Conflict Weekly 44

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Conflict Weekly 44
A peace agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh and a brewing civil war in Ethiopia

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 12 November 2020, Vol.1, No.44

Armenia and Azerbaijan agree to end the fight, as Russia brokers peace agreement over Nagorno-Karabakh 
In the news
On 9 November, Russia brokered a peace agreement to end months of conflict and violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Following the peace, Russian peacekeeping troops have been stationed along the frontlines of Nagorno-Karabakh and the corridor between the region and Armenia. They will be there for five years.

According to the agreement, there would be an exchange of prisoners, unblocking of all economic and transport contacts. Besides, territories of Agdam, Kelbajar, Lachin and Gazakh would be returned to Azerbaijan.

Finally, the peace agreement also states that the internally displaced persons and refugees will return to Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the control of the United Nations of High Commissioner of Refugees.

Issues at large
First, questions relating to the autonomy of the region. The peace agreement is likely to challenge the leadership of the President of Nagorno-Karabakh who used to oversee the administration in its capital Stepanakert. As many territories come under the control of Azerbaijan, questions have returned on the autonomy of the enclaves. The functioning and the rationale of enclaves seek to be restructured through the peace agreement. The agreement did not follow a process which should otherwise ensure adequate allocation of autonomy and resources among the territories within the enclaves. 

Second, a face loss for Armenia, but territorial gains for Azerbaijan. With a territorial loss to Azerbaijan, Armenia stands to lose a part of its autonomy within the enclaves. The territorial loss also means a setback on the collective historical imagining of the Armenians who have held the region as part of its Greater Armenia idea. Besides, the Armenian leadership, particularly under Nicol Pashinyan, has weakened as he faces protests in Armenia. The political opposition has also claimed an advantage and sought his resignation. 

Third, the role of Russia in mediating and bringing peace. Russia, with its involvement, re-establishes its influence over the region. Russia managed to uphold its neutral stance in the conflict, thus maintaining its good relations with both countries. Russia sees both as important members of its neighbourhood; with its troops, Moscow will have a direct say in maintaining peace while creating its space of influence within the domestic politics of the neighbourhood.

Fourth, Turkey signs its own victory. Turkey sees Azerbaijan success as its own, with its constant support as it shapes the geopolitics of the region. Turkey's influence in the conflict was well documented. With the peace agreement and territorial gains to Azerbaijan, it would be seen as a moral victory for Erdogan bordering on ethnic connectedness. Besides, the support to the political leadership of Azerbaijan has also borne well for Turkey; it now looks to maintain a direct connection to the Azeri energy resources, thereby reducing its dependency on the West.  

In perspective
As the peace agreement looks to end violence; however, the deep-rooted conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is unlikely to reduce. With a sense of being undone for Armenia and substantial gains for Azerbaijan, it would be long before the peace breaks in the region. Also, the presence of the temporary Russian troops makes any possible reconciliation between the warring parties at the grassroots difficult as the civilian casualties remain high and with generations being exposed to the scars of violence and war.

Ethiopia inches towards a civil war, as tensions in Tigray increase
In the news
On 10 November, the African Union called for a ceasefire in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region after tensions between the Ethiopian government and the regional Tigray government escalated last week. 

On 4 November, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive on Mekelle, Tigray's capital, in response to alleged attacks on the Ethiopian National Defence Forces by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Further, the PM also declared a six-month emergency and imposed a communication blackout in the Tigray region. According to officials in Tigray, Ethiopia has carried out more than 10 airstrikes since 9 November. 

The current escalation was triggered after the Ethiopian Parliament's upper house insisted the budgetary allocation, due to Tigray, be transferred to local administrations in Tigray bypassing the regional government. The Parliamentarians' suggestions were a response to the elections held by Tigray in September without the Ethiopian government's approval. 

