Oct 4, 2019

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World. Tonight's global tour is 1,580 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: A warning of nuclear war over Kashmir

Daily life in locked-down Srinagar. Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

India and Pakistan are sliding toward potential nuclear war, according to the president of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The warning comes as Pakistan attempts to rally global outrage against its neighbor and rival.

Catch up quick: On Aug. 5, India revoked the constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir — the state it controls within the disputed Himalayan territory — while instituting a communications blackout and a curfew enforced by hundreds of thousands of troops.

  • Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir, partially control it and have gone to war to defend their claims. The sudden move to fundamentally change the status of Indian-controlled Kashmir enraged Pakistan.
  • Where things stand: Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center tells Axios that while conditions vary across the state, “you still have a lockdown in effect, you still have a communications blackout in effect and you still have a number of people detained, including local political leaders.”

Masood Khan, the president of Azad Kashmir and a longtime Pakistani diplomat, told Axios this week in Washington that India’s actions constitute a “declaration of war,” not just against the local population but also against Pakistan.

  • He echoed claims by Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, that there will be “massacres” of civilians once the lockdown is lifted. But he went a step further, warning the ensuing escalation could result in a nuclear exchange.

The other side: Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar last week said the special status of Jammu and Kashmir — India’s only Muslim-majority state — “was meant as a bridge that became a barrier.”

  • He argued that the state's autonomy cut it off economically and politically, limiting development and thus spurring alienation and separatism.
  • Jaishankar accused Pakistan of exacerbating that separatism by creating “an entire industry of terrorism for dealing with the Kashmir issue.”
  • As for the lockdown, Jaishankar said he’d rather Kashmiris go without internet than lose their lives in potential unrest.

While Jaishankar downplayed the severity of the lockdown and insisted it was being gradually loosened, Masood Khan accused India of “brutalizing” Kashmiris.

  • He predicted “asymmetric resistance” from the local population and warned that many on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC) were anxious to join the fight.
  • Khan said the government had “no intention” of sending fighters across the LoC, but warned that the anger would be “difficult to control.” He said direct intervention by the Pakistani military could also not be ruled out.

What to watch: India recognizes that as soon as it lifts the lockdown, the “prospects for violence and threats to the lives of Indian security forces escalate significantly,” Kugelman says. Thus, he wouldn't be surprised if it's still in place in another 2 months.

2. Kashmir part II: The view from Washington

Trump and Modi in Houston. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Masood Khan told Axios that President Trump has effectively “endorsed” India’s crackdown.

Flashback: Days before India's constitutional change, during an Oval Office meeting with Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate the dispute over Kashmir. That offer was embraced by Pakistan but rejected by India, which opposes international mediation.

  • More recently, while the State Department has expressed concerns about India's lockdown, Trump has not.
  • When he appeared beside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sept. 22, he praised Modi's pursuit of “border security."

As Masood Khan told Axios, "When Modi and Donald Trump were holding hands together in Houston at the Howdy Modi rally, Modi was seeking endorsement of the actions he had taken in Kashmir from the most powerful nation on Earth." Khan concedes that he got it.

  • He says Trump was motivated by "realpolitik," given the importance of the U.S.-India relationship, and assurances from India that they could handle the situation.

Between the lines: Despite Trump's attempts to "play both sides," Kugelman says, the long-standing U.S. policy is to treat Kashmir as a bilateral matter to be worked out by India and Pakistan.

The big picture: Pakistan is attempting to focus the eyes of the world on Kashmir in part by framing it not just as a human rights issue, Kugelman says, but also a global security threat.

  • International criticism of India so far has been focused on the lockdown rather than the constitutional change, and hasn't come with pressure for negotiations on Kashmir's long-term status.
  • Thus, Kugelman contends, "India has really come out on top here in the battle of narratives."
3. Protests around the world

Back to the Maidan. Photo: Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty

1. At least 25 people have been killed and 1,000 wounded in protests that spread across Iraq over corruption, joblessness and poor government services.

  • Authorities have responded with a violent crackdown, an internet blackout and an indefinite curfew.
  • In Baghdad, the epicenter of the protests, the restrictions “appeared only to have drawn out more protesters to the streets. Several thousand demonstrators were gathered in the center of the city Thursday night,” per the Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Louisa Loveluck.
  • The big picture: “For most civilians, there have been few improvements in the two years since Iraqi forces pushed Islamic State militants from major cities, and for many Iraqis, life is getting worse.”

2. Hong Kong’s leader is expected to invoke emergency powers to ban face masks like those worn by many protestors, per NPR.

