Conflict Weekly 36

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Conflict Weekly 36
Al Qaeda module in India, Naga Peace talks and the Polio problem in Pakistan

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 23 September 2020, Vol.1, No.36

India: NIA arrests al-Qaeda operatives from West Bengal and Kerala

In the news
On 19 September 2020, simultaneous raids carried out in several locations in Ernakulum (Kerala), and Murshidabad (West Bengal) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) led to the arrests of nine members of an al Qaeda module. 

The NIA said that the arrested men had been radicalized by Pakistan-based al-Qaeda terrorists on social media platforms and had been motivated to carry out attacks at multiple locations, including in the National Capital Region (NCR). Finances had been raised, and some members of the module were planning to travel to New Delhi to procure arms and ammunition. Ongoing investigations may unravel additional details on the planning and mobilization aspects.   

Issues at large
First, the lingering impact of jihadist messaging. Regular appeals by global jihadist outfits seem to be having an impact on the Muslim population in the country. Despite the reversals faced by these outfits in the past years, reach of these appeals, issued through recent Jihadist publications, especially to exploit the chaos brought about the Covid-19 pandemic, is receiving sympathetic ears. The quantitative impact of these appeals could still be low, but its subjective reverberations are significant enough to be dismissed or underplayed.   

Second, thinning divide between radicalization and violence: The recent arrests further point at the growing ability of radicalized individuals to establish cross-regional networks, which is possible only through the internet. While online radicalization and mobilization for terrorist violence have been a source of a major threat to national security for the past several years, their various manifestations—lone wolves as well as organized self-sufficient modules— are an indication of a gradual step forward towards overcoming the limitations that novice terrorists encounter, of not being able to perpetrate actual violence. 

Third, the danger of falling between the cracks: Ability of the security and intelligence agencies to track the jihadist activity on the web has perceptibly increased. Regular arrests of (potential) terrorists, in various stages of inflicting violence across the country, have been reported. The counter-terrorism (CT) cooperation with the major countries, including the US resulting in the sharing of intelligence has further enhanced the capacities of Indian agencies. This possibly could have led to a Jihadist strategy to exploit the cracks that exists in between the centre and the states, by establishing multi-state networks.   

Fourth, the Pakistan plus factor. The recent arrests have further vindicated India's position that Pakistan is indeed the epicentre of global terrorism. Using the web, non-state actors with varying degrees of nexus with state agencies, have been attempting to expand Jihad, beyond the known theatres such as Kashmir. However, given the fact that such mobilizations mostly take place on the web—on social media platforms or in the dark web, the CT efforts have to remain broad-ranging, multi-dimensional, and not necessarily focused on a single country.          

In perspective
Search for an enduring solution to the challenge of terrorism is oxymoronic. This has been the trend across the world where the Jihadists are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the CT agencies. Hence, these arrests are important in unravelling some of the intricacies of terrorist mobilization and psychology of the radicals, even while providing only transitory setbacks to jihadist aspirations. 

India: In the northeast, grim road ahead in Nagaland peace talks as NSCN(I-M) resolute on flag and constitution
In the news 
On 18 September 2020, in its joint council meeting, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah, unanimously adopted a resolution reiterating its stand that the Naga "national flag" and Yehzabo (constitution) "must form a part" of the political solution "in order to qualify" it as "honourable and acceptable" amid the ongoing peace talks with the Centre. 

The NSCN (I-M) statement after the council meeting also stated that the Centre "must" seek a final pact based on the Framework Agreement of 3 August 2015. The agreement, according to NSCN (I-M) and its general secretary Muivah recognizes the sovereignty of the Nagas and "inclusive, peaceful coexistence of the two entities sharing sovereign power."

