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13 Apr 22. Combined Maritime Forces establishes new naval group to patrol Red Sea region. The multinational Combined Maritime Forces in the Middle East will stand up a new Combined Task Force-153 to specifically address maritime threats in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
The U.S. Navy will lead the task force initially, but will quickly hand leadership over to a regional partner, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command, told reporters in an April 13 call.
Cooper, who also leads the Combined Maritime Forces organization, would not directly say the new organization is meant to counter the maritime threats posed by the Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen. Rather, he said the April 17 standup of CTF-153 will “strengthen the Combined Maritime Force, which is the world’s largest multinational naval partnership, and ultimately we’ll enhance security and stability in the Red Sea and the region.”
Combined Maritime Forces has already established three other combined task forces: CTF-152, which patrols inside the Persian Gulf; CTF-150, which operates outside the Persian Gulf and will now focus on the Gulf of Oman and Northern Arabian Sea; and CTF-151, which counters piracy across the entire 5th Fleet area.
Cooper said CTF-153 will operate from the Suez Canal through the Bab el-Mandeb strait and to the Yemen-Oman border and will address human trafficking and smuggling of both legal materials like coal and illegal weapons and drugs.
“The standup of this organization really reflects a regional consensus on the importance of maritime security in these bodies of water,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a proven record in recent examples of success when we focus in this organized way.
U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Francis, who commands U.S. surface ships in 5th Fleet, will lead CTF-153 with a staff of about 15 from aboard U.S. Navy command ship Mount Whitney, which typically serves as the U.S. 6th Fleet command ship out of Italy.
“The fact that we’re bringing what is traditionally the 6th Fleet flagship into 5th Fleet signals our very strong resolve and commitment to this region,” Cooper said.
Though he would not address which nations would join the new task force or who would take command next, he highlighted the Egyptian Navy as having joined the Combined Maritime Forces organization a year ago.
Cooper called them an “enormously capable navy; they’re growing their capability.” He said they tripled their exercise participation over the last year and know the Red Sea waters well.
The vice admiral said he expected two to eight ships to serve under the task force at any given time and said unmanned surface vessels being tested under 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 organization could also support maritime security operations in the Red Sea at some point. Task Force 59 was stood up in September to oversee experimentation with unmanned craft in all domains in an operational theater. Cooper said he doesn’t expect the CTF-153 standup to increase the presence of ships and aircraft in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, but rather it would make the ships there more effective, helping coordinate everyday activities from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others patrolling their coastal waters in concert with other naval forces. (Source: Defense News)
14 Apr 22. AUKUS: What Are These Three Really Up to Under the Surface? When the creation of AUKUS came to the knowledge of the public, on September 15, 2021, comments largely focused on the disruption of the historical A$90bn contract with France’s Naval Group for conventional submarines and the procurement of nuclear-powered submarines to the Australian Navy.
Until then, only the five UNSC permanent members and India were operating such platforms (with Brazil on the course of developing its own as well). Many questions remain about this ambitious program, notably as to which companies will design and build the subs, how will intellectual property be shared among partners, what offsets could be conceded to Australian companies, or under which conditions will Australia source its highly enriched uranium.
However, while analysts like the director of the Lowy Institute’s International Security Program Sam Roggeveen have argued that the delivery of nuclear-powered subs may well turn out to be overly ambitious and never take place, the dynamic launched in September is well underway. On February 8, the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement (ENNPIA) entered into force, granting Australia access to American and British classified information on the matter. The (at-least) eight submarines should be built in Adelaide and delivered in the 2040s. By then, Australia could extend some of its Collins-class submarines by 10 years and lease others from the UK and the US.
Downsides of the nuclear submarines deal for Australia.
The development of nuclear- powered submarines will have several important implications for Australia. For now, the country has neither the infrastructure, nor the experienced workforce required to play a significant industrial role in the program. While some offsets will certainly be offered to Australia, most of the workload will certainly fall on to American and British companies, contrarily to what was originally planned with Naval Group.
Lockheed Martin, originally in charge of procuring the weapons systems of Naval Group’s submarines, as well as other major US companies involved in the development of such platforms (notably Huntington Ingalls), will compete for the industrial workload associated with the contract with BAE and Rolls Royce. The latter were awarded a contract for the design and development of the UK’s new nuclear-propelled submarines just two days after the announcement of AUKUS, which may benefit them, as argued by the former director of RAND Canberra Jennifer Moroney and Georgetown scholar Alan Tidwell.
In addition to this lesser industrial implication from domestic firms, Australia’s strategic autonomy will paradoxically be reduced by the strength it will gain from nuclear propulsion. Such platforms could play a key role in the case of a major crisis between China and the US thanks to their much wider operational range. And as emphasized by Sam Roggeveen, “saying “no” to an ally when having the means to say “yes” is hard.”
AUKUS will become a major hub of defense innovation.
While the merits of the submarine deal are still debated in Australia, multiple benefits will undoubtedly come out of AUKUS for all its parties. As explained by Stanford’s Asia-Pacific Research Center scholar Arzan Tarapore, “beyond submarines, AUKUS seeks to win the technology competition against China by pooling resources and integrating supply chains for defense related science and industry.” And the race to hypersonic weapons lies at the very center of this collaboration.
On April 5, the three allies agreed to cooperate on their development. Such efforts have already been ongoing between Australia and the US since 2007, and most recently under the SCIFiRE program, which aims to develop and test hypersonic cruise missile prototypes.
Australia has also consented efforts of its own, and it recently allocated $3mn to Hypersonix, a domestic company, for the development of the 3D-printed airframe of a reusable hypersonic UAV travelling up to speeds of Mach 12. Such technology is of high interest to the US, and AUKUS will enable the three nations to benefit from their respective strengths in the field.
Companies from other countries could also benefit from this dynamic: Australia has recently invested $10mn to open a Hypersonics Research Precinct in Eagle Farm, Brisbane, where Thales Australia is located.
While being a key feature of this collaboration in defense innovation, hypersonics are far from being the only technological focus of AUKUS. The alliance encompasses programs across various fields, aiming to develop various advanced capabilities, most being dual in nature. Among them, electronic warfare may well be the only purely military field, where the three nations are planning to share “tools, techniques and technology.”
More specific elements were disclosed in other fields, such as undersea capabilities, with the AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems Project, eyeing initial trials for 2023. Its aim is to deploy undersea drones operating alongside submarines, as part of “systems of systems”.
