International Forecaster Weekly

Geopolitical Update

Venezuela, China, India, Afghanistan.

James Corbett | May 30, 2020

I get it. You're sick of hearing about it. "There must be something else happening in the world," I hear you saying. Well, you're in luck! I did some digging and it turns out there are other things happening in the world, after all! Things that have nothing to do with viruses or masks or vaccines or contact tracers. (Or, at least, as little to do with those things as possible, given the circumstances.)
Here are a few of them:

1) China and India are at it again
Back in September of 2017 I wrote about the soaring military tensions between China and India over a seemingly insignificant mountain pass in Doklam, a disputed area near the China/Bhutan/Indian border that is claimed by both China and Bhutan. For those who might not remember, that standoff began when Chinese troops began constructing a road in the region without Bhutan's approval, escalated when Indian troops arrived to stop the construction, and ended when Beijing and New Delhi agreed to mutually withdraw from the region. It was a sudden end to a dangerous impasse between two nuclear-armed regional rivals, and, as many warned at the time, this was unlikely to be the last such border dispute between China and India.
Fast forward three years, and we're now facing what is already being touted as the biggest face-off between the two countries since that Doklam dispute.
This time, the conflict is taking place over the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the imaginary line through the volatile Kashmir region separating Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. The LAC has been a source of contention between India and China for years, not because the region is home to any large deposit of resource or mineral wealth, but because of its geo-strategic value. Once prized for its importance in trans-Himalayan trading routes, it now stands as a strategic wedge of Indian territory between the Chinese border on the east and the Pakistani border on the west.
But the fragile status quo in the territory has been disturbed by India's recent efforts to ramp up infrastructure development. This development includes a 1400-foot-long bridge over a treacherous section of the Shyok River, an engineering achievement involving micropiles to fortify the bridge's foundations which was accomplished in a mere 14 months . . . with a little help from 1,800 Indian troops. The greater connectivity provided by the bridge and other newly-constructed border roads, combined with upgrades to a local air strip that allows the Indian Air Force to land C-130J military transport aircraft in the area, means India now has a credible ability to deploy and supply a sustained military presence in the region. This, understandably, worries China.
The current spat kicked off earlier this month when China accused India of crossing into its territory, blocking its patrols and "attempting to unilaterally change the status" of the Line of Actual Control. India, meanwhile, insists that it did not do anything unilaterally and that the current dispute is the result of "actions by both armies on the ground."  Details of these alleged "actions" are scant, but revolve around incidents on May 5th and May 9th in separate areas of the region that involved “aggressive behavior by both sides” and resulted in "injuries to 76 Indian soldiers."
The Indian media is, perhaps unsurprisingly, playing up the Chinese threat to Indian security, noting that Chinese troops have now crossed into Indian territory, erected encampments, and brought in construction equipment "for construction of bunkers." Indian commentators are decrying this clear violation of Indian sovereignty, warning that the Modi government "cannot afford to yield ground" in the area.
The Chinese media, for its part, has fired back with . . . silence? That's right, after an initial comment from the ChiCom mouthpiece Global Times protesting "India's recent, illegal construction of defense facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region," there has been nothing at all in the Chinese media about the situation. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has only released two statements on the dispute, and those statements were only issued in response to Indian press inquiries.
Lest there be any doubt where Beijing stands on the matter, though, the Global Times did just run a report about the maiden flight of "China’s first plateau-focused unmanned helicopter," which, unnamed analysts say, "could help safeguard China's southwestern borders with India."
One hopes that this stand-off, like the Doklam disturbance before it, is resolved peacefully, but this current round of tension isn't just hot air or diplomatic blather. The LAC came about as a result of the ceasefire from the 1962 Sino-Indian War, so it is not unreasonable to be concerned that a dispute over that line could devolve back into warfare.
Don't worry, though: Trump has magnanimously offered to mediate the dispute between Beijing and New Delhi, because there's no doubt that the US would be a completely neutral party in these negotiations. I'm sure both sides will welcome the offer with open arms. . . .
. . . Just kidding!

