India, Pakistan: Cold, hard Kashmir.
Also: Myanmar, climate change, democracy, and Poland.
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INDIA. PAKISTAN. Cold, hard Kashmir.
A territorial dispute remains as intractable as ever.
India's top court on Monday upheld Delhi's 2019 revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy, granted in 1949. The court also ordered local polls to be held before October 2024. Pakistan described the moves as "unilateral and illegal".
INTELLIGENCE. The move is another boost for Narendra Modi ahead of next year’s elections. The court’s description of Kashmir’s autonomy being “temporary” might stretch the definition – it was granted over 70 years ago – but it will unlikely be seriously challenged while Modi remains in power. Still, this doesn’t mean Kashmiris will be quiet. At least 126 have died in clashes so far this year, including an Indian border guard in skirmishes with Pakistan last month.
FOR BUSINESS. Violence in Kashmir is down from previous years – 4,000 were killed in 2001 – but the drivers remain. And while Pakistan is focussed on its domestic turmoil, as well as a hostile Afghanistan, its Kashmiri proxies could still be activated if it saw reason to. Modi will be politically rewarded for his clampdown on Kashmiri separatism, but his majoritarianism is eroding institutional trust. Despite the economic boom, this poses a genuine long-term risk.
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MYANMAR. Rangoon squad.
China-brokered peace talks are unlikely to hold.
Myanmar's military confirmed on Monday it had met with three rebel groups in talks facilitated by China. Beijing on Sunday issued arrest notices for ten members of an alleged telephone scam syndicate operating in Myanmar's north.
INTELLIGENCE. The talks have been reported in China as a sign of diplomatic savvy, but they reveal the weakness of its erstwhile ally in Myanmar’s junta. They also reveal Beijing’s embarrassment over industrial-scale fraud operations that have seen thousands of Chinese citizens coerced into working for phone and online gambling scam factories across the border. The rebel groups, who have long benefited from criminal activities, have promised to crack down.
FOR BUSINESS. Many of Myanmar’s militants are ethnic Chinese, but this doesn’t make them likely allies of Beijing should the junta collapse. China will do what it can to avoid chaos on its doorstep, but with the rebels gaining traction it is hard to see them voluntarily pausing operations. Chinese troops will unlikely intervene like Russia did during Syria’s civil war, but it will be hard to stand by as Myanmar's crisis deepens, particularly as its own citizens suffer.
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CLIMATE CHANGE. Living fossil.
OPEC throws a petrol bomb on COP28.
The US, EU and island countries slammed a draft statement on Monday that left out a reference to "phase out" fossil fuels. Negotiations on an outcomes document from Dubai's COP28 UN climate change summit continued into Tuesday.
INTELLIGENCE. Members of OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, were blamed by climate activists for diluting the text. And while even strong statements can be (and are) completely ignored, many had held out hopes for a more forceful commitment before the current host of the UN climate process hands over to another OPEC member, Azerbaijan. The news has failed to move markets, being otherwise focussed on tepid production cuts and resilient inventories.
FOR BUSINESS. Sceptics of multilateral processes have been vindicated this week, but this doesn’t mean climate is a lost cause. Just as trade and other issues have been squibbed by global bodies, policies on carbon emissions will be instead upheld by plurilateral and unilateral regulations. With the UN increasingly sidelined, jurisdictions like California and the EU will gain greater prominence, as they already have been on matters such as vehicle standards.
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DEMOCRACY. Polls apart.
What rigged elections say about contemporary politics.
A third day of voting opened in Egypt on Tuesday in tightly controlled polls. Hong Kong on Monday said only 27.5% of eligible voters turned up the day before. Vladimir Putin on Friday said he would run again for president in March.
INTELLIGENCE. Voting has long been a feature of autocracies, providing a symbol of due process without the messy results. What they also symbolise is that dictators must at least acknowledge a level of agency from their citizens, lest this be shown on the street. Even North Korea allowed a 0.09% dissenting vote in regional elections last month – the first time since the 1960s. The re-election of El-Sisi and Putin is a given, but the process must be adhered to.
FOR BUSINESS. The internet and social media, even in highly managed regimes, has made it almost impossible to completely ignore majority wishes. Politics exists independently of democracy and in some cases can even be more volatile in authoritarian states. Like participants in any market, political actors will seek to exploit gaps in policy supply and demand if leaders miss the cues. As 2023’s raft of coups demonstrates, taking power doesn’t need a ballot box.
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POLAND. Poles restart.
Warsaw moves closer to Brussels.
Donald Tusk was made prime minister on Monday after his rivals failed to form a majority following October's elections. Poland's Constitutional Tribunal on Monday said proposed judicial reforms to access EU cash were unconstitutional.
INTELLIGENCE. Tusk takes Poland back to EU norms after nine years of nationalist rule, just as voters elsewhere go the other way. Still, with Poland’s courts and presidency stuffed with partisan nominees, Tusk won’t be able to change Poland overnight. As plaudits arrived from Kyiv, Polish truckers continued to blockade Ukrainian goods. Amid cheer in Brussels, Poland is still expected to contribute to a rightwards swing in EU parliamentary elections next year.
FOR BUSINESS. Warsaw under the Law and Justice (PiS) party was a foil for Brussels, but Hungary’s Viktor Orban is prepared to continue that role alone, complicating consensus decision making. A showdown is expected on Thursday when EU leaders meet to discuss Ukrainian membership and military aid. And Tusk won’t be a complete break from the past. He is from the centre-right and, with many of the same constituents as PiS, is already backtracking on coal.