Conflict Weekly 16

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Conflict Weekly 16
The Binge-fighting in Kashmir Valley, SIGAR report on Afghanistan, Killing of a PTM leader in Pakistan, the US Religious Freedom watchlist, and Haftar's ceasefire call in Libya

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 06 May 2020, Vol.1, No. 16

D Suba Chandran, Sukanya Bali, Lakshmi V Menon, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Aarathi Srinivasan, Harini Sha, Harini Madhusudan and Aparupa Bhattacherjee

India: The surge in violence in J&K 
In the news
Last week, the Valley witnessed a series of violence relating to militancy and counter operations – in both - North and South Kashmir. It all started last Friday, with a clash between the security forces and a group of militants in North Kashmir. On Saturday, there was a counter-militancy operation in Handwara district; five security personnel were killed including a Colonel and a Major, and a Sub-Inspector of the J&K Police. Two militants were killed subsequently.

On Monday (4 May 2020), three men belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed by the militants in Handwara district again.

On Wednesday (6 May 2020), Riyaz Naikoo, one of the Hizbul Mujahideen commanders, who have been on the run since he became a militant in 2012, was killed in his home village in South Kashmir. One more militant was killed along with him.

In another operation in Pulawama, two more unidentified militants were also killed.

Separately, the Chief of Indian Army Gen Naravane warned Pakistan on a proportionate response to supporting violence in J&K. According to the Tribune, "I would like to emphasise that the Indian Army will give a proportionate response to all acts of infringement of ceasefire and its (Pakistan's) support to terrorism. The onus remains with Pakistan to bring peace in the region."

Issues in the background
First, there has been an increase during the last few months. It is easy to link the recent violence as the first spike of the summer and the snow melting. Or, see the violence through a cause-effect framework – violence as an effect, with the failure of politics as a primary cause.

Second, the attack on military and paramilitary forces – whether it is a part of a deliberate strategy by the militants or a result of a chance encounter? If it is former, it will highlight the violent summer that is awaiting the security forces. If it is the latter, then the security forces have to get ready to contain/eliminate them, without incurring losses.

Third, the killing of Riyaz Naikoo, a former school teacher, who decided to pick up the gun. Is he a lone wolf, or is he an expression of a larger problem, where the educated youths in the Valley or picking up the guns? Available statistics would point to the latter.

Fourth, the cross-LoC firing during the recent weeks, and the statement by the Indian Army Chief. The Indian security establishment believes that the cross-LoC firing is a smokescreen under which the militants infiltrate into Kashmir Valley. The warning also highlights a more substantial regional danger of violence inside the Valley.

In perspective
If politics create a vacuum in a conflict theatre, violence will fill in. Militants and their supporters – inside and outside, will always find ways to fish, when the political pond is muddled. 

The security forces have worked hard during the last two decades to bring the violence under control. New Delhi should pursue a political strategy to ensure it before it gets totally out of hand. 

Pakistan has been looking forward to internationalising the issue. Violence in Kashmir valley would give them an opportunity.

Afghanistan: New SIGAR report highlights the impending health disaster and its fallouts on the Afghan dialogue

In the news
On 30 April, SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) published its 47th' Quarterly Report to the United States Congress', on the status of reconstruction in Afghanistan. 

The report  highlights the possibility of a 'health disaster' in the upcoming months amid COVID 19 and "Afghanistan's vulnerabilities with a weak health-care system, widespread malnutrition, porous border, massive internal displacement, contiguity with Iran and the ongoing violence."

Issues at large
According to the report, the upsurge in coronavirus cases has complicated the peace process, withdrawal of foreign troops and the prisoner release. The deal between the US-Taliban called for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government personnel held by the insurgents. The intra-Afghan peace process may further be hindered if prisoners from either side die, due to the possible coronavirus outbreaks in over crowed prisons in Afghanistan. 

Migrants returning from Iran along the porous borders are seen as the primary carriers of the virus. The shortage of PPE and low levels of testing may increase the spread of the virus. The weak health care system and low health literacy may exacerbate the health crisis in the upcoming months. 

With borders closed with Pakistan and less commercial transportation between Afghanistan and Central Asia, there is a high possibility of a decrease in the availability of food and other goods. As of 16 April, 1,900 shipping containers for Afghanistan got stuck at the port of Karachi. The UN, WFP (World Food Programme) recorded a spike in prices of food commodity, with a 15-18 per cent increase in prices of wheat flour and a 17 per cent increase in cooking Oil and the purchasing power of casual labourers decreased by 20 per cent.

In perspective
The pandemic has affected the ongoing peace talks putting pressure on the government to accept the Taliban's demands and to release prisoners. The spread of coronavirus and the Taliban's violence are likely to push the country into more instability and weaken its political structures. 

