What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
14th February 20227 min

India Hijab row. India’s high court on Thursday the 10th February deferred its decision in response to a petition filed by a group of Muslim women against a hijab ban, asking students not to wear hijab in colleges. Tensions have boiled over when in the Indian state of Karnataka, a dispute erupted last month, when a group of Muslim students protested after they were barred from entering their college because they were wearing hijab – a headscarf that many Muslim women wear. In another incident days later, in a video which went viral across the world, Muskan Khan is seen attempting to hand in a college assignment in the city of Mandya and being accosted by a group of Hindu men wearing saffron scarves – the colour of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The college student quickly became a symbol of resistance in a country, where religious tensions are rising over the right to wear religious clothing to school. “They were not allowing me to go inside, just because I was carrying the burqa,” she told local outlet channel NDTV. Khan had covered her head with a hijab, an Islamic headscarf, and was wearing a religious dress. The news prompted Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai to urge Indian leaders to stop the marginalisation of Muslim women. “College is forcing us to choose between studies and the hijab,” she tweeted. A US official has voiced concerns about the controversial banning of the headscarf at schools and colleges in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, prompting a strongly worded rebuttal from New Delhi. Activists have said the hijab ban is part of the BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda and contravened India’s constitution, which guarantees the right to religion to every citizen. Since Modi came to power, attacks against minorities, particularly Muslims, have increased. This row is happening in the context of Karnataka state passing anti-conversion law and anti-cow slaughter law last year, which they say is aimed at targeting Christians and Muslims.

US to designate Qatar a major non-NATO ally. US president Joe Biden at a press conference in the Oval office told reporters: “Qatar is a good friend and reliable and capable partner. And I’m notifying Congress that I will designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally to reflect the importance of our relationship. I think it’s long overdue.” Qatar hosts the Al Udeid Air Base which is America’s main military base in the Middle East from which it has launched several wars and military operations, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. A country that has a close strategic working relationship with the military of the US can be designated as a major non-NATO ally. The last country that was designated was Brazil in 2019 and Qatar became the 18th country to receive the designation. It provides the countries with an opportunity to avail loan programs and priority delivery of defence equipment sales and close security cooperation with the US. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim said: “We are very happy and proud of this great relationship. We will continue working together to find ways and means to bring peace in our region.” 5PillarsUk reported an anonymous source quoting to AP  – “The non-NATO ally designation was not tied to Biden’s hopes for Qatar to help European allies with an energy contingency plan should Russia invade Ukraine. The designation was for Qatar’s help in Afghanistan and the Middle East.”

For further analysis see the geopolitics of Qatar

Iran unveils new missile. As the Vienna talks concerning Iran’s nuclear program cautiously resume, Iran unveiled a new solid fuel Intermediate range ballistic missile. Although Iran often exaggerates its industrial achievements, this missile seems to represent a genuine advance in Iran’s manufacturing capabilities. With a large weight reduction and response times reduced by 80%, this generation of missiles will probably form the basis of further developments in Iran’s capabilities. Named after the Battle of Khaybar, a battle between the nascent Islamic state and a collection of  Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula, the missile is intended to send a message of defiance to Israel and its allies. Without a nuclear warhead the missile is of limited military significance beyond nuisance; it is of little strategic or tactical value. The timing of the announcement betrays Iran’s true intentions, with the expansion of talks beyond Iran’s nuclear program Iran’s needs all the bargaining chips it can muster.

Balkans separatism. Lawmakers in Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic (RS) voted on Thursday the 10th February to form a separate body to choose judges and prosecutors, effectively pulling the region out of the state’s top judicial institution as part of their leaders’ separatist agenda. Western diplomats based with the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), a forum overseeing the restoration of peace in Bosnia after its war in the 1990s, said the move violated the country’s constitution and legal order. Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis since the end of the war, with Bosnian Serbs challenging state institutions as part of their longtime bid to secede and eventually join neighbouring Serbia. The Serb Republic parliament, dominated by the SNSD party of Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, has already passed a non-binding motion to withdraw the region from Bosnia’s armed forces, judiciary and tax system. These three institutions represent key pillars of joint security, rule of law and the economic system in the Balkan country. Bosnia was divided into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Croats and Bosniaks – after its 1992-1995 war in which 100,000 people died.

Mali expels French ambassador. Thousands of anti-French demonstrators poured onto the street of the Malian capital, Bamako, to cheer on the expulsion of the French ambassador. The celebrations on Friday the 11th February saw many Malians wave Russian flags and burn cardboard cut-outs of French President Emmanuel Macron. This all comes as tensions between the West African country and its former colonial power have been steadily deteriorating after Bemko delayed the 30th December 2021 elections to 2026. Mali expelled the French ambassador over what the country’s transitional government described as “hostile and outrageous” comments by the former colonial power. The Sahel has become a critical arena of major power confrontation especially between America and Europe. Mali is the heart of this conflict, especially since the military coup in 2020. With Russian mercenaries also now entering the scene the region is likely to see more instability. 

Denmark opens the door to US troops. Amid rising tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine, NATO member Denmark said on Thursday 10th February she was ready to allow US troops on its soil as part of a new bilateral defence agreement with the US. Denmark, a close ally of the US, is a strategic location as a gateway for ships to and from the Baltic Sea where Russia has military bases. The agreement comes after the Nordic country for decades refused any foreign troops on its soil. As Russia and China converge to form an alliance against America, the US is looking to strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance. Whilst it remains to be seen if Denmark will follow through with the deal, it comes at a critical moment as tensions continue to rise due to Russia’s possible incursion into Ukraine.

Turkish Economic Troubles. Pundits speculated that the Turkish economy would self-destruct when the lira broke the 2 per dollar barrier, but now at 13 lira to the dollar, an implosion seems unlikely. No doubt there is significant hardship and economic pain, with inflation in double figures eroding savings and household spending power, but economic apocalypse seems unlikely. The resilience of the Turkish economy can be put down to several factors most important of which is the traditional Turkish aversion to household debt. Prudent economic management of household expenses and debt, has given Turkish households the ability to  endure levels of economic pain that would leave most western households crippled. But fundamentally Turkey has what people want, from a strong agricultural sector geared towards exports of niche commodities like hazelnuts, to a modern but low cost manufacturing sector and a fabulous Mediterranean climate. Despite gregarious economic speculation by Erdogan’s entourage the Turkish economy is fundamentally sound, with its fundamentals probably more secure than many detracting nations.

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