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Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
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NIAS Conflict Weekly, 19 January 2020, Vol.1, No.1
NIAS Conflict Weekly, 19 January 2020, Vol.1, No.1
IPRI # 27, 19 January 2020
Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Lakshmi Menon, Amal Anzari, Rini Elizabeth Babu, Rakhavee Ramesh and Vaishali Handique
Nile River Dam: Preliminary deal between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
In the news
Following a meeting in Washington DC, held during 13-15 January 2020, a draft deal has been agreed between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). There was an agreement that the dam should be filled in stages during the rainy season, and the filling would be undertaken adaptively and cooperatively. They also agreed to take into consideration the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs.
The meeting was attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Water Resources of Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and, their delegations, along with the Secretary of the US Treasury and the President of the World Bank.
The dam built by Ethiopia is 80 per cent completed; it wants to start generating electricity as soon as possible. However, Egypt is concerned about its water supplies if it gets filled too fast.
The Ministers have now agreed to meet again in Washington during 28-29 January to conclude a comprehensive agreement on the filling and functioning of the GERD. They have also called for technical and legal discussions in the interim period.
Issues at large
The Nile River basin is a troubled region that has been plagued by armed conflicts, severe drought, and many other issues, however. The dam has been a source of dispute since its construction. Egypt and Ethiopia have had their disagreements with Sudan being in the middle, who initially opposed the idea of the dam but later came on board with the promises of irrigation and electricity aids.
Construction of the current dam began in 2011 when the Arab Spring was ongoing, and Egypt was preoccupied. Although the site was identified between 1956 and 1964 until 2009 the plans for the dam were not ready. Over the years, construction was delayed due to corruption and mishandling issues.
The project has been the source of serious regional differences between the three countries witnessing many deadlocks. Further, the perception about the dam in these countries are different; Egypt fears that the dam would aggravate the already existing water crisis in the country by cutting its share of the Nile, while Ethiopia sees the dam as a necessity to its economic development.
The preliminary agreement comes as a sign of relief for this troubled region, a matter of concern because the countries could be drawn into war if the matter remained unresolved. The framework also lays down clearly the operations of the dam, wherein all three countries would be allowed to make adequate provisions to utilize the resources. Thereby lowering the chances of a conflict.
Second, energy generated by the dam be sufficient for Ethiopia producing surplus power that can be sold to the neighbouring countries, including Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti, and Eritrea.
Third, the three countries have spent nearly eight years in finding a solution to address this matter, given the current global situation of climate change and shifting weather patterns that cause severe problems. There is a need to address conflicts of this kind, as a delay in solving these issues would have a much catastrophic impact.
The Middle East
Tehran: Protests follow the Airplane shooting
In the news
On 8 January 2020, a Ukrainian passenger jet heading for Kyiv, crashed shortly after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers on board. On 11 January protests erupted in Tehran when Iran's regime backtracked from its previous statement of "technical failure" and admitted to shooting down the aircraft due to "human error" while also blaming "US adventurism" for the mishap.
Anti-government protesters poured into the streets chanting "Death to the Dictator". Persistent unrest led to police reportedly firing live ammunition injuring several in Tehran, on 12 January.
Issues at large
On 3 January 2020, Iranians gathered in millions to grieve the US assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and in a display of national strength against the US.
However, sentiments swung swiftly when Tehran attempted to wash its hands off and shift the blame, onto the US, for the Ukrainian plane crash. Distrust and rage towards the regime manifested in popular figures calling themselves "not citizens" but "captives"; in journalists resigning with public apologies for years of telling lies and misleading media.
Earlier, in November 2019, Iran witnessed demonstrations, triggered by peaking gas-prices amid a crippling domestic economy owing to biting US sanctions. This led to a nation-wide internet shutdown followed by the killing of over 300 demonstrators (as per Amnesty International) by Iran's security forces (Tehran denies this).
Post the killing of Qasem Soleimani, newfound national unity granted Iran's regime a rare moment of reprieve after the November 2019 protests, largest since the 1979 Iranian revolution. With stringent US sanctions, traditionally pro-regime areas are also budding with lower-income Iranian protestors, supporting the anti-government demonstrations otherwise populated by students, intellectuals and middle classes. Iranian military's "human error" has proven costly, raising criticism from still less expected regions.
