THE BLOG

Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

These Past Two Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

Afghan Elections
SI Analysis: Presidential elections in Afghanistan will be held on 20 August. Incumbent Hamid Karzai is expected to lead the polls, thanks in part to the Pashtun's shrewd alliances with Hazara Uzbek and Tajik elders and warlords. There are 40 candidates in all; other notables include former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah (who reportedly has a lot of Iranian cash in his campaign coffers), Hazara outlier Ramazan Bashardost and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. If elected, Karzai says he will seek to increase Afghanistan's Army and police force as well as seek talks between tribal elders and members of the Taliban movement and the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, led by rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Some Taliban and Pashtun militants have condemned the elections and a recent surge in violence has been designed to intimidate voters and keep them away from the polls. At least 500 of the 7,000 polling stations are in high-risk areas and American and NATO forces have been scrambling to ramp up security ahead of elections. Voter registration has been very high, a reported 17 million (though many say up to 18% may be fraudulent). Though much has been said about these elections as a referendum on the American surge in Helmand province and the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan in general, most analysts expect Karzai to win and expect little to change politically. There is a risk however that Tajiks backing Abdullah Abdullah could lash out if Karzai wins too handily. If there is a clear victory by at least a 50% majority, run off elections will be help on 1 October.

Fatah Reforming
SI Analysis: For the first time in 20 years, Fatah -- the Palestinian party with leadership in the West Bank and the only Palestinian party recognized by Israel and the US (and much of the world) -- held a congress in Bethlehem to elect new leadership and discuss party reforms. Though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected unanimously as party leader, 14 out of 18 leading posts went to "new" leaders. Analysts hailed this as a turning point for Fatah, whose reputation for corruption and cronyism have often been cited as barriers to peace and effective Palestinian statehood (as well as the reason for Hamas' emergent popularity). Most notably two possible future leaders of Fatah emerged, Marwan Barghouti (currently in an Israeli jail) and Muhammed Dahlan. Analysts agree that Barghouti whose militant past yet current dovish posture may be the best hope to reunite Palestinians and push forward to a peace deal with Israel. In the short terms, Fatah's new leadership may make Palestinian reconciliation talks that will continue later in the month less likely to proceed (since Fatah has made a commitment to the two-state solution, which Hamas has categorically rejected). For real change and progress to be made, the new Fatah leadership must prove to the Palestinians, to the Americans and to the Israelis that now they are different . This will be accomplished for enhanced security in the West Bank and more effective statesmanship and management. (Then all that has to happen is for Hamas to accept new elections in Gaza, for Fatah to win, for the Israelis to release Marwan Barghouti and agree to substantive peace talks, and for both sides agree to a two-state solution that clearly outlines borders, a position on the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the long term status of Jerusalem. Simple right?)

Tensions in Latin America
SI Analysis: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said that the "winds of war are blowing" in South America. An ongoing rift between Venezuela and Colombia has been exacerbated by two interrelated events: on the one hand, recent evidence was revealed that Caracas may be supporting the Colombian rebel group FARC ; and on the other, Bogota recently authorized the US to establish a military bases on its territory. Chavez sought to shore up support at the Union of South American Nations held in Quito (Boliva and Equador complied, but Chile, Peru and even Brazil demured). Colombian President Uribe embarked on an unscheduled Latin American tour to explain his position and anti-drug priorities to the region. Venezuela has slowed energy deliveries to Colombia over the rift.

War Reports:

SI Analysis on Iraq: One month after the withdrawal of US forces from US cities, Iraq suffered a spate of bombings. And conflict intensified around the area of Mosul ; there is an ongoing political dispute between Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Kurds over this oil rich area of northern Iraq. The lack of a political solution has lured radical jihadist and Sunni militias, such as Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and Ansar al-Islam, away from Shia targets to focus attacks on Iraqi-Kurds, thus ensuring continued conflict and an undermining of the central Iraqi government ahead of next January's elections.

