Conflict Weekly 21

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Conflict Weekly 21
Echoes of Black Lives Matter, Violence in Kashmir Valley, Rohingyas in the deep blue sea, One year of Hong Kong protests, Conflict in Libya and the human-wildlife conflict in South Asia

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 10 June 2020, Vol.1, No. 21

Black Lives Matter brings the US to its knees

In the news

Black Lives Matter. As Floyd got buried the last week, these words have been echoed all across the major cities throughout the world, calling an end to injustice, racism, and police brutality in the United States. What started with George Floyd's tragic death has transformed into a large movement that has mobilized large numbers of people that have not been seen since the likes of the Civil Rights Movement, despite most of the country still being in quarantine. 

Meanwhile, in the US, there is an attempt to "defund" the police. Congress is working on a new bill to address the issue of policing and racism.

Issues at Large
First issue is defunding police. While this may sound like a drastic measure, most think tanks and organizations promoting the idea have confirmed that the plan would involve divesting funds from the massive national policing budget towards other neighbourhood programs such as mental health resources, social workers, and other neighbourhood programs centred around security and safety. Los Angeles took the first step; Minneapolis, the birthplace of this movement, followed it. As more local governments moved to make drastic changes to their city or county's police culture, all eyes shifted towards the decisions federal government would make.

Second issue is relating to the Democrats unveiling the "Justice in Policing Act." It aims to ban chokeholds, create a registry of police misconduct, mandate a training program against racial profiling, and most notably making changes to qualified immunity, all of which direct responses to the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. While this bill does not resemble the 'defund police movement' sparked by the protest, democrats have preached how the bill would be the 'first step' in effectively changing police culture and targeting systematic racism. Though democrats seem to be unanimously backing this bill, especially considering its moderate liberal values compared to other requests made by protestors, not all republicans are on board. 

Third issue, the biggest one is racism. While legislation reforms can address systematic racism, the answer to addressing the hundreds of years of blatant injustice and racism rooted in American society may be complex. 

In perspective
Just a few weeks ago, the statement that America should 'defund the police' would be considered far from reasonable. However, it is currently a serious question asked amongst many legislators. In fact, this proposed movement should not be considered 'radical' as President Trump suggests. 

Despite the large magnitude of support for the divesting of police funding,  the Democrats moved to enact a bill that is much more moderate in nature. As speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi stated: "True justice can only be achieved with full, comprehensive action. This is the first step. There is more to come." If there is, in fact, "more to come," then this undoubtedly would be a great first step in changing the culture of police brutality within the system. 

Beyond agencies and organizations pushing specific legislation and Congress' actions within the past week, this particular movement is more concerned with another issue: how to address cultural racism, as a whole. While there is a multitude of different manners to address racism in America, one step that we can all take, is to look at "Black Lives Matter," from the perspective of human and not political analysis. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican Senator from Utah, was seen amidst the thousands of protestors in Washington DC All of which suggests that this movement, sparked by the public lynching of George Floyd, is far more than a political issue. To quote the thousands of tweets concerned with the issue, "It is a human rights issue."

India: Familiar patterns of violence in Kashmir Valley: South Kashmir becomes hot, militants kill a Sarpanch, LoC witness infiltration

In the news
Last week, there were three sets of violence in J&K, most of them taking place within Kashmir Valley, focussed on South Kashmir.

First, was the killing of a Sarpanch on Sunday, 7 June, in the Anantnag district in South Kashmir. The Sarpanch belongs to the Pandit community and is affiliated with the Congress party.

Second was a series of encounters between the militants and the security forces during the week. On 7 June, five militants were killed in an encounter in Shopian district. Later, in the same district, four more militants were killed on 11 June, in another encounter. Shopian district is adjacent to Anantnag district in South Kashmir.

Third, violence across the LoC relating to infiltration in the Rajouri sector.

Issues at large
First, the violence with its geographic focus in South Kashmir. Geographically, the Valley has two regions – North and South Kashmir. During the peak of militancy in the 1990s and the following decade, South Kashmir has been a focal point for militancy led by local Kashmiri fighters. It appears that the pattern is getting repeated a decade later.

Second, the targeting of panchayat leaders. During the 1990s, the militants targeted the panchayat leaders – so that there is no local governance in place at the ground level. Since 2004 (establishment of Indo-Pak ceasefire along the LoC), one of the biggest success stories of the Indian democracy in J&K is the return of panchayat elections. According to a news report (The Tribune, 11 June 2020), in the panchayat elections held in December 2018, "a total of 22,214 panches and 3,459 sarpanches were elected out of a total of 33,592 panch and 4,290 sarpanch constituencies." The panches and sarpanches have always been an easy target for the militants, as they live in the villages and towns.

