Conflict Weekly 23

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Conflict Weekly 23
Baloch Disappearance issue returns, Nepal tightens Citizenship rules, and Egypt enters the conflict in Libya

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 24 June 2020, Vol.1, No. 23

D. Suba Chandran, Alok Kumar Gupta, Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Sourina Bej

Baloch Disappearances cause a rift in the ruling coalition, as a Baloch party leaves the PTI government
In the news
Last week, the Balochistan National Party (Mengal) walked out of the coalition led by the PTI at the national level. Citing the failure of the PTI to fulfil the two agreements signed, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, leader of the BNP-M officially ended his party's alliance with the PTI government by making a formal announcement in the Parliament. 

Subsequently, the PTI announced a high profile team led by the Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to dialogue with Sardar Mengal, and get the BNP-M back to the coalition. The PTI team met with Sardar Mengal; however, the effort to win back the BNP-M have not succeeded, as the latter has refused to reconsider the decision to quit the coalition. 

Later, the BNP-M has made a formal request to shift their seats in the Parliament to the opposition benches.

Issues at large
First, the issue of Baloch disappearances. This is an emotional issue within Balochistan province. During the last two decades, successive federal governments in Islamabad have pursued Balochistan as a security issue; as a result, the security agencies took the upper hand and pursued a military approach towards the Baloch demands. On the one hand, the security approach led to violence and the killing of Baloch youths, who were suspected of militants. However, the bigger issue was the disappearance of Baloch youths. More than 5000 Baloch have been considered as missing.

Second, the issue of broken promises between the federation and the province. According to Sardar Mengal, both the parties – the BNP-M and PTI came together with an understanding, that focussed on the following six points: recovering the missing persons; implementing the National Action Plan; implementing six per cent quota in the federal government for the Balochistan; repatriating the Afghan refugees; and constructing of dams in Balochistan. According to the BNP-M, the PTI has failed to honour the promises with the province.

Third, the missing political dialogue with the Baloch. Announcing his decision to part ways with the government, Sardar Mengal also announced that the PTI is more worried about Kashmir more than Balochistan. According to him, the government "is constituting committees on Kashmir, which is not with it, but is not worried about losing what it already has." He also said in the Parliament: "This House can discuss issues of wheat, sugar and tomatoes, but not the blood of the Baloch people."

In perspective
The PTI government at the federal level is stable, despite the BNP-M leaving it. Hence BNP-M leaving the coalition is a political issue, but not an immediate crisis for the government. Hence, Imran Khan is less likely to walk the Baloch talk, and get the BNP-M back into the government. The latter has only five seats in the Parliament. 

Second, elected governments have yielded too much space to the Deep State in Balochistan. Even if the PTI government wants to pursue a proactive Baloch strategy (which is less likely), it does not have space within Pakistan's political decision-making process on the future of Balochistan. Neither is the PTI keen to bulldoze its way and create a space for the government.

Citizenship Amendment Bill: Another conflict in the offing as Nepal tightens citizenship rights and roti-beti' ties with India; 

In the news
Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Government on 21 June fired another salvo against India. Through State Affairs and Good Governance Committee, the NCP moved Constitutional (Amendment) Bill proposing changes to Clause 4.1(b) of the Citizenship Act of 2007. The Parliamentary Committee has finalized the bill through majority votes, as it could not muster a consensus. The said amendment would require a foreign woman married to a Nepali national to wait for seven years to be a naturalized citizen and acquire the citizenship certificate. 

The core argument behind the proposed amendment is that such women need time to understand the country better and develop a sense of loyalty to the nation. During the period they will have seven different social, economic and cultural rights; residence permit; right to do businesses and earn; sell any fixed and moveable assets and property; register birth, death, marriage, divorce and migration; study in academic institutions; and acquire national identity cards. The Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal (SJP-N) have registered a note of dissent on the bill, saying that the amendment would be an inconvenience to the Madhesis living in the Terai owing to a widely prevalent cross-border marriage in the region. 

Issues at large
First, amendment likely to flare Madhes conflict. Madhes are the people of Indian origin residing south of Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas, known as Terai Region covering 22 of Nepal's 75 districts. The region constitutes 17 per cent of the country's area with 50 per cent of its population. This region has felt deeply discriminated by the Hill politics dictated by Kathmandu and also remained politically and constitutionally sidelined during the federal structuring of the new Constitution in 2015. This resulted in prolonged conflict and became the root for the Madhes demanding share in the political power of Nepal. The said amendment in the Citizenship bill is read as a policy to clip the policy aspirations of the Madhes population by socially ignoring their tradition. 

Second, another tango in India-Nepal relations. The policy would affect the 'bread and bride relations' with India that Nepal has since ages. The NC critiqued it would create constitutional, social and familial complexities. Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) opposed it saying it would adversely affect Indo-Nepal cultural ties and would sever the kinship ties between the two. According to the 2011 Census, the Madhesis are 56 lakhs with castes and ethnicity similar to Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. They have frequent inter-marriages between families on either side of the border, and this amendment seems to be aimed at discouraging migration of Indian women to Nepal by way of marriage since they would stand debarred from political rights for seven years.

Last, the demand for equality in law gets louder. Women groups have criticized and asked for a say in the political matter as it has been decided by an all-male secretariat. The all-male polity has also remained silent about the foreign men married to Nepali women. Presently, foreign men married to Nepali women have to wait for 14 years to get naturalized citizenship.

