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CWA # 182, 2 November 2019

The World this Week
Protests in Lebanon, ISIS post-Baghdadi, UK Elections, Afghan QCG meet in Moscow and human trafficking across Europe

  GP Team

This edition of TWTW focusses on the following five issues: Protests in Lebanon, ISIS post-Baghdadi, forthcoming elections in the UK, the Moscow QCG meet on Afghanistan and the human trafficking across Europe.

This edition of TWTW focusses on the following five issues: Protests in Lebanon, ISIS post-Baghdadi, forthcoming elections in the UK, the Moscow QCG meet on Afghanistan and the human trafficking across Europe

Harini Madhusudhan, Nidhi Dalal, Sourina Bej, Parikshith Pradeep and Sukanya Bali

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS

 

Lebanon: PM Hariri quits, but protests continue 

What happened?

Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, resigned on 29 October 2019, following thirteen days of street protests. The resignation came after the violence between the supporters of two Shia groups attacking the camps of the protesters and blocking the roads in Beirut. Lebanon is facing a financial crisis and is struggling to provide essential services, including electricity and water. Hariri’s resignation is seen as a boost to the protests, that witnessed street brawls instigated by the supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement Party. 

The protesters demand that the government officials step down and replaced with a cabinet of independent experts who can lead Lebanon out of its financial crisis. They opine that Hariri should have resigned long ago, but ‘better late than never.’ They promise to continue their protests until all their demands are met. 

What is the background?

Lebanon is an import-dependent that maintains a pegged exchange rate between the Lebanese Pound and the United States Dollar. In 2019, the GDP per capita has reached its lowest since that of 2008, and the debt-to-GDP ratio has reached its highest since 2008 at 151 percentage. 

There was an increase in the government’s budget deficits and its reliance on using the foreign reserves from its Central Bank to keep the currency peg. The crisis was coupled with the strikes in gas stations, an imposed tax on gasoline, pharmaceuticals and importing of wheat. Additionally, there were wildfires in Lebanon. 

According to the Economist, Lebanon’s current protests has its origins in the sectarian political system post the Taif agreement. 

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has raised concerns over the growing protests in the region and has linked them with the policies of the US and Saudi Arabia.

Elsewhere, many see this as a new round of Arab Spring. 

What does it mean?

The widespread dissatisfaction against the existing system is culminating in violent protests across various countries. These protests have a common goal to bring down the ‘corrupt’ leaders and regimes. 

These protests could lead to the emergence of new leaders and substantial changes to the existing systems. It may be early to call these protests a new Arab Spring, but they have similarities. The fact that these protests are carefully aligned with the removal of the US troops from Syria and Iran crisis raises many questions on the broader goals of these protests. 

 

ISIS after Baghdadi

What happened?

The Islamic State ISIS on 31 October announced a new leader after Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi was killed in a US raid. Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi is now Baghdadi’s successor. The IS media arm Al-Furqan also confirmed the death of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, Baghdadi’s close-aide. The latter remained the ISIS spokesman since 2016 and was expected to be Baghdadi’s successor. 

What is the background?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISIS, was killed in a US raid on 26 October. He headed the ISIS since 2006 and had succeeded Abu Ayyub al-Masri. He rebuilt the ISIS and declared a Caliphate. Under his leadership, the ISIS expanded into significant areas of Syria and Iraq. At its peak, the ISIS had around 40,000 fighters from countries around the world. Baghdadi was also instrumental in ‘inspiring’ lone-wolf attacks across the world as acts of continuing jihad away from the caliphate. 

Baghdadi had been a target for the security forces; the US had placed a bounty of 25 million dollars on him. The mission to kill Baghdadi had eight helicopters, Delta Force operators, US ships and aircrafts. 

What does it mean?

After Baghdadi’s death, the ISIS was quick in announcing a new leader and a spokesperson. His death, though important for counterterrorism efforts, can be seen only as a symbolic development. Post Baghdadi, the ISIS will continue to evolve. 

The ISIS has announced to retaliate. The ISIS is likely to target vulnerable prisons left unguarded by the Kurdish forces near the Syria-Turkey border. 

 

UK Elections: A delayed Brexit; divided Parliament

What happened?

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on the course towards the general election that he called for, on 12 December after winning the approval in the House of Commons. Johnson won a vote in the Commons by 438 to 20 margins. The election, which now needs to be approved by the House of Lords, is set to become a proxy referendum on the Brexit.

What is the background?

After failing to get the bill passed, the conservatives led by Boris Johnson have called for an early election. The decision for a snap election follows two significant developments. First, the new withdrawal deal agreed by Boris Johnson and European Union was accepted and then rejected in two consecutive rounds of voting in the House of Commons on 25 October leading Johnson to seek election as the only way to end the Brexit deadlock. Second, this non-passage of the new deal left the EU with no choice but to extend the deadline of the Brexit process till 31 January 2020. The extension of the Brexit deadline further led the opposition to vote in favour of the election motion. 

What does it mean? 

The election means two things for the Brexit: first, a delayed or a temporary shelving of the deadlock and second, riding on the Brexit sentiment other social issues such as National Health Scheme (NHS) and immigration will join the political agenda, thereby making it hard for the Parliamentary debates to remain focussed only on the issue of the Brexit. 

