What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
6th September 202110 min

Taliban to announce new government. Three weeks have now passed since the Taliban recaptured Kabul. But they are yet to announce the shape and form of their new government. Initial reports indicated preparations were taking place in the presidential palace to announce the government after Friday prayers on 3rd September 2021. But no announcement was made. It’s likely that the ongoing revolt in Panjshir valley has detracted from this. Both the Taliban and the National Resistance Front, which is formed primarily of former Afghan army soldiers, militias and the ethnic minority Tajiks, have claimed advances. Rumours are abound of differences between Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who led negotiations in Qatar, Mullah Muhammed Yaqoob, former Taliban leader mullah Omar’s son and Taliban emir Hibatullah Akhundzada. We will be watching if Taliban members take all leading roles, as they have been giving assurances of an inclusive government. We will also be watching whether the new government includes elements of the former regime and bureaucracy in both senior positions and at lower levels to ensure continuity of government functions. We will also be watching if the Taliban announce a Loya Jirga that will discuss a new national constitution for the country and if this jirga will include representation from different tribes and ethnic groups.

See our analysis on the Taliban’s evolving strategy 

Taliban designates China as its Principal partner. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, during an interview with an Italian newspaper, on 1st September 2021, described China as its ‘main partner.’ He expressed confidence in future Chinese investments in infrastructure and mining. The comments come as many see China as now taking over from the US in Afghanistan, since the US withdrawal. This was slightly at odds with the readout from a 2nd September 2021 phone call between Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao and the deputy head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, where it’s clear there is a gap between the Taliban’s ambitious announcement and China’s caution. For the Taliban, China offers an alternative to Western demands of democracy and human rights, as well as aid and investments in infrastructure. We will be watching if China moves from being cautious in Afghanistan and takes up the Taliban’s offer and if it has confidence in the Taliban to deliver on their promises of stabilising Afghanistan and providing security. 

India holds its first formal meeting with the Taliban. India’s ambassador to Qatar has held talks with a top Taliban leader, the Indian foreign ministry said, on 31 August 2021, the first formal diplomatic engagement since the group took over Afghanistan. The envoy, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office, in Doha. The foreign ministry said the two sides discussed the safety of Indians left behind in Afghanistan. Mittal also conveyed India’s fears that anti-India fighters could use Afghanistan’s soil to mount attacks, the foreign ministry said. “The Taliban representative assured the ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed.”  India has supported the Northern Alliance since the 1990s, but since the fall of the regime and the emergence of the Taliban India is now forced to make contacts with the Taliban. India’s main fear is Kashmir will become emboldened with the victory of the Taliban over foreign forces.

Congo renegotiates Cobalt mining deal with China. The Democratic Republic of Congo is now the latest in a long list of nations renegotiating its trade deals with China.  Cobalt is famous for being rare and the whole world depends on it to electrify vehicles and Congo possesses ample reserves of the metal. The president of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi commissioned a body to renegotiate the deal between the government-owned mining company and Chinese owned company. China’s commercial deals have come under great scrutiny for the terms and the debt they are creating, and a raft of countries have either cancelled their projects with China or renegotiated them. This is a growing trend and for the moment it does not bring into question China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In the case of Congo, Chris Berry, president of commodities advisory firm House Mountain Partners in New York, said with higher copper and cobalt prices, “I’m not at all surprised to see the DRC government looking at contractual obligations.” We will be watching if this trend continues with other nations and how China responds.

China requires foreign vessels to report in its ‘territorial waters. China is reportedly planning to require all foreign vessels to “to report their information” when passing through what China sees as its “territorial waters.” The Maritime Safety Administration said in a notice “operators of submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials and ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances are required to report their detailed information upon their visits to Chinese territorial waters.” The Communist Party-run Global Times quoted observers saying “such a rollout of maritime regulations are a sign of stepped-up efforts to safeguard China’s national security at sea by implementing strict rules to boost maritime identification capability.” China considers its territorial waters well beyond 12 nautical miles as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which states the ships of all countries enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. We’ll be watching how China physically implements this and the response of regional nations who also share the waters.

Russia reinforces its buffer. The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will be conducting military exercises in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan from 7 Sept – 9 September 2021. These exercises are taking place due to the situation in Afghanistan. These drills can be interpreted as Russia reinforcing and prioritising its buffer in Central Asia. With The Taliban back in power Russia would not want to get involved in Afghanistan militarily so beefing up its presence in Central Asia with troop deployments and exercises would be one way to show Central Asian leaders and other regional and global players that Russia is a force to be reckoned with. 

