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CWA # 213, 4 February 2020
Conflict Weekly, 4 February 2020, Vol.1, No. 3
Conflict Weekly, 4 February 2020, Vol.1, No. 3
Amal Anzari, Vaishali Handique, Sukanya Bali and Lakshmi V Menon
Afghanistan: Continuing Violence
In the news
On 29 January, at least 14 Afghan security forces were killed and several more injured after Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints in the northern Kunduz province. Eight soldiers and at least four policemen were injured in the overnight assault while three others were taken captive by Taliban fighters. The attack came a day after at least 11 police officers were killed and six others wounded in an attack carried out by the armed group in the capital of Baghlan province.
According to the quarterly report of the Office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that was released on 30 January 2020, attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan reached record-high levels in late 2019 as peace talks between US and Taliban negotiators stalled. During the last three months of 2019, the Taliban and other insurgent groups launched more than 8,200 attacks against Afghan troops, American forces and civilians, which have increased from 6,974 attacks in the same period in 2018. The report also found that attacks launched by the Taliban and other insurgent groups increased by 6 per cent in 2019 from the previous year.
Issues at large
First, the violence is continuing despite the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Doha. A new direction in the peace talks was seen when the Taliban presented a proposal to the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. There was an expectation that it would reduce violence and restart long-stalled peace talks when negotiators met in January.
Kunduz is among the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan where the Taliban have a considerable presence and regularly carry out attacks against the government forces. The new wave of attacks against Afghan forces comes while Khalilzad is in Brussels to update NATO officials on the recently relaunched United States-Taliban peace talks.
Second, since 2018, the push for peace continues side by side with a spike in violence as the US-backed government and the Taliban have looked to gain negotiating leverage through battlefield gains. Increased violence has resulted in record-high civilian casualties and rising casualties among Afghanistan's security forces. The American military command in Kabul has already begun reducing forces despite stalled talks, bringing US troops in Afghanistan down to 13,000. At the height of the war in 2010 and 2011, there were more than 100,000 US forces in Afghanistan.
First, the surge in hostilities signals deadlocks at stop-start peace talks involving US and Taliban negotiators in Doha. Despite a concerted bombing campaign and American-Afghan offensive ground operations, Taliban fighters can attack at levels similar to those a decade ago. It goes to show nothing much has changed, and the war in Afghanistan might not witness a peaceful or complete ceasefire anytime soon.
Second, the Taliban's continued attacks hint at limits of American strategy in Afghanistan. The number of attacks, detailed in the quarterly inspector general report, highlights the disparity between talking points and reality. The increase in violence occurred during a period in which President Trump tweeted that the United States was "hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years!"
Third, the Afghan government, so far excluded from the talks, has asked the United States to agree to nothing but an extensive ceasefire. It fears that if the United States signs an initial deal with violence levels reduced only in the cities, the war will continue to rage in the countryside, with casualties being from the Afghan forces and the unsuspecting civilians.
India's Northeast: Historic Bodo Peace Accord signed
In the news
On 27 January, a tripartite peace agreement has been signed between the Government of India, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU). All the four factions of the dreaded military group along with the powerful student union consented to establish a peaceful Bodo territory and work towards the development of their people and region.
The accord is historic, considering the militant group that associated itself with it. The NDFB is considered to be the most dangerous among the various militant outfits present in the north-eastern region of the country. The accord is supposed to work for the all-round development of the Bodo people, and it grants a sum of ₹ 900 crores.
Issues at large
First, the Bodos demanded an independent state with a separate administration. They were sceptical of the continuous influx of migrants from Bangladesh and other parts of India. Their agitation started even before the Assam Andolan (the 1980s) in which they demanded the preservation and security of their culture and people whom they thought would perish over time.
Second, under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, the regions that have the Bodo population are administered right under the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD). The schedule protects the regions with special land rights to secure the indigenous communities living within them. The BTAD resulted in a challenging environment for the indigenous non-tribal communities where the latter is also entitled to such rights.
Third, the issue of the NDFB led to ethnic violence was quite rampant in the Bodo dominated areas in lower Assam. Bengali-speaking Muslim migrant communities were vehemently attacked in 2012 and during the 2014 elections. Adivasi communities also suffered from frequent attacks, the most famous being the December 2014 Assam Violence.
First, the demand for a separate independent state was what drove the Bodo rebels to form a front in the 1980s. They later turned violent as State and the Central Governments neglected their demands. Peace accords were signed earlier as well, the first being the one in 1993 by the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) and the Government of India which resulted in the creation of Bodoland Autonomous Council. The second one was signed in 2003 with the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT) which formed the Bodoland Territorial Council with four districts under its control. Despite these accords, the insurgency issue was not resolved and frequent ethnic attacks which the tribal Bodo rebels wedged on the non-tribal ones continued to take place.
Second, the peace accord entails a ray of hope for the people of the BTAD as well as Assam to put an end on all the violence and unrest which has taken the lives of many over the last three decades. The Bodo community hopes that the accord will provide them with solutions to their long-pending issues and stop all the militant-led violence in the region which they claim to have disturbed the development of the same.
Third, though their demand for a separate state within the territory of India remains unaddressed till now, the members of the banned outfit unwaveringly look forward to a developed Bodo region. It is well understood that the Central Government cannot fulfil all the demands and will negotiate for a middle-line.