The progress for the pre-Christmas election and the response to it has been three-fold:

First, the election has so far witnessed different approaches being adopted by the main and the opposition party. Boris Johnson’s Conservative party sees the election in the binary. A vote for him amounts to a pro-Brexit affirmation over a vote against him. Thereby he has framed his political campaigns to look at the opposition parties from an anti-Brexit prism owing to whom the Brexit has been delayed so far. The Labour party does not want to talk about Brexit. Corbyn has pitched himself as the UK’s only real chance for change, and better public services after nearly ten years of Conservative austerity. The detour taken by Corbyn is only to mask the great divide over Brexit within the party. The smaller opposition parties are lining up to be the parties of the ‘Remain.’ This boxes Corbyn in as Labour has to support a different Brexit to Johnson now, but cannot support a no-Brexit deal. His party is bitterly split on the issue and coming down on either side could alienate large parts of his party. 

Second, the sentiment of the voters has been equally divided. Brexit was always a symptom of a broader crisis in the workings of the class economy rather than the cause. A look at the voters and the background of the demography in London itself would entail a mix of cultures, religion and class. However, a straight jacket approach to homogenising the polity or isolating from the semantics means losing sight of the fundamentals that is the diversity in the populace is deeply entrenched. The Brexit is a result of turning a blind eye on how diverse London and Britain has become in the past decade. The election results would be reflective of this diversity, but Brexit would be an answer to it. 

Third, the European Union has come to view the election as merely a delay and not a path in solving the deadlock. As Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said the problems to be solved remain the same and the solutions would also be the same,” which is to iron out the differences in the Parliament and approve the deal. 

 

Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) on Afghanistan: The US, China, Russia and Pakistan meet again

What happened?

During 24-25 October, representatives of US, China, Pakistan and Russia met in Moscow, in a bid to resolve the Afghan crisis. They issued a joint statement advocating for peace while respecting Afghanistan’s ‘sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity’. The group pushed for the mutual release of prisoners by the Taliban and the Afghan Government. The statement also took a positive note on the upcoming meet in China which includes Afghan officials and representatives from numerous stakeholders in the war-ridden country. On the other hand, China, Pakistan, and Russia urged the US to resume the peace process in Afghanistan.

What is the background?

While the US, China, and Russia met for the fourth time, Pakistan held its second round of consultation with these countries. The QCG consultation gains prominence after Trump cancelled the peace deal with the Taliban. It also comes in the midst of rising death rates on the Afghan soil last quarter as per the UN Report, released this October. The report points to more than 8,000 casualties in the period between January and September this year.

The QCG’s attempt towards Afghan peace talks has been jittery since its formation in 2016. Trump’s plan to pull back troops from Afghanistan plays a major role in fulfilling his 2016 election promises and justifying his presidential manifesto for the elections in 2020.

What does it mean?

China and Russia’s role in the peace process have grown significantly. Afghan government’s participation in the upcoming talks in Beijing, signals a subtle shift in the geopolitics of Afghanistan. Ghani’s willingness to engage highlights the sway of non-US powers. This could delegate a wider bargaining plate to both China and Russia.

Second, despite American rhetoric demeaning Pakistan in their Afghan policy, Islamabad could gain larger autonomy in deciding Afghan-Taliban affairs. Chinese prominence in QCG could leeway better prospects for Pakistan to influence the peace process. However, Pakistan may continue to reap dividends regardless of outcomes from the peace talks.

Third, the US’s recent withdrawal in Syria signals a larger shift in its American Foreign policy and its efforts at competition with China and Russia lays seeds to a speedy Afghan retreat. This is in line with Trump’s policy of ‘drawback’ which could otherwise be perceived as the American incapability to steer geopolitical affairs. With Zalmay Khalilzad at the forefront, the US is passing the baton to other players. The US may have started seeking asylum from global institutions, critical regions, and international affairs for national benefits. However, this refuge should not be without thorough care and prudence, and at the cost of international order, which significantly depends on the actions of the United States. 

 

Human Trafficking across Europe: 39 Vietnamese found dead in a truck in the UK

What happened?

On 23 October, a truck with 39 dead Vietnamese was seized in the UK. The truck driver and four others were arrested on charges of man slaughtering and human trafficking. The Vietnamese police had arrested two, for smuggling and illegal immigration. In the UK, the Essex police have started proceedings to extradite a man from Ireland. Robinson, who has been alleged to be a part of ‘global ring’ of smugglers, appeared in court in Chelmsford on Monday. 

What is the background?

39 Vietnamese (31 men and eight women) were travelling to the UK in search of better prospects. Earlier, the deceased was thought to be Chinese nationals. Europe has faced similar cases of man slaughtering and human trafficking. Under similar circumstances, in 2017, 58 Chinese, from south China suffocated to death in Dover, and in 2015, 71 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan died in Austria. There are dozens of smuggling networks that facilitate illegal migration. They charge a fortune for smuggling people into the UK and other European countries.  

The container truck was suspected of moving across Europe back and forth, as indicated by the GPS. On 15 October, the truck crossed over into North Ireland, to the south of Dublin. From Dublin, it crossed to Dover in the UK and then to Calais in France on 16 October. Between 17 to 22 October, the truck moved across various cities. 

British, Chinese and Vietnamese government agencies are working together to investigate the gruesome incident.

What does it mean?

The incident is a shocker. Most victims are believed to be from Nghe An and Ha Tinh, the poorest provinces in Vietnam. Many flee due to poverty and to support their families, and pay large sums to traffickers to take them to Europe. They end up working for cannabis farms and are subjected to exploitation. Women are forced into sex work.   

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