Issues at large 
First, NSCN (I-M) hardens its demand for separate flag and constitution. The strong-worded resolution only signifies that the peace talks now hinge on respecting the spirit and principles of the 2015 Framework Agreement that agrees to preserve the "historical and political rights" of the Naga people and in it, the flag and constitution has more than symbolic meaning. NSCN(I-M) has interpreted the 2015 agreement as Centre's recognition of the sovereignty of the Naga people that agrees in principle the Nagas will co-exist but not merge with India. This understanding of coexistence has in turn, given way for the demand for separate flag and constitution as a cultural and political pathway to preserve the Naga identity. 

Second, Article 371A as the principle of coexistence. The principle of coexistence interpreted in the 2015 Agreement draws on the legal connotation of the Article 371A. The article was enacted in the Indian Constitution to preserve Naga identity, the root cause of the insurgency and opened the channel for peace negotiations. A modified version of the principle with additional concessions or safeguards is seen as the likely key to the final Naga Accord. However, after scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the NSCN (I-M) have become increasingly suspicious and hardened its stand on a constitution and flag, and even threatened to walk out of negotiations. The Centre has responded by roping in six other armed Naga outfits under the banner of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) for the negotiations. Home Minister Amit Shah also gave assurances on the sanctity of Article 371A and in turn sought to preserve the agreements that have been signed with various Naga groups including NSCN(I-M).

Third, mistrust and intragroup fault lines push peace talks to the brink of breakdowns. NSCN(I-M) has hardened its stance also because of its differences and mistrust against the interlocutor RN Ravi, whom they see as one who will not support their demand for a separate flag. At the same time, other groups in the peace talks like the NNPGs have backed Ravi to resolve the Naga problem. As NSCN(I-M) remains firm on demand for flag and constitution as the bedrock of the 2015 agreement, the same cannot be said for the other groups in the peace negotiations. NNPGs and other tribal heads groups have maintained that a final agreement may or may not depend on a separate flag and constitution, an agenda that could be acceptable to the public in the long run. It has become increasingly clear that constitutional and statutory position do not favour the allocation of a flag rather the right of the Nagas could be preserved through their own insignia, emblem and Naga Federal Hoho. This view runs opposite to that of NSCN(I-M), who remains one of the largest groups negotiating in the peace process. 

In perspective 
As the September deadline nears to clinch for a final solution to the question of peace in Nagaland, an alternate reality should be considered that of a peace deal without NSCN(I-M). Through the 2015 agreement with the NSCN(I-M), Centre had in the past kept the option open for a separate flag and constitution. But time has shown that in the short term even if signing the 2015 framework was important in countering the violence and bringing the largest group to the negotiating table, in the long run, a separate flag and constitution will not be something the Centre will hinge the peace talks on. While the other groups looking for a federal solution with an administrative refashioning, keeping the demand for a separate flag alive will only push the NSCN(I-M) further in the peace table. Or it is what the group wants. To return back to being an armed group.  

Pakistan: The persisting polio problem
In the news
On 22 September 2020, Dawn reported the recovery of five polio workers, who were kidnapped earlier, while they were administering polio vaccine in Kohlu district in Balochistan. According to the report, the five men were kidnapped earlier by armed men.

On 21 September 2020, in another report, Dawn said so far in 2020 alone, there have been 73 cases of polio reported. In 2019, it was 147.

On 20 September 2020, another report published in Dawn referred to a larger problem relating to Polio in the province of Punjab. Titled, "63pc of environmental samples in Punjab test positive for the poliovirus," the report said: "The initiative for the eradication of polio from the country seems to have hit a snag in Punjab as the crippling disease is on the brink of an outbreak apparently due to the apathy of the government, risking the health and lives of millions of vulnerable children across the province. An official report has exposed the efforts of the health authorities and the programme managers after Punjab reported a 63 per cent positive rate of the environmental samples collected from across the province." Recently, in August, the World Health Organization declared Africa Polio free. However, in Asia, it remains a problem for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On 20 September, the Chairman of Pakistan Ulema Council addressed a press conference to state: "Pakistan Ulema Council, Darul Afta Pakistan, Wafaq-ul-Masajid, Madaris-i-Pakistan and leading ulema and mashaikh have already termed polio drops not only halal but also beneficial for people and decrees have been issued that there is nothing harmful or haram in polio drops."