Amidst videos showing two Iranian missiles attacking the Ukrainian aircraft, tributes to the crash victims by Iranian newspapers and the 15 January announcement of first arrests regarding the accidental-shooting down of the aircraft are striving in vain to offset the threat to the regime. Anger is growing.
Iran's actions and endeavours will be scrutinized domestically and globally. As Donald Trump warned, "The world is watching" Iran.
Syria: Sectarian leaders have a successful meeting in Berlin
In the news
On 15 January 2020, away from politics and publicity, leading figures from Syria's most significant communities, cliques and families held a secret meeting in Berlin to overcome the sectarian schisms tearing their nation apart. It is a momentous event in the Syrian conflict, that witnessed Alawaite dignitaries (close to Assad regime), Sunni tribal chiefs (with their own militias), a Kurdish Yazidi leader, a Syrian ambassador to the UK, Christians, and Druze around the same table challenging the idea that religious and ethnic divisions are insurmountable.
Many attendees flew in directly from Damascus, risking their lives to partake as collaborating with other communities may call for wrath of the Assad government or Islamist rebels who consider it an act of treachery.
A pledge that no one would be held responsible for crimes committed by members of their religion, ethnicity or family was signed.
Issues at large
In November 2017, the "Code of Conduct for Syrian Coexistence" containing principles agreeable to all Syrian societies, upholding the commitment to equality for all Syrians irrespective of religion or ethnicity, was first signed by this group's founders. Since then, more leading figures have joined.
Berlin was chosen owing to the large Syrian community in Germany as a result of the influx since the commence of the Syrian war in 2011.
Syria is a multi-ethnic country where religion and ethnicity are intertwined but facilitates Syrian nationalism, a supra-religious and supra-ethnic political identity. In the Syrian Civil war, the ruling minority Alwaites (15 per cent of the population) backed by Iran and other Shia regimes are pitted against the Sunni majority (70 per cent), allied armed opposition and Sunni state supporters (Turkey, Persian Gulf). The conflict spiralled, hauling in Syrian ethno-religious minorities like Yazidis, Kurds (10per cent), Armenians (2 per cent), Assyrians (4 per cent), Druze, Palestinians, Mhallami, Mandeneans, Arab Christians, Turkmens (4 per cent), and Greeks. Doms, Levantine (10 per cent), Shia Ismailis (3%), orthodox Twelver Shias (2 per cent) and Circassians (1per cent ) are other Syrian minorities. The complex sectarian conflict has transformed into a proxy war.
Assad's government has failed time and again to fulfil the long-promised economic and political reforms and appose all Syrians.
The 15 January meeting may ensure continued societal success than the peace processes by Russia or UN as it is a social process of reconciliation. In contrast, global initiatives attempt to find political solutions for the Assad regime and opposition. The newly signed commitment will avoid violent retribution against a group while still holding persons accountable for their crimes; paving the way for post-conflict reconstruction. Despite the formation of a UN-backed constitutional committee in 2019, sluggish political talks and swelling economic distress persist. 2020 will be crucial, being the preparation year for 2021 Syrian Presidential elections.
With over 5.7 million registered Syrian refugees and over 6.2 million internally displaced, the war is a global menace and a fertile playground for regional and global powers. Creating national and regional hindrances to the otherwise promising social reconciliation initiative.
Honduras: Migrant Caravans pose a regional challenge
In the news
About 2,000 Hondurans, many with hopes of reaching the United States, streamed towards the Guatemalan border the past week, forming a migrant caravan. Traveling by foot and hitchhiking, the group set off from the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula earlier in the week.
Around 500 migrants left from San Pedro Sula, Honduras' most violent city, on 14 January 2020, and the second group of some 1,500 left on 18 January 2020. The caravan was met with some resistance at the Guatemalan border when Honduran police fired tear gas to repel a group trying to cross the border.
Issues at large
The new President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, stated that his government would honor Central American migration agreements that permitted Hondurans to enter Guatemala as long as they had proper identification. Mexico also finds itself at crossroads under renewed pressure from the United States to strengthen its borders further and block the group's passage across its territory. Mr Giammattei said Mexican officials had vowed to restrict the caravan's movement following a meeting with Mexico's foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard.