50% of Americans believe military aid to Israel should be restricted. A New poll from the 2021 Chicago Council Survey found that 50% of Americans want the US to restrict military aid to Israel. This polling lines up with other recent studies that show domestic support for Israel is beginning to falter. Both the Gallup poll and a Jewish Electorate Institute poll found that (for the first time ever) a majority of Democrats believe the US should be exerting pressure on Israel, not Palestine. Controlling the narrative, especially in the US has always been an important aspect of Israeli foreign policy. With the advent of social media, that bypasses the traditional media it has become progressively harder for governments including the Israel’s to monopolise information and hide the brutality of its occupation. Together with demographic changes and a decline in evangelicalism in the US,  support for the Israeli state is waning. As Israel’s security relies on unconditional support from the US the long-term implications to Israel are something we will be watching.

Britain is facing a supply chain crisis. The UK is facing the prospect of serious food shortages and rising costs as wholesalers exhaust their capacity to absorb rising prices from producers.  Vegetable oil stands at a 30 year high and the price of a kilo of tomatoes has increased from 75 pence to over £1.47  in less than a single year. The conjunction between the effects of brexit and the covid crisis constrain labour markets, creating a shortage of labour in both the production and distribution sectors. With over 500,000 vacancies across the supply chain a quick resolution is unlikely as food processing requires skilled labour much of which has returned home due to the hostile environment created by Brexit. Mitigating rising food prices and inflation in general will be a challenge for the UK government as it scrambles to deal with both the unintended consequences of brexit and the covid crisis. 

Russia and Belarus integration? Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will meet on 9 September 2021 for negotiations. This will be the fourth meeting in 2021 and it’s likely an integration roadmap will be announced which will see Russia permanently cement its influence over Belarus through bureaucratic and economic alignment. Belarus is one of few nations Russia has significant influence over and since its loss of Ukraine to the West Putin has tried to show Russia remains a power with its influence over former Soviet republics. 

Rare meeting between Palestinian president and Israeli defence minister. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held his first official meeting with a senior Israeli in more than a decade. Defence Minister Benny Gantz said he travelled to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on 28th August 2021, during the night. Senior Palestinian official Hassan al-Sheikh said Sunday’s discussions covered “all aspects” of Palestinian-Israeli relations. On Monday afternoon Mr Gantz told Israeli media that he had offered the Palestinian Authority (PA) a $155m loan as an advance on tax revenue collected by Israel on its behalf. He also said Israel would recognise the status of thousands of Palestinians currently living in the West Bank without proper documentation; grant Israeli work permits to an additional 16,000 Palestinians; and issue 1,000 building permits for Palestinians in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Palestinian officials put the emphasis on economic measures when describing the meeting, whilst Prime Minister Naftali Bennetts office portrayed the meeting was all about security.  The meeting took place as the PA has lost credibility as it has failed to solve the most basic issues for those under its authority. It’s likely the benevolence of Israel towards the PA is due to the prospect of it being on the verge of collapse after decades of corruption and its people seeing them as a failure. 

China to surpass Russia as America’s main nuclear threat. US Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas Bussiere, the deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal has said China will soon surpass Russia as the United States’ top nuclear threat. He warned the two countries have no mechanisms to avert miscommunication. “There’s going to be a point, a crossover point, where the number of threats presented by China will exceed the number of threats that currently Russia presents,” Bussiere told an online forum on 27 August 2021. Think-tank reports based on satellite imagery say China appears to be constructing hundreds of new silos for nuclear missiles, with Bussiere claiming China’s development of nuclear capabilities “can no longer be aligned” with its public claim that it wants to maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent. China says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, and that it is ready for dialogue, but only if Washington reduces its nuclear stockpile to China’s level. China’s advances in missile technology to deliver its warheads are what concerns the US. The 21st century’s new arms race is in full swing.

India locks down Kashmir after Muslim leaders’ death. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the veteran Muslim leader from India occupied Kashmir died on 1st September 2021, after years under house arrest. Indian forces have been put on high alert and cut all communication and have implemented a near total lockdown. The Indian forces seized Geelani’s body and quietly buried him themselves under intense police watch in order to quell any protests from swelling into a much larger uprising. India held Kashmir remains under emergency rules as opposition to Indian rule continues. Geelani was a huge figure in the struggle against Indian rule and we will be watching if his death spurs major protests and challenges Indian rule in Kashmir.

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