Issues at large
First, a brief background. Ethiopia follows an ethnic federal structure; the country comprises 10 semi-autonomous federal states divided based on ethnicity. The largest ethnic group - to which the PM Ahmed belongs - the Oromo group constitutes 34 per cent of the population live in the Oromia state, followed by the Amhara group (27 per cent of the population). Other ethnic groups include Sidama, Wolayta, Somali etc. Tigrayans who constitute 6 per cent of the population dominated the ruling coalition - Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front - through the TPLF until Ahmed came to power in 2018. In 2019, Ahmed attempted to dilute the ethnic federal structure by forming a new coalition of ethnic parties, the Prosperity Party. However, the TPLF refused to join the coalition, thus becoming the main opposition in Ethiopia. 

Second, the lack of dialogue between Ethiopia and the TPLF. Since Ahmed came to power in 2018, the TPLF has been complaining about lack of representation as Ahmed forced several Tigray leaders to step down from the Ethiopian government. Further, the TPLF has accused Ahmed and the Oromo group of targeting Tigray. However, Ahmed has blamed the TPLF for clinging on to the power it held till 2018. Currently, the two sides have displayed an unwillingness to engage in a dialogue.

Third, the fault lines in Ethiopia's ethnic federal system. It calls for regional autonomy and grants greater freedom to the 10 federal states; however, it also reinstates ethnic divisions. The ethnic groups with larger populations have a geographically larger area and are better developed. Further, minority groups in regions like Oromo and Amhara have complained of discrimination; some ethnic zones, especially in the southern regions, are demanding for separate statehood. 

Fourth, the mounting criticism against Ahmed. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending the longstanding war with neighbouring Eritrea, is under scrutiny for his mishandling of domestic tensions. Though he was initially seen as a reformist and an inclusive leader, his governance is becoming authoritarian. For example, in June, when a popular Oromo singer was assassinated, subsequent violence resulted in the death of 167 people. Ahmed launched a crackdown, and arrested opposition leaders amid communication blackouts. This fueled resentment internally as well as drew criticism from outside.

In perspective 
On the domestic front, the response of the remaining nine states needs to be tracked. For example, Tigray and its neighbouring region Amhara, have a longstanding territorial dispute. Currently, Amhara which fights for the Ethiopian troops. Any escalation between Ethiopia and Tigray could pose as a reason for Amhara to carry out its parallel conflict with Tigray. 

International actors have called for a de-escalation of violence fearing a spillover into the Horn of Africa. The UN has warned that any escalation could risk a displacement of nine million people. On 10 November, at least 6000 people, including Ethiopian soldiers, were reported to have fled to Sudan. Further, Eritrea, which shares a border with Tigray and was at war with Ethiopia when the TPLF was in power, also has a stake in the conflict. Despite the 2018 peace accords, Ethiopia has not surrendered territory within the Tigray region, to which Eritrea also has claims. A spillover of conflict or influx of refugees could reignite the conflict between the TPLF and Eritrea.

Also, from around the world 

Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia 
Hong Kong: Entire opposition quits after four legislators were ousted for security reasons 
On 11 November, the remaining 15 pro-democracy lawmakers resigned from Hong Kong's Legislative Council in protest against four other legislators who were expelled for 'national security' reasons. It came immediately after Beijing passed a new bill that allows the government to expel legislators without recourse to the courts. Thereby, the new bill paved the path for the expulsion of lawmakers if they are seen posing a risk to national security, seeking independence or refusing to accept China's sovereignty over Hong Kong. The law was passed at the National People's Congress Standing Committee, which convened on 10 November.

Thailand: "We love them all the same. We are land of compromise," says King about protestors 
On 8 November, amid intensifying protests and calls for reform to the monarchy, King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a rare television interview with the CNN called Thailand "the land of compromise" and suggested that his love for all, despite protests, remains the same.  He was suggesting a possible way out of the months-long political impasse that has gripped the country. When asked about what he would say to the protesters, the Thai King said "no comment," before adding, "We love them all the same. We love them all the same. We love them all the same." This is the first time that the 68-year-old monarch has spoken to foreign media since 1979 when he was Crown Prince.