Pakistan: Arif Wazir, a PTM leader is killed attack; Manzoor Pashteen calls for Pashtun unity
In the news
The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader Arif Wazir succumbed to the injuries on 2 May after unidentified gunmen targetted him outside his home in Wana. 

At his funeral, Manzoor Pashteen another PTM leader, condemned the murder and stated that his death is a massive loss, adding that a jirga should be held to instil a sense of unity among the Pashtuns.  Further, Mohsin Dawar, a party leader and member of Parliament, accused the "state-sponsored terrorists" of carrying out the attack.
Issues at large
The killing comes after the Police arrested Wazir in April for his alleged anti-Pakistani speech during his visit to Afghanistan. However, he was released on bail days before his killing. 

Being an outspoken and bold leader, he often criticised the Pakistan military for their war on terror for which he has been imprisoned several times. Is there State collusion in his killing? Since its formation in 2018, the PTM has been critical of the government's policies, the issue of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the tribal belt. They have organised frequent demonstrations, campaigns for civil rights for Pashtuns and against the Pakistan Army's heavy-handed operations in the regions.

Or, is he killed by the militants in the region? Earlier, Wazir's brother, father and uncle were also killed by the militants. 
In perspective
First, the preparators remain unidentified; so far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The State has to identify the killers.  
Second, the killing of Wazir and the death of exiled Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain which was reported at the same time, underline the struggle that the Pashtun and the Baloch people have fought continuously to secure their rights.
Third, the killing also took place during the week, when Pakistan's Human Rights Commission's annual report was published. The report is critical of contemporary human rights conditions within the country, and the killing should be a reminder of a larger threat.

Pakistan: The Human Rights Commission is critical of the state of affairs; the State objects that the HRCP has overlooked significant milestones.
In the news
On 30 April, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released its annual report on the 'State of Human Rights in 2019.' The report marked 2019 as the year of widespread economic and social marginalisation, soaring poverty, unemployment, systematic curbs on political dissent, gagging of press freedoms and abuse of women, children, religious minorities and prisoners. The HRCP honourary spokesperson called the report's findings "greatly worrisome" and cautioned of further deterioration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan's Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari accused the HRCP of overlooking major milestones by the country in 2019 and questioned the HRCP's intent. HRCP welcomed the ministry's response and clarified that their judgment was despite the measures taken by the government. The Pakistani daily, Dawn, have criticised the State institutions for not prioritising human rights. 

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Press Freedom Report called Islamabad as the most dangerous region for journalists. Furthermore, the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) reported an increase in casualties from militant attacks in April.
Issues at large
In 2019, the ruling PTI government in an effort to safeguard the vulnerable groups had initiated measures such as the National Action Plan against Child Abuse, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, Response and Recovery Act, Zainab Alert, Journalist Protection Bill, renovation and reopening of Hindu temples and the acquittal of blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi and Wajih-ul-Hassan. Despite these measures in place the human rights violations in the country, from honour killings, forced conversions, flouting of child labour laws, dehumanisation of prisoners, police extortions to custodial tortures have continued. 
As per the report, women, children and religious minorities face physical violence and sexual abuse. They are often most discriminated against equal political representation, employment, education and financial inclusion. 
In perspective
First, the HRCP report, that analyses law and order situation, curbs on free speech, constitutional compliance and marginalisation of vulnerable groups, rightly harped on the federal and the democratic character of the Constitution that should aim at protecting and upholding civilian supremacy through the Parliament in Pakistan. 
Second, the worsening human rights situation is a matter of grave concern for the country. Pakistan should implement systematic changes through rights-based legislation and executive body to improve the human right scenario within the country. 
Last, the recent reports by Transparency International, HRCP, PICSS and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlight the need to address the human rights situation in Pakistan. 

India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam placed on religious freedom watchlist by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In the news
On 28 April, the report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designated India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam as the "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) in terms of poor religious freedom and intolerance. These nine countries have joined Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan who were previously identified by the Commission in December 2019 as the countries with severe violations of religious freedoms. 

The recommendation of the Commission to place India as a country of particular concern is due to the existing protest and concerns over the citizenship bills and the National Register of Citizens in the country. This is the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in this category, alongside countries like China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Besides recommending 15 countries on the State Department's Special Watch List (SWL) for severe violations, the annual report also identified six non-state actors as "entities of particular concern" (EPCs) for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations. The report appreciated the improved situations concerning religious freedoms in Sudan and Uzbekistan, recommending it under the SWL (a lesser category) than CPC. 
Issues at large
Recommendations to the State Department and Congress are provided after examining each country which has been designated, in either of the categories mentioned above, which includes the use of targeted sanctions, diplomatic engagement to address public policy concerns while respecting religious freedoms.

