The World this Week

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The World this Week
UAE pullout from Yemen, Doha dialogue on Afghanistan, Continuing protests in Hong Kong and S-400 Russian missiles in Turkey

  GP Team

This edition focuses on four issues: UAE announcement to reduce its military presence in war-ravaged Yemen, Taliban- Afghan Talks in Doha, the continuing crisis in Hong Kong and the arrival of first Russian missile shipment to Turkey

Lakshmi Venugopal Menon, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Raakhavee Ramesh, Mahath Mangal


Yemen: UAE is pulling out 

What happened?

Post consultation with Saudi Arabia, on 9 July UAE officials announced that it would reduce its military presence in war-ravaged Yemen and change their “military-first” strategy to a “peace-first” approach. UAE, citing the training of 90,000 Yemeni forces as a significant success, recalled its forces from strategic locations like the western port of Hodeidah, the western coast, the southern port of Aden and the military base in Khokha.

Meanwhile, Houthi rebels urged the complete withdrawal of the Saudi-UAE coalition and Riyadh rushed in to secure Yemen ports and fill the void left by UAE.

What is the background?

In late 2014, the Houthi Shia Muslim rebels aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s loyalists and seized most of Yemen, commencing the war. In March 2015, a Saudi-UAE coalition (consisting of the USA, the UK, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan, Bahrain, and Qatar) launched a brutal air attack on the rebels to reinstate the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Iran chose to back the Houthis; escalating the conflict into a regional proxy war. Operation Decisive Storm, as the intervention was code-named, increased global participation but paradoxically peaked the death toll. Blockade of Yemen led to the worst humanitarian crisis and man-made famine ever – criticized overwhelmingly as a foreign policy folly of inexperienced Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. In December 2018, a truce was brokered but it only re-located the fighting.

The human cost is nearing 200,000 with over 85,000 children dying due to starvation: cholera, lack of medical assistance and unattainable international aid ending up in disastrous famine challenging the lives of almost 70 per cent of Yemenis. In May 2019, rumours that UAE is pulling out of Yemen first surfaced.

What does it mean?

UAE wants to reduce its commitments and footprint in Yemen – the latest juncture of Saudi-Iranian conflict. The attacks, air strikes and famine are mere elements of the larger cold war. The withdrawal strategy contrasts the Saudi approach to crushing the Houthis. UAE’s move reflects a desire to end the conflict, a derailment from ally Riyadh’s interests. Speculations that UAE prefers to have it is military ready, should there be another Gulf war due to the US-Iran crisis, are also adrift. 

Amidst the US-Iran standoff and ongoing Qatar blockade, UAE’s decision to reduce deployment in Yemen further skews the strategic dynamics of the Middle East; a hot-spot that is home to four failed states. Tehran in the race for greater leverage may increase its support to the Houthis. Proxy wars will rise, making Saudi bear the brunt of escalating US-Iran tensions. With UN reports projecting over 230,000 deaths by the end of 2019, the global community needs to craft a solution for Yemen immediately. Let’s hope that UAE’s decision is the first step to a safe region-supported Saudi exit from Yemen.
 

Taliban- Afghan Talks: Inching towards peace 

What happened?

On July 11-12, 2019 the United States, Russia, China, and Pakistan held talks in Beijing where they asked the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and to start direct negotiations with the Afghan government immediately. They further called for the Taliban to directly negotiate with President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Afghans to bring out a peace framework at the earliest. They also agreed to bring down violence and work towards a permanent ceasefire through intra-Afghan negotiations. These statements come after the Taliban, and Afghan delegation met for the seventh round of talks on July 9, 2019, in Qatar where a joint resolution of an eight-point “road map for peace” was made for the political settlement toward ending the war. The Taliban officials and prominent Afghan officials along with others agreed that peace could only be achieved through Afghan-inclusive negotiations. 

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, stated that the recent meetings with the Taliban were the most productive session thus far. He further went on to make a video statement on July 11, 2019, where he said that substantial progress was made on four key issues. Those issues were, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, a permanent cease-fire, a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for attacks in other countries, and an inter-Afghan dialogue that leads to a political settlement.

What is the background?

The Taliban-US talks have been happening since October in Doha to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan. The seven rounds of direct talks are aimed at ensuring a safe exit for the US in return for the rebels ensuring that Afghan territory will not be used by foreign militants and would not pose a security threat to the rest of the world. These talks have witnessed several challenges, such as the Afghan government who kept away from the process because of the Taliban’s notion of them being allies of the US. The Taliban have also not made the process easier; they have launched several attacks in Afghanistan throughout this time, which make it difficult to negotiate with them. The war in Afghanistan is the deadliest conflict in the world as of now, causing more casualties than the fighting in Syria, Libya or Yemen.

What does it mean? 

The fact that senior members of the Afghan government and Taliban officials came together with other political figures is a significant step in the peace process. The Taliban before this has refused to negotiate directly with Ghani's administration, terming it as illegitimate. The joint resolution is definitely a positive step as it has listed specific goals that need to be met, however, some vital areas such as how the foreign troops are going to withdraws and other were failed to be mentioned in the resolution. 

However, despite the talks, violence has continued to prevail in Afghanistan, with attacks by the Taliban in Kabul. The bloodshed caused by this issue is alarming, and thus a deal that would not pull back troops but would also help the unstable country of Afghanistan to regain some amount of stability needs to be achieved. 

 

Hong Kong: Carrie Lam says extradition bill is ‘dead', but the protests continue

What happened?

