Last week at the UN General Assembly Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan placed Kashmir back on the global stage with a thinly veiled warning. If the world does not pay attention to events in Kashmir, a nuclear war that engulfs the entire world will be the result:
“If a conventional war starts between the two countries … anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbor is faced with the choice either you surrender, or you fight for your freedom till death? What will we do? I ask myself this question … and we will fight. … and when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders.”
Khan’s contentious address to diplomats and world leaders in the general assembly hall was generally viewed as a threat wrapped in a warning about Kashmir following India’s move to integrate the territory with the rest of the nation. In spite of Khan, and many other Pakistani politicians’ efforts, India continues to charge ahead with its plans.
For its part, India responded to Khan’s rhetoric with calm and poise. Indian diplomat Vidisha Maitra called the Pakistani leader’s speech “brinkmanship, not statesmanship.” She also addressed Khan encouraging Muslims in Kashmir to rise up against the Indian occupiers, reminding him of Pakistan’s reputation as the home base for most terrorist groups in the region.
Pakistan has failed to muster collective outrage from fellow Muslim nations in Asia and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has informed India that it understands New Delhi’s actions in Jammu & Kashmir. This position was personally conveyed by the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to India’s senior security adviser Ajit Doval during a meeting in Riyadh Wednesday.
The real concern for the time being is not Pakistan and India turning the region into a pane of glass via nuclear weapons. The true danger is that Khan and Pakistan will encourage Muslim groups in Kashmir to launch attacks against Indian security troops and other government targets in the state. Action such as that could prove to be a catalyst which eventually makes Khan’s words last Friday prophetic in nature.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will start his tour of South Asia and China today in Pakistan. He arrived in Islamabad on Sunday and was greeted at the airport by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, and given a welcome befitting a foreign leader. Shortly after Salman’s arrival, Pakistani and Saudi officials signed a number of investment deals that will total more than $20 billion. Pakistan’s economy has been in need of rejuvenation, which is a prime reason why Salman’s visit is seen as so significant.
His arrival in Pakistan comes amid heightened tensions on the subcontinent. On 14 February, a suicide bomber killed 44 Indian paramilitary police in the Kashmir region. India believes Pakistan had a role in the attack and has promised to punish Islamabad. Thursday’s attack was the deadliest to take place in Kashmir in decades. India has vowed to isolate Pakistan in the diplomatic world, and affect its economy negatively.
The Pakistani government denies any involvement in the attack. This morning, shortly after Salman’s arrival in Pakistan, a suicide attack on a Pakistani army convoy on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route between Turbat and Pangur killed 9 and wounded 11. Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) has claimed responsibility for the attack.
As if this were not enough, Iran is pushing Pakistan to take sterner measures against the Jaish al-Adl terrorist organization following a suicide attack in Iran on Wednesday that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers. Jaish al-Adl is based in Pakistan. Iran has lodged a formal protest with the Pakistani government, and behind the scenes has issued a warning that if Pakistan cannot contain and punish Jaish al-Adl, Iran will be forced to.
All of these incidents, as well as Pakistan’s economic difficulties, and rising tensions with India are adding more scrutiny to Salman’s tour. The Saudis intended for the visits to be an effort to rebuild the reputation of not only Salman, but Saudi Arabia is a whole. The problems on the subcontinent could provide Riyadh with geopolitical, and economic opportunities, as well as good publicity provided Salman plays his cards right.
President Trump and other world leaders have arrived in Buenos Aires for the 2018 G20 Leaders’ Summit. As the summit starts, there are a number of subplots worth watching over the course of the next few days. The recent clash between Ukrainian and Russian ships in the Black Sea region, concerns about whether or not the US-China trade war will escalate, and the continuing blowback of the Khashoggi Murder are three of the issues G20 leaders will be contending with.
Kicking off the summit was an announcement that the United States, Canada, and Mexico have completed and signed a trade agreement. The United States, Mexico, and Canada Agreement (USMCA) will replace NAFTA. When President Trump took office restructuring or even replacing NAFTA was a top priority. After two years of negotiations, and some arm-twisting, the new agreement has become a reality.
The fate of President Trump’s planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires is uncertain right now. Trump announced he was canceling the meeting in response to tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The Kremlin, however, has said nothing about the talk having been cancelled, leaving the fate of the meeting up in the air.