These caravans were loosely organized through social media and messaging groups. Caravans have tended to attract migrants with fewer resources, those with not enough money to pay a smuggler. Caravans also offer a greater level of security than travelling alone or in small groups.
Hondurans make up the majority of the migrants from Central America's Northern Triangle countries, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, who have been apprehended in Mexico.
According to the National Migration Institute, in the first 11 months of 2019, Mexico detained nearly 77,500 Honduran migrants and deported 58,900.
In 2018 and 2019, the migrant caravans angered President Trump and posed a direct challenge to governments throughout the region. He compelled his regional counterparts to step up their migration enforcement efforts by freezing American aid and threatening tariffs. The Northern Triangle countries have all signed agreements with the Trump administration that require migrants who pass through one of those countries to first seek asylum there before applying in the United States. However, the Guatemala deal is the only one of the three that has been put into effect so far. In recent weeks, the American authorities have begun sending Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers back to Guatemala to apply for sanctuary there. In the hopes of dissuading people from seeking refuge in the United States, the Trump Administration has imposed increasingly restrictive policies, including expanding a program that returns individual migrants to Mexico while their immigration cases are carried out in American courts.
San Pedro Sula is one of Central America's most violent cities. It was also the departure point for a large caravan in 2018 that prompted Trump to press governments in the region to do more to contain migration. The recent migrant caravans can lead to the further US pressuring towards the Central American nations.
The Trump administration has been in talks with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras over the past year to require asylum-seekers travelling through those countries to seek refuge there first. However, the US has only entered an official agreement with Guatemala, which would mean those passing through from Honduras are supposed to apply for asylum in Guatemala instead of going on to Mexico or the US. Last July, Guatemala's former President Jimmy Morales agreed with the US government to implement measures aimed at reducing the US asylum claims from migrants fleeing Honduras and El Salvador, averting Trump's threat of economic sanctions. The recent migrant activities can further pave the way for the threat of economic sanctions from the US.
Afghanistan: Taliban's Proposal to Reduce Violence
In the news
The Taliban presented the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, with a proposal to reduce violence and restart long-stalled peace talks when negotiators met in Doha, Qatar. A Taliban official was reported saying that "the proposal of reduction in violence on the negotiating table was in response to US demands." The new direction in the peace talks was confirmed by a Pakistani Foreign Ministry official who was affirmative that the proposal was handed over to Zalmay Khalilzad. "We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States," Taliban chief spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen said. "The purpose (of scaling down) is to provide a safe environment to foreign forces to withdraw from Afghanistan," he further said.
American and Taliban negotiations that have been restarted for the peace negotiations have now started on a positive note. The talks promised progress, with the Taliban willing to show their readiness to accept the demand for reduction in violence. Associated Press reported that Taliban officials gave the US envoy in the talks "a document outlining their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and ten days." Previously, the US demand for reduction in violence had held up the resumption of formal peace talks for months.
Issues at large
The fundamental objective of the US efforts in Afghanistan is "preventing any further attacks on the United States by terrorists enjoying haven or support in Afghanistan."
When the US began official peace talks with the Afghan Taliban for the first time in Doha, Qatar in February 2019, there was great optimism that a new chapter in the 18-year conflict between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and NATO forces might be beginning. Both the US and the Taliban were just days away from signing a peace deal in September 2019 when the nearly year-long diplomatic effort was called off by President Trump in a surprise tweet. This was based on the Taliban attack that killed a US service member.
Ever since, the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, has been trying to restart negotiations, first by facilitating a prisoner exchange and now by demanding a reduction in violence. Talks resumed in November 2019 after an unannounced visit by Trump to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving. But they were paused in December after a Taliban attack on a highly fortified US base.
A peace deal with the Taliban would pave the way not only for Afghanistan's political order, but also international involvement, and the regional security architecture. It would also pave the way for one of the key campaign promises that President Trump wants to keep, the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan. But reducing the troop level will also increase pressure on the Afghan government's forces, which continue to struggle to carry out operations without close US support.