Third, the fear of communal aspect of terror targets, and its impact on the return of the Pandit community. The Sarpanch who lost his life in Anantnag belongs to the Pandit community; during the 1990s, the militants targeted the Pandit community resulting in an exodus of the minorities out of Kashmir valley. During the 2010s, there has been a debate on the return of the Kashmiri Pandits, a highlight of relating to return of normalcy inside the Kashmir Valley.

Fourth is the violence across the LoC – both in terms of infiltration and cross-LoC firing. This affects the peace along not only the LoC, but also the situation within Kashmir Valley. Both developments were linked in the 1990s; the mid-2000s, especially after the 2004 ceasefire, there was a reduction in infiltration, and also the situation within the Valley.

In perspective
The BJP government has to relook at its present strategy to achieve stability in J&K. A muscular policy towards J&K is an option for New Delhi – at the political level in terms of working with the regional parties and leaders, and at the societal level, in terms of a security-first approach. But, a year later adopting such an approach, the government has to weigh the fallouts and implications and do a course correction.

Though the Indian government may have wanted to decouple its Kashmir strategy and its approaches towards Pakistan, the latter has worked against it, and inter-twined it. Islamabad is also trying to internationalize the issue and paint India on the wrong side. New Delhi has to realize, it is working. 

Rohingyas detained by Malaysia; refused by Bangladesh

In the news
On 10 June, Bangladesh Foreign Minister rejected a Reuters news report about the Malaysian plan to ask Dhaka to take in 269 Rohingyas. The Rohingyas were detained after they sought to enter Malaysia near the Langkawi Island on a damaged boat wherein the body of a woman was also retrieved. Emphasizing that Bangladesh is not obligated or willing to take any of the refugees, the foreign minister added that even if the refugees are detained, Dhaka will have no say in the matter as they are not its citizens. 

Issues at large
First, a dangerous exodus of Rohingyas is a common sight. The reports related to the Rohingya refugees stranded in the sea or detained once they land in the destination countries are increasingly common. Since 2017 the exodus of the Rohingyas to Bangladesh have been taking place trying to escape Tatmadaw's brutal atrocity. The country has received more than seven lakhs refugees and has been vocal about their indisposition. Similar to Bangladesh, other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India have been reluctant to receive the Rohingya refugees as they are perceived to be a burden to the economy owing to them being unskilled or semi-skilled and also seen as a security threat due to their vulnerability and religion.

Second, lack of justice against inhuman treatment of refugees stranded at sea. The Rohingyas have been rendered stateless by Myanmar's 1982 Constitution, the country of their origin. Gambia has filed a case against the government of Myanmar and the military on charges of genocide against the Rohingya in the International Court of Justice. But forcing human beings to be stranded in the sea without food or water, pushing the boats once they attempt to land or detaining the refugees, are humanitarian crimes of grave concern. Malaysia, which is the most favoured destination for the Rohingyas undertaking the arduous journey in rickety boats and overcrowded fishing trailers, have been known to either push or detain. Similarly, when a mass of graves of shelter seeking refugees was unearthed in Thailand, no punitive action was taken against these crimes.

Last, the spectre of trafficking networks thrives on the refugees' desire to survive.The large picture is the trafficking racket that accentuates the plight of the refugees. The Cox's Bazaar district of Bangladesh which has the largest camps of the Rohingya refugees serves as the ideal geostrategic location for illegal human traffickers to operate. The Rohingyas who live in the ghettoed camps are restricted from employment and fall prey to the traffickers' promise of better livelihood that inadvertently pushes them to take the risky voyage. However, it is not only them, but several reports and also the UNHCR has shown that several Bangladeshis' have sought to claim themselves as Rohingyas in order to claim the perks and sympathy of being a Rohingya.

In perspective
These incidents and report could act as a catalyst to instigate Bangladesh to send the refugees to Bhasan Char. The government has already sent a batch of 25 refugees who were saved by the marine being stranded in the sea, to this uninhabitable island of Bhasan Char. However, instead of dusting away from their responsibility, the country should focus on the larger trafficking racket that assists these refugees to travel by boats to these destinations. 