Issues at large
First, the issue of governance and the spending on health – at the national and provincial levels. The issue of polio cannot be seen in isolation and should be viewed as a part of a larger governance issue facing the health sector both at the national and provincial levels. Many critics within, say that the awareness campaigns need an effective strategy.

Second, the reluctance at the societal level, especially in rural areas. A section within the society is reluctant to see polio as a health problem; unfortunately, they see it as a part of a conspiracy aimed at reducing the population. Another issue is - whether vaccination was halal or not. The conservative section, especially at the rural areas look at the vaccination from non-health perspective. In this context, awareness campaigns become important. Like that of the statement from the Pakistan Ulema Council, more such statements from the religious, political and health sectors need to be a part of a larger campaign.

Third, the threats against the polio health workers. As happened in Balochistan last week, kidnapping and attacking the polio workers have become a security issue for those who are working hard. Given the size of Pakistan and the need to carry out vaccination, the State needs to provide better security to the polio workers. They have become an easy target for the militants; and the last few many years, many polio workers have lost their lives not only to the militants but also to societal miscreants.

In perspective
Pakistan needs a larger campaign to create better awareness to address the polio problem. It needs to find innovative ways to increase awareness, and also address the apprehensions at the societal level.

Pakistan also needs to invest more in the health sector. The issue is just not finding polio workers to do a job, but to strengthen the health sector at the grassroots level and to provide institutional support to the workers – not only working on polio.

Third, security for the polio workers. The State will have to work towards not only providing better security but also better travel and accommodation arrangements.

Also, from around the world

Peace and Conflict in Southeast and East Asia
Japan: Abe visits shrine from World War II, digging past memories of war crimes 
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on 9 September, his first visit since December 2013, after refraining from doing so for most of his term to avoid angering China and South Korea. In visiting the shrine after leaving the office due to health reasons, Abe revokes memories of war crimes from its military past. The shrine is seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past aggression because it honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal. Ties between Tokyo and Seoul have remained tensed as both have failed to address their bitter memories from the war time when Japan have frequently exploited South Korea for forced labour and comfort women. The visit to the shrine has been interpreted as Japan's lack of remorse rather act of honouring its exploitative militaristic past.

Thailand: Plaque installed by pro-democracy protesters near palace removed
Protests for reforms against constitutional monarchic system in Thailand gathered momentum after a plaque featuring a hand giving the three-fingered salute, adopted by the protest movement, was dug into the ground on 20 September after a weekend rally by tens of thousands of people. The plaque signifies the calls that "Thailand belongs to its people" thereby making a symbolic gesture in wanting reforms to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The plaque has however been removed less than 24 hours after it was installed. Protesters have grown ever-bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand's palace and military-dominated establishment, breaking a long-standing taboo on criticizing the monarchy, which is illegal under the country's stringent laws. 

Chinese warships breach Taiwan straits; President calls it 'threat of force'
Taiwan's President has accused Beijing of purposefully inflaming tensions in East Asia, after Chinese warplanes crossed the sensitive median line across the narrow strait that separates the mainland and the self-governing island almost 40 times on 18 and 19 September. The repeated incursions, which came from multiple directions and involved a combination of sophisticated fighter jets and heavy bombers, is without modern precedent and marks a significant escalation in cross-strait tensions. The Chinese military activity came as Keith Krach, the United States under secretary of state for economic, energy and environmental affairs, held meetings in Taipei, ahead of a memorial service on 19 September of Taiwan's former President Lee Teng-hui.

Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Sri Lanka: 20th Amendment to the Constitution presented in parliament amid protests 
In Sri Lanka, the Minister of Justice Ali Sabry presented the bill entitled "Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution" to amend the Constitution of Sri Lanka to Parliament on 22 September amid the protests from the opposition. The main opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) protested the bill which grants more powers to the President repealing the 19th Amendment which strengthened the role of the parliament and curbed the powers of the executive President.