The US Navy, which issued in 2020 its Robotics, Autonomous Systems and AI 2040 Strategy, has already ordered five Boeing Orca extra-large UUVs for missions of mine-laying and intelligence gathering. Australia might jump onboard this program, while the UK is currently moving towards the phase 3 of its experimental extra-large autonomous submarine Manta.
Here again, technological cooperation and interoperability will be at the core of the three countries’ future moves in the field. The three allies are also looking towards quantum technologies, with the AUKUS Quantum Arrangement (AQuA), primarily focused on uses in the field of Positioning, Navigation and Timing. Finally, artificial intelligence and advanced cyber capabilities were mentioned as some of the domains identified by the US, the UK and Australia. These will be as many chances for the latter to generate intellectual property in dual fields and attract investment in the country, while cementing the US and its allies’ Indo-Pacific strategy.
AUKUS is not limited to its three core members.
While the UK, the US and Australia constitute the core of the alliance, as historical allies and members of the Five Eyes intelligence community, the treaty was thought of as an “open architecture”, to which several key regional partners could be associated in the relevant areas. One would naturally think of Canada, which has not even been consulted on the creation of AUKUS, as a future partner. The country, for which the September 2021 announcement came as a strategic shock, is yet to release its Indo-Pacific strategy, which it started to work on in November 2021.
Japan is another natural partner; while not keen on nuclear subs, the country voiced through its ambassador to Australia Yamagami Shingo its willingness to participate in AUKUS initiatives in the fields of AI and cybersecurity.
European countries will also certainly look to cooperate with AUKUS; Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies researcher Jagannath Panda anticipates a sort of “AUKUS Plus” format, inspired from the “QUAD Plus” model, for such collaboration. Some other potential regional partners, more reserved as to the AUKUS’ purpose, include India and South-Korea. While the former cherishes its strategic autonomy and is not likely to join this dynamic (although limited collaboration remains possible), the latter sees the transfer of nuclear submarines technology to Australia as the ultimate justification for its repeated unsuccessful demands to Washington for such cooperation.
Should the US and AUKUS refuse to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Seoul, the country will likely try to purchase them from France, according to Moon Chung-In, chairman of the Sejong Institute.
Finally, while being skeptical about the presence of nuclear submarines near their waters, New-Zealand (which plans to deny Australian nuclear subs entry, in line with its ban on such platforms) and Indonesia will probably have to be associated in some shape or form.
Collaboration in cyber capabilities looks like the most suitable field to start with for these countries. (Source: special to Defense-Aerospace.com)
13 Apr 22. Mozambique: Failure to enhance governance will sustain dependence on foreign support against insurgents. On 13 April, General Rudzani Maphwanya, Chief of Joint Operations, claimed that multinational forces had been able to disrupt Islamist insurgents, but called for greater improvements in governance as South Africa extends its deployment in Cabo Delgado. While the South African Development Community (SADC) working alongside Mozambican and Rwandan forces has forced the Islamic State aligned Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa (ASWJ) from their coastal strongholds, attacks continue in Cabo Delgado’s interior districts. Security in Nangade for example has worsened notably since insurgents were pushed from the Palma district in February, the centre of international gas projects, with attacks repeatedly targeting civilians, disrupting efforts to resettle displaced persons. With Mozambican forces exhibiting reduced capabilities and abuses undermining efforts to build trust with local communities, Mozambique will remain dependent on international security support until greater investments are made in enhancing governance. Without greater social support and progress on addressing corruption and local animosity will sustain the insurgency. (Source: Sibylline)
14 Apr 22. Libya: UN-backed talks increase the likelihood of securing elections, but significant obstacles remain. On 13 April, representatives from the Government of National Unity led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and the government appointed by the eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) led by Fathi Bashaga began talks in Egypt to reach an agreement on holding national elections. Delegates from the HoR and the Tripoli-based High State Council have named 12 members to participate in the UN-backed talks which are set to continue through 20 April. Since early March, the formation of two competing executives has further exacerbated domestic instability in Libya. However, beyond partisan divisions, holding elections represents a common objective for both governments. Nonetheless, significant sticking points, such as the constitutional basis and candidate selection, remain ahead of restoring a consensual electoral process. (Source: Sibylline)
14 Apr 22. Sri Lanka: Looming Debt Default. Multiple rating agencies slashed Sri Lanka’s credit rating on 14 April, including Fitch Ratings downgrading Sri Lanka from C to CCC. The move comes after the Central Bank announced on 12 April that it will temporarily suspend its foreign debt repayment commitments going forward, in order to use its sparse available resources for imports.
- On 18 April, Sri Lanka is due to pay USD 78 million in interest payments on international sovereign bonds, however S&P Global Ratings has claimed a default is now a “virtual certainty” marking the first default in Sri Lanka’s independent history. The island country has been reeling under an economic crisis. It now has Asia’s fastest growing inflation rate at 19 percent, close to 10 hour long daily power cuts (see Sibylline Alert- 31 March 2022), and a mere USD 2 billion left in foreign exchange reserves.
- The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government is increasingly running out of options to support the population and has now even appealed to members of the diaspora to contribute funds from overseas. The government is also set to meet the IMF on 18 April to appeal for USD 4 billion in financial assistance. It will also seek a loan of USD 500m from the World Bank to help lower income families and for the purchase of fertilisers for farmers in the immediate term.
- Other than multilateral financial institutions, the Sri Lankan government has also reached out to traditional bilateral partners such as India and China for financial assistance. India has stated it can provide an additional USD 2bn worth of financial assistance. As for China, Sri Lankan Finance Minister Ali Sabry has said he is confident he will be able to obtain their help, but Beijing has not formally responded to Sri Lanka’s request of USD 2.5 billion in credit support. A slowing Chinese economy and a worsening domestic Covid-19 outbreak, which is increasing the need for heavy public expenditure will reduce Beijing’s willingness to meet Sri Lanka’s requests.
- While the government continues to tap into multiple channels and institutions for financial relief, protests demanding the removal of the Rajapaksa government over the mismanagement of the economy continue – particularly in Colombo, in the Galle Face Green area, where protesters have set up tents in anticipation of sustaining protests for the long term. Indeed, protesters have rejected the government’s offer for talks and have instead demanded the resignation of the president and other Rajapaksa family members holding a post in government.
