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IPRI Conflict Weekly, 15 April 2020, Vol.1, No. 13

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IPRI # 41, 15 April 2020

Conflict Weekly 13
Executing Mujib's killer in Bangladesh, Continuing conflicts in Myanmar, Questioning Government's sincerity in Naga Peace Deal, Releasing Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, and a report on damming the Mekong river by China

  IPRI Team

Adnan Aziz Chowdhury, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Monish Tourangbam, Sukanya Bali and Teshu Singh


Bangladesh: Abdul Majed executed for the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

In the news 
On 12 April, Bangladesh executed Abdul Majed, who was convicted in the murder of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  He was captured by the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of Bangladesh Police in Mirpur on 7 April 2020. His execution came after being denied of the presidential pardon.

Issues at large
Majed was active in the planning and killing of Bangabandhu in August 1975. He seized the Dhaka Radio Station right after the killings and was also involved in the jail-killing event of November 1975. Given immunity under the Indemnity Act, Majed stayed safe off any legal actions even as an assassin of the national leader. This act was subsequently scrapped by the Parliament in November 1996.

During all the regimes till 1996, Majed held positions of importance and was given the privilege by being appointed as the Deputy Secretary to the Bangladeshi Embassy in Senegal and later promoted to the rank of a Secretary. He worked at the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation. He served as the Director of both the Youth Development in the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Savings Directorate. 

In 1997, Majed disappeared after Sheikh Hasina was elected as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. He fled to Libya and then to Pakistan before arriving in India where he lived for more than two decades. 

In 1998, he was sentenced to death for the assassination of Bangabandhu. In August of 2008, he was awarded a life sentence for the jail killing incident and subsequently the High Court confirmed a death sentence in November 2009. After the ruling in 2009, five of the 12 convicted in the assassination were executed in January 2010 while the remaining seven went in hiding. Among the seven convicts, one of them had died earlier in Zimbabwe in 2001. Abdul Majed is now executed. 

In perspective
The Bangladesh law minister has claimed the execution of Abdul Majed, a gift to the people in the Mujib Year. The execution has received public support and there have been no public debates or opposing sentiments to this decision from the citizens or any political party. However, some implicit impacts need attention. Majed was directly involved in the murder of six people, indispensable to the administration and governance of the country and the Awami League after independence. 

First, with the execution, Awami League hopes to gain mass support as one of its prime election promise stands fulfilled. In its election manifesto, Awami League had promised that justice would be brought to the murderers of the father of the nation. As the country faces the pandemic, the ruling party has now requested its people to have faith in the administration.

Second, in the time of the pandemic, Majed's execution has helped in turning the general public's attention to media. The government has been facing an arduous task to curb the dissemination of fake news during COVID-19 and with the news of execution the public has once again resorted to believing government-led data over false alerts. This has, in turn, helped the government in controlling the panic COVID-19. However, the paranoia remains as the community is in deep fear over the increase in the numbers of infected corona cases every day. The latest affected number crossed 1,00o, and more than 50 doctors and around 100 hospital staff are affected by the virus. 

Third, the decision of the execution may have helped invoke a nationalistic tendency among the people while establishing faith in the government. The government was able to forge solidarity by requiring the public to stay at home and self-quarantine with a compelled sense of nationalist sentiment and responsibility as the liberation war. Last, the execution was also a reminder to the people of the privileges that Abdul Majed have had under the other regimes. The people were reminded that the other regimes allowed Abdul Majed to have access to the civil service administration, and it was only the current administration which was able to ensure justice. 

 

Myanmar: Conflicts in Chin and Rakhine rage, despite the Corona threat 

In the news
On 8 April, seven civilians were killed and nine injured in Paletwa Township of the Chin state, due to airstrike by Tatmadaw.  This was due to ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) in the Chin and Rakhine States. The ongoing violence has also led to the burning of several homes and rice mills in these villages.

Issues at large
The internal conflict in Chin and Rakhine States will be detrimental to Myanmar's fights against the COVID-19. Myanmar has confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 24 March, amid growing scepticism on its previous claim of no cases being reported. Currently, there are 74 affected and four deaths; however, there are complains that the test conducted is low and inadequate. 

In the face of the pandemic, other armed groups have shifted their focus away from the fighting.  Groups such as the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA) and the Kachin Independence Army have taken up the role of monitoring, disseminating information and conducting temperature checks in their areas and doing the maximum with their limited funding. In the Wa region, the armed group has banned its wildlife market and closed its border with China. These groups seem to have decided to fight the pandemic as their common enemy rather than continuing their conflict with the Tatmadaw. 