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam made a significant announcement last week that the extradition bill, which would have extradited the accused to Mainland China for their trails, is ‘dead’, yet she declined to pull out the bill officially. This planted sceptical thoughts and political distrust in the minds of the people about government’s decision of withdrawal and led to the fourth widely spread unrest within a month against this bill which the Hong Kongers feel would curtail their real freedom and rights.

What is the background?

Hong Kong was handed over to China from British in 1997 under the principle ‘One Country Two System’ that portrays the fact that except for Foreign and Defense affairs, the country will enjoy special autonomy until 2047. This gives them exclusive freedom in matters of expression and speech, also allowing it to exercise an independent legal system, which differentiates Hong Kong from any other city in China. However, over time, Hong Kong’s autonomy has been gradually declining, primarily due to China’s interference in the internal affairs of Hong Kong by backing the politicians. When Carrie Lam initiated the extradition bill, millions of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets to demonstrate their resistance, creating a record of largest protest in the history of Hong Kong. People carried out their civil obedience in every possible way demanding the withdrawal of the bill. If the extradition bill has to be passed, it will curtail Hong Kongers liberty by removing the shield from Beijing’s political rebellions or anyone who is considered as the enemy of the state.  

What does it mean?

Even after Carrie Lam’s strong statement, people are cynical about the Hong Kong government’s intention from passing the bill, since it focused on diverting the attention of the international community. This anti-extradition movement shows the Hong Kongers discontent and their retaliation for curtailing their freedom for years. Though most countries considered this protest as violent, it was a peaceful approach to achieve their need. As per the Legislative Council’s guidelines and procedures, the appropriate way of giving up the legislation is to withdraw the bill, which Lam failed to do completely. Unless Carrie does this, it depicts as if she is aggravating doubts instead of easing public concerns or fulfilling their demands. This protest proves the feebleness in the face of the government’s forceful rule. These instances justify the fact that why people are on the streets protesting even after a strong statement was announced to end the bill. Having no action taken regarding the bill at the same time continuation of protest shows the sad plight of the Hong Kongers. 
 

Turkey: Russia delivers the first shipment of S-400, but the US is silent

What happened?

Turkey received the first shipment of the much controversial S-400 Triumf missile defence systems from Russia on Friday. According to a statement from the Turkish ministry, the first set of equipment has been delivered to the Murted airbase, located close to Ankara. The delivery will continue in the upcoming days and once ready, Turkey has said that it is ‘totally free’ to use the system as it seems fit, but the restrictions Moscow must have placed on the use of its bleeding edge system is ambiguous. The systems will be operational by October this year.
There has been no public response from the US yet.
The development is complicated since Turkey is a NATO member and a long-term ally of the US and Ankara has dodged every attempt by Washington to back out of the deal.

What is the background? 

Turkey has been under stress from the US since they announced they would procure the systems from Russia two years ago. This had angered Washington as Turkey is a key partner in its F-35 fighter jet development program. Supplying 937 components for the advanced aircraft, Turkey also had a deal with the US for training its pilots for the F-35 in the US. The training program was cancelled last month following some exchange between the top officials of both the countries.

The Russian S-400 is the best defence system and was designed to shoot down the best fighter jets in the world. Which happens to be the F-35 and Ankara is the nexus point. The US concern has always been that the induction of these systems will expose any chink in the armour of the F-35 to the Russians. 

What does it mean? 
While Ankara is trying to establish closer ties with Moscow, Washington had shown concerns and threatened to play the sanctions card. The F-35 is a crucial part of America’s foreign policy, some even citing it to be its belt and road initiative- a strategic tool to keep its allies dependent on it. 

Turkey is bent on affirming that it has the freedom to follow a defence policy that may not be in line with the wishes of the US. These divergences could also be a result of Trump’s policies emanating from his discontentment in not being paid enough for being a global security provider. Meanwhile, closer ties between Ankara and Moscow is crucial for their common interests in Syria.

The convergence of the technologies in Turkey could have been beneficial to the US if the right moves were made. Instead of haphazardly putting Turkey under sanctions and distancing themselves, what the US should have done was to use the convergence to eventually and perhaps very clandestinely find the weaknesses in the S-400. Currently, NATO seems to be growing weak while there is a growing Moscow-Ankara bridge, all in the foreground of a waning influence of the US to strong-arm even its allies.
Mahath Mangal is pursuing post-graduation Madras Christian College, Chennai. He can be reached at mahathandmangal@gmail.com.

 

Also in the News...

Hong Kong: Protests expand to Sheung Shui
Thousands took to Sheung Shui’s streets on 13 July 2019, to protest against parallel traders from China. These traders have been accused of littering the neighbourhood and upsetting the local economy. Protesters took to the streets with slogan demanding “Reclaim Sheung Shui". 

The march began at a basketball court in the North District Sports Ground ending at Sheung Shui Garden. However, the protest saw clashes between participants and bystanders; reports stated that the police used pepper spray and batons against protesters on Lung Sum Avenue footbridge and near Landmark North shopping mall.

Somalia: Terrorists target a hotel
Security forces in Somalia faced a new wave of attacks by Islamist extremists after a bloody overnight assault on a hotel that ended on 13 July 2019. About four al-Shabaab militants attacked the Asasey hotel, which is the place where politicians, foreigners and lawmakers usually reside. A suicide car bomb was used to break the entrance gate, which allowed the gunmen to storm into the main building.

The victims include one Briton, three Kenyans, three Tanzanians, two Americans and one Canadian, said Ahmed Madobe Islam, the president of the Jubaland regional state that controls Kismayo.

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