- The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) alliance has threatened to bring a no-confidence motion against the government next week unless the president and the prime minister tender their resignations. The Rajapaksa brothers who occupy both positions; however, have thus far refused to resign making a no-confidence motion increasingly likely. Significantly, traditional support bases of the Rajapaksas such as farmers and the Buddhist monk community have joined protests indicating that public support for them has reached an all-time low.
The government will continue to divert its limited resources towards the purchase of food and fuel rather than the repayment of its debt. While this will help provide short term assistance to the population and the operations of locally-based businesses, it will aggravate its debt commitments in the longer term, significantly increasing public borrowing costs. The IMF will therefore likely call for stringent structural reform measures in return for financial support, but the process of structuring Sri Lanka’s debt that involves multiple parties (see figure 1 below) will likely take months, reducing already dwindling investor confidence. Furthermore, political instability will likely complicate Sri Lanka’s position to receive financial assistance from new sources. While a no-confidence motion will most likely be brought against the government next week, the process to impeach the president is a drawn-out process that involves several rounds of voting wherein a two-thirds majority is required as well as a Supreme Court enquiry. Such a motion will prolong protests and sustain increasing government instability risks, reflected in Sibylline’s recent change in Sri Lanka’s government stability ASTRA risk score from 3 to 5 and rising. Additionally, the Rajapaksas will likely resist an attempt to oust them, which could involve calling for martial law as relations between them and the military remain strong.
Regarding energy security, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) claims that the ongoing heavy showers across the island will enhance hydro-power production capacities, reducing reliance on imports of diesel to run thermal power plants which had driven the recent power shortages. However, as foreign exchange reserves remain low and tourism, which is a major source of income, is severely impacted, supplies of essential food and medical goods will remain limited due to imports being undermined. This will sustain concerns for the staff and customers of firms continuing to operate in the country over the next month. (Source: Sibylline)
14 Apr 22. Israel – Palestinian Territories.
- Continued Israeli incursions and raids across the West Bank will elevate tensions, particularly in refugee camps located in the Jenin and Nablus areas, likely leading to violent clashes with Israeli forces and settlers.
- Palestinian deaths across the West Bank will reinforce the likelihood of attacks in Israel, though the probability of a Gaza flare-up triggered by Palestinian militant groups after Ramadan is moderate-substantial.
- Israeli security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority is likely to continue, but questions over its effectiveness will test the stability of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition in the coming month, at a time of already growing government instability.
Over recent weeks, attacks have caused a spike in ethno-religious tensions and unrest across Israel and the Palestinian Territories. On 7 April, a gunman opened fire in several locations in downtown Tel Aviv, with the incident representing the fourth major attack over the past two weeks in the country, confirming an escalatory trend. It follows daily confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem near the Old City’s Damascus Gate. The area was a focal point for clashes and unrest after Ramadan last year, however, the suspension of evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and overall restraint by both Israeli police and Palestinians have mitigated a major escalation.
Nonetheless, in recent days Israeli security and defence forces have conducted several operations across the West Bank, and have particularly stepped-up efforts in the Jenin area, from where several assailants originated. On 14 April, Israeli forces began their sixth day of military operations in the northern West Bank city, with previous ones leading to armed clashes. As such, there remains the considerable risk that tensions will continue throughout Passover, with growing concerns of a flare-up after Ramadan.
West Bank incidents and operations drive the likelihood of a post-Ramadan flare-up
Since the start of this week, at least five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police or soldiers in Hebron, Husan, Bethlehem, and Jenin. The deaths come after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett granted security forces “full freedom of action” on 8 April. As such, continued Israeli incursions and raids across the West Bank will elevate tensions particularly in refugee camps located in Jenin, Tulkarm and the Nablus areas. Notably, the latter has also experienced a spike in confrontations between Israeli soldiers, Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Religious sites including Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron will represent likely targets for additional confrontations in the coming days.
With the creation of informal groups of fighters like the newly formed “Jenin Unit”, Israeli counter-terrorism operations will likely continue focusing on the Jenin area. Across the northern West Bank, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) represents one of the most prominent actors and the group has previously responded to assaults with cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza, alongside Hamas. Therefore, additional Palestinian deaths will heighten the likelihood of retaliatory attacks, particularly if Hamas avoids taking action, with the group likely intending on averting significant armed escalations similar to those of May 2021, having depleted a substantial portion of its arsenal during the 11-day Gaza war. Thus, while Hamas appears keen on avoiding military escalations as the de facto political authority in Gaza, sustained Israeli military operations in the West Bank increase the potential for other Palestinian militant groups to undertake unilateral action.
Palestinian Authority unlikely to revoke security cooperation but will test Israeli government stability
The perpetrators of three of the five recent attacks in Israel have come from the Jenin area, highlighting the oversight issues the PA and Israel have in effectively controlling the northern portions of the West Bank. Particularly since the cross-border confrontations in May 2021, Hamas and affiliated groups have emerged as the defenders of the Palestinian cause, with PIJ stating this January that PA cooperation with Israel had reached “dangerous” levels. Moreover, in recent years, the PA has leveraged and on occasion suspended its security cooperation with Israel to gain greater economic benefits, potentially leaving certain blind spots to be exploited by militants, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While an unpopular policy in Israel, security cooperation will remain necessary, with PA Security being able to operate as an additional force. For instance, during a similar spate of attacks between 2015-2016, strengthened collaboration was a crucial factor in stemming incidents. Nonetheless, sustained cooperation will present another challenge to the stability of Israel’s current governing coalition following the recent Yamina party defection. As such, in a bid to appease right-wing elements of the coalition and prevent further defections, the government voted to establish a committee to review the removal of state benefits to families of citizens who committed terror acts. Such moves will further contribute to rising ethno-religious tensions.
The Israeli army and Shin Bet’s recommendation that Palestinian workers should continue to be allowed in Israel and premier Bennett’s decision not to pursue a collective punishment approach will continue to mitigate the potential for a major escalation, including following the Ramadan period. However, additional movement restrictions in the vicinity of the Al-Aqsa compound, the implementation of restrictions for Palestinian labourers and border crossing closures will represent triggers for unrest and clashes in the coming weeks.