Australia: China takes a dig, asks Canberra to reflect on deteriorating ties 
On 6 November, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated that Canberra needs to "reflect" on how it had handled its trade relationship with Beijing in the past when he was asked during a press meet to elaborate on the proposed suspensions of seven categories of Australian imports. The Australian officials have not responded directly to the Chinese message but sought clarification of Chinese policies toward imports of Australian goods. Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham maintained that he had not received confirmation from the Chinese authorities that any Australian imports had been banned from China. This comes following months of trade tension between the two countries.  

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD set for a big win after election
On 8 November, amid the pandemic, Myanmar voted to choose their leaders for the next five years in an election, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi believed to be set for a big win. This poll marks the second general election for Suu Kyi under the current constitution, and the party is looking to keep its landslide win in 2015. The NLD hopes to maintain a two-thirds majority in the parliament as gaining power over the 500 seats is crucial because the constitution allows the military to appoint the remaining 25 per cent of the seats in both chambers. The election comes in the background of consistent criticisms against Suu Kyi for her mishandling of the Rohingya crisis and struggles to maintain other ethnic conflicts from flaring up in the country. 

Peace and Conflict in South Asia 
India and China strike a three-step deal to pull back troops in Ladakh 
On 11 November, a possible resolution to the seven-month military standoff in Eastern Ladakh is in sight between India and China. According to a proposed plan, the Chinese will move back from the Finger 4 area of the northern banks of Pangong Tso to beyond Finger 8 along with removing all tents and observation posts set up in an 8-km area while Indian troops will also move back to its administrative Dhan Singh Thapa post, which is ahead of Finger 2, but just short of Finger 3. The government sources were reported to be said "India is hopeful of a complete disengagement before the middle of next month."

India: Fresh tension between Assam and Mizoram after a blast in school 
On 6 November, boundary tensions between two federal states in India's northeastern region, Assam and Mizoram, returned after a government school was damaged in a blast in Assam's Cachar district. The development saw Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal calling Union home minister Amit Shah, requesting the Central government to take necessary steps to maintain peace and harmony in the border areas while assuring that Dispur would follow the directives of the Centre in managing the situation. A thaw in the boundary tension was seen last week after Centre deployed armed forces to maintain security in the region, and both the states agreed to adhere to restrictions. 

Pakistan: Bilawal promises to establish Gilgit-Baltistan as a province 
On 8 November, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari promised that his party would make Gilgit-Baltistan a province and give constitutional rights to those living there. While reiterating the long relationship between the people of GB and the PPP, he said that they would continue to protect the people's rights. He also promised that his party would not allow the people to be snatched off from their subsidy, adding, "we will not let anyone increase your taxes until you come at par with the rest of Pakistan." Furthermore, he added, "as long as your voice is not heard in Islamabad, nothing will be solved. You will have to vote for the party which gives you your rights." These statements were made at an election rally in Aliabad in the background of upcoming assembly elections.  

Pakistan: PDM set to look for a fresh charter
On November 8, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) announced it would draft a new charter while "observing that the objective of the PDM was restoration of real democracy in the true spirit of the Constitution." The new charter is said to outline the demands formally and future course of action to achieve their targets. PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the alliance's steering committee would meet in Islamabad on 13 November in which all the parties' representatives will present their recommendations. This comes as the PDM continues their campaign to change the system. So far, they have held public meetings in Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta, with meetings scheduled to take place in Peshawar, Multan and Lahore throughout November and December. This will be followed by a call for a long meeting in Islamabad in January next year to seek resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Pakistan: Jang's editor-in-chief granted bail after 200 days in detention
On 9 November, the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted bail to Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, the owner of  Jang Group, which includes some of Pakistan's biggest newspapers and the Geo television network. The bail was granted to him after he spent more than 200 days in detention. His network critical of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government and also that of the military. He was arrested in March over alleged corruption in a land transaction decades ago.

