Conflict Weekly 39

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Conflict Weekly 39
An Afghan woman nominated for the Nobel and a Dalit woman assaulted in India. External actors get involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 08 October 2020, Vol.1, No.39

Fatemah Ghafori, Sourina Bej, Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Afghan woman politician nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
In the news
On 5 October Fawzia Koofi, the first woman Deputy Speaker of Afghanistan, was declared to be nominated for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize by the Nobel committee. The prize is due to be announced on 9 October. 

The Norwegian Peace Council, an umbrella NGO of 20 Norwegian Peace organizations in Oslo, released its list of five frontrunners for the Nobel Peace Prize, choosing Koofi as the top favourite, out of a total number of 318 candidates.

As a member of the team of delegates engaging with the Taliban, Fawzia remains one of the prominent faces, advocating women's rights in the talks in Doha. 

Issues at large
First, the role played by the women negotiators in the intra-Afghan talks. The Afghan government had appointed four women - Fatemah Gilani, Fawzia Koofi, Habibeh Sarabi, and Sharifa Zurmati as part of the negotiating team and all the four have vowed to push for women's rights in any deal with the Taliban. The four have become the beacon of hope for the Afghan women who see that this team would be a channel through which their voices would be heard.  

Second, Koofi represents the everyday struggle of the Afghan women. Koofi is a politician, women rights activist, leader of the "Wave of Transformation" party and served as a member of the Parliament in Afghanistan. Koofi had survived an attack by unidentified gunmen in August and also in March 2010, when she was the deputy speaker of the Parliament. She has also been targeted by the Taliban when she went to the eastern province of Nangarhar to commemorate women's day. During the Taliban's stay in power (1996-2001), her father and brother were killed. Life became more difficult when the Taliban imprisoned Fawzia Koofi's husband, who later died of tuberculosis while in prison. In honour of her husband, she never married again. Koofi, a victim of the war in Afghanistan, comes from among the people and feels the exact pain that each Afghan women feel today.  

Third, nomination is a step towards honouring women peacebuilders.  While women's participation in the peace process is among the most important issues, remembering and honouring women's struggles has an important message to the world. This nomination coveys the message of the world's support and honour of Afghan women activists and women's meaningful participation in the peace process and decision making. Koofi wrote in her Facebook "Most of this honour goes back to the common, long, and peaceful struggles of the Afghan people, especially the women of this country people who are both victims and have great forgiveness."

In perspective
The nomination of Koofi for the Nobel Peace Prize is a great honour and achievement for all women in Afghanistan and South Asia. Afghan women hope that Koofi wins the award, and are waiting for the announcement of the winner will be made in Oslo by the Norwegian Nobel Committee on 9 October. Her win will undoubtedly have a direct impact on stability and human rights in her Afghanistan. This would encourage women's meaningful presence in the long-term peace process, and their stand for human rights and democracy, which many women feel has been eroding in the talks with the Taliban. 

Even if she doesn't win, her nomination carries a symbolic achievement. 

Caught in caste, politics and apathy, India's soul bleeds with yet another brutal rape
In the news 
On 6 October in one of the most populous states in India, a gruesome rape of a 19-year-old woman saw the country's apex court, the federal government and several institutions get into a heated debate over how to keep the women in one of the largest democracies in the world safe. The state government in Uttar Pradesh sought Supreme Court-monitored time-bound CBI inquiry into the rape that has yet again shaken the conscious of the country. 

On 14 September, the victim, belonging to a lower caste, was assaulted and allegedly gang-raped by the high-caste men in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Following the brutal assault, the young woman's body was mutilated, her tongue chopped off and choked with a cloth in an attempt to keep her from filing a police complaint. After her death, several attempts were made by the district administration and local police to cremate her body without the presence of her family hurriedly. Questions have been raised whether a rape has indeed occurred; reluctance deterred a timely lodging of a complaint and above all protests broke out across India when attempts to protect the higher caste accused unfolded. 
What started as a rape of a woman has now entered a public debate over caste, sexual violence and socio-political marginalization in India. 