Several anniversaries in the coming month are likely to act as a flashpoint for unrest or a renewed spate of attacks. On 5 May, Israel will be observing Independence Day, a date that commemorates the declaration of independence in 1948 and the formation of the state of Israel. Similarly, on 15 May, Palestinians are likely to observe Nakba Day, which marks “the catastrophe” after the declaration of the state of Israel and the displacement and exodus of Palestinians. This is a highly charged period, and further attacks in Israeli towns and cities are therefore likely amid current tensions.
Heightened security will remain in commercial urban centres, with a latent bystander risk in the event of clashes or scuffles with little notice. Junctions and public transportation will continue to represent a soft target for stabbing and car-ramming incidents, particularly around flashpoint areas such as Israeli settlements, religious sites, and mixed Arab-Jewish communities. In addition, the increased circulation of unlicensed arms in the West Bank over the past year or so will sustain the likelihood of further attacks involving firearms, though more stringent security protocols and restrictions on freedom of movement are likely to mitigate the risk of more severe, large-scale incidents. (Source: Sibylline)
14 Apr 22. SANDF gives an update on Mozambique deployment. Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Rudzani Maphwanya, yesterday briefed the media on the status of the country’s deployment in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.
The Extraordinary Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Maputo, Mozambique on 23 June 2021, led the SANDF to launch Operation Vikela. It forms part of South Africa’s contribution to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM).
“This summit gave birth to the mandate for SADC Standby Force to be deployed in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism mostly carried out by Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) and their affiliates in the Cabo Delgado region,” he explained.
The eight SADC Troop Contributing Countries comprising SAMIM are South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, working in collaboration with the Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique (FADM) of the host country. Rwandan troops are also in the area of operation under the invitation of the host country.
Since the start of this deployment, SAMIM forces concluded two major operations from October 2021 to January 2022, which led to the capture and destruction of several ASWJ terrorist bases in the area east of Chai settlement and the Messalo River in Macomia district in Cabo Delgado Province.
Besides 31 terrorists being killed, 16 women, eight children and two elderly males believed to have been abducted by the terrorists were rescued. These victims are under the care of national authorities. During Operation Buffalo, the SAMIM forces met strong resistance, but succeeded in dominating the terrorists who continue to suffer massive losses in the operational area.
SAMIM forces have also confiscated weapons that include RPG-7 launchers, PKM machine guns and a large quantity of AK-47 assault rifles and grenades. Other equipment confiscated include vehicles, motorbikes, cellphones and technology devices. These devices have provided invaluable information that is being analysed by the technology fusion centre.
“Since its deployment, SAMIM has registered a number of milestones, including recapturing villages, dislodging terrorists from their bases and seizing weapons and warfare material, which have contributed in creating a relatively secure environment for safer passage of humanitarian support,” Maphwanya stated. “Additionally, members of the community have developed confidence in SAMIM forces, feeling more secure and allowing internally displaced persons to return to their normal lives.”
He specifically noted that South Africa’s International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor told the Troika meeting on 3 April that the SADC mission had made good progress in repelling attacks over the past year.
Questioned on the de-escalation of SAMIM from AU Scenario 6 to Scenario 5, Chief Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Simphiwe Sangweni, clarified the term de-escalation, saying it is more appropriate to speak of transition. “Six was meant as interventionist by small elements for a very limited time in order to degrade the terrorist threat,” he explained. “Transitioning to Five gives effect to peace support, and actually requires a larger effort and more feet on the ground.”
He insisted that Scenario Five as peace support modality still allows for ‘attack and destroy’, but it implies a comprehensive approach to establish stability. This entails strengthening governing structures, social and economic activity, such as rebuilding infrastructure, re-establishing education and creating normality of life in the northern part of Mozambique.
On the main issue of the day, namely dealing with the devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal, he stated that while the SANDF was called upon to deploy air assets, it is a PROVJOINT responsibility. “The lead entity is the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).”
Maphwanya added that the SANDF and even the police (SAPS) have been affected by the flood with hangars becoming inundated. This situation required inspection of aircraft to ensure their avionics have not been affected before these air assets were deployed. “We are even deploying air assets from elsewhere in the country to deal with this disaster,” he said.
He conceded that multiple deployments, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cabo Delgado and now the floods, pose challenges to the SANDF. Whilst the SANDF is geared to operate simultaneously in different areas, budgetary constraints make it difficult.
He said the Commander-in-Chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa touched on this very issue in his State of the Nation address (SONA) that the SANDF must be capacitated. “Whatever ambition our country may have for its military forces, that ambition has to be matched by resources,” Maphwanya said. “The question South Africa has to answer is: What type of defence force do you want?”
Sangweni said the President and Parliament have approved deployment of 1 495 soldiers to Cabo Delgado. Operation Vikela’s land element consists of infantry and special forces. There is a maritime capability involving Tanzania along with South Africa’s SAS Spioenkop that is deployed now. It should be recalled that Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah terrorists also infiltrate from the sea.
Furthermore, SAMIM consists of medical support elements; a field hospital is in place for South African soldiers, and in some areas an engineer component, as well as counter-IED capabilities and military police.
As for air assets, he said SAMIM has four aircraft deployed from the contributing nations. At the same time, Maphwanya would not be drawn on any details, including deployments of armoured vehicles and gunships such as the Rooivalk attack helicopter to Cabo Delgado.
“This touches on operational capabilities that cannot be divulged,” he stated. “The fact that an armoured personnel carrier (APC) of a contributing nation was hit provides an answer of sorts on armoured vehicles there, but we cannot say more at this stage. We are not denying or confirming that we are considering deploying the Rooivalk or any other attack helicopters that SADC as a region has.”
SADC as a region is funding the SAMIM deployment; part of it is covered by its peace fund. The SADC Secretariat has worked out the modalities for each participating nation to bring resources into play, and some form of disbursement is currently being looked at. “We can be proud of the fact that we as SADC are carrying out this mission without help from any other body.”
Maphwanya earlier made the point that South Africa, as all other nations in the region, is keenly aware of the importance of stabilising northern Mozambique.
“We shall restore stability in that part of Mozambique, bearing in mind the proximity of the area of Cabo Delgado to our domestic borders,” he said. “Failure to collectively address the security situation can easily result in our country having to deal with grave security challenges spilling over from there.”
The military intervention is but a part of the solution; political, diplomatic, economic and social interventions are critical for peace and security for all. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
12 Apr 22. Nicaragua: Political Crackdown.
- On 31 March, Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the General Law on Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organisations promoted by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) government led by President Daniel Ortega. The new law allows the Ortega government to outlaw Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) critical of the administration, after it arbitrarily decided to ban 25 local and foreign NGOs last month. The Ortega government has now banned 143 NGOs as part of its crackdown on political dissent since 2018.
