Topics of Interest

The Taliban in Pieces

“Although rumors of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar have circulated for years—rumors that the Afghan National Directorate of Security even confirmed several times, first in classified communications with its allies and then in a December 2014 public statement—it was only on July 29, 2015, that the Afghan and U.S. governments affirmed that he had died. Perhaps even more surprising, this time the Taliban admitted that Omar is dead, after having staunchly rejected the possibility for years.” Antonio Giustozzi and Silab Mangal in Foreign Affairs journal

Time to Negotiate in Afghanistan

“Peace talks, if not peace itself, may be close at hand in Afghanistan. Over the past few months, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban have made unexpected strides toward talks. In early May, members of the Taliban and the Afghan government even met in Qatar and expressed real interest in starting official negotiations—a heartening step.” – James Dobbins and Carter Makasian, Foreign Affairs journal

New Silk Route or Classic Developmental Cul-de-Sac? The Prospects and Challenges of China’s OBOR Initiative

“In September 2013, at a speech at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping announced plans to promote a “Silk Road Economic Belt” across neighboring Eurasian states. Over the next months, Chinese policymakers and analysts further outlined ambitious plans to promote regional cooperation, economic integration, and connectivity by funding large-scale infrastructure and development projects throughout the region. These include a series of land routes and high-speed rail links intended to connect East Asia with Europe (via Eurasia), South Asia, and the Middle East, as well as an accompanying maritime belt, supported by upgrades to ports and logistics hubs. Collectively, these two belts have been described as One Belt, One Route (OBOR) and, according to the South China Morning Post, the initiative represents the “most significant and far-reaching project the nation has ever put forward.” Despite the project’s regional enthusiasm and official fanfare, the exact details of OBOR remain underdeveloped. Moreover, the vision rests on debatable assumptions about the allegedly mutually reinforcing relationship between external patronage, economic development, and political stability.” – Alexander Cooley, PONARS Eurasia

Why Central Asia Is More Stable than Eastern Europe

“With the exception of revolution-friendly Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia seems more stable than Eastern Europe on a number of fronts: the longevity of leaders, lack of civil or separatist conflict, and overall lower incidence of social protest. This stability has much to do with how rulers coerce populations, co-opt potential rivals, and collect revenues that keep them in power… In this memo I explore another factor—the geopolitical dimension. Central Asian rulers, on balance, are more adept at neutralizing destabilizing geopolitical competition. Perhaps more importantly, they make crucial foreign policy decisions behind closed doors and then sell them to domestic publics as winning strategies. In contrast, Moldovan and Ukrainian rulers poorly mediated contradictory geopolitical pulls on their countries, deepened social divisions over their countries’ directions, and intensified mobilization across opposing camps seeking victory for their favored national vision. The Ukraine conflict and the dynamics of the Euromaidan are only the more recent of such ruptures. More turmoil lies ahead.” – George Gavrilis, PONARS Eurasia

Oil’s Well in Central Asia

“…Demand for the region’s hydrocarbon wealth will likely remain constant, and might conceivably grow as the area’s population expands and urbanizes. However, even as the focus of demand for oil shifts East, Western investors in Central Asia and Kazakhstan especially will continue to seek a return on their enormous capital outlays. How all this will play out is hard to predict, as is who will guarantee and protect both production and export routes and pipelines in the future. It is therefore in the commercial and political interests of Russia, Kazakhstan, other Central Asian states, and China to cooperate. It is also in the West’s own interest to see this process continue. But disagreements and maneuvering between the participating parties can be expected to continue, even as a new and unwelcome cloud, that of militant Islam, might well cast its shadow east. If it does, NATO might long for the days when it regularly flew over the region.” – Angus Miller and Shamil Yenikeyeff in Foreign Affairs

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Traditional Security in Eurasia: The Caspian Caught between Militarisation and Diplomacy, by Dr. Nicola Contessi

The brewing conflict over the division of resources located in the Caspian Sea has long been cited as a driver of the growth in naval capabilities of the five littoral states. However, to focus on this aspect would be to neglect the political and diplomatic advances of recent years, as well as other local and global geopolitical factors that have contributed to increased tension. Nicola Contessi (Columbia University) explores the intricate dynamics at play in the region and the ongoing efforts to unpick them, arguing that while the 2014 Astrakhan Summit did not herald the breakthrough hailed by the five participants, it did mark a step towards resolution.

Iran’s Game in Yemen

“In the past four years, Saudi Arabia has used its military to intervene in both Bahrain and Yemen. Its rationale in both cases: To protect those Arab countries from “Persian subversion.” In its discussions of foreign policy, Riyadh portrays Iran as a hegemonic power whose nefarious support of its Shia Houthi proxy precipitated a civil war in Yemen—a struggle the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, describes as being “between good and evil.” But Saudi Arabia is grossly exaggerating Iran’s power in Yemen to justify its own expansionist ambitions. Iran is not the cause of the civil war, nor are the Houthis its proxy. Chaos, not Iran, controls Yemen. With no vital economic or strategic interests in Yemen, Iran has, for the last few years, only opportunistically supported the Houthis to create a political sphere of influence.” – Mohsen Milani, Foreign Affairs

With Ghani in Kabul, will relations with Pakistan change?

“There are signs that the long-fraught relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan could improve, following the change of leadership in Kabul. Reciprocation from Islamabad will, however, be needed.” – Farooq Yousaf, Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Why the framework nuclear agreement with Iran is good for both sides

After months of negotiations, Iran and six world powers have finally reached a framework agreement on limiting the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The deal announced on Thursday is intended as the basis for a comprehensive agreement to be worked out by the end of June.

Netanyahu’s hard line on Iran: A four-point reality check

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday urged U.S. lawmakers to reject the nuclear deal being negotiated between Iran and world powers, warning that it would help Iran acquire nuclear weapons and threaten Israel’s survival. Iran’s regime could not be trusted to abide by any agreement, he warned, and he urged the United States to increase pressure on Tehran until it agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and change its regional behavior. The White House has long warned that abandoning the current negotiating framework would open a path to war — an argument he rejected. But the Israeli leader’s characterization of the deal and of Iran’s current nuclear efforts have long been challenged by Western governments involved in the talks.” – Al Jazeera America