The only question which can be posed is that whether this peace accord will be a total success or will it lose its momentum over time, like the previous ones, in the view of few remaining unfulfilled political demands of the tribal community? Nonetheless, the accord promises with the set up of multiple central universities and medical institutes in the region along with factories and sports facilities to generate employment. This is indeed a great achievement for northeast India as it will pose as a flag bearer of similar peace accords in the near future.
New Delhi: Shooting in an anti-CAA rally
In the news
On 30 January, a 17-year-old fired at a group of anti-CAA protestors while shouting "yeh lo aazadi" and "long live Delhi police", outside Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi. Before joining the protest, the gunman on his social media account had posted messages stating 'Game Over, Shaheen Bagh' and 'wrap me in saffron on my last journey'.
Issues at large
The anti-CAA protests have been continuing in Delhi. With election schedule for New Delhi, where the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are fighting for the State, the anti-CAA protests, and the responses against the same have become a political rallying point.
Last week, Anurag Thakur, the Union Minister of State, encouraged supporters at an election rally in Rithala to chant slogans such as, 'shoot the traitors'. Several critiqued the incumbent minister, for inciting. Later, the Election Commission barred the minister from campaigning for three days.
For the BJP, winning Delhi assembly is crucial now. The party though has a majority of 303 seats in the Parliament, faced setbacks in Jharkhand and Maharashtra state elections in 2019. With the upcoming elections on 08 February, the party is looking at defeating the AAP and also arrest its losing streak in the state elections.
On one hand, the BJP ensured its Hindu majority vote bank by ending Triple Talaq, revoking Article 370 and introducing CAA. AAP leaders, on the other hand, announced policies in public health care, infrastructure and education sector, also by providing free electricity, water supply to weaker sections and free travel for women passengers in public transport.
The shooting at the anti-CAA protest has led to further agitation, especially the students from universities nationwide. It also marks the continuation of violence by the supporters of the CAA against those who oppose. A few weeks earlier, there was violence inside the campus at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Second, the protest and the support for the CAA is being interpreted as being patriotic or otherwise. The support for and against the CAA has become a political issue now, and in Delhi, also an electoral one.
Trump's Middle East plan gains mixed responses
In the news
On 28 January 2020, while Donald Trump unveiled the much-awaited Trump-Jared "deal of the century" in the presence of a beaming proud Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinians, who boycotted the event, strongly rejected the deal with "the day of rage". Netanyahu applauded the peace proposal as the "opportunity of the century" and Mahmoud Abbas, head of Palestinian Authority, called it "the slap of the century". Although the Arab League rejected the plan, individual Middle Eastern states mainly gave a muted response to Trump's proposal.
Issues at large
First, strong rejection from Palestinians despite Trump's proposal of a two-state solution, stems from the indifference the plan shows to Palestinian stance and demands. Any plan that is unacceptable to the Palestinians, the conflict's primary affected, will not yield prolonged and sustainable negative peace, let alone positive peace.
Second, intra-Palestinian problems like the divides amid Palestinian Authority and the lack of a political voice for the Palestinians further challenge conflict resolution. Intifadas were proof that PLO and Hamas do not represent the collective voice of the Palestinians.
Third, the Arab divide jeopardizes the Palestinian cause. With the presence of ambassadors of Oman, Bahrain and UAE for the unveiling of the plan, Qatar hailing US's mediation efforts, Jordan's muted response, acclaiming of Trump's efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia; Turkey and Iran as the only states spearheading for the Palestinians, schisms in the Middle Eastern stance are apparent. However, Arab leaders have refrained from overt backing of the deal.
Fourth, despite Israel's agreed four-year land freeze, it emerges victorious. The country's acceptance of the plan that recognizes Jordan valley, Jerusalem and settlements as contiguous Israeli territory upholding military supervision of Israel as a national security issue is a no brainer.
Fifth, a demilitarized future state of Palestine is a proposition that will surely be refuted by the Palestinian Authority. Sixth, the muted responses from the international community. The UK voiced a warm response, Putin chose to reserve his judgement, EU gave a bland reaction stating it would assess and study the proposal, Germany and France spoke of a negotiated two-state solution. Lack of uproar is noteworthy.
The complete absence of Palestinians from the negotiation table dwindles the peace proposal into a power preservation attempt by a President facing impeachment trial and a prime minister facing corruption indictment. Bereft concessions to Palestinians, this proposal will enter the long list of failed attempts for peace. Recognition of statehood of Palestine is the need of the hour. Insufficient as it may be, the current plan must be used as a starting point for further negotiation by Palestinians. Point of interest is the lack of Palestinian turn out for "the day of rage". It may indicate the Palestinian population's willingness to settle for this limited peace and desire of normalcy after the decades-long struggle.
With the foundering of the peace processes starting from 1949, the relevance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is waning for the world at large. The region wishes to move on and not jeopardize the budding Arab-Israeli peace in the name of Palestine. The unprecedented rapprochement is a direct result of Arab states like UAE and Saudi considering Iran as an existential threat and Israel (Iran's enemy) an expedient ally.
Unusual for the region, politics has moved beyond religion and ideology. Nevertheless, in the current scenario, the conflict will endure and clashes will peak.
Conflict Weekly is an academic initiative to follow conflicts and peace processes around the world. The Weekly is a part of research at the International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) at ISSSP in NIAS.
Abigail Miriam Fernandez