- Businesses in other sectors are also likely to be affected by the Ortega government’s crackdown, as it continues to weaken Nicaragua’s democracy, deteriorates the human rights situation in the country, and increases the likelihood that an ever wider range of organisations can be targeted by arbitrary legislation. This will likely lead to a worsening of Nicaragua’s socio-economic health, as NGOs and universities are a major source of aid, education, and employment, while businesses and talent will likely continue leaving the country, deterred by the government’s crackdown on the civic space.
- The law will likely prompt further international reprisals against the Ortega government. US efforts to deepen its sanctions against the Ortega administration will likely impact sugar and other agricultural exports from Nicaragua linked to the CAFTA-DR free trade agreement, increasing the agribusiness sector’s exposure to US regulatory risks. (Source: Sibylline)
13 Apr 22. Australia-China-Solomon Islands: Australian pressure on Solomon Islands over China security deal will raise regional tensions. On 13 April, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in Honiara to petition him not to sign a security deal with China that would see Beijing deploy security and military forces on the islands. Australia, the US, and other countries in the region perceive the deal as destabilising. The trip follows the leak of Chinese Embassy documents requesting permission to deploy an armed task force to the Islands in December 2021 amid protests, a sign of Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the Pacific region. More pressure by Australia and its regional partners, including the US, is expected in the short-term and ahead of the 21 May Australian federal elections. As a result, Australia-China relations are expected to worsen, raising the risks of military posturing and related threats, and elevating the risk of further punitive measures by Beijing against Australian citizens and businesses. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Apr 22. Pakistan: New Prime Minister Will Face Challenges.
- Shehbaz Sharif’s appointment as prime minister will continue to be opposed by the ousted Imran Khan who will urge his supporters to take to the streets across the country, sustaining a heightened risk of disruption and domestic unrest in urban areas in the coming weeks.
- The new coalition government faces a myriad of immediate challenges to consolidate its power, including the formation of the new cabinet, building an amicable relationship with the military establishment, tackling the economic crisis, and contesting in by-elections to fill vacant seats in the National Assembly.
- In contrast to Khan’s clear shift away from the US, Sharif will likely adopt a more balanced position between US and China. As a result, an improvement in relations between Islamabad and Washington can be expected if Sharif is able to remain in power.
- Khan’s accusations that the US took part in a conspiracy to overthrow his government have raised anti-American sentiment amongst his supporters, despite denials from Washington. As a result, there is likely to be a greater concern for American organisations and personnel in Pakistan, although no incidents of harassment have been reported as of yet.
On 11 April, Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan’s new prime minister unchallenged owing to the resignation of nearly one hundred MPs belonging to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from the National Assembly. They resigned in protest of the no-confidence motion that ousted the PTI leader Imran Khan’s government over the weekend. The PTI continue to advocate that the motion was backed by a foreign conspiracy led by the United States to force regime change in Pakistan.
Sharif faces a difficult balancing act to consolidate the new government
70-year-old Shehbaz Sharif was the former leader of the opposition and is the younger brother of two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Shehbaz Sharif has been chief minister of the politically significant Punjab province three times and is known to be an effective administrator. Compared to Imran Khan, his political leanings are relatively liberal, as he has spoken against the persecution of Christian and Hindu minorities. However, the significant presence of members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur (JUI-F) party, which runs one of the largest networks of madrasas (Islamic religious schools) in the country, in his new government will likely undermine attempts to curb the growing trend of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. Sharif also faces a high-profile multi-million-dollar money laundering charge. He denies any wrongdoing, but the allegation undermines the integrity of Sharif’s appointment as he waits for the case to be resolved.
The new government coalition consists of a number of political parties, with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s Pakistan People Party (PPP) possessing the most influential presence. While the two parties were united under the now achieved objective of uprooting Imran Khan, they have historically been bitter rivals. They are working together under the coalition leadership of veteran politician and cleric Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F under an alliance known as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). While PPP leader Bilwal is rumoured to become the next foreign minister and there already seems to be an unofficial understanding regarding the distribution of ministry portfolios, the formation of the new cabinet and the maintenance of the PDM will be one of the biggest challenges ahead for the new Sharif government. Fault lines between PML-N and PPP will also sustain a threat to government stability in the future.
Another significant relationship to be defined in the upcoming days, is between Sharif and the military establishment. Indeed, one of the most important decisions that Sharif must make is the appointment of the new army chief, with the current Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure coming to an end in November 2022. Senior military appointments have been a key source of contention historically between the army and the government in Pakistan, with one of the main friction points between Khan and General Bajwa being the appointment of the new chief of Pakistan’s intelligence services. The souring relationship between Khan and the military establishment was a key factor in fall of the Khan government. Sharif will therefore prioritise establishing amicable ties to avoid similar fallouts, especially given the military’s kingmaker status within Pakistan’s political landscape.
Election complication and enduring economic crisis present other key challenges to new government
Sharif will need to decide whether to call for early general elections or remain in power till the end of the assembly’s term in August 2023. The ruling coalition will also contest forthcoming by-elections to fill hundreds of vacant seats in the National Assembly. Complicating the situation, Pakistan’s election commission has stated elections cannot be held until October 2022 at the earliest. However, any future election will once again provide Khan with the opportunity to regain political power.
Indeed, Khan’s attempts to strengthen his claim of a foreign conspiracy and his repeated calls for nationwide protests are likely part of an election campaign strategy. Khan continues to remain popular despite his ousting, particularly among the Pakistani youth, as well as the overseas diaspora. His supporters also protested the no-confidence motion in London, Dubai, and Canada. Social media monitoring also highlights that Khan’s claims of a foreign conspiracy have gained prominence, which can further be validated by the fact that anti-America slogans have been reported at several PTI protests. However, whether Khan’s attempts to leverage anti-American sentiment will be a successful counter to the growing sense of dissatisfaction over his handling of the ongoing economic crisis is yet to be seen. Overall, he is a populist leader that will continue to vocally oppose the Sharif government. As such, the extent of Khan galvanising his supporter to protest against the new government will constitute a factor driving political instability and domestic unrest.