SI Analysis on Pakistan and Afghanistan: As more intelligence is gathered, it appears that CIA drone attack in South Waziristan have indeed killed the chief of Pakistan's Taliban Baitullah Mehsud. This is the latest victory for the Pakistani Army's concerted effort to rout Taliban militias hostile to Pakistan in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and its North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). At least a third of the 2 million displaced refugees have begun to return home, after strategic gains in the Swat Valley seemed to take hold. The continued action in South Waziristan however may see a strategic rift between Pakistan and its American ally, as Pakistan will seek to close deals with militias and Taliban that are hostile to Afghanistan but not Pakistan, in order to ensure supply routes and safe passage for its troops. Meanwhile, a new judiciary crisis (that could evolve into a political leadership crisis) seemed afoot as Pakistan's supreme court found that former President Musharraf's declared state of emergency in 2007 was illegal; and thus calling into question the legitimacy of proclamations, judgments and decrees made during this period, including the pardoning of current President Zardari of corruption charges. The decision also prompted the sacking and reprimanding of numerous judges. Also a report has emerged suggesting that at least three documented attempts on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal by extremist militias have occurred in recent past, prompting concern over the true safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

Analysis In Brief :

Russian Posturing
SI Analysis: Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are heating up as disputes over Russian gas transit to Europe via the Ukraine are revived, undermining a comprehensive agreement that was reached only in January and placing more duress on a struggling Ukrainian economy. Moscow has delayed diplomatic appointments to Kiev citing the conflict and says it is eagerly awaiting new Ukrainian leadership. This is a blatant attempt to influence next January's Ukrainian presidential elections. Also of note: Russia reached agreements to set up a military base in Kyrgyzstan; the head of Russia's strategic nuclear-missile forces Nikolai Solovtsov was fired as a start of an extensive reform of Russia's armed forces; also Russia oversaw peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Why the Spate of Spanish Bombings?
SI Analysis: After a double bombing two weeks ago, four additional bombs exploded in Spain near Majorca. The Basque separatist group ETA claimed responsibility. This is the 50th anniversary of its inception.

Myanmar Junta's Powerplay
SI Analysis: By commuting the three year jail sentence to 18 months of house arrest for the National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the ruling military junta toed the perfect line of appearing to heed international pleas for her release and yet ensuring that she will not be able to campaign for next year's elections. Despite some protest from the opposition from within the country and international rage, the junta demonstrated that it remains surely in control of the country and was reassured that all international intervention will remain symbolic and hence ineffective.

Lebanese-Israeli Tensions
SI Analysis: Suleiman promoting Lebanese unity. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri suffered a blow in his effort to form a unity government when Druze ally Walid Jumblatt walked away from his alliance with the March 14 coalition. slate

North Korean Negotiations?
SI Analysis: After former President Clinton's ace rescuing of the two feckless journalists from North Korea, there has been much speculation whether or not the DPRK was guaranteed direct talks with the US. The US has staunchly insisted that six-party negotiations will be the only order of the day (especially since it seems to have Russia and China on its side following Pyongyang's most recent nuclear missile test). North Korea may have given up its biggest international card in exchange for a domestic victory to ensure a hold on power and a clear succession to leader Kim Jong-il's third son Kim Jong-un.

Little to Report on the Three Amigos Summit
SI Analysis: The leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States met to vow continued unity in the fight against drugs and to publicly eschew protectionism trends in light of the global recession (though President Obama refused to lift the "Buy American" provision from the stimulus bill).

Under the Radar:

South Asian Terrorism on the Rise?
SI Analysis: Following the Jakarta attacks of late July and the Indonesian crackdown on Jemaah Islamiya and the disputed death of Indonesia"s chief terrorist Noordin M. Top, there were reports of fighting between the Philippine Army and the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf on the island of Basilan in the southern Philippines. Both Indonesia and the Philippines have made a concerted effort to crackdown on the radical extremist militias over the past few years and violence seemed to lull. However, recent activity could indicate a resurgence of these groups that were forced to go underground, reorganize and reequip following the crackdowns.

China Seeking Indian Division?
SI Analysis: Despite recent bilateral talks, latent tensions between China and India endure. Notably, a recent report from the China International Institute of Strategic Studies actually suggested that China support independent movements in Assamese, Tamils and Kashmiris in an effort to divide the Indian State.

This briefing can be seen in the Huffington Post and on the Simple Intelligence site.