Issues at large 
First, the convergence of gender, caste and poverty. The beginning of the rape does not start in the millet fields of Hathras, but in the discrimination, women like her have repeatedly faced on account of coming from a lower Dalit Valmiki caste. The rape of the women puts in focus the sexual violence faced by the Dalit women; many are yet to receive above primary education and face a "triple burden" of gender bias, caste discrimination and economic deprivation. The violation of a women's body has become preposterously easy when she comes from a lower caste. Rape then becomes a tool for higher-caste men to assert hegemony in one form or another. The turning point came in 2006 when four members of a Dalit family in Maharashtra were brutally murdered by upper caste men when police complaint was lodged by the mother against a land dispute. As more and more women become assertive, rape has become a tool of control; but if a woman has a marginalized caste identity, sexual violence is rampant.  

Second, the politicization of the caste identity. The rape of the women quickly unfolded into a singular narrative of caste domination in the State where caste politics dictate the everyday life of the people. Hathras is a reserved constituency and forms the bedrock of lower-caste votes. Besides, the administration and the police with high caste officers lacked the maturity and humanity to handle a volatile situation, thereby giving space for several political parties to politicize the issue.  

Third, memories from the 2012 Nirbhaya rape tragedy. The protests in the aftermath of the rape stoke memory from a similar outrage the country say in 2012 when four men in the capital city brutally raped a woman from Delhi. The cruel irony remains that the country's women have to sit for another candlelight vigil just six months after the hanging of the convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya tragedy. Asha Devi, the mother of Nirbhaya, has rightly said, "nothing has changed in these eight years." What changed has been the deteriorating state response to this rape tragedy. While the Delhi rape tragedy saw swift arrests, extreme public outcry, political pressure to change the law and after a long drawn legal battle punishment of the accused. In Hathras, the superintendent of police, the station house officer has been swiftly transferred after arresting the accused, and the village was cordoned off to stem the free flow of information. 

In perspective 
Since 2012, India had registered more rape cases, yet some incidents have the capacity to jolt the country of its slumber and ignorance towards its women's rights. The ghastly incident, which has led to a political slugfest, highlights the plight of women in the state and the country. Continuing caste-based discrimination, and lapses in administration make the fight for women safely difficult. When rape becomes a political power play, every woman in this country has ostensible reason to fear and not just the rape-victim. It becomes certain that the impunity of the crime shadows the lives of all women in this country. The tragedy in Hathras will become another forgotten story; can we afford that any more. 

Turkey, Russia and regional issues in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
In the news
On 5 October, Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service warned that escalation of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region posed a threat of Islamist radicals to Moscow. Meanwhile, despite Russia, France, and the United States calling for an unconditional ceasefire, Turkey has come out in support of Azerbaijan and said that without a sustainable solution, a ceasefire is meaningless. 

On 27 September, clashes erupted between the two countries resulting in at least 300 deaths including civilians and declaration of martial law in both countries. 

Issues at large
First, Turkey's increasing assertiveness in the region. Armenia claims that Turkey has been sending fighters to the region, including from Syria and Libya. Though Turkey has denied claims of sending mercenaries to Azerbaijan, Erdogan has maintained that support for Azerbaijan is a part of Turkey's quest for its "deserved place in the world order." France and Syria have blamed Turkey for crossing the red line and stirring up the conflict. 

Second, Russia's hesitations to get involved in the conflict. Russia, which has enjoyed relations with both the former Soviet blocs, has sold arms to the two countries but Russia's defence pact guarantees security to Armenia. Moscow may, however, not extend the support in the conflicted region because it is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. Moreover, this is an opportunity for Russia to counter the current Armenian leadership's anti-Kremlin politics. 

Third, Iran as a balancing actor. Despite sharing a border with Azerbaijan and having a common Shia ethnicity, Iran has stayed away from getting involved in the conflict and has called for negotiations. However, in the past week, small demonstrations were held in support of Azerbaijan, including in Tehran and Tabriz. 