Another issue that has had a destabilising effect on Pakistan’s domestic environment is the debilitating economic conditions. The no-confidence motion was called for by the PDM over Khan’s inability to tackle the crisis. Sharif has inherited an economy with soaring inflation and a significant current account deficit. He will likely need to undertake structural reforms to convince the International Monetary Fund to provide a bailout package. Such a move may antagonise not just Khan’s supporters but the public more generally. However, in an attempt to win public favour, Sharif announced in his maiden speech a set of populist measures such as an increase in the minimum wage, as well as a 10 percent increase in pensions for civil service and military personnel.
A more neutral foreign policy to strike a greater balance between Washington and Beijing
An important task for the Sharif government will be to adjust Pakistan’s foreign policy. Imran Khan had indicated a clear shift away from the US, and towards Russia and China, while his substantiated claims of an US-backed regime change has naturally left observers concerned about the future of Pakistan-US ties. Khan was also the first foreign leader to meet with Putin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which resulted in a trade deal. Indeed, Moscow was one of the few foreign governments that backed Khan’s claims of US interference in his removal.
It is clear that Sharif, and the military, want to move away from a one-sided position to a more balanced one between the US and China. Sharif and General Bajwa have already indicated the need for better relations with Washington. Commenting on the new prime minister, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 11 April that the US had a “strong and abiding relationship with Pakistan, an important security relationship and that will continue under new leaders”. For the Pakistani army, however, an important reason for bettering ties with the US is its bid to remove Pakistan from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to regain access to superior Western arms supplies, without which Pakistan will continue to rely on Chinese-made weapons. Hence, there may be notable attempts to rectify ties between the Pakistan and the US under the new government in the coming weeks. That said, these actions may strengthen the conspiracy theory of US interference in Khan’s removal.
The China-Pakistan relationship will remain largely unaffected by the change in government in Islamabad as the two countries remain tied by significant Chinese investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In fact, Sharif is known to have a personal relationship with several Chinese businessmen and interlocuters due to him overseeing infrastructure development in the Punjab province while he was the chief minister, earning a favourable reputation among several foreign businesses. In one of his first speeches as prime minister, Sharif claimed Pakistan’s friendship with China is “unwavering”, despite some setbacks under Imran Khan’s government.
In his first tweet after his ousting, Khan called for sustained protests as part of a “freedom struggle” against the alleged foreign-backed regime change. As a result, significant protest activity in major cities and districts can be expected across the country in the next two weeks, however protests may not necessarily take place simultaneously. For instance, Khan called for a rally in Peshawar after Isha prayers on 13 April, after previously calling for nationwide protests on 10 April, indicating that protests may be concentrated rather than nationwide going forward. Hotspot areas for protests include press clubs and chowks (small open spaces in the middle of two main roads that are characterised by statues of national figures, small gardens, or market stalls) across the country.
Thus far, there have been little disruptions to commercial flights or airport operations, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has placed immigration staff and airport security forces at all international airports on high alert to prevent any officials linked to Imran Khan or his PTI party from fleeing Pakistan. As a result, security checks on all outbound, and specifically international passengers, have been heightened, hence passengers need to account for the likely longer times to clear security and immigration checks.
Additionally, announcements regarding new ministers as well as measures to tackle the economic crisis – a priority of which would be to secure an IMF bailout package – will be on Sharif’s agenda over the next two months. Diplomatic activity will be increased as foreign governments confirm official recognition of the new government in Islamabad.
In the longer outlook of three to six months, the new government will need decide on its approach towards elections, particularly in constituencies from which PTI MPs have resigned. Indeed, organising by-elections could add further burden to the government’s finances at a time of an economic crisis. A final decision on the timing of the next general elections is also set to be announced in the next six months, though the polls are unlikely to run until the end of 2022, at the earliest.
Despite dismissing Khan’s claims, Sharif has also promised to launch a formal investigation into the foreign interference allegations, which will remain a central focus of domestic politics for the foreseeable future. There will be an underlying security threat towards American entities in Pakistan while anti-US sentiment remains pronounced among the Pakistani population. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Apr 22. Australia: Polls show opposition lead for May elections, although significant policy change unlikely. On 11 April, early polls showed that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative Liberal-National Party coalition, which holds a narrow one-seat majority in the House of Representatives – the lower house of parliament – is on course to lose 10 to 14 seats to the centre-left Australian Labor Party (ALP), led by Anthony Albanese. The polls were taken following Morrison’s announcement on Sunday that federal elections will be held on 21 May, and show that despite potentially losing power, Morrison remains the preferred leader. However, while a change in government is a distinct possibility, the ALP is campaigning on a far more moderate platform compared to 2019, meaning a significant change in the policy environment is not likely. An ALP victory however would likely herald greater scrutiny on heavily polluting industries and a greater emphasis on labour rights. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Apr 22. Mali: Wagner rights abuses prompt European withdrawal, indicating rising threats to regional counter-terror efforts. On 11 April, EU officials announced the decision to halt training missions in Mali, but stated that the EU intends to commit greater resources to the wider Sahel. Concerns are mounting in EU countries over allegations of mass civilian casualties during joint operations between the Malian military and Wagner Russian military contractors in Mora, Mopti region (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 4 April). German officials are due to meet junta representatives later this week, as Berlin mulls the possibility of withdrawing troops from the UN mission. The developments underline the destabilising impact of Mali’s cooperation with Wagner, with reduced Western military support likely to significantly undermine counter-terror capabilities. While the EU has stated it will remain active in other parts of the Sahel, this commitment may be threatened should Wagner secure contracts with other military governments, such as in Burkina Faso, where a slow transition to democracy may corrode relations with the EU. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Apr 22. Nigeria: Attack in Plateau state underlines elevated threat of kidnapping in central and northern states. On 10 April, gunmen (known locally as bandits) killed at least 50 people and abducted dozens of others in attacks on nine villages, including Kanam, Bassa, and Barkin Ladi in the central Plateau state. In response local authorities have implemented a heightened security presence, deploying additional police officers to the targeted communities. The recent incident underlines the elevated threat of kidnapping emanating from bandit attacks. On 28 March, gunmen attacked a passenger train on the line connecting Kaduna city and Abuja, and while authorities initially claimed no one was harmed it later emerged at least eight people were killed with dozens kidnapped (see Sibylline Alert – 29 March). With attacks primarily concentrated in rural areas, NGO workers operating in central and northern states will be most exposed to kidnapping, however recent attacks on major infrastructure will also elevate threats to business travellers around major transport nodes. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Apr 22. Sri Lanka: Threat of no-confidence motion looms, raising threat of government. Instability. On 11 April, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that the Rajapaksa family, which holds various posts in the government including the president’s office, would not step down despite mounting pressure from protesters. However, opposition parties have indicated that they would not support the government’s call for a joint “unity government” and instead would move to pass a no-confidence motion to end President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s rule if he failed to curb the economic crisis soon. Indeed, domestic unrest and political volatility have aggravated the foreign exchange crisis, pushing the government to default on a USD 51bn external debt repayment on 12 April. Hence, a potential no-confidence motion when the Parliament convenes on 19 April will likely be welcomed by protesters, but the threat of domestic unrest and government instability will be sustained at least until the end of April, given the depth of the economic crisis and that Gotabaya is unlikely to willingly step aside. (Source: Sibylline)
12 Apr 22. Indonesia: Rising prices and political uncertainty drives domestic unrest. On 11 April, Indonesian police utilised water cannons and tear gas to disperse student-led protests outside parliament in the capital of Jakarta. Thousands of students had reportedly gathered across the country to protest against a number of issues, including the rising price of cooking oil and rumours that President Joko Widodo will run for a third term. The government has indicated that they are making efforts to reduce the price of cooking oil, which remains a vital commodity for most households and small businesses, although the impact has been limited. While the claims from President Widodo that he will abide by the constitution and not seek a third term have not been satisfactory for the protesting students. As a result, the threat of unrest around government infrastructure and associated disruption will remain in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
11 Apr 22. AUKUS risks flagged ahead of US mid-terms. A tipping of the political balance in the United States could trigger AUKUS “inertia”, a US policy analyst has warned.
