Kashmir attack threatens to derail Afghan peace negotiations. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, in a call to his Indian counterpart, expressed support for “India’s right to self-defense against cross-border terrorism.” The Times of India, an English-language, Mumbai-based newspaper, implied that this amounts to a go-ahead for India’s response to the attack last week in Kashmir’s Pulwama area that killed 40. A Pakistani group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan’s ambassador responded to the Times of India’s report by saying any retaliation by India against Pakistan would impede the Afghan peace talks. The situation illustrates how U.S.-India-Pakistan trilateral relations are impacting those talks.
More cracks in the United States’ anti-Huawei campaign. Following a report from the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center, which cast doubts on the threat posed by Huawei’s involvement in constructing 5G networks, both New Zealand (a member of the Five Eyes security alliance along with the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia) and Germany have questioned the seriousness of the threat posed by Huawei. Although New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau placed restrictions on the use of Huawei 5G equipment in November, its prime minister said the country has not ruled out using some Huawei technology in future development of wireless networks. In anticipation of an auction for 5G frequencies in March, a German cybersecurity agency’s investigation of Huawei’s ability to siphon data did not come out with a clear conclusion. That several major U.S. allies are breaking with Washington could be an impediment to its push to cut Huawei out of the construction of global 5G networks.
Factionalism, unrest and budget uncertainty in Iran. An amendment has been introduced in the Iranian parliament that would further strip Iran’s central bank of its independence on monetary policy. The amendment would force the bank to pay a tax on profits from foreign exchange sales, rather than accruing that difference in the form of reserves at the central bank. The result would be an expanded Iranian budget, which is currently under substantial strain, but the initiative would likely also lead to further inflation. The central bank chief has opposed the amendment. Meanwhile, a small number of parliamentarians, mainly conservative hard-liners, are pushing again for the impeachment of President Hassan Rouhani. Division within the government opens the possibility for more infighting, which can both weaken the government’s ability to resist mass public opposition and create the opportunity for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to take greater control in the country. And public opposition in Iran has continued unabated, with an estimated 270 protests occurring in January, according to the Jerusalem Post.
- In response to U.S. President Donald Trump urging troops to turn against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan defense minister has said troops will remain loyal to Maduro. This was the expected response, but it’s notable because the loyalty of Venezuela’s top military brass will impact how the situation unfolds.
- Protesters took to the street in Algeria in response to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s intention to run for a fifth term. Bouteflika has held power for 20 years, is 81 years old and has been hospitalized repeatedly over the past decade, making only infrequent public appearances.
- Taliban officials canceled a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, which was set to be their first meeting with a national leader since they lost power in 2001, citing travel restrictions.
- Iraq deployed troops along its border with Syria in anticipation of Islamic State fighters’ retreat from the group’s last bastion in Syria, which is currently besieged.
- The manufacturing sector’s share of the German economy fell from 23.4 percent in 2017 to 23.2 percent in 2018 because of slowing demand for German goods.
- Malaysia is moving toward a deal with China that would revive a scrapped Belt and Road Initiative rail project, the East Coast Rail Link, albeit at a reduced cost from its initial budget of $20 billion.
- Novatek, a Russian gas company, has asked Mitsubishi and Mitsui to invest in an Arctic liquefied natural gas project. The Japanese government is also contemplating funding the project as a way to diversify the country’s supply of LNG.
- Turkey’s declining agricultural production is causing an increase in the inflation of food prices, up in January by 1.1 percent month over month and 20.4 percent year over year. The government is trying to reverse the trend through subsidized vegetable sales.