  • "The law gives embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam broad powers to head off protests by stifling communication networks or raiding homes without a warrant,” NPR reports.
  • The backdrop: A protester was shot by police on Friday — a first in 4 months of demonstrations. Friday’s massive protests coincided with celebrations in China of the 70th anniversary of Communist rule.

3. Thousands of protesters gathered in Kiev after President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to a peace plan for the east of the country, which is currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

  • Zelensky’s move “suggests that the separatist region will be granted a special status and a local election will be held there,” Reuters reports. The protesters chanted “no surrender.”
  • “More than 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine. ... Last month, Russia and Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners, paving a way for further talks.”
4. South America: Too many presidents in Peru

A confused pedestrian in confusing times. Photo: Manuel Medir/Getty Images

The standoff between Peru's president, Martín Vizcarra, and Congress is putting the country's weak political institutions to a once-in-a-generation test, Daniel Erikson of the Penn Biden Center writes for Axios Expert Voices.

Why it matters: Peru finds itself in new and uncertain political territory — bringing the specter of instability to what has been one of the steadiest economies in Latin America.

Driving the news: Vizcarra's tense relations with Congress came to a head when he moved to dissolve the legislature and call for new elections after having failed to gain a vote of confidence for his Cabinet.

  • Congressional leaders condemned the move, voted to suspend Vizcarra for 12 months and nominated his vice president, Mercedes Aráoz, as the acting head of state.
  • Aráoz promptly accepted the controversial promotion, but later resigned from the government completely. The heads of Peru's armed forces and national police backed Vizcarra.

Background: Vizcarra has positioned himself as an anti-corruption avatar seeking greater transparency and accountability in the wake of several graft scandals that ripped through the country’s political elites like wildfire.

  • But his tiny congressional faction has left him politically isolated and continually thwarted by the opposition.

The latest: Vizcarra won this round. He swore in a new Cabinet today, indicating the crisis may be over — for now.

5. Trump-Ukraine drama hits U.S. foreign policy

Pompeo tours the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images

1. Just in, from the NY Times: “Two of President Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine drafted a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, three people briefed on the effort said.”

  • Those envoys were Kurt Volker, who testified before House investigators today, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU.
  • Volker turned over texts in which another diplomat, Bill Taylor, wrote to him and Sondland: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

2. Asked today what he wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do after their July call, Trump said: “If they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens.”

3. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo belatedly acknowledged yesterday that he was on the July call with Zelensky. He dodged a question on whether he found the discussion appropriate.

  • Pompeo has been battling with House Democrats while on a European trip, underlining the fact that Trump's impending impeachment won't stop at the water's edge.

Worth noting: Pompeo's trip includes stops in Montenegro, NATO’s newest member, and North Macedonia, which is set to join.

  • “It is quite possible that two countries previously considered in Russia’s sphere of influence will become NATO members during President Trump’s first term,” Ari Mittleman and Ryan Scherba of Balkan Insider email.

Go deeper: What Joe and Hunter Biden actually did in Ukraine. (Thanks for the reader emails on this topic — I really do take your advice!)

6. Data du jour: Good news, bad news

1. Alcohol consumption in Russia decreased by 43% per capita from 2003 to 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

  • Russia, one of the heaviest-drinking countries in the world, has seen a significant rise in life expectancy as a result.
  • The WHO attributed the decline in alcohol consumption to measures introduced under former President Dmitry Medvedev, including advertising restrictions and increased taxes.

2. The Philippines faces the world's fastest-growing HIV epidemic among young men, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Doctors and epidemiologists in the country have suggested the growing popularity of dating apps is a major factor.
  • In this socially conservative country, "The newfound social freedom has collided with a lack of sex education, HIV screening and, until recently, a preventive drug given to high-risk groups," per the Journal.

Both of these stories brought to you by Axios' Jacob Knutson.

7. Stories we're watching

A herd of horses in Zhangye, China. Photo: Wang Chao/VCG via Getty Images

  1. A year after Jamal Khashoggi's murder, Saudi trial veiled in secrecy
  2. MBS bets on getting away with murder
  3. Trump says China should investigate Bidens
  4. The trade deal that might survive impeachment
  5. How the China trade war threatens U.S. manufacturing jobs
  6. North Korea fires submarine-launched missile
  7. Dark web propagandists-for-hire


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Vladimir Putin says he wasn't enthusiastic about Greta Thunberg's climate speech. Our data shows a lot of people were.
Dave Lawler