According to University of Sydney professor Simon Jackman, results of the upcoming 2022 US mid-term elections could have serious implications on the delivery of key defence commitments promised under the AUKUS agreement.
With Reuters/Ipsos polling placing US President Joe Biden’s current approval rating at 40 per cent, Jackman notes the Democrats, which hold the majority in the Congress and Senate, could suffer “big losses”.
As such, AUKUS progress could be disrupted if a Republican majority complicates negotiations with a potential Albanese-led Labor government.
“There are some very hard yards to do with respect to AUKUS,” Jackmanold SkNews.
“There are many ways in [Washington DC] that inertia can take hold in the bureaucracy, in the armed forces themselves, but also up on Capitol Hill.
“It’s another key avenue where we need things to go right in order for the AUKUS agenda to be delivered.”
However, Jackman said history suggests such differences would be managed, particularly in light of strong internal support for the agreement within the “Friends of Australia” caucus in Congress.
“Indeed, a subset of it has renamed itself the ‘AUKUS Caucus’ and I think there’s a real bipartisan effort to keep that on track,” he added.
“Nonetheless, a new government in Australia with much stronger social democratic credentials than a conservative government, [could make for] some interesting first couple of meetings.”
Fears of a looming disruption come amid commitments from the Commonwealth government to deliver nuclear-powered submarines promised under AUKUS ahead of schedule.
This pledge was renewed by Minister for Defence Peter Dutton in an interview on Monday (11 April).
“The submarines I’ll have more to say about that later in the year, but that is a very prospective deal, and it will mean a much shorter timeline than has been projected or speculated on over the course of the last couple of months,” he said.
“The US and the UK get 100 per cent what’s going on in the Indo-Pacific. They want additional firepower here; they want the deterrence that we want because all of us together, want to maintain peace and to deter any act of aggression by China or anyone else in the Indo-Pacific over the next few years and decades.”
The Commonwealth government’s Nuclear-Powered Submarine Task Force is currently consulting with stakeholders in the US and UK to devise a strategy for the procurement of the SSNs.
The group’s considerations include requirements for design, construction, maintenance, infrastructure, industry capacity, nuclear safety, environmental protection, crewing and training.
The task force will also advise on building timeframes, costs and supply needs. The AUKUS agreement was recently expanded to include the development of hypersonic and counter-hypersonic weapons systems. (Source: Defence Connect)
12 Apr 22. Israel secretly deploy part of its military aircraft and espionage equipment in US bases. Israel has been deploying part of its military aircraft and espionage equipment along with the regime’s military experts in US bases scattered in some countries in the West Asia region, a new report says. The report released by Iran’s Nournews website on Monday says undercover Israeli military personnel deployed to US bases in the region conduct their own missions independent of American forces present in those bases, Press TV reported. The important point about this regional presence, the report said, is the deployment of undercover military and intelligence agents of Israel in some regional countries that enjoy close relations with Iran. Experts believe that the main goal behind the presence of the Israeli agents in some regional countries is to spy on and collect direct information related to Iran’s important bases and sensitive facilities. The report added that although the Iranian Armed Forces are closely monitoring these provocative moves, for which the host countries are also responsible, the nature of these actions will increase tension and instability in the region and can lead to unpredictable conditions. It added that high-resolution documented photos are available on the presence of the Israeli regime’s aircraft and espionage equipment in the US bases in some regional countries, which confirm the intelligence gathered in the field on Israel’s anti-Iran activities in the region. According to the report, senior officials of countries where Israeli undercover experts have been present are aware of the Israeli military and intelligence presence in their countries but prefer to keep mum on this issue. The project follows started the Zionist regime was transferred from the United States European Command (EUCOM) to US Central Command (CENTCOM), which aims to pave the ground for Tel Aviv’s intelligence and military conspiracies in the region following the US withdrawal from the West Asia region. (Source: News Now/https://en.abna24.com/)
12 Apr 22. U.S. aircraft carrier deploys off Korean peninsula amid tensions with North – official. The USS Abraham Lincoln strike group is operating in waters off the Korean peninsula, a U.S. official said, after South Korean media reported that the ships were deployed amid tensions over North Korea’s missile tests.
The official said the group is in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, for exercises with Japanese forces to reassure allies and partners in the region. The move comes as U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that North Korea could carry out an underground nuclear test in the coming days.
This is the first time since 2017 that a carrier group has deployed to the waters between South Korea and Japan. That year the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz, and their multi-ship strike groups, deployed in a show of force over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons tests.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited unnamed informed sources who said the USS Abraham Lincoln would be operating in the area for three to five days.
Responding to South Korean media reports on Monday, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said they would not comment on planned or ongoing drills.