One-year since Hong Kong Protests, the movement is alive with the call for Independence 

In the news 
On the evening of 9 June, thousands of demonstrators marched on the streets of Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of the major protests that broke out against the extradition bill. One year on, the protesters continue to challenge the foundations of the 'One Country, Two Systems.' The crowd gathered in the upmarket central district, in defiance to the COVID-19 bans and emergency laws that prohibit gatherings. The rally was organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, who were seen urging the people in Hong Kong to "persevere." Since 2019, the seven months of protests was halted after the coronavirus outbreak. However for over a month now, the protests have steadily revived after the announcement of the anthem and the security bills. 

Issues at large
The year-long protests in Hong Kong highlight four issues.

First, the changing nature of the protests. The anti- extradition bill protests did not stop when the bill was nullified. What started off as peaceful demonstrations which saw as many as one million people taking to the streets eventually escalated to become routine battles between the protesters and the police. 

Second, the changing nature of demands. The early sense of the protests was to have changes to the extradition bill, which extended to the demand to scrap the entire bill. At the peak of these protests even though the bill was announced dead, the protesters' demand had shifted to more than just the scrapping of the bill. "Five demands, not one less," became the slogan in the later months of the protests. 

Third, the changing nature of responses by the Hong Kong administration and the leadership in Beijing. The first response to the protests of the Carrie Lam administration was to incorporate some of the amendments that the public demanded and when the protests escalated, very few efforts were made to engage in negotiations with the crowds. Carrie Lam would make a few public statements, however many of them were seen as being late responses. The leadership in Beijing, for the large part of 2019, maintained a policy of non- intervention. 

Last, the expanding international responses to the protests. The international media gave wide coverage to the protests, specifically painting them as pro-democracy protests. The protests in Hong Kong also became the precedence to the other protests that followed in the other parts of the world. Many international students in universities in Hong Kong were seen protesting and support for the cause was also shown by holding demonstrations in many of the cities across the world. 

In perspective 
There are clear intentions among the protesters to continue demonstrations against the policies by Beijing. The sense of mistrust towards the leadership has worsened with the security bill and the passing of the anthem bill. However, it is crucial to observe how much of society's trust is the leadership willing to lose in order to make legal changes in Hong Kong. 

The security bill stands as the strongest response by Beijing that bypasses the city's legislature entirely. It would not be possible for other regions, like Taiwan, to follow the Hong Kong model. Internationally, the protests in Hong Kong would continue to inspire other regions.

Libya: The GNA forces regain control of Tripoli from Haftar

In the news
The UN-backed GNA forces have successfully pushed Haftar's troops to the pre-April 2019 positions after a month-long campaign against them with the help of Turkish military. The city of Tarhuna was the last stronghold of Haftar troops in the western territories of Libya which was swept by the GNA troops on 5 June, proclaiming the recapture of greater Tripoli area in its entirety. The Libyan based Government of National Accord (GNA) has also taken the control of the Tripoli airport that was overrun by the Libyan National Army last year thereby making significant victories over the week. Earlier this week there were reports of Russia deploying mercenaries in Libyan soil to support the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the renegade commander Khalifa Haftar. The US Africa Command, AFRICOM released images of Russian fighter jets, MiG-29s and Su-24s in Libya and claimed that the jets are sent to provide assistance to Russia's private military contractor, Wagner group in fighting Tripoli-based GNA troops.

Issues at large
First, the international support for the rival troops. The oil-rich state, Libya, plunged into years of conflict since the demise of the popular leader Mummad Gadaffi in 2011. In April 2019 the renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, proclaimed himself as the potential leader to unite Libya and launched an offensive to siege the capital city Tripoli. The Tripoli-based government led by Fayez-al-Sarraj is backed by the UN and the US, Turkey, Italy, and Qatar. However, the Tripoli government is seen as a terrorist supporter by the LNA forces that is based on Tobruk an eastern city which is supported by UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, and Russia. 

Second, the pandemic tilted the stakes towards GNA. In the wake of the pandemic and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan the Haftar troops announced ceasefire and retreated from fighting in the western fronts. Following this, with the combined involvement of the Turkish troops the GNA forces have made significant gains in the conflict and tilted the power in favour of the Tripoli-based government.

In perspective
First, the series of setbacks faced by the LNA troops halted the operation to siege the capital city after the involvement of Turkey in the fighting theatres.

Second, a serious disadvantage to Haftar's forces is that the troops have relied only on foreign aids. The key supporters of Haftar have also released a joint statement for all parties' political talks to resolve issues in Libya. This has further weakened Haftar's ambitions to capture Libya.

