Pakistan is beginning to understand just how isolated it really is. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford are in Islamabad today for a tense meet and greet with Pakistan’s new government. Earlier this week, Pompeo said the U.S. would cancel some $300 million in military aid to Pakistan because of the country’s alleged support for terrorist groups. (The U.S. withheld $500 million in assistance earlier this year.) Islamabad is still searching for a way out of its debt crisis. On Monday, it promised that no funds from a new bailout under consideration from the International Monetary Fund – a bailout the U.S. opposes – would be used to pay off the tens of billions of dollars it owes to China. China is a welcome ally for Pakistan, but without more options, Islamabad is at risk of becoming overly dependent on Chinese aid – and is thus becoming something Beijing can use against India to slow its orientation toward the U.S. It’s notable, then, that senior Pakistani leaders have been quietly trying to open talks with India on easing tensions in Kashmir, reportedly to little avail, according to The New York Times. Islamabad has too much on its plate to feel good about the risk of finding itself going it alone.
A similar issue is playing out farther east. Myanmar’s government has all but admitted it can’t make peace with rebel groups along its border with China without Beijing’s help. The Union Peace Commission – the government’s main negotiating body – is holding formal talks with representatives from a loose alliance of rebel groups for the first time Wednesday in Kunming. China is mediating. The government in Naypyitaw has employed a divide-and-conquer strategy over the rebels for years, and it has refused to negotiate with the bloc of the strongest groups in the northeast. However, China, which is believed to be the rebels’ primary source of funding and weaponry, has helped unify the fractious alliance to make them – and itself – impossible for Naypyitaw to ignore. Over-dependence on China is the main reason the military junta relaxed its grip on power and opened up to the West in 2011 after decades of extreme international isolation. But the peace process, China’s deeply entrenched economic leverage, and the fact that Western governments are once again looking to reimpose human rights-related sanctions on Myanmar are pushing Naypyitaw back into Beijing’s orbit.
There wasn’t much calm before the storm in Idlib. Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed that Russian aircraft carried out airstrikes in western Idlib on positions reportedly held by jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Syrian forces reportedly renewed shelling of rebel holdouts nearby after a weekslong lull. Israeli jets conducted their third round of airstrikes on Iranian facilities in Syria in as many days, this time during daylight hours. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the U.S. of delaying implementation of a bilateral deal meant to extricate Kurdish forces from the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Erdogan also warned that a massacre was impending in Idlib. Meanwhile, various countries are making last-ditch efforts to mitigate the coming damage. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is in Turkey for talks he says will focus largely on preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in the province. The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran are slated to meet on Friday in Tehran to discuss Syria. The U.S. says the U.N. Security Council will meet to discuss Idlib the same day.
- British Prime Minister Theresa May said two Russians have been charged in the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury in March. The suspects were Russian military intelligence officers, and the attack was almost certainly approved at senior levels in Moscow, according to May. In response, Moscow shrugged.
- A delegation of senior South Korean security officials met with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang ahead of a possible third summit between Kim and South Korea President Moon Jae-in.
- Not to be outdone, Beijing confirmed that President Xi Jinping will send Li Zhanshu, the third-ranking official in the Politburo Standing Committee, to Pyongyang on Saturday to attend a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding. Li will be the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Pyongyang in nearly a decade.
- U.S. President Donald Trump will chair a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iran later this month.
- Catalan leader Quim Torra has relaunched the autonomous region’s independence drive, calling on Madrid to agree to a referendum on secession.
- Spain canceled the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, citing concerns that the weapons would be used in Yemen.