Aug 20, 2019

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World. We'll take you around the world tonight in 1,539 words (6 minutes).

  • Thanks for joining me! Please tell your friends and colleagues to sign up, and I'd love your tips and feedback: lawler@axios.com.
1 big thing: Kashmir still cut off

An Indian paramilitary trooper on an empty street in Srinagar. Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

Two weeks after India announced major constitutional changes in Kashmir, a communications blackout continues, political leaders remain locked up, and the unrest India feared when announcing the drastic steps is still threatening to break loose.

The big picture: Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only majority-Muslim state, has seen decades of violence and separatist tensions.

  • India moved on Aug. 5 to swiftly unwind the state's long-held political autonomy, sending in tens of thousands of troops and cutting off phone and internet connections to quell the backlash.
  • It's become clear that India also detained thousands of people, including politicians, business leaders and journalists, says Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

The latest: Indian officials had previewed a return to normalcy, with schools and businesses set to reopen today. But just 1 of 1,000 pupils turned up today at a school visited by Fayaz Bukhari and Devjyot Ghoshal of Reuters.

  • “Paramilitary police in riot gear and carrying assault rifles stood behind steel barricades and coils of razor wire in Srinagar’s old quarter to deter any repeat of weekend protests," they write.
  • “In dense neighborhoods such as Batamaloo, youths set up makeshift barricades to block security forces from entering.”
  • Looser restrictions on movement meant increased traffic on some streets and residents venturing out to stroll along Dal Lake, "a popular tourist destination ringed by Himalayan mountains."

Though “violence has been mostly restricted to dozens of stone-throwing incidents,” Kashmiris are “anxious and enraged by the situation,” Fahad Shah reports for the Atlantic:

  • “'They forced tourists to leave, so how can our business function?’ [Shabir] Ahmad asked, looking at the shut doors of his handicraft showroom near Dal Lake. ... ‘They kept Kashmiris silent at gunpoint and forced this upon us.'”
  • “‘The communication blockade has pushed us to the Stone Age,’ Areeb Ashraf, 26, a civil engineer, said." Ashraf's uncle had been hospitalized, but he was unable to find out where.

While many locals believe the constitutional changes are motivated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist politics, India claims they're designed to promote development.

  • But the situation on the ground is now "very volatile," Kugelman says, and “it’s very hard to bring development and investment to conflict zones.”

What to watch: Kugelman notes that as India eases its restrictions, and the fury many feel spills out into the streets, an "escalatory cycle of violence" could result.

  • President Trump tweeted this evening that he'd spoken to Modi as well as to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan about "reducing tensions in Kashmir."
2. Part II: The view from Pakistan

Imran Khan with Trump in the Oval Office. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Pakistan, India’s fierce rival, has been attempting to rally international condemnation of India’s moves in Kashmir, which it also claims and partially controls.

What they're saying: Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly compared India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Nazis and warned without evidence of an “impending genocide” in Kashmir.

I asked Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, to clarify those warnings in an interview on Friday.

  • He said India’s massive troop mobilization and continued clampdown — combined with Modi’s “history” (he was accused in 2002 of complicity in riots that saw hundreds of Muslims killed) — indicate “they are up to something very obvious and very dangerous.”
  • The ambassador denied that Pakistan would itself foment violence in Kashmir, as it has often been accused of doing in the past. But he predicted that Modi would use such fears “to cover up the repression, justify the presence of those additional troops, and then pass the buck on to Pakistan.”
  • He said the BJP's vision for Kashmir was the same as its vision for all of India: "To turn it into a Hindu state.”

I asked the ambassador whether Prime Minister Khan's warning about "appeasement of fascism" from the international community applies to the U.S., which has been notably quiet over the crackdown.

  • The ambassador emphasized that President Trump had made a "good faith" offer to mediate in Kashmir before conceding that Pakistan "would hope to see more."

Between the lines: Kugelman says Pakistan's "image problem" and history of supporting insurgents in Kashmir, combined with the fact that many countries prize relations with India, mean Islamabad will struggle to rally a global response.

  • India, meanwhile, is claiming the issue is now settled. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told a political rally Sunday that any future negotiations would be confined to the portion of Kashmir that Pakistan controls.

Worth noting: The ambassador stressed that the long-uneasy relationship with the U.S. is moving in a positive direction after the prime minister's visit to Washington.

  • "Apart from whatever chemistry they have, I think what basically brings them together is Afghanistan," he said, noting that both support peace talks with the Taliban.
  • Ambassador Khan dismissed the suggestion that Pakistan's close friendship with China would prevent further warming as outdated "Cold War" thinking.
3. Latin America: Sinking Nicolás Maduro

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump has suggested to national security officials that the U.S. should station Navy ships along the Venezuelan coastline to prevent goods from coming in and out of the country, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports.