In perspective
The India-Nepal bilateral relations have hit a nadir ever since the Left government took over the reins of governance. On 18 June Nepal completed the process of redrawing political map including three of India's strategic areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura, much to the chagrin of India. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is another nail in the coffin of bilateral relations. The present amendment may be an attempt to further downsize Indian influence in Nepal, demonstration of Nepali assertion against India, and to please China amidst ongoing Sino-Indian border row.

Conflict in Libya Expands: Egypt threatens military action, risks regional clashes with Turkey-backed GNA 

In the news
On 20 June, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a key supporter of Haftar, threatened to deploy troops to halt an advance by fighters loyal to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. He further ordered the Egyptian army to be ready to carry out missions inside or outside of the country to protect its national security amid tensions over Turkey's intervention in Libya. In response to these statements, the GNA backed military by Turkey stated that Egypt's threat was a hostile act and direct interference, calling it a declaration of war. These statements came on the eve of a virtual meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on Libya, in which the GNA declined to participate. Further, French President Emmanuel Macron launched a furious attack on Turkey's involvement in Libya, accusing them of playing a "dangerous game." Further, Italy, Germany, and the United States have called for a ceasefire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya following a warning by Egypt.

Issues at large
First, the increasing role of Ankara in Libya is seen as a strategic threat. The support received from Turkey will enable the GNA to continue their offensive which will lead to further intensification of their plans to push back Haftar's forces, resulting in weakening his coalition and ensuring that there is no consolidation of Haftar's control especially in the east. Thus, the role of Ankara could potentially change the next phases of the conflict, which has threatened allies of the Haftar camp.

Second, a potential spillover into the already conflict-torn Sahel region. The regional actors on both sides are concerned over the possibility of regional expansion of the conflict that has become a playground for foreign forces. The allies of both camps have raised concern over the spillover effect, which could lead to further instability and terror forces with more leverage in the entire region.

Last, external actors have polarised the conflict. The meddling of external players has deepened the fragmentation and polarisation in Libya. This interference has further complicated diplomacy and mediation, for the external players have prioritized geopolitical benefits over ensuring stability for Libya.  

In perspective
First, Turkey should tread carefully on imposing its new assertiveness for this could result in Haftar's backers giving up on their mission on establishing control over the entire country and instead would focus on consolidating control in the east.

Second, the ongoing war in Libya seems to be heading towards a confrontation between regional powers with Turkey and Egypt becoming more vocal over the crisis in Libya, which could have a larger geopolitical consequence. In this context, the most dangerous risk for Libya is the expansion of the conflict.

Last, the severe opposition that has developed between both domestic and external actors over the country's power struggle will have detrimental effects for the prospects in negotiating a settlement to the conflict. With the conflict at the local level already grim, the involvement of outside actors will further add to the struggle of the country.

Also this week...

India China agree to reduce border tensions at the meeting of military officials 
China and India have agreed to reduce tensions a week after clashes on their disputed Galwan valley border that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. After talks between the top regional military commanders on 22 June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said both sides have "agreed to take necessary measures to promote cooling of the situation." The Press Trust of India has reported the statement follows a meeting between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the Tibet Military District. This meeting of the military officials came a day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's much-publicized and ambiguous statement that "nobody has intruded into our border, neither is anybody there now nor have our posts been captured." The comment though heavily shared in several Chinese social media appeared to be a response to the rising anti-China sentiment within the domestic populace in India. 

Coordinated bomb attacks rocked Sindh, killing at least four and injuring several
A powerful roadside bomb and a hand-grenade attack targeting security vehicles hours apart killed at least four people and wounded several others in the Sindh province in Pakistan on 19 June. The attacks claimed by the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, the first explosion took place near a security vehicle outside a market in Ghotki, a town in the Sindh province killing two paramilitary rangers and a passerby. Hours later, at least one person was killed when the group threw a grenade at paramilitary forces guarding a school in the port city of Karachi. Shortly after reports of explosions in Ghotki and Karachi emerged, a cracker explosion also took place in Larkana outside a public school, where a rangers' van was parked.

Yet another incident of lone-wolf knife stabbing kills three in the UK
A knife attack that left three dead and three others wounded in a town west of London is being treated as a terrorist incident now. The attack took place on 20 June evening in Forbury Gardens, a park in Reading that had been used earlier in the day as a venue for a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Shortly after the attack, the Thames Valley police arrested a 25-year-old Libyan origin man they suspected of murder and was previously investigated by the MI5 under suspicion of terrorism. 

1000 European MPs sign letter of protest against Israel West Bank annexation 
More than 1,000 parliamentarians from across Europe have signed a letter strongly opposing plans by Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. The letter raised "serious concerns" about the proposals and calls for "commensurate consequences." The publication of the letter in several newspapers comes a week before the annexation process is likely to begin. According to a power-sharing deal that led to the formation of the current Israeli government last month, annexation will be put to a vote from 1 July. The project is being led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking to extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank containing Jewish settlements.

About Authors
D. Suba Chandran is Dean, School of Conflict and Security Studies, at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). Dr Alok Kumar Gupta is an Associate Professor, at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Central University of Jharkhand. Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Sourina Bej are Research Assistant and Project Associate respectively at NIAS. 

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