Fourth, Azerbaijan's role in Europe and Turkey's energy security. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is an important transit route for the supply of oil and natural gas to the European Union and Turkey from Azerbaijan which produces oil up to 800,000 barrels per day. The pipeline along this route delivered 9.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Turkey in 2019 and is due to start supplying Greece and Italy with up to 3 per cent of the EU's total supply next month. 

In perspective
On 5 October, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg called for a ceasefire. However, Turkey's hardline stance on the conflict raises questions on NATO's effectiveness. Further, the Minsk Group, formed under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to mediate between the two countries over the 1992 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, has failed to address the conflict today. As the Group is headed by France, Russia and the US, the conflict would pave the way for Turkey to marginalize the Minsk Group. Azerbaijan, too, has said it has lost patience with the OSCE's failure to resolve the conflict and demands Turkey be included in any further negotiation. 

On 7 October, Iran warned if fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces in the South Caucasus prolongs, a regional war is inevitable. If so, the main external actors would be Russia and Turkey. Since the US role in the region has been decreasing, other powers like France and Iran may also enter the conflict which could lead to scenarios similar to those in Syria and Libya or the East Mediterranean.

Also, from around the world

Peace and Conflict in Southeast and East Asia
Hong Kong: Primary school educator struck off for "promoting Hong Kong independence"
On 6 October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pledged to "weed out the bad apples" from the teaching profession, after a primary school educator was struck off for "promoting Hong Kong independence" in the classroom. She to extend support to the Education Bureau who deregister the school teacher from the professional register. Further, Lam emphasized that this is the first case of deregistering a teacher under the Education Ordinance on grounds other than criminal and sexual offences stating that this is a very "serious matter." Apart from the deregistration, the bureau has sent reprimands and warning letters to 33 teachers, who could also be disqualified if found guilty of misconduct.

Indonesia: Protests against the new labour law
On 6 October, thousands of workers and students protested peacefully at the start of a three-day national strike against President Joko Widodo's "omnibus" job creation bill, which was passed into law on 5 October. The Indonesian police have used water cannon and teargas to disperse protesters. Although the government says is vital to attract investment through the relaxation of rigid labour rules and streamlining of environmental rules and also create jobs, critics view it as too pro-business with its removal of labour protections and relaxation of environmental rules. Further, the bill has also been criticized by both environmental experts and some of the world's biggest investors, who expressed concern over its impact on the country's tropical forests.
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Bangladesh: Protests over the rise of sexual assaults
On 5 October, protests erupted in Dhaka and other parts of the other to protest against the increasing number of sexual assaults. This comes after the incident of a woman being stripped naked and tortured in the southern district of Noakhali. The protesters mostly left-leaning activists, began the demonstrations in front of the National Museum with the banner, "Bondi Somoyer Chitkar," while people from different walks of life also joined the demonstration. Further, the protesters called for the resignation of the home minister for his failure to stop the incidents of rape and oppression of women across the country. According to the local human rights organization between January and September 2020 nearly 1,000 rape cases were reported, including 208 gang rapes.

Afghanistan: Eight killed after a car bomb attack targeted at Laghman provincial governor's convoy
On 5 October, a car bomb attack on the convoy of the governor of Afghanistan's Laghman province left eight people dead, including four of the governor's bodyguards, while the Governor and 40 left injured. This attack came as Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani arrived in Doha where he was to meet the Afghan team negotiating with the Taliban. No terrorist outfit has claimed responsibility for the attack. Later on, 6 October, four Afghan soldiers were killed in a car bomb attack against a security post of the National Army in Helmand, however, although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, spokesman for the provincial governor said that Taliban had carried out the attack.

Pakistan: Ahmadi professor killed in Peshawar
On 5 October, unidentified gunmen shot dead a professor in the Wazir Bagh area of Peshawar. The slain Dr Naeemuddin Khattak, who belonging to the Ahmadi community, is reported to have been killed following an argument over religion on the previous day. The police have registered cases against a relative Mubasir and Saad Farooq, a fellow professor. Both said to have argued with the slain professor and named by the deceased's family in the FIR. This attack comes two months after a Pakistani-American man who belonged to the Ahmadiya community was shot dead inside a court during his trial under Pakistan's blasphemy law. Further, Peshawar has witnessed an uptick in violence against Ahmadis recently. This is the third attack on an Ahmadi in the city since July 2020.

