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The President's Take

A Ray of Hope from Doha as Tensions Rise Elsewhere

In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley highlights the concerning crisis unfolding between Pakistan and India and sees indicators of escalation in Sudan.

This past month was rich in developments on the conflict front – mostly negative, unsurprisingly, albeit with flashes of hope. Of greatest concern is what is unfolding in South Asia: Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based militant group, killed at least 40 Indian security personnel in the deadliest terrorist attack in Kashmir in over 30 years; the response led to the most dangerous escalation between the two neighbours in decades. New Delhi carried out airstrikes across the Line of Control dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir – the first such occurrence since 1971 – against a purported Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp; Islamabad scrambled jets in response, shot down an Indian fighter jet and detained one of their pilots. There is reason to believe that cooler heads are prevailing. Still, with a history of mistrust and political pressures in both countries, the episode is a stark reminder of the risks of miscalculation between the two nuclear-armed powers.

Elsewhere, on the African continent, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir confronts the longest protests since his country’s independence. Resorting to a well-worn playbook, the president declared a state of emergency, dissolved his cabinet and sacked all eighteen provincial governors, putting the military more firmly in charge. But what has worked in the past may not work this time, as protesters – fuelled by anger at a deepening economic crisis and rampant corruption – give no sign of stepping back. If Khartoum continues on its current path, the result is likely to be a deepened economic crisis and wider bloodshed.

In Libya, advances by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army from the east into southern Libya and its apparent capture of the country’s largest oil field sparked renewed local fighting. Worse could follow if outside powers don’t quickly rein in their local allies: an inter-tribal war could spill over the border into Chad and anti-Haftar forces in the north may retaliate, triggering a larger confrontation.

In Latin America, the struggle between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó, recognised as interim president by dozens of countries, persists. It too could worsen: as Crisis Group warned, a protracted standoff would mean further immiseration of an already miserable economy, greater refugee flows, and Maduro clinging to power. That would leave the U.S. and its Venezuelan and other allies one of two options: allow things to deteriorate, with potentially destabilising consequences for the country’s neighbours, or be tempted by a perilous military intervention. What’s needed now is third party mediation, and an agreed transitional process, which neither Maduro nor Guaidó is showing appetite to consider.

Amid the bad news, a potential diplomatic breakthrough, as the highest-level talks ever between the U.S. and the Taliban took place in Doha. Potential pitfalls abound: the two sides may not reach agreement and, if they do, might not take sufficient account of the interests of Afghans not represented at the table. But an eighteen-year war seems closer to resolution than in the past, and that in and of itself is welcome.

And, amid the bad news, diplomatic confusion as talks between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un end without an agreement. There is the U.S. version of what happened, the North Korean one and then there is media and expert speculation. The bottom line is that neither side appears willing to give up and that negotiations are likely to continue. There remains hope, which is far more than could have been said a little more than a year ago.