The Taliban's readiness to reduce violence can lead to a deal that includes a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in return for a Taliban pledge that Afghan soil will not be used by international terrorist groups to launch attacks against the US and its allies. The deal can also lead to talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, who has been so far excluded in the talks as well as other political factions to negotiate future power-sharing. If the American side decides to accept the offer, it would amount to the most significant development in the year-long negotiations.
Pakistan: Suicide attack in a Quetta mosque claims 15 lives
In the news
On 10 January, a suicide bomber carried out an attack in Quetta at a mosque during the prayers that killed fifteen people and twenty more were seriously injured. The attack was the second such incident of terrorism in the week. The previous attack was in a market area in Quetta which killed two people and more than fourteen were wounded.
Issues at large
The bomb attack killed an Imam and the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Amanullah along with thirteen other civilians who assembled for the evening prayer. Three days ago, another bomb exploded targeting the security personnel vehicle in a market area in Quetta. In May and August 2019, the two bomb blasts in Quetta had taken the lives of six civilians, leaving many others injured.
Initial reports stated that the slain officer was the target of the latest attack. According to earlier reports, in December, unidentified gunmen killed the DSP's son in Quetta and that could have been the reason behind such an assumption in the initial stage of the mosque attack. However, later the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing and their target was Afghan Taliban.
Despite serious crackdown on terror elements in various other parts of Pakistan, Quetta has been a constant victim of various deadly attacks. Quetta, bordering Iran and Afghanistan is the capital of the mineral-rich province, Balochistan. The province is home to a secessionist group, the Balochistan Liberation Army, who have waged low-level insurgencies for years.
The secessionists' demands include more autonomy and a greater share in the region's natural resources. The region also has a strong presence of Islamist militant groups which include the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State. The Taliban and the IS have battled each other for control of territory in Afghanistan, and the recent attack at a mosque was carried out by the IS suicide bomber to target an Afghan Taliban Seminary as per their claims. The Taliban, however, has denied the presence of any of its members at the mosque during the explosion. These secessionist and militant elements have made Quetta the site of terror acts and the mosque attack is just the latest among them.
Balochistan is important for its rich natural resources and also is key to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of Beijing's Belt Road Initiative (BRI).
CPEC connects China's largest province, Xinjiang with Pakistan's Gwadar port in Balochistan. The frequent attacks in its capital and the instability in Balochistan due to the secessionist and radical groups are raising serious security concerns over the projects.
India: Supreme Court declares the Internet as a fundamental right
In the news
On 15 January 2020, UNSC held a private meeting with the 15 member body on the Kashmir subject after Pakistan's ally China pressed to discuss the political arrests and ongoing restrictions on the internet access in an international platform.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled on 5 January, that the right to internet access as a 'fundamental right' under article 19 was subjected to reasonable restrictions.
The Supreme Court has directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all orders within a week which enforces limitations in the Union Territory since the abrogation of Article 370 by the federal government in August 2019 and to bring back internet facilities for e-banking, trade, government websites, and hospital services. It has also said, any order passed to limit internet services will be subjected to judicial review.
The Supreme Court also said that the repetitive imposition of Section 144 CrPC is an 'abuse of power' which was used to subdue legitimate expression and also all orders from this time will be published in the public domain which will offer civic a provision for a legal challenge.
This move by China comes after 16 envoys majorly from Latin American, and African nations visited Kashmir to get a grip of the ground situation succeeding the revocation of Article 370 in the Union Territory.
Issues at large
On 5 August 2019, the federal government scrapped Article 370 and 35A which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The Parliament passed the bill which proposed the division of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
Under article 370 and 35A, special status was promised during the accession of J&K with India, when the princely states were offered with the choice of joining either Pakistan or India after independence in 1947. The special status allowed the J&K to exercise control over the laws in all matters, excluding finance, defence, foreign affairs, and communication. They had a separate constitution and flag, and non-Kashmiris were denied property rights.
Besides scrapping Article 370 and 35A, India also pushed troops to the region, imposed a curfew, and cut off telecommunications and internet services to address security issues. Political leaders were placed under arrest. The administration justified its action that it prevented terrorism, the spread of extremist ideologies and the influence of infiltrators on the border.