The above is not the case in Chin and Rakhine States where the clashes have continued. AA, an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist rebel group was formed in 2009 and was initially operating from the Kachin state. They were trained and heavily supported by the Kachin Independence Army. The conflict started since their shift to Rakhine in 2018. The reason for this strife lies in the historical notion of the superiority of Arakan Kingdom and the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership. The selection of Barmar party leader from the Rakhine State and the erecting of statues of her father Aung San flared the conflict. This led to thousands of deaths and displacements in Chin and Rakhine State. The two-year-old fight between the Tatmadaw and the AA in Chin State and the northern Rakhine State has cost several lives and displaced many. 

In perspective
First, the continuation of violence will pose a bigger problem in fighting the pandemic. Adhering to the necessary precautions like social distancing and hygiene is difficult. In Paletwa, there are around 45 people, of which several returnees from China, Singapore, and Qatar, are home quarantined. In case any of them test positive, or there is an outbreak in the area, it will be difficult to control the outbreak and treat the patients. 

Second, the problem will worsen, as these states lack medical facilities to treat those who are injured, adding to the number of fatalities. For example, the Paletwa public hospital lacks surgeons and blood banks for transfusion.  Given this condition, it will be difficult for these hospitals to take care if there is a case of COVID-19. Even at the national level, there is a shortage of doctors and health facilitators. Additionally, the ongoing conflict has disrupted road connectivity. This will heavily deter any help from the rest of Myanmar. 

Last, the active role of the armed groups in the rest of Myanmar and Tatmadaw's retaliatory attacks may escalate the ethnic communities' anger against the centre. This will not assist Suu Kyi and her party's return in the next tenure. Given the upcoming elections, it is high time the NLD and Suu Kyi take their role seriously and play a much more active role in these ethnic regions. 

 

India's Northeast: The NSCN complains to the Prime Minister, alleging Governor is delaying the peace deal

In the news
Recently, Thuingaleng Muivah, General Secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) is reported to have written an eight-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The essential intent of the letter is known to be, an allegation that the Indian government and its chief interlocutor, R N Ravi, who is also the Governor of Nagaland was responsible for the delay in closing the peace deal being negotiated. 

A framework agreement signed in 2015, in a much-publicised meeting, became the toast of news headlines. The Indian government hailed it as a historic agreement, to end what is often dubbed the mother of all insurgencies in India's Northeast. However, differences have begun to emerge between not only the Indian government and NSCN-IM but even among the Naga groups. Now, amidst the national lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the tensions among the stakeholders seem to be brewing, showing mostly a looming uncertainty. 

Issues at large
Differences over the issue of NSCN-IM's demand for a flag and constitution during the negotiations has emerged as a deal killer, although public statements point to continuing efforts to find an amicable settlement. Moreover, the volatile and controversial demand by the NSCN-IM for a Greater Nagalim, constituting the Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states remains another powder keg in the whole exercise. 

While the NSCN-K faction has shared a more violent relationship with the Indian government, the ceasefire between the Indian government and the NSCN-IM, that paved the grounds for negotiations, is more than two decades old. 

From secessionism, the NSCN-IM, led by Muivah, has been lately focussed on extracting a legacy of relative autonomy for what is referred to as the "unique history and identity" of the Naga people. Specifying the expectations and the red lines of the broadly defined peace framework has added new layers of complexity to the process. 

In perspective
Uncertainty looms, in what seemed like a clinched deal, a few years back. The appointment of the head interlocutor from the side of the Indian government RN Ravi, also a former intelligence officer, as the Governor of Nagaland was made with a focus on fast-tracking the negotiations. Has that decision paid off well, for the sake of the peace agreement? There could be divisive opinions on such a question. 

With each passing day, the gap seems to be widening not only between the NSCN-IM's and the Indian government's positions but among the different Naga groups now involved in the process. What does this portend for peace efforts? The thin veneer of trust among the stakeholders in the negotiation seems to be dissipating, with narratives and counter-narratives beginning to appear, as to who is actually responsible for delaying the settlement. 

How productive are efforts to link such peace agreements with the larger vision of the 'Act East Policy' of economic development, better infrastructure and connectivity in the Northeast? The verdict is still out. 
 

Afghanistan: 300 Taliban prisoners released

In the news
On 8 April, the Afghan government released around 300 Taliban prisoners after the Taliban had announced 'an end to the talks' due to the delay in a prisoner's swap.  On 9 April, five rockets hit Bagram, US airbase in Afghanistan. The attack was later claimed by the ISIS. The next day, Pakistan requested the Afghan government to hand over Aslam Farooqi, regional chief of ISIS for further investigation on the attack at a Sikh Gurudwara on 25 March.

On 11 April, US General Scott Miller, and Taliban leaders met in Doha to discuss the violations of the US-Taliban deal. Again on 13 April the US top negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, US commander met with Taliban leaders to discuss issues that have stalled the peace-making efforts.