2) Afghanistan is still a mess
Before the dawn of the coronavirus insanity, you might recall I was covering some interesting stories out of Afghanistan. One of them was the utterly atrocious propaganda whitewash report from the Washington Post known as The Afghan Papers and the other was the startling news that, after the longest military engagement in the history of the United States, the Afghanistan war may actually be over.
As James Evan Pilato and I documented in New World Next Week at the time, celebration over the announcement was a bit premature. You see, what was actually being announced was that the US had signed the ridiculously titled "Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America" without the permission, knowledge or consent of the Afghanistan government itself. The ink wasn't even dry on the agreement when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani started publicly denouncing the deal, rejecting its obligations on Kabul to release Taliban prisoners and arguing that the US had no authority to make such a promise.
In fact, the story became even more ridiculous since the world shifted its attention away from silly little diversionary matters like international geopolitics to focus on coronavirus. First, data was released showing that US airstrikes on Afghanistan reached their highest level since 2009 this past February, despite the then-ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban. Then, reports of "hundreds of troops" rotating out of the country in the first phase of the US drawdown—expected to take the total of US troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 down to a "mere" 8,600—were tempered by reports that the US had immediately broke its ceasefire with the Taliban, bombing targets in response to ongoing fighting between the Taliban and Afghan troops.
The story hit peak absurdity, though, when Afghanistan held a presidential election . . . and both candidates won. Or, at least, both claimed victory. In fact, the political rivals—Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—were both sworn in as president in ceremonies that took place right next to each other. The issue of who is "actually" the president of Afghanistan wasn't even decided until two weeks ago, when Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing agreement that leaves Ghani as president and Abdullah as head of the National Reconciliation High Council, which will conduct peace talks with the Taliban.
At the moment, things are starting to look "optimistic" for the country (whatever that means after two decades of invasion, occupation and civil war). The US is on track to meet its targets of having 8,600 troops left in the country by July and of abandoning five of their bases in the country by 2021. More importantly, perhaps, the Afghanistan government has released the first batch of Taliban prisoners in a deal that will see 100 combatants freed every day that a ceasefire between the groups holds.
I'm not holding my breath for Uncle Sam to loosen his grip on his resource-rich, opium-supplying Afghanistan any time soon, but perhaps as the empire's attention turns away from its old War on Terror priorities, the Afghans themselves can work on the long, slow process of rebuilding their country.

3) The State Department bungles (yet another) Venezuela coup attempt 
You know you're living in strange times when an American mercenary squad's attempt at an armed invasion of Venezuela by speedboat barely makes a blip on the news radar. Welcome to 2020.
Oh, didn't you hear? Yes, after threatening a "maximum pressure March" designed to "smash" the Venezuelan government—including implementing a naval blockade and launching a Monroe Doctrine 2.0—and after imposing sweeping new sanctions on the country and after accusing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of drug trafficking, Uncle Sam finally pulled the trigger and decided to launch an invasion of the South American nation.
Spoiler: It didn't go well.
As our good friends at the Wall Street Journal explain: "Luke Alexander Denman, an American, was hired to lead a ragtag group of insurgents to seize the Caracas airport, overthrow President Nicolás Maduro and fly him to the U.S."
But things did not quite go according to plan.
"Instead, Mr. Denman, 34, from Austin, Texas, and another American, Airan Berry, 42, who has addresses in Florida and Texas, were among the 13 'terrorists' whom the Venezuelan government said were captured in a thwarted weekend incursion."
Our good friends at the Financial Times are even more candid:
"The plot was 'half-cocked', said Ephraim Mattos, a former US Navy Seal who told the Financial Times he first learned of the plan in September when he was instructing Venezuelan defectors in combat first-aid at a Colombian training camp. The plot’s former Green Beret leader was 'inept', he said."
Yes, this crack squad of mercenaries, led by an ex-Green Beret and traveling to Venezuela from Columbia by speedboat were immediately subdued, captured, and paraded in front of Venezuelan state TV cameras to confess their guilt. They had been hired, explained Denman, by Jordan Goudreau, the owner of Silvercorp USA, a a Melbourne, Fla.-based private contractor. Denman was apparently expecting a payday of between $50,000 and $100,000 if he was successful in overthrowing the government of Venezuela (no word if there was a $10,000 bonus if they overthrew Guyana while they were at it). In the video, played twice at President Maduro's press conference after the foiled plot, Denman brandishes a contract which, he says, is signed by Goudreau and by Juan Guaidó, who you might remember as the guy who the US declared to be the rightful president of Venezuela last year.
Bay of Pigs 2.0? More like Bay of Piglets.
So, for those keeping track at home, that's two unsuccessful attempts by Uncle Sam to stage a coup in Venezuela in two years. And at least three in the last two decades.
Don't worry, though. The US is still hard at work trying to install some kind of puppet regime in Caracas. Washington's latest attempt to unseat Maduro involved threatening to use military force to stop some Iranian tankers carrying gas to sanction-hit Venezuela. But, like every other US operation against Venezuela for the past two decades, that, too, failed. The tankers arrived safely on Saturday.
I guess they just don't make regime change operations like they used to. Where's Kissinger when you need him?