Daily Memo: Central Asia’s Political Unrest, Kashmir Simmers, Colombian and Mexican Security Concerns

All the news worth knowing today.


Political unrest in Central Asia. The head of Kyrgyzstan’s state security services said today that former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was detained by police on Aug. 8, was attempting to carry out a coup. Atambayev has been charged with organizing mass riots, murder and hostage-taking. Meanwhile, in neighboring Kazakhstan, there have been small protests against the election results that brought President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to power in June. Most recently, protesters gathered in front of European embassies to demand the release of politicians and activists. Tokayev has thus far pardoned one journalist and one trade union activist, but that’s not quelling public demands, echoed by the media, for the president to take steps to end political oppression in the country.

Kashmir continues to simmer. India’s Supreme Court, responding to complaints filed by politicians and activists opposed to the government’s recent measures in Kashmir, said the region needs more time for normalcy to be restored and, therefore, held off on making any decisions on the complaints. The court referred to the situation as “very sensitive.” Iran has joined a host of regional powers calling on India to deescalate the situation, and Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington said that if the Kashmir issue persists, Islamabad could redeploy troops from the Afghan border to the Kashmir border. There are some media reports of small movements of Pakistani troops along the border, but the chief of India’s Army Staff dismissed the movements as precautionary and normal. Still, while both Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear capabilities serve as major deterrents to cross-border conflicts, the February episode showed that limited, targeted strikes are not outside the realm of possibility.

Security concerns in Colombia and Mexico. The governor of Colombia’s Cauca department said Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel was behind a series of attacks against local indigenous leaders. The involvement of Mexican criminal groups in Colombia’s coca industry is not new, though there have been increasing reports of their growing presence and violence against local governments and communities. The U.S. has identified both Colombia and Mexico as major drug transit or producing countries, and while Washington has acknowledged Colombia’s anti-drug efforts, it has heaped criticism on Mexico for a lack of progress on the issue, followed by threats to cut aid to Mexico if results don’t improve. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry responded by pointing out that combating transnational organized crime requires regional collaboration. With Mexican criminal groups increasingly active in Colombia, there’s potential for Bogota to get caught in the crosshairs of increasing security tensions between Mexico and the U.S.

Washington blinks. The U.S. will delay implementation of 10 percent tariffs on several Chinese consumer goods until at least Dec. 15, according to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who held a phone meeting Tuesday with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. Tariffs on an unspecified number of products will still come into effect on Sept. 1, as announced by President Donald Trump at the beginning of August. But the products exempted – “cell phones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors and certain items of footwear and clothing” – make it pretty obvious what the U.S. is worried about: sticker shock during the holiday shopping season. This underscores the reality that the U.S., even if bigger, stronger and more resilient than China over the long term, isn’t altogether free from constraints in the trade war. Inevitably, U.S. consumers will eat at least some of the costs of tariffs, raising the risks of a political backlash and, by suppressing domestic consumption, an economic downturn, either of which would cast doubt on the U.S. ability to hold the line long enough for China’s own immense economic and political fault lines to start to rupture.

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