Afghanistan’s southwest province of Helmand was home earlier this week to a violent clash between the Taliban and the Afghan military. Taliban forces numbering more than 800 have laid siege to Afghan army checkpoints throughout the region, which is also known as the birthplace of the Taliban and one of the least secure regions in the country. The clashes, which began five days ago, have claimed the lives of more than 100 militants, 35 civilians and 21 Afghan troops. Troops in the region face a dilemma as they are left without air support and have limited mobility throughout the extremist-controlled region. Many roads and popular transport vias are under the control of Taliban forces who have lined the roads with IEDs in order to impede the passage of ground transportation and light artillery.
Officials in the region point to drug trafficking as the catalyst of this week’s attacks. Taliban forces have traditionally controlled a drug trade made possible by the fertile ground in Helmand province, and have sought to make more routes available for transport and trade of opium and other poppy derivitaves. The cost of the conflict is still undecided, though human rights watchers have pointed to the impact the attacks have had on families in the region. More than 2,500 have been displaced in Helmand, where infrastructure necessary to house and feed thousands of displaced does not exist.
- A monument in Kazakhstan, depicting Abay Kunanbayev and Yevgeny Mikhaelis in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, was removed after ridicule that it looked like the figures were taking “selfies” with smart phones. Tengrinews reports that the social media backlash caused the municipal government to remove the monument only days after it was erected. Officials blamed the short time table for the artistic failings.
- Indian negotiations with Russia will begin soon on the extension of the potential $30 billion gas pipeline agreed upon last month. If the proposed pipeline from Russia, which will pass through China’s Xinjiang province. The new Indian government under Narendra Modi has stated it intends to bolster foreign sourcing of oil and gas to address rising demand, and this project, in combination with the $9 billion TAPI pipeline project, will supply more than half of its projected 30 year demand projections.
- During a visit to Brussels to sign the EU Association Agreement, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that no definite solution will be reached on gas debts until both sides agreed on a new price. Ukrainian energy minister Yuri Prodan also issued the same statement when asked about the state of negotiations. It has been nine days since Gazprom cut off supplies of gas to Ukraine nine months ago, claiming a debt of over $4 billion in unpaid bills. EU Energy Minister Gunther Oettinger said he is currently trying to bring both sides together again for another round of negotiations, set thus far for mid-July. In the summer months, stakes are considerably lower for European economies that import their gas, but Ukrainian supplies are vital to the stockpile for winter.
- Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani dismissed fraud claims against his campaign yesterday, and vowed to fight for every legitimate ballot cast for him. Abdullah Abdullah, his rival in the runoff election, alleged that widespread fraud had taken place in the election and further explicitly stated that Ghani was in cahoots with election authorities at the IECE and outgoing President Hamid Karzai. “I ask Dr. Abdullah as a national figure to respect the rule of law,” Ghani told his supporters in his first statement issued since the allegations emerged. With both candidates predicting victory, it is unclear how elections will proceed if the ballots issue is not resolved.
- Presidential frontrunner and outspoken critic of electoral practices in Afghanistan Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has renewed cooperation with both principal Afghan electoral bodies, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC). Some progress seems to have been made after leading Afghan electoral official Ziaulhaq Amarkhil resigned after his credibility and partiality had been called into question by recordings released by Dr. Abdullah. Specifics of collaboration between Abdullah and Afghan electoral bodies have not been released, nor has any future date for elections been fixed. and machinery. The deal has been lauded by the head of the EU delegation’s economic and trade division as potentially as transformative as that which took place in Poland after the fall of the iron curtain and its subsequent approximation to Europe.
- The Russian ruble has regained the same value it maintained prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the onset of violence in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east. The ruble currently stands at just 2.99% under the value it held at the beginning of the year, up nearly 34% from March 14. Despite the currency’s increase in valuation, Russia is still viewed by many large-scale investors as a risky destination for foreign cash, particularly due to the precarious nature of its bonds market, and due to popular perception of Russia as a “risky” investment destination in the wake of mostly harmless sanctions imposed by the United States.
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the impact forced displacements have had on Tajik communities living near Rogun, a hydroelectric dam project that has for years been the pet project of Tajikistan’s only post-Soviet President, Emomalii Rahmon. HRW chastises the lack of adequate monetary compensation given to those displaced, and underscores serious disruptions in “housing, food, water and education” since the project’s inception in 2009. The dam, which is estimated to be nearly eleven years away from completion, will stand as the highest in the world upon completion, and has been criticized for its impracticability.