Advisors to South Korea’s president-elect sought redeployment of U.S. strategic assets, such as aircraft carriers, nuclear bombers and submarines, to the Korean peninsula during talks held on a visit to Washington last week.
South Korea’s defence ministry said it is aware that the carrier group is in international waters but declined to comment on the reports, because it is a U.S. military asset.
North Korea has previously criticised U.S. military drills as a rehearsal for war, and said they increase tensions. (Source: Reuters)
11 Apr 22. Nigeria: Further electricity outages likely, disrupting operations and driving unrest. On the night of 8-9 April the national electricity grid collapsed for the second time within a month impacting multiple cities including Abuja and Lagos, following substantial power disruption and repeated outages since February. Local reports indicate that power has been at least partially restored in parts of Nigeria’s main cities, however the exact cause of the collapse has not been confirmed and it is likely that there may be further outages in the coming days. The government will likely struggle to fund necessary maintenance work on generation and distribution infrastructure as rising oil prices have pushed projected spending on fuel subsidies this year to USD 9.6bn. This will sustain the threat of further outages through the coming months, driving sporadic communication disruption, impacting supply chains and increasing reliance private diesel powered fuel generators. With diesel prices having over doubled in 2022 this will present too great a cost for many Nigerian businesses, elevating the threat of protests.
11 Apr 22. Guinea: Junta’s increasingly interventionist approach will elevate policy risk. On 9 April, the head of the military junta Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, announced that foreign mining companies operating in Guinea have until May to submit their proposed timetables for the construction of bauxite refineries, or will face penalties. Guinea has the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, and construction of local processing factories would give Guinea access to the revenues derived from exports of the more valuable aluminium. The announcement follows the military junta’s suspension of ground activities at Simandou mine; this was lifted after the move pressured two foreign mining entities to reach an agreement on developing rail infrastructure to make the project viable. This success may have prompted the junta to adopt a more interventionalist approach in strategic sectors. This will sustain the threat of further unilateral action against firms operating in the extractives industry, elevating policy risk, with failure to commit to local investment threatening operating licenses and driving communal hostility. (Source: Sibylline)
11 Apr 22. China: Shanghai’s lockdown to gradually ease, but socio-economic threats expected to persist. On 11 April, Shanghai authorities stated lockdown restrictions will be lifted in some areas, despite rising infections, and released initial details about the categorisation of residential units. These will be classified into three risk categories, with those reporting no infections within two weeks being allowed to engage in “appropriate activity”. The move comes amid rising domestic and foreign challenges, with residents struggling to find food and medicine and the EU and the US issuing complaints over China’s Covid-19 policy. Additionally, rising inflation, aggravated by the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, has further compounded domestic concerns and undermined Shanghai’s socio-economic health. The government hopes that the gradual easing of restrictions will begin to address these challenges, however, issues over domestic consumption and production, trade, and supply chains are expected to continue over the short-term. (Source: Sibylline)
11 Apr 22. India: Ethno-religious tensions continue to drive threat of inter-communal violence around religious holidays. On 10 April, at least one person was killed during clashes between Hindus and religious minorities in the central state of Gujarat during celebrations for the Hindu religious festival of Ram Navami. Similar violence was also recorded in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand, prompting the imposition of a curfew in parts of Madhya Pradesh. Clashes broke out when festival processions passed through areas populated by religious minority groups, triggering violent confrontations. Ethno-religious tensions, particularly between right-wing Hindu groups and the Muslim community, have been increasing since the onset of the Hindu nationalist BJP government in 2014 (see Sibylline Situation Update Brief – 30-03-2022). As a result, while the incident does not represent a significant deviation from established trends of rising intercommunal tensions, it does demonstrate that religious holidays will act as a flashpoint for spikes in violence. (Source: Sibylline)
11 Apr 22. Argentina: Diesel shortage continues, prompting national truck drivers’ strike and increasing unrest risks. On 11 April, the Federation of Argentinian Transportation workers (FETRA) began a national strike in protest at continuing diesel fuel shortages that are impeding their operations and severely threatening soy and maize production amid the harvesting season. The shortage is mainly caused by internal market distortions which reduce oil producers’ incentives to sell to national refineries, as the price is 32 percent lower than international prices. The government has threatened to halt or reduce domestic producers’ oil exports quotas to force them to supply more oil to the domestic market, increasing immediate regulatory risks and failing to address the root cause. With the government unlikely to deal with domestic energy market distortions, supply chain disruptions remain likely to continue. No immediate road blockades are expected, but a failure to address the issue could trigger disruptive and violent protests in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Córdoba.
11 Apr 22. Mexico: Electricity reform remains likely despite failure of recall referendum to strengthen president. On 10 April, Mexico held a presidential recall referendum pushed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a bid to reaffirm his political mandate to force through constitutional reform that would give the state control of the domestic electricity market. Participation in the referendum (See Sibylline Situation Update Brief- 8 April 2022) did not to reach the threshold of 40 percent of the electorate required to make it binding, with only 17 percent taking part. The vote does not shift the balance of power in Mexico, with 91.8 percent voting against his recall. However, it does weaken López Obrador by bringing into question his assertion that most Mexicans still back his political agenda. This will likely complicate but not prevent the congressional approval of the reform, whose implementation will trigger tensions with the US and Canada over concerns it violates the USMCA trade agreement. Lawsuits and electricity sector contract renegotiations are still likely over the next year. (Source: Sibylline)
11 Apr 22. Algeria-Spain: Heightened regional tensions over Western Sahara unlikely to disrupt energy supplies. On 10 April, the Polisario Front announced that it was severing relations with Spain in protest over Madrid’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara. The Polisario claim that the plan aims to legitimise Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara while ignoring the rights of the Saharawi population to self-determination. Spain’s decision on 18 March marked the reversal of decades of neutrality over the conflict and ended a year-long dispute with Morocco, triggered by allowing Western Saharan independent leader Brahim Ghali to receive Covid-19 treatment at a Spanish hospital. These developments have driven a deterioration in Spain’s relations with the group’s state-backer, Algeria. Nevertheless, Algiers remains unlikely to significantly change its policy regarding energy exports to Spain in the coming weeks, aiming to present itself as a European energy partner and generate revenue to support its energy sector. However, the dispute could undermine bilateral cooperation in managing migration flows from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. (Source: Sibylline)
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