The Commission's report may have only a limited outreach to the above institutions but can be used by the latter if they want to pursue a political course. Besides discussions in Congress, for example, will attract the international community, NGOs and media.

While the Commission may not have any legal standing on the countries on which it has made a note/recommendation, the report would be used as a baseline to critique the governments in these countries. The report categorises the countries into CPC/SWL/EPC based on the events that have occurred, highlighting key trends and developments in religious freedoms globally during the reporting period.
Following the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) if a government engages in or tolerates "particularly severe" violations of religious freedom, they are categorised into CPC. Countries in which the government engages in or tolerates "severe" violations of religious freedom, they are designated as SWL. The amended IRFA also requires the US government to identify non-state actors engaged in particularly severe violations of religious freedom and designate them as EPC.
The recommendations of the report against the designated countries include stringent actions to be taken against those individual government agencies/officials that, in their assessment, are responsible for the violation of religious freedoms. The recommended actions include targeted sanctions by freezing those individuals' assets and/ or barring their entry into the US.
It also recommends strengthening the engagement between the US diplomats and host government officials and key stakeholders, and fund efforts to train foreign officials on how to use surveillance technology to address legitimate public policy concerns while respecting religious freedom and related rights. These measures, if implemented, account for interference in the internal affairs of the country, restricting a government agency/official to do their duty to society.
In perspective
Countries placed in the lowest category evidently become more vulnerable to adverse reactions from other countries. It leads to the deterioration of its global image. However, the report ignores the reality behind the key findings of a particular country.

Libya: Khalifa Haftar announces ceasefire 
In the news
On 29 April, the Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar called for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The declaration was a response to an international call for a truce in the war-torn North African country. The announcement came after the series of setbacks faced by the eastern Libyan forces in their efforts to siege the country's capital Tripoli. 

Libya's internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has rejected the truce announced by the commander citing "humanitarian cause". However, speculations remain over the deliberate move of Haftar's unilateral announcement on the ceasefire as it is believed to be a response to the requests of "friendly nations."
Issues at large
The conflict in Libya has remained torn between the Libyan National Army commanded by Khalifa Haftar and the Tripoli-based government (Government of National Accord). While the Libyan National Army is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and France, the GNA is recognised by the United Nations and supported by Italy, Turkey and Qatar. Since the Tripoli offensive by the Libyan National Army in April 2019, violence in the region has escalated between these two opposing groups, and in recent days both have accused each other of shelling the civilian neighbourhood. 

The United Nations, along with the European counterparts called for a humanitarian truce during the month of Ramadan which would eventually pave the way for a permanent ceasefire. The Libyan National Army spokesperson took the opportunity to announce the ceasefire saying that this would help the authorities to focus on the humanitarian crisis at hand caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains to be seen whether the ceasefire is to double the military strength of the warring parties or serve peace amid the humanitarian cause.
In perspective
The supply chains from the eastern states have been cut due to the increasing dominance of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean waters. Turkey has signed an agreement with the Tripoli government that they would defend the GNA forces in exchange for gas-exploration rights in the Libyan waters. The seizures of Libyan oil terminals and blocking exports have challenged the Libyan National Army in their fight to consolidate power.

Russia, the most significant support of the Libyan National Army, is facing a severe crisis due to coronavirus and weakened their support to Haftar's Army. The highly sought after Libyan Oil is given lower prices and losing market. Thus the multiple disadvantages faced by the Libyan Army and the series of setbacks faced in the siege of Tripoli forced Haftar to declare a ceasefire in their march towards the capital city Tripoli.

Haftar's Army is unlikely to be defeated, but the pause is to strengthen its eastern allies before taking a stronger step in his road map for a populous government.  

Other stories on peace and conflict…
Protests in Hong Kong
A new wave of protests took place across Hong Kong with the arrests of pro-democracy activists. Despite the banning of the annual May-day protests that are mainly organised by the trade unions, the protesters led the demonstrations at a shopping mall. The riot police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. 
Bangladesh shifts 29 Rohingyas to a partially inhabitable island
On 3 May, Bangladesh government shifted around 29 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, which is a partially inhabitable island. This place has been developed by the government to shelter the Rohingyas living in the camps across the country. According to the news report, these refugees were part of the two small boats that were stranded in the sea for two months. 
Abdullah Abdullah to share power with Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan
According to a report by the New York Times, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah are "close to resolving a standoff over last year's disputed presidential election." Both have claimed victory over the elections that took place last year, and both had separate inauguration ceremonies in March 2020. The NYT also quoted Fraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, saying: "In principle, an agreement is reached, but there are a few things that need to be finalised. We believe they are not big obstacles and will be solved."

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