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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


Belarus

  • Prominent Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova—one of the few opposition leaders who hadn’t fled Belarus yet—was reportedly grabbed off the street by masked kidnappers in Minsk yesterday.

  • (Government officials say she was detained while trying to flee into the Ukraine early today; I’m wondering if maybe both are true: perhaps she was kidnapped in Minsk and driven to the border, where she was detained on trumped up border charges.)

  • Pres. Lukashenko hopes he can stall the protests by detaining or scaring away its leadership, but popular demonstrations against him have been growing even without key leaders.

Saudi

  • Saudi Arabia issued final verdicts in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, sentencing all eight defendants to 10 to 20 years in prison.

  • Many Western analysts think these defendants are really just fall guys used to distract blame from the fact that Crown Prince MBS likely either ordered or knew about the killing. In fact, Saudi hasn’t even released the defendants’ names, leading some cynics to suggest they may be fictional.

Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong police are being criticized for tackling and arresting a 12-year-old girl who went out to buy art supplies during a pro-democracy protest.

China

  • China announced it had successfully landed a Long March 2F rocket after a two-day mission in orbit, although it’s not clear what the rocket’s mission really was. Some space watchers say the rocket ejected a mysterious new object into orbit.

  • The island nation of Palau invited the U.S. to build ports, bases, and airfields there—largely to counter China. Palau is one of the small minority of countries that aligns with Taiwan rather than China.

Syria

  • Pres. Assad met with Russia’s Deputy PM Yuri Borisov and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov in Damascus yesterday, and said he wants Russia’s help expanding business ties to help boost Syria’s economy in the face of U.S. sanctions.

Libya

  • Talks in Morocco between Libya’s two rival sides wound down yesterday, and while both sides said they were “intent on reaching an agreement,” it doesn’t sound like they made much progress. Oh well; they’re due to talk again in Switzerland next week.

  • The GNA is still accusing the LNA of violating the fragile cease fire, though.

Afghanistan

  • A Financial Times report pasted below says that China offered to build the Taliban a road network—followed by electricity and energy investments—if the Taliban can ensure peace after the U.S. withdraws its troops from Afghanistan.

  • A new Reuters article blames deforestation in northern Afghanistan for the erosion that led (in part) to devastating floods this year. Several elders interviewed noted that there were far more trees throughout the countryside in their youth.

  • The Taliban says at least 100 prisoners on their release wishlist are still in government detention. The government claims to have released all but six “hardcore” prisoners who are being transferred to Qatar, and the difference in the two sides’ accounting may further delay intra-Afghan talks.

Venezuela

  • Pres. Guaido called on other opposition leaders to boycott the December legislative election that Pres. Maduro has already signaled he’ll try to steal. Guaido was probably responding to statements by opposition figures like Henrique Capriles who’ve said they want to meet Maduro at the ballot box rather than stand by while he steals the last opposition-led segment of government.

  • Guaido also asked the military’s high command to back the election boycott, and reiterated that he was open to talks. Maduro has historically bribed military leaders for their support, so most are likely to align with him again.

Guyana

  • Exxon announced its 18th discovery offshore of Guyana—this time at the Redtail-1 well in Stabroek. Exxon estimates a total of over eight billion barrels of oil equivalent (around six years of production at its current rate) from all of its wells in Stabroek. However, Exxon shares are down over the last few months because investors are worried about its ability to fund expansion into Guyana, given its current debt load.

DRC

  • German natural gas company VNG is reportedly in discussions with the DRC government about building a hydrogen plant in Matadi to produce 2 million tons per year of hydrogen. It’s not clear how the hydrogen would be transported to Europe, and it would probably require more funding for feasibility and construction than the EU would be willing to offer DRC.

China offers Taliban road network in exchange for peace (Financial Times)

Beijing hopes infrastructure investment can prevent instability in Afghanistan after US troop withdrawal

China has offered to build a road network for the Taliban if they can ensure peace in Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal, according to two senior tribal leaders in Pakistan with close ties to the militants.

Diplomats from Beijing offered “sizeable investments in energy and infrastructure projects” in the country during talks that have been taking place over the past three months in Beijing, the tribal leaders from Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan province told the Financial Times.

“Chinese officials have told the Taliban to bring peace [to Afghanistan] and China will invest in roads to begin with,” said one leader.

“In future, China also wants to look at energy projects like generating electricity and then transporting oil and gas from central Asia [through Afghanistan].”

A second tribal leader in Balochistan, who returned from Afghanistan in late August after spending a month there, said China had pledged to build motorways that would link Afghanistan’s main cities.

“The Chinese promise is led by a road network across Afghanistan. Once such a network is built with six-lane highways, the Chinese have said local commerce and trade will flourish,” he said.

A senior Pakistani government official in the foreign ministry confirmed that Chinese officials continued to meet Taliban representatives as the Trump administration began withdrawing troops. The US signed a peace deal with the insurgents in February.

But the withdrawal, which was supposed to be completed in 14 months from signing the deal last year, has been stymied by a series of deadly Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians.

“The Chinese are thinking ahead on Afghanistan and laying the ground for the future,” said James Dorsey, a Singapore-based security expert.

“The Chinese are taking increasing interest in countries close to their border,” he said, adding that Afghanistan fitted in “China’s overall interest”.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul have been held up for months over the attacks and a delayed prisoner exchange.

After a strategic dialogue between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan in July, foreign ministry officials from the countries warned of a “potential terrorist resurgence” in Afghanistan if US troops were not pulled out “responsibly”.

The US has reduced its troop levels to about 8,600 soldiers and President Donald Trump has said he would like to halve that number before the November presidential election.

A former Pakistani intelligence official who spoke to the FT from Peshawar said China’s involvement with the Taliban had helped to nudge the hardline movement towards peace.

Pakistan’s security agencies hold deep ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan and have for decades armed and financed them to secure regional supremacy.

More recently, they have helped bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to hash out a peace deal with the US.

“The Chinese have repeatedly pressed the Taliban to see the benefits of an economically revitalised Afghanistan. That’s a message no one else is delivering as powerfully as the Chinese right now,” the former Pakistani intelligence official said.

“The Taliban recognise China for not only having the financial means but also the motive to develop Afghanistan.”

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