The looming deadline of American-led international coalition forces has noticeably emboldened the Taliban. Over the weekend Taliban fighters spread throughout Afghanistan launched offenses that were centered not only on areas known for their Taliban presence such as Kandahar, but also in areas surrounding Kabul and near Herat, in Afghanistan’s West, and regions near the Durand line, closest to Pakistan. The attacks almost certainly spell at least a perceived return to prominence for Taliban forces that have been anxiously awaiting Taliban forces, and will doubles continue to escalate the severity of their attacks as the withdrawal deadline approaches. The Taliban’s influence around Kabul has increased, and the group now controls highways that they hadn’t been able to appropriate for nearly a decade.
The deterioration in overall security, coupled with the chaotic and utterly uncertain state of Afghan election politics paints an ugly picture of what the future may be. An audit of the presidential vote, which has been on and off since its much-celebrated inception has slowed yet again, and although the United Nations has intervened to supervise the audit, consensus approval of any electoral outcome is highly unlikely. The paucity of optimism that previously existed surrounding the Afghan situation has been further reduced by doubts cast over the deal brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry. The deal put together by the American head of diplomacy is said to lead to a system that resembles that of Russia, with the eventual president sharing electoral powers with a prime minister-like figure, which would suggest that two figures of similar ideology will take the country’s reins in the near future.
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- Radio Free Asia reports that China has adopted a more recalcitrant stance vis-à-vis the Central Asian gas market due to rising tensions between countries in the region. Recent bouts of violence along the Kyrygz-Tajik border have led China to postpone the construction of Line D, a pipeline project that would establish the fourth pipeline connecting China with Central Asia. Beijing already receives a great amount of gas from Turkmenistan, and had agreed on terms with Ashgabat to build a fourth line, though the stability of any new initiative has been called into question, at least in the immediate term.
- Ukrainian military officials, upon examining the black box of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, state that shrapnel from the missile caused “massive explosive decompression,” which ultimately caused the plane to break up and crash. The fact that the plane was flying at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet suggest that the weapon utilized to bring it down was a sophisticated, military-grade weapon.
- The United States and Europe have agreed to escalate sanctions against Moscow. Officials claim that Russia has claimed no responsibility for weapons they allegedly provided to pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, and have pursued an aggressive campaign of denial. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has laid the blame at the Ukrainian government’s doorsteps and that the government in Kiev has acted irresponsibly by resorting to military action in the country’s east.
- Disputes between Iran and Azerbaijan have led to the former declaring that it cannot extract oil deposits from the Caspian Sea. Officials in Tehran stated that the country has more than 500 million barrels ready for extraction already, but that legal issues persist and must be resolved before extraction can begin. Conferences held to determine the legal status of the Caspian Sea have been welcomed by the two nations as well as by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia, though no type of binding framework has thus far been signed.