India: Parliament passes Jammu and Kashmir languages bill; calls to include Punjabi and Gurjari
In India, parliament on 23 September passed a bill for the inclusion of Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi in the list of official languages in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, in addition to the existing Urdu and English. The Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020 was passed by Rajya Sabha through voice vote after Lok Sabha cleared the legislation on 22 September. In response, the calls have intensified to include Punjabi in the list as well as more than 13 lakh Punjabis live in Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously demands have also been raised for the inclusion of Gurjari and Pahari in the bill. 

India, China agree to stop sending more troops to the Ladakh frontlines
India and China have agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontlines in Ladakh, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation, the countries said in a joint statement on 22 September. The statement was issued after senior Army officials of the two sides held the sixth round of commander-level talks on 21 September as part of the countries' first military-diplomatic dialogue. The two sides had decided to keep talking, disengage fast, and keep distance as part of a five-point agenda that served as the basis for this round of the meetings.

Amid talks, 70 Afghan government troops killed in Taliban attacks 
More than 70 government security forces have been killed across Afghanistan in Taliban attacks during the past two days alone, officials said on 22 September, even as negotiators from both sides engage in direct peace talks to end decades of war. "The Taliban have increased their raids since the start of the talks and, as the defense minister said recently, the reason for it is to seek concessions at the negotiation table which is impossible to gain through violence and killing. The Taliban in response has blamed the government for the escalation of attacks, accusing it of building new posts in regions close to Taliban-controlled areas, and dispatching additional troops in nine provinces.

Peace and Conflict in the Middle East 
The US announces new sanctions against Iran, calling it part of UN arms embargo
The US has imposed a slew of new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons programme, claiming that it is enforcing a UN arms embargo – and demanded that the European Union must follow suit. The Trump administration on 21 September named 27 individuals and entities, including officials at the Iranian ministry of defence, nuclear scientists, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and anyone found trading in conventional weapons with Iran. The UN has asserted that the decision is not up to Washington, and the European powers have warned that the US does not have the legal power to do so.

Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
RIP Justice Ruth Bader. 
Legacy and fight against sexism will continue in America 
The death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg on 18 September has indeed left a void but especially holds strong for all American feminists. Even before her death, Ginsburg was not just a Supreme Court Justice but a visionary who not just created the pathway for equal gender norms but died trying to challenge herself and fight the gender discrimination in America. She was a feminist for today's young women to imagine and emulate. She wasn't one full of words blinded by the sanctity of her propagated norms but a quite dissident trying each day to push and refine the innate challenges of what she visioned. To create a world for equals, Judge Ruth sort to instill among women a belief that they are equal. As a judge she decided, some of the most important gender discrimination cases in American history, including one that held that the Virginia Military Academy's male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional. Today, Judge Ruth rests in power as her legacy will inspire us all. 

EU likely to unveil details of the migration pact 
The European Union has unveiled a long-awaited migration pact, aiming to streamline the asylum process among member states to fix what EU leaders acknowledged was an ineffective system. The new pact aims to better share the burden of relocating asylum seekers by allowing member states to contribute by instead returning individuals who do not qualify for asylum or providing logistical support. Migration policy has historically been a thorny issue in EU politics, and it's possible the new migration pact will be a hard sell for the European Commission. The process has been a delicate balancing act of getting countries who have been averse to mandatory quotas like Poland, Hungary and Austria to accept migrants, and supporting southern countries like Greece, Italy and Malta in dealing with people arriving on their shores from the Mediterranean.

Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko sworn in as President in a silent ceremony amid protests
Riot police clashed with protesters in Minsk on 23 September evening, using water cannon and stun grenades, hours after the inauguration of Alexander Lukashenko for another term as President. Lukashenko held the ceremony without announcements or publicity earlier in the day, in all likelihood to avoid it becoming a magnet for protesters. Opposition leaders and European politicians immediately denounced his inauguration as illegitimate.

Bibhu Prasad Routray, Sourina Bej and D Suba Chandran 

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