UAE Expands its Influence in the Horn of Africa
Brian M. Perkins
The UAE has significantly increased its engagement in the Horn of Africa over the past several years, using security, development, and humanitarian projects to boost its regional diplomatic and economic influence. Some of these efforts have proved rather fruitful, such as the UAE’s role in ending the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea while securing a deal to build an oil pipeline between the two countries. However, other efforts have come with significant complications, most notably in Somalia, where Abu Dhabi is vying for influence and upsetting the fragile political balance between Mogadishu and the semiautonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.
The UAE has long had a strategic interest in Somalia and has worked to establish a string of ports across its strategically located coastline. The country trained thousands of Somali soldiers between 2014-2018 (Al Arabiya, April 16, 2018). The fragmented nature of Somalia’s territories, however, has proven difficult for Abu Dhabi to navigate. The UAE’s strategic interests cover the internationally recognized Somali state and the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland. From its former training mission in Mogadishu to the Port of Bossaso in Puntland and the Port of Berbera in Somaliland, the Emiratis have attempted to spread influence across Somalia while tying to navigate the complex national politics.
The tensions created by this approach, as well as the UAE’s anti-Qatar stance, have slowly eroded Abu Dhabi’s ability to bring many of its projects to fruition and has seen diplomatic tensions with Mogadishu continuously increase. Tensions between Mogadishu and Abu Dhabi have continued to create a larger window of opportunity for the UAE’s rivals, Qatar and Turkey, and have necessitated a shift that will see Turkey and the UAE continue to bolster opposing Somali governments and fuel other regional tensions.
The Port of Berbera is particularly emblematic of the Somali-Somaliland and UAE-Turkey competition. In early June, Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Isse Awad accused Dubai-based DP World of stoking internal divisions and creating unity challenges between Somalia and the semiautonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland (Garowe Online, June 9). The government of Somaliland, however, responded to the comments, urging Somalia to stay out of its internal affairs and the development of the Port of Berbera—a key development project for Somaliland and a point of contention for Mogadishu.
The Port of Berbera has also pulled Ethiopia into the mix, as the port is the terminus of the UAE-funded Addis Ababa-Berbera highway, which connects landlocked Ethiopia to the Gulf of Aden. In a move that deeply unsettled Mogadishu, DP World made a deal to give a 19 percent stake in the port project to Ethiopia. The project will make Berbera a significant regional hub inextricably linked to Ethiopia’s economy, granting Somaliland some implicit legitimacy and independence. The first 12 kilometers of the highway was inaugurated on June 1, just four months after Addis Ababa, with Turkish and Qatari sponsorship, hosted talks between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland (Africa News, February 11). The leaders of Somalia and Somaliland met again in Djibouti on June 14, with Ethiopia’s prime minister in attendance.
Ankara and Abu Dhabi’s divergent interests have not only placed the governments of Somalia and Somaliland in a complicated position, but have also placed Ethiopia between Qatar and Turkey on the one side and the UAE on the other. Qatar and Turkey have pushed for influence in the region, and have urged Addis Ababa to mediate between Somalia and Somaliland. At the same time, however, the UAE has invested heavily in Ethiopia and has helped open significant economic opportunity for the country. As a result, Addis Ababa will need to strike a delicate balance between its support for Somalia and its acknowledgement of Somaliland’s desire for independence.
New Iranian Backed Taliban Faction May Undermine Pakistani Influence in Afghanistan
Brian M. Perkins
As the United States seeks to make its exit from Afghanistan, despite persistent levels of Taliban violence over the past six months, the primary question has been whether the Taliban will ever adhere to the guidelines set out in the peace deal. An overlooked aspect of the Afghan peace deal is Pakistan’s dual role in the process and the implications of its involvement. On one hand, Pakistan has been heavily involved in facilitating dialogue between the United States and the Taliban. Meanwhile, Islamabad bears significant responsibility for the longstanding networks that support the Taliban and for the direct involvement of thousands of Pakistani fighters in Afghanistan, particularly those belonging to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The United States’ policy toward Pakistan has long been contradictory and the Trump administration has likewise repeatedly found itself caught between scolding Islamabad and needing its help to facilitate dialogue—particularly with the Taliban, but also with the Afghan government. Most recently, on June 7, U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met with Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Islamabad to jumpstart stalled intra-Afghan negotiations (Al Jazeera, June 8). Following the meetings Khalilzad praised Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the table.
Diplomatically, the Taliban peace deal seemingly gives Islamabad everything it has dreamed of by vindicating its long-term strategy and policies toward Afghanistan and against India—particularly those of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)—while also placing the country back in the United States’ good graces. Pakistan does, however, face an important balancing act in its support of the Taliban and the peace deal. The country has undoubtedly encouraged key Taliban stakeholders to engage in the peace process—which the organization already views as a sweeping victory—but is unlikely to ever apply any true coercive pressure that might threaten Islamabad’s relationship to the militant group. A recent U.S. Department of Defense report indicated that Pakistan still harbors members of the Taliban and Haqqani Network. As Pakistan encourages the pro-peace Taliban members to continue the process and prevent its collapse, anti-peace deal factions are beginning to emerge, threatening Pakistan’s influence as well as its internal security.
The TTP has long found refuge in Afghanistan among the Afghan Taliban, and Pakistani military operations in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas over the past five years have severely disrupted the terrorist group’s activities within Pakistan. However, the TTP is seemingly beginning to regroup within the country and two different scenarios could have serious implications on the TTP’s operations. First, a politically empowered Taliban could continue to harbor and support the TTP, allowing it to build strength and renew operations in Pakistan. Conversely, if the Taliban adheres to the guidelines of ending support to terrorist groups, the TTP could lose its safe haven in Afghanistan and be forced to re-infiltrate Pakistan’s border regions.
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced indicating the emergence of a new Taliban faction that opposes the peace deal. The new faction, Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, reportedly formed in February after the signing of the peace deal and is currently based in Iran (RFE/RL, June 9). The faction’s strength and influence remains unknown, but it is among a growing number of Taliban offshoots with substantial links to Tehran, which is keen to find outlets of influence within Afghanistan. In its efforts to facilitate the Afghan peace deal, Pakistan is also partly responsible for fueling Taliban offshoots that it will have little influence over, instead ceding that role to other international players such as Iran. Pakistan will need to find a balance in its relationship with pro-peace Taliban members while hedging against the TTP and new anti-peace offshoots if Islamabad hopes to maintain its internal security and secure the diplomatic victory of helping to secure peace in Afghanistan.