On 12 April, the Taliban handed over 20 Afghan security prisoners to the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Issues at large
Taliban and the Afghan government have not agreed on a timeline for the release of prisoners and the number of prisoners. In the US-Taliban deal, the parties agreed to the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners before the intra-Afghan talks that were supposed to begin on 10 March. The Afghan government cited security concerns and rejected this. Instead, it proposed a phased release of prisoners; Ashraf Ghani issued a decree to release 1500 prisoners, but it was rejected by the Taliban and insisted on the release of all the prisoners.

Taliban has been unwilling to make any concession towards the Afghan government. Taliban has made it clear that they are unwilling to negotiate on the prisoner swap and would begin intra-Afgan talks only when all the 5000 prisoners are released. Taliban also did not approve of the 15 member Afghanistan team of negotiators as it was not 'diverse enough'. Taliban continues to carry out large scale attacks against the Afghan security forces even after the deal was signed.

The US priority is to withdraw its troops after having received security guarantees from the Taliban. Pressure from the US and a threat to cut aid have forced the Afghan government to make yield to the Taliban. Afghan government and Taliban had a virtual meeting last month, and the technical team of the Taliban met Afghan officials in Kabul, but no significant progress has been made. The Taliban called the meeting fruitless and refused to engage in any further meetings.  

Other radical groups like the ISIS continue to build the presence in Afghanistan and are a security threat to both the region and the US. The ISIS has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan has requested the Afghan government to handover Aslam Farooqi, as "he was involved in anti-Pakistan activities in Afghanistan". According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan said, the two countries should coordinate their actions against the issue of terrorism and should establish a mechanism to deal with the threat of the ISIS.

In perspective
First, the release of prisoners is a positive step towards the intra-Afghan talks, which has now been delayed for over a month. However, the Taliban's position that they would not begin intra-Afghan talks until all the 5,000 Taliban prisoners are released indicates their reluctance to make any concessions with the Afghan government. Second, the pace at which the progress has been made in processes between the Afghan government and the Taliban is frustrating for the US who is eagerly waiting for the withdrawal of troops. Third, as the Taliban continues its negotiation with the US, there is a possibility of a defection of extremist elements from the Taliban, to radical groups like the ISIS.
 

Report: China's actions along the Mekong river threatens the livelihood in Southeast Asia

In the news
The latest report published by the Stimson Centre in the US looks at China's activities along the Mekong river and its implications for Southeast Asia. 

The report draws from the study "The Eyes on Earth." It illustrates that China has restricted water from its downstream neighbours and its effects. It explains the cause of the April-November 2019 drought condition in the downstream countries. 

The report goes on to establish that region received a normal amount of rain and snowmelt in the upper basin during the monsoon season, but all of the water stayed in the upstream behind the dam. It delves into China's Water Policy and goes on to state that it considers data about water flow and hydropower as a state secret. China treats water as a commodity for consumption rather than a common good.

Issues at large
Mekong River is the lifeline of Southeast Asian countries. The Mekong flows across six nations, from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea (both being the core interest of China). This exemplifies the strategic importance of the River for China. It is one of the most productive inland fishery basins. 

Any infrastructure development will hamper the geography of the region resulting in climate change. Over 60 million people live in the Mekong basin and depend on the river for their livelihood. The consequence of the dam, built by China has been debated for long, but due to unavailability of data, not much could have been done. 

China does not have any formal treaty with the Mekong countries on data sharing. According to the report, the  Chinese side of the Mekong river had a good volume of water while the downstream countries were hit by drought. Hence they did not experience any extreme situation as the other. 

In perspective
The report by the Stimson centre uses infographics and graphs to trace the water level and prove that how the dam constructed by China led to the drought situation. 

The report adds a valuable contribution to the existing literature on the Mekong River with substantial empirical data. In addition, this region is also part of the Maritime Silk Road as well, so the significance of the region is of immense importance to China beyond the dams that created a drought situation.  

 

Also in the News...
Libya: Civil war escalates as the GNA seize towns from Khalifa Haftar

The armed conflict between the two governments in Libya, the internationally recognised Government of National Accord and the House of Representatives allied to Khalifa Haftar, have continued to escalate in the past week. On 12 April, Khalifa Haftar armed fighters attacked a medical warehouse in the capital city of Tripoli. On 13 April, the Government of National Accord (GNA) announced, it has shot down two fighters and one helicopter of Khalifa Haftar forces in the city of Misrata. In 48 hours, the GNA seized over seven towns Sabratha, Surman, al-Ajaylat, Regadlin, Zeltin, al-Jumayl, and al-Essa from the forces of Khalifa Haftar. Earlier this week, the UN denounced the attack, by calling it "a clear violation of international law." The attack on the hospital wounded three civilians. In February the United Nations Security Council also passed a resolution on a 'lasting ceasefire' in the region

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