Peace and Conflict in Central Asia
Kyrgyzstan: PM and parliament speaker steps down amid election protests
On 6 October, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Kubatbek Boronov and Speaker of the Parliament Dastan Dzhumabekov resigned on Tuesday amid protests in the country. However, on the same day, the deputies of the Kyrgyz Parliament elected a new speaker of the parliament and acting prime minister of the country. Further, protesters broke into Kyrgyzstan's government headquarters following clashes with police, with thousands taking to the streets over the results of a recent parliamentary election, which was marred by allegations of vote-buying. Demonstrators are said to have also freed former President Almazbek Atambayev from a jail cell in the country's national security committee building. This uprising comes amid the growing concerns of the people over rampant corruption and domination by certain powerful clans.

Peace and Conflict in the Middle East and Africa
Saudi Arabia-Turkey: Saudi escalated measures to ban Turkish goods
On 4 October, the head of the Saudi Council of Chambers of Commerce called for a boycott of Turkish products, tweeting, "Boycotting everything that is Turkish, whether on the level of import, investment or tourism, is the responsibility of every Saudi' merchant and consumer', in response to the continuing hostility of the Turkish government against our leadership, our country and our citizens." For many months, there have been talks of an official Saudi tightening to limit the arrival of Turkish goods to the country, by delaying trucks at crossings and customs and complicating import procedures, but the numbers have not significantly decreased, which explains the new government direction to raise the level of restrictions.

Mali: ECOWAS lifts post-coup sanctions
On 6 October, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) said "heads of state and government have decided to lift sanctions" to "support" the handover to civilian rule. The regional bloc had imposed wide-ranging sanctions include a ban on commercial trade and financial flows, but not on basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight the coronavirus pandemic, fuel or electricity. The regional bloc had issued a statement upholding sanctions imposed on Mali after the coup until a civilian prime minister was appointed. Further, this move came a day retired Colonel Bah Ndaw, who was sworn in last month, appointed a 25-strong government tasked with leading the country to elections.

Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Belarus: Lithuania, Poland recalling ambassadors from the country
On 6 October, the foreign ministries of Poland and Lithuania, who offer support to the Belarusian opposition, have said they were recalling their ambassadors from Minsk for consultations. Poland suggested ambassadors from some other European Union nations were also being recalled. The move came after an announcement by Belarus that it was recalling its ambassadors from the two countries and urging them to do the same. Belarus also demanded that Poland and Lithuania scale down their missions in the country because of their "destructive activity" and accuses the two neighbouring countries of meddling in its affairs by hosting exiled opposition leaders and refusing to recognize the victory of Alexander Lukashenko. Further, Poland and Lithuania are taking steps to win EU and international support for efforts toward a democratic Belarus.
USA: Trump rejects Democrats' COVID-19 aid offer
On 6 October, President Donald Trump abruptly put an end to months of negotiations over a COVID-19 relief package, rejecting the Democrats' latest offer and stating that he wanted to postpone negotiations until after the November election. In response to this, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Trump had put his interests above the country's and said he was "unwilling to crush the virus." Further, this rejection and delay mean both parties head into a crucial election without more relief for Americans struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to high levels of unemployment and caused businesses to suffer as states impose social distancing measures.
USA: Facebook bans QAnon conspiracy theory accounts
On 6 October, Facebook said "Starting today, we will remove Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts," with the company banning all accounts linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement from its platforms. The company also stated that its staff had begun removing content and deleting groups and pages, however, the process would take time. Further, Facebook said it was updating measures implemented in August, which aimed to "disrupt the ability of QAnon" to organize through - and operate on - its networks. The move comes three years after the far-right conspiracy theory began and with Facebook's earlier decision to remove or restrict groups and accounts sharing and promoting QAnon material.

About the authors
Fatemah Ghafori is a UMISARC scholar from the Pondicherry University; Sourina Bej is a Project Associate; Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Assistants at NIAS.



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