In Other News: U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan, Saudi-Pakistan Oil Deal & More – June 25, 2021

June 25, 2021

U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan presents a challenging opportunity for Turkey. Today, President Biden is scheduled to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House to discuss the ongoing U.S. troop withdrawal and offer continued humanitarian, diplomatic and economic assistance to Afghanistan. But regardless of the offer it will be difficult to guarantee the nation’s safety without a military foothold. Turkey, who is part of the U.S.-led NATO non-combatant military mission in Afghanistan, has stepped up and volunteered to continue providing security to Kabul’s international airport after the troop withdrawal. Ankara has also requested logistical and financial support from other allied countries and last week floated the idea that Hungary and Pakistan could help. U.S. and Afghan officials support Turkey’s offer which would help ensure greater safety for continued diplomatic missions and international efforts. Over the years, Turkey has struck a fine balance in Afghanistan and is largely respected, but the Taliban is formidable and already condemning the notion of an ongoing Turkish presence. Turkey is reportedly looking to Pakistan and Qatar to help sway the Taliban in its favor, but progress in talks held in Qatar between the Taliban and Afghan officials has been slow and getting Pakistan to cooperate will be complicated. Further, new reporting from UN Security Council asserts that the Taliban is still closely aligned with al-Qaeda, and after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops there will be little to contain this alliance from reemerging.

A new Saudi-Pakistan oil deal will help Pakistan, but it will also help Saudi Arabia put a check on Iranian influence in the region. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had increased in recent years over issues related to Kashmir, the war in Yemen, and arms to Pakistan from Turkey. But Saudi Arabia’s agreement to restart oil aid to Pakistan is evidence that relations between Riyadh and Islamabad are improving, and it could be a strategic move to edge out Saudi’s regional rival Iran. According to Pakistani officials, the deal to restart oil aid is worth at least $1.5 billion annually and would start in July. It is not nearly as much as the previous oil credit of $3.4 billion, which was put on hold last year as relations soured, but it is considered a significant deal for Pakistan considering rising oil prices. Reportedly, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May helped to facilitate the deal and has paved the way for improved relations between the two countries. The announced deal comes as Saudi Arabia appears to be shifting its diplomatic strategy in the region, including resending its ambassador to Qatar. The Saudi moves also come as Iran voted last week for hardliner Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi to be the next president. Raisi has the backing of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, signaling Raisi’s alignment with the conservative values of the Islamic Revolution and resistance to social reforms in Iran. Raisi, who is accused of human rights abuses by the United States, said this week that he backs talks to revive the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, but he ruled out the possibility of meeting with U.S. President Biden. What Raisi’s election will mean for Saudi-Iranian relations going forward remains unclear. The regional rivals have not had diplomatic relations since 2016, but they began secret talks in January to discuss a range of issues, including the proxy war in Yemen. In reaction to Raisi’s election, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said they will judge him by “the reality on the ground.”

A crackdown in Nicaragua intensifies as November elections draw near. Earlier this week, Nicaragua’s National Police detained a fifth presidential candidate under charges of committing unspecified acts threatening national security. The latest action brings the total number of opposition leaders now detained up to 15. The arrests of presidential candidates, journalists, and political dissidents are an overt effort for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and wife Vice President Rosario María Murillo to thwart political competition and stifle public dissent as the presidential election approaches. Ortega, who led Nicaragua as Junta leader and President from 1979-1990 and resumed office again in 2007, now seeks a fourth consecutive term. The recent detainments have drawn the ire from human rights and democracy advocates worldwide. The Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution last week to condemn the crackdown and call for an immediate release of candidates and political prisoners; 27 countries supported the resolution. On Monday, Mexico and Argentina, who had abstained from the vote, recalled their ambassadors to Nicaragua for consultations in response to the continued arrests. Earlier in June the United States placed sanctions on four senior members of Ortega’s administration, including his daughter and a top army official, for being “complicit in the regime’s repression.” If mounting international pressure cannot contain Ortega’s sprawling and oppressive reach, there is little hope for free elections this November.