What We’re Watching: Thais protest against PM, Taliban government, India (again) shutters Kashmir, Suga out

What We’re Watching: Thais protest against PM, Taliban government, India (again) shutters Kashmir, Suga out

Thai PM under pressure: Thousands of Thais took to the streets of Bangkok on Thursday to call for the resignation of embattled PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, who faces a no-confidence vote — his third in 18 months — on Saturday. For over a year, the retired general and 2014 coup leader — who's popular among older Thais, cozy with the business elite, and ultra-loyal to the king — has stared down a youth-led movement demanding broad democratic reforms, including, for the first time ever, curbing the powers of the monarchy. Now, the protesters want Prayuth out because Thailand has been badly hit by COVID while barely 11 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — perhaps because the government is relying heavily on domestic jab production by a company owned by the royal family that has no previous experience in manufacturing vaccines. Prayuth will survive because he has enough votes in parliament, but the pressure on him from Thailand's emboldened youth won't go away.


Can the Taliban govern? Two weeks after taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban are preparing to announce their new government, with Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada as the supreme leader. But as we've written before, it's easy for gun-toting fundamentalists to take over city after city; it's much harder to actually govern the country. Perhaps realizing this, the Taliban have asked civil servants to stay in their posts to keep the government up and running. Some have agreed, while others, particularly high-level officials, have already fled the country, or do not want to work for the Taliban because they deeply mistrust them. Moreover, the Taliban do not seem to have a plan for dealing with the country's financial crunch, given that most US-held assets and foreign aid remain frozen. As the currency plunges and food prices surge, former central bank chief Ajmal Ahmady told GZERO Media the Taliban could soon run out of money. What's more, the group has still not fully consolidated power, battling rebels loyal to a former mujahideen commander in the Panjshir Valley (though that pocket of resistance will likely be quashed soon). The Taliban will project confidence when they announce a new cabinet in the coming days, but many of their biggest challenges are just beginning.

India locks down Kashmir after separatist leader's death: Although Kashmir's separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani passed away of natural causes on Wednesday, the Indian government is taking no chances with the possibility of unrest in the wake of his death: Delhi has cut internet access, imposed a lockdown, and deployed troops around the Muslim-majority region, which for decades has chafed against Indian rule. Authorities evidently forbade Geelani's family from burying him in a prominent martyrs' graveyard. For decades, Geelani was a combative and charismatic advocate of Kashmiri self-determination, whose hardline rejection of dialogue with India often alienated more moderate forces. His death comes at a sensitive time — last month marked two years since the Indian government of Hindu nationalist PM Narendra Modi stripped Kashmir of the autonomy that the region had enjoyed for decades.

Suga steps down: Japan's PM Yoshihide Suga announced early on Friday that he will not seek re-election as head of the governing Liberal Democratic Party. The announcement abruptly ends his controversy-plagued premiership after just one year, which has seen Suga's approval ratings plummet. Suga took over in September 2020 from his longtime boss, the charismatic Shinzo Abe, who resigned due to health reasons. In a time of continuing COVID emergency in Japan, we'll be watching the upcoming race to succeed him as both LDP leader and prime minister. The LDP will vote on party leadership on September 29. A general election will follow later in the year.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

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The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

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For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

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Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

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An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

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