India and Pakistan: Celebrations mark one year of the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor
On 9 November, the Sikh community celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. In November 2019, both countries opened the four km long corridor, linking the Dera Baba Sahib in Gurdaspur (in India) with the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib (in Pakistan). Hailed as a great initiative between the two countries, the Coordior was closed in March 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Afghanistan: Taliban's violence has increased 'substantially', says Ghani 
On 10 November, President Ashraf Ghani addressed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit where he stated violence by the Taliban had remained high despite their commitments. He said, "unfortunately, not only the promised reduction of violence and comprehensive ceasefire not been realized but the violence by the Taliban has increased substantially." However, following the US-Taliban agreement, there have been many deadly and targeted attacks where the perpetrators have remained unclear. Meanwhile, the US Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in a new report says that 876 civilians were killed and 1,685 were wounded from 1 July to 30 September 2020.

Peace and Conflicts in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa 
Uzbekistan: Businesses deprived of natural gas ahead of winter
On 3 November, the Uzbek government decided to cut natural gas supplies to a few small and medium-sized enterprises and other users as a means to save energy for the "socially important" facilities during the winter season. An order dated for 26 October by the Energy Ministry said the "temporary measures are being implemented to regulate natural gas distribution to make it possible to deliver natural gas to houses, apartments, schools, kindergartens, and medical institutions during winter." In response, many small and medium-sized businesses in the country have complained that the move has forced them to suspend their activities and lay off employees. 

Israel: Parliament ratifies diplomatic pact with Bahrain
On 10 November, Israel's parliament ratified the country's recent agreement to establish formal diplomatic relations with Bahrain. The agreement was approved by a 62-14 margin and came after last month's signing of an agreement to establish ties at a ceremony in Bahrain's capital, Manama. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have both signed the US-brokered diplomatic pacts with Israel in recent months — making them the third and fourth Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel.

Israel: With an eye on Hezbollah, the military conducts exercise along Lebanon borders
On 10 November, Israel's military was seen carrying out extensive military exercises on its northern frontier with Lebanon. These exercises are the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) latest efforts to ensure the army, air force, and navy can deal with various contingencies if war breaks out between Israel and the Hezbollah. While Israel's military has remained far more technologically advanced than Hezbollah's forces, it does, nevertheless, face a formidable adversary in the Shia-dominated group, which now has more combat-experienced fighters and more advanced weapons than it did during the 2006 war. 

Saudi Arabia: Many injured in explosion at Armistice Day memorial
On 11 November, several were injured in an explosion at an Armistice Day commemoration in Jiddah, a port city in Saudi Arabia, stated the French Foreign Ministry. The incident occurred at a non-Muslim cemetery, where foreign diplomats had gathered to mark the end of World War I, an annual event organized by the French Consulate. The explosion follows a knife attack on a security guard at the French Consulate in Jiddah late last month. This comes in the background of France strengthening its defence on freedom of speech which includes the ability to draw satire comics of the prophet Muhammad, a stance that has now triggered protests and boycotts across the Muslim world.

Iraq: Anti-government protestor killed in Basra protests 
On 6 November, an anti-government protester was killed and 40 others injured in the southern city of Basra in a clampdown by anti-riot police. Basra security sources and rights official said several dozen protesters took to the streets in the country's southern oil hub demanding jobs and basic services. They were angry that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had failed to deliver on both and security forces in Basra and Baghdad had cleared that protest camps. The death becomes the first killing of a protester by security forces in Basra since Kadhimi took office in May.

Mozambique: The UN urges enquiry into series of ISIL-linked murders and beheadings
On 10 November, the United Nations has called on Mozambique to investigate reports that an armed group murdered villagers and beheaded women and children in its violence-wracked northern region. As many as 50 people have died in recent days in attacks by fighters linked to ISIL, reported the local media. Violence has surged this year in Cabo Delgado, a province bordering Tanzania, where the ongoing unrest has killed more than 2,000 people since 2017, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Spain: Trial of those accused in 2017 ISIS-linked terror attacks begins in Barcelona 
On 10 November, three people went on trial in Spain for their alleged roles in terror attacks around Barcelona that killed 16 people and injured 140 others in 2017. The accused stands on trial for not committing the violence but in abetting and forming part of the extremist cell that carried out the attacks. With this trial underway, Spain becomes the third country after New Zealand and France to tame down extremism in their country. The three accused have been in custody for the past three years, and the six who carried out the attacks were killed in police hunt. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for both attacks in Barcelona.

