On Saturday, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani president Nawaz Sharif met for a conference in Islamabad, marking a rekindling of relations between the two adversarial countries. Sharif pledged that he would support President Ghani to bring peace to Afghanistan. Former President Hamid Karzai notoriously blamed Pakistani policy and leaders for the entirety of Afghanistan’s security problems. Sharif stated that “security and future prosperity remain interlinked, and [I] have consistently emphasized Pakistan’s [utmost] priority of building a peaceful neighborhood…” Ghani called on the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups in Afghanistan to join for trilateral peace talks. However, Sharif has insisted that these talks be Afghan-led, despite the fact that significant Taliban groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban operate and strike mostly from the Pakistan side of Waziristan into southern Afghanistan.
In his short time in office, Ghani has led significant initiatives to repair ties with both the United States and Pakistan, as well as to make overtures to China for friendship and support. Earlier in September, he approved the Bilateral Security Agreement, which will allow US troops to remain in the country past the end of this year and threw out a Karzai-created rule that forced US operations to only accompany Afghan National Army ones.
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- The Iranian government is planning on drawing on its sovereign wealth fund to cope with plunging oil prices, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said yesterday. The “National Development Fund” will aim to reimburse upstream contractors and diminish the impact of oil revenue decline. Worth roughly $62 billion, the National Development Fund will not be able to completely reinforce the country’s diminishing state coffers, due to the fact that many of its assets are frozen by international sanctions imposed by the West. Oil production needs to be kept up by Iran if it hopes to have a healthy economy.
- Kazakhstan’s economy is also in dire straits due to simultaneously falling exchange rates and oil prices. Current forecasts for overall economic growth are much less optimistic than in previous years, as its close economic and political relationship with Russia has become a liability. Crude oil makes up roughly 56% of Kazakhstan’s exports, with much of its others in mining and petrochemical-dependent industries. The Russian ruble has also fallen to new lows, and the tenge has followed suit.
- Xinjiang’s high speed railway has gone into service, which is part of a larger effort to promote greater connectivity with eastern China and to encourage Han Chinese migration to the region, which authorities believe will stabilize it. The full length of the railway is not yet operational, but will be by the end of the year, which will connect to Hami from the capital city of Urumqi. Xinjiang has been beset by worsening ethnic violence in recent years but remains a focus of China’s economic strategy.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin received a cold reception from the G-20 summit in Australia over the weekend. He faced significant criticism from President Obama as well as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who apparently told him to “get out of Ukraine” upon the first handshake. Obama called Russian aggression against Ukraine “a threat against the world,” in a speech at a university in Brisbane. Spokesmen from the Kremlin denied reports that he will leave the meeting earlier than planned due to the criticism.
- Azerbaijan has thus far refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, but deputy head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration and chief of the foreign relations department Novruz Mammadov said that provisions in the association agreement do not suit them, and they stated they fully wanted to maintain independence and sovereignty. He said that the EU has reacted somewhat differently, but that “Azerbaijan wishes to maintain excellent relations with the EU.”