While a section within J&K, especially in the Jammu region welcomed the scrapping of the above two Articles, the Kashmir Valley is opposed to the same. The Valley considers that the conditions imposed on them inhumane and undemocratic. The Kashmiris also fear that this move will alter the demographic atmosphere of the Muslim majority region by permitting non-Kashmiris to buy land there.
Developments within J&K have also undermined the already prevailing tensions with Pakistan leading to cold diplomatic relations. Outside the region, many have voiced the restoration of normalcy to J&K.
While the people of Kashmir Valley consider the shut down as undemocratic, unconstitutional and inhumane, the administration considers it essential to maintain order. The State has to find a means to maintain a balance between the two – order and democracy.
Second, developments since August 2019 have also increased the differences between the regions and the communities within J&K. The administration cannot be seen as siding with one community.
Third, India also has to balance between regional security and international reputation. At the global level, developments relating to J&K is undermining India's status as the largest democracy. Debates within and outside the UN on J&K is harming India's global rise.
India's Northeast: Internally displaced Brus to be finally settled in Tripura
In the news
On 17 January, the Ministry of Home Affairs moderated a historic agreement involving the Bru-Reang refugees that ended their two-decade-long crisis of statelessness. The Union Home Minister, Amit Shah presided over the Governments of Tripura and Mizoram and the Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum, Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Coordination Committee and Mizoram Bru Indigenous Democratic Movement. The concerned state heads and the representatives have expressed their solidarity towards the pact and have ensured that the 30,000 Bru-Reang refugee community will benefit abundantly from it.
It will be a resettlement cum rehabilitation drive that has guaranteed housing, fixed deposit, monthly allowance and free ration facilities for the newly permanently settled people.
Issues at large
The Brus was an ethnically different tribal community from the Mizos in the state of Mizoram. With minor populations residing in other parts of Northeast India like Tripura and Assam. Due to intense ethnic clashes in 1997, half of the population of the community fled from Mizoram and sought refuge in the nearest state of Tripura. Presently, they are the second-largest Scheduled Tribe group in Tripura after the Tripuris. Several attempts of repatriation, since the start of the new century, has been made with not much outcome.
They are constantly ruled out in Mizoram with Mizo groups barring them from participating in elections. In 2018, the Centre and the Election Commission finally granted voting rights to the people in the Mizoram polls. The Bru refugee population in Tripura faced extreme hardships in the past twenty years, with several deaths accounted due to insufficient food supplies and savage living conditions.
In October 2019, the Centre initiated a ninth repatriation attempt of the refugees due to which they stopped food supplies and financial aids. This created an uproar, and most of them took to streets to protest against the death drive and demanded the restoration of the same. The Home Ministry finally started talks with the State governments of Tripura and Mizoram to legitimize the population and end their woes. This led to the three governments- one centre and two-state, to work together and propose a pact to settle the 30,000 refugees in the state of Tripura permanently.
First, the quadripartite agreement between the Central Government of India and the State governments of Tripura and Mizoram along with the Bru-Reang representatives stresses not only the resettlement of the internally displaced Bru-Reangs but also provide rehabilitation of the same.
Second, it is often seen that displaced communities are treated as non-existent entities with Borderline health and life threats, the same has been seen with the Brus. Their numbers declined drastically over the two decades of their statelessness due to extremely low birth rates and high death rates. The previous eight attempts of repatriation to Mizoram have only been sparsely successful which left over 30,000 people still stranded in six refugee camps in Tripura.
Third, this rehabilitation drive will ensure each family of 1200 sq ft of land and 1.5 lakh Indian rupees to construct a house, a fixed deposit of Rs. 4 lakhs, financial aid of Rs. 5000 per month and free ration facility for the upcoming two years. This means that they can uplift themselves from the extremely degraded living conditions of the refugee camps and construct a healthy life all over again. This also means that they can claim for governmental jobs and services. They will be more inclined to lead a legal lifestyle and are expected to refrain from illegal activities to sustain a livelihood.
Finally, an agreement like this, though late, is remarkable as it not only recognizes the plight of the refugees but also provides a seamless settlement of the people into a foreign land. Such pacts are necessary humanitarian steps towards ensuring the safe and sound right to life irrespective of borders and boundaries.
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