Europe: EU mulls plan to tighten border controls after the Paris terrorism summit
On 10 November, European leaders proposed tightening their external borders in response to the series of deadly attacks seen as a consequence of rising Islamist extremism in the region. The announcement comes after talks between leaders of France, Austria, Germany and the European Union on the threat to terrorism in Europe concluded with French President Macron calling for a "rapid and coordinated" response. He said "Europe's asylum provisions were being misused by people seeking entry for sinister reasons. Every security lapse at the external borders or in a member state is a security risk for all member states." German Chancellor Angela Merkel also reiterated that it was "urgent and crucial to know who enters and who leaves" the Schengen area.

Denmark: 17 million minks likely to be culled to stem COVID-19 spread 
On 9 November, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark said the country would cull all its 17 million minks after a mutated form of coronavirus was found to spread to humans on mink farms. The PM added, "mutated virus posed a risk to the effectiveness of a future COVID-19 vaccine." Denmark is the world's biggest producer of mink fur, and its main export markets are China and Hong Kong. The culling of minks began late last month after many minks affected by the virus were detected. This corresponded with at least five cases of the new virus strain in the country, leading the authorities to take the decision. 

Europe: EU seals deal with BioNTech, Pfizer for COVID-19 vaccine doses 
On 11 November, the European Commission approved a contract with the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer to ensure the bloc receives millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine. EC chief, President Ursula von der Leyen, said the bloc hopes to "deploy it quickly, everywhere in Europe" and under the deal, the bloc will receive up to 300 million doses of the vaccine. German officials have said they expect to roll it out within the first three months of 2021. The European Commission already approved three other deals with pharmaceutical companies working on COVID-19 vaccines which would allow the bloc to buy nearly one billion doses of potential vaccines to come.

Bolivia: Former President Evo Morales returns after a year in exile 
On 9 November, Bolivia's former leader Evo Morales made a dramatic return home after spending a year in exile. He was greeted with cheers as he crossed the border from Argentina, where he had been living in exile since 2019. Morales, who ruled Bolivia for almost 14 years, after which he fled on 11 November 2019 amid accusations of electoral fraud. Even though he denied the allegations, he was eventually forced to step down before leaving the country. After a brief stay in Mexico, Morales had been living in Buenos Aires since December 2019.

Peru: Protests spurred by President Vizcarra's impeachment
On 11 November, protests broke out over the impeachment of President Martín Vizcarra which lead the Peruvian police to deploy water cannon and tear gas to repel demonstrations. On 9 November, the legislative body in Peru voted to oust Vizcarra over allegations that he handed out government contracts in return for bribes. Since then, political turmoil has broken out in the country as anger has mounted over the Congress vote, seen by many as an attempt to remove the country's popular president over his handling of the pandemic and unproven allegations of corruption. Several politicians have denounced the ouster as a disguised coup while others have said any new president should be considered illegitimate.

The US: New President-elect Joe Biden pledges to return to the Paris Agreement 
On 11 November, the United States left the Paris accord becoming the first country to ever withdraw from an international climate change pact. However, the new President-elect Joe Biden vowed to return to the accord as he assumes office immediately. With election results pointing to a likely defeat for Donald Trump, Biden reiterated with a strong tone that for his presidency climate change was a top priority. President Donald Trump has in his presidency initiated a series of withdrawal from the international institutions, foremost among them was the Paris Agreement. But with Biden proposing to make the US a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050, a revamping of Trump's legacy seems to be underway. 

About the authors

Jason Wahlang is a PhD Scholar at the Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi; Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Assistants and Sourina Bej is a Project Associate at NIAS.



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