Interaction between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be closely watched this weekend as well. The two leaders will meet during the summit, raising hopes that the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies can be deescalated, and the souring relations between China and the United States reversed. A ceasefire on tariffs would be especially welcomed, although one is unlikely to be reached this weekend. Trump views tariffs as leverage and an effective weapon. He will not be prepared to give it up so easily. The US-China relationship is complex, and a prime example of economic and geopolitical interests clashing head on.
It would seem, for the moment, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will receive a pass on the Khashoggi murder. The G20’s attention this weekend will be on the global economy, climate and energy concerns, and other similar issues. Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a topic to be avoided and understandably so. The G20 is an economic club at its heart. As a general rule, dubious political matters are avoided at all costs, even though the global media would love nothing more than for Salman, and Saudi Arabia to receive a comeuppance of sorts in Buenos Aires.
As Lebanon appears as to be shaping up as the next battleground in the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional hegemony, the next two weeks will be an opportune time to examine the ongoing cold war between the two powers. Last Saturday’s political drama in Riyadh and the subsequent rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has changed the nature of the geopolitical duel. With Iran’s arc of influence expanding at an alarming rate, MbS has convinced King Salman, his father and the Saudi king, that the time to confront Iran is now.
As Iranian influence has expanded, Saudi Arabia’s recent power moves in the region have been less than successful, mostly owing to ham-fisted execution. The blockade against Qatar is a shining example. The Saudi missteps are leaving Iran an opportunity to tip the balance of power in its favor permanently. Before that can happen, the Saudis have opted to move in a manner which runs a risk of escalation, and potentially direct conflict with Iran. Time is not a friend for Riyadh at the moment and could explain why King Salman was so willing to grant his son a mandate to deal with Iran in a new way.
I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend.
The world is still coming to terms with Saturday’s events in Riyadh and what the political, economic, and social ramifications will be for the Middle East, and the rest of the world. The Saudi Arabian political purge has so far had a greater impact than the failed Houthi missile strike on Riyadh or the Lebanese PM’s resignation. Today oil prices hit a fresh two year high, the upward surge stemming from uncertainty about what is happening in Riyadh. There are questions, and concerns about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed’s intentions following a weekend that saw him consolidate and expand his control over the Saudi government. With the approval and support of his father King Salman, the Crown Prince’s newly unveiled anti-corruption committee swooped down on Riyadh, arresting, and detaining scores of princes, ministers, and high ranking government officials. The men being held now represent a cross section of Saudi Arabia’s elite including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s richest Arab, who was one of those arrested on corruption charges.
MbS, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan is known, has pushed to initiate political and social reforms throughout the kingdom. Those moves were resisted by many in the Saudi Royal Family and government. These anti-corruption arrests come as part of an ambitious powerplay by MbS to remove the men most stubbornly resisting reform. In the process, MbS is paving the way for the time when he will succeed his father on the throne. Events this weekend have led many to wonder if King Salman intends to abdicate in the near future. He has virtually handed executive power to MbS already and given his blessing for his son to launch a complete rebuilding of the governance system in Saudi Arabia.
The failed Houthi missile attack on Riyadh has not been lost in the shuffle. The Saudis have placed blame for the attack squarely on Iran’s shoulders. The Saudis denounced the attack and labeled it a potential ‘act of war,’ pointing to Tehran’s oversight and control of the Houthis. Even though Iran denies it, the Houthi rebels are an Iranian proxy. The possibility that they launched the missile on their own, not on orders from Tehran, is minimal. The Saudis see the Iranian fingerprints on the attack clearly.
In Yemen, the war between the Saudi-led coalition, and Iranian supported Houthi rebels continues on with no end in sight. The conflict has been an occasional flashpoint, most notably when Houthi anti-ship missile strikes were launched against United States warships operating off the Yemeni coast last year. For the most part, the conflict ebbs and flows at regular intervals, serving a purpose as an arena in the great game being played out by Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance. How Saturday’s events will affect the Saudi-Iran competition, Yemen, the Qatari crisis, and other geopolitical endeavors of the kingdom remain to be seen. The region, and the world will not have to wait very long to find out though.