Last, Haftar is unlikely to give up his ambition for power in Libya. Though GNA forces have forced the LNA troops to retreat, the force of Haftar also possess capable weapons to resume a fight and hold the largest Libyan territory in compared to the Government of National Accord. Thus, the territorial gains and international pressure for peace talks do not communicate a message of the ending of the conflict. But to sustain as the warlord, Haftar could reconsider his decision to engage in political reformation talks rather than continuing a war.

Human-Animal Conflict: India's pregnant elephant death garners public outcry against policy fault lines  

In the news 
A female elephant died at the Veliyar river under the Mannarkadd division in Palakkad district in Kerala, India due to an oral injury from consuming a firecracker filled fruit. The injury restricted her from further feeding, and due to subsequent hunger and exhaustion, the elephant drowned in the river. During the post-mortem, it was found that the elephant was pregnant. This ghastly incident and visuals led to an uproar among the general public with further emotional outbursts and political mudslinging. This episode has brought the plight of wild elephants and the issue of human-elephant (wildlife) conflict to the forefront.
Issues at large 
First, complex ecological losses have led to negative human-animal interactions. In India, population growth, habitat loss and fragmentation, agricultural and industrial expansion have caused significant overlap of resource and space between humans and wildlife. This has led to tangible losses and decreased wellbeing for both humans and wildlife. The emotional and political outrage during this particular incident in Kerala and many other similar incidents across India in general, hide the complex environment through which the negative interactions between humans and wildlife unfold. Colonial and post-independence forest policies, industrial and agricultural land-use strategies and urbanization have a direct bearing on today's violent negative human-wildlife interactions. 
Second, more conflict-prone the animal species mean dangerous defensive methods by a human. Various species, such as herbivores (Asian elephants, Gaur, wild boar, macaques etc.) and carnivores (tiger, leopard, wolf, dhole etc.) have been found to be conflict-prone, and various measures such as protected area-based conservation policies, compensation for losses, conflict mitigation strategies, community-based conservation, livelihood management could not create a durable solution to this conflict. As a result affected people sometimes resort to crude methods such as usage of firecrackers or submerging live electrical wire on the field. Governmental data suggests that between 2014- 2017, 1,144 humans got killed by tiger and elephant and in the same time, 345 elephants and 84 tigers lost their lives due to the conflict. 

In perspective 
First, long term conflict management will require significant changes in land use policies and wildlife as well as farmer-friendly habitat management. In the short term, the compensation system needs to be revamped, as, presently, it is inadequate, cumbersome and time-consuming. 
Second, changes in livelihood and lifestyle have changed wildlife behaviour and the response of wildlife towards humans, often in detriment to each other. Only biology or sociology alone cannot address this complex issue. Rather, an interdisciplinary environment consisting of expertise from environmental science, social sciences as well as humanities needs to be created to bring out innovative solutions.
Last, human-wildlife conflict is often a misnomer, as humans and wildlife are not consciously conflicting with each other. Rather, recent scholarship has shown that there is often a conflict between various human-groups about wildlife. This human-human conflict is often realized through differential goals of rural farming communities and urban animal rights or conservation groups. Shifting focus towards this can lead to better conflict resolution mechanisms. Short term emotional and political outbursts will not serve any purpose.

Also during the week…

Bangladesh uses Digital Security Act to arrest journalists 
On 9 June, two journalists were arrested in Habiganj, Bangladesh due to a case filed against them under the violation of the Digital Security Act (DSA). The arrest adds to the growing number of detentions of journalists and media persons under this act in the country. In May, there have been protests in districts demanding revocation of this act as it impinges on freedom of expression. 

North Korea to sever all communications with South Korea
Pyongyang has threatened to shut down all communication lines with South Korea. The decision comes after Kim Yo-jong's demand for South Korea to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border. South Korea has reacted by stating that it would abide by the inter-Korean agreements and work towards peace and prosperity in the Korean peninsula. 

With partial disengagement, India and Chinese troops ease off tensions at LAC
The Indian and Chinese troops have begun a partial "deinduction" from some of the stand-off points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, said the defence sources on 9 June. This marks the first sign of resolution in the month-long stand-off between the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army in the Galwan and the Hot Spring areas. A series of ground level military talks are due to be held over the next 10 days, beginning 10 June, to try and resolve most of the other issues at the local level.


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