  • Trump has been raising the idea of a naval blockade periodically for at least a year and a half, and as recently as several weeks ago, current and former officials tell Swan.
  • To their knowledge, the Pentagon hasn't taken this extreme idea seriously, in part because senior officials believe it's impractical, has no legal basis and would suck resources from a Navy that is already stretched to counter China and Iran.
  • Trump is deeply frustrated that the Venezuelan opposition has failed to topple Nicolás Maduro — more than 3 months after a failed uprising, and more than 6 months after Trump led the world in recognizing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

The big picture: Juan Cruz, who served as the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere affairs director earlier in the Trump administration, said on a recent episode of the "Intelligence Matters" podcast that Venezuela's security will remain perilous if and when Maduro falls.

  • He said estimates of the initial costs associated with economic recovery are $80 billion–$85 billion, and it could take a decade to rebuild Venezuela’s oil industry. That's doesn't even include securing what has become a lawless country.
  • “If your measure of success is Maduro’s departure, that alone doesn’t mean there will be a significant change in the regime or in how business is conducted in Venezuela,” he added.
4. World News roundup: Trials and tribulations

Bashir behind bars. Photo: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP/Getty Images

1. The military council that has ruled Sudan since Omar al-Bashir was toppled in April finalized a power-sharing deal with the opposition, at long last.

  • A military leader is set to lead an 11-member ruling council for 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for 18 months, followed by elections.
  • Meanwhile Bashir, a brutal dictator accused of war crimes, appeared in court today to face corruption charges.
  • Per the BBC, "Police investigator Ahmed Ali Mohamed told the court that Mr Bashir admitted to receiving $25m from Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman."

2. Twitter announced Monday that it would no longer accept advertising from "state-controlled news media entities" after finding that more than 900 accounts originating from inside China have been part of a coordinated effort to undermine political protests in Hong Kong, Axios' Ursula Perano writes.

3. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Saturday's suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding party, which killed at least 63 people and wounded 182 others.

5. What I'm reading, part I: When Xi came to power

Xi (L) in 2007, shortly before he became president-in-waiting. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Xi Jinping, Richard McGregor writes in a Foreign Affairs profile, has governed China since 2012 as a "crisis manager" — charging ahead with brutal efficiency and ensuring that while he's accumulated many enemies, he has no rivals for power.

Key excerpts:

  • "There was no sense in 2007 that party leaders had deliberately chosen a new strongman to whip the country into shape. The compromise candidate would turn out to be a most uncompromising leader."
  • "Within weeks, he had attached a brand — 'the Chinese dream' — to his administration, established strict new rules governing the behavior of officials, and laid down markers on what ideas could and couldn’t be discussed. He also started locking up the party’s critics."
  • "Most important of all, Xi launched his anticorruption campaign. ... The scale of the resulting purge is almost incomprehensible: Authorities have investigated more than 2.7 million officials and punished more than 1.5 million."
  • "Thousands of wealthy Chinese families ... who have seen their lives of luxury and privilege destroyed ... will carry their anger at Xi for generations. The technocratic elite feels betrayed by Xi’s across-the-board power grab."

What to watch: "There is good reason to think that Xi’s overreach will come back to haunt him before the next party congress, in late 2022, especially if the Chinese economy struggles."

  • "He might be able to leverage the regime’s weakness at home and China’s battles abroad to justify his continued rule."
  • "Or perhaps he will finally admit that he, too, is mortal and lay out a timetable to step down."
6. What I'm reading II: Pompeo before Trump

Pompeo during a Benghazi hearing, in 2012. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Among the things I learned from Susan Glasser's profile of Mike Pompeo, out today from the New Yorker:

  • Pompeo supported Marco Rubio in the 2016 primaries and warned Trump would be "an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution" — with Trump waiting backstage.
  • During his first marriage, Pompeo's pets were named after romantic poets — Byron and Keats.
  • The aviation company Pompeo ran in Kansas ran afoul of the EPA and struggled financially under his leadership despite heavy investments from the Koch Brothers, who later became his major political backers.
  • Pompeo and his wife host "Madison Dinners" with powerful people — Karl Rove, Lloyd Blankfein — who could play a role in his future political ambitions.

The big picture: Glasser portrays Pompeo as a sharp-elbowed operator with talents for navigating corridors of power and staying on the right side of the president.

7. Stories we're watching

Looking out on the world, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo: Fikret Kavgali/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

  1. Pence: Hong Kong clampdown could prevent China trade deal
  2. Hong Kong unrest spooks business
  3. Chinese tourism has dwindled amid Trump's trade war
  4. Top tourist sites overrun
  5. U.K. food, fuel and drug shortages likely in no-deal Brexit
  6. Why the world can't slow global warming
  7. Danish PM to Trump: Greenland is not for sale

Quoted:

“I’m afraid people have been listening to that superstitious mumbo jumbo on the internet."
— Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on why the U.K. plans to pressure social media companies to block misinformation on vaccines
Dave Lawler