Conflict Weekly 49

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Conflict Weekly 49
Boko Haram abductions in Nigeria, Violence in Afghanistan and Farmers' protest in India

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 17 December 2020, Vol.1, No.49

Nigeria: Mass abduction of schoolboys, fear grips as Boko Haram strikes again
In the news
On 15 December, an individual claiming himself as the leader of Boko Haram said the group was responsible for the mass abduction from a government school in Nigeria's northwestern state of Katsina. While the exact number of abducted students remains unclear, more than 300 are yet to be accounted for out of the 500-odd students kidnapped. Several students managed to escape.

On 13 December, the UN Chief condemned the act and called for the immediate release of the children. The UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa emphasized that the attack "is a grim reminder that abductions of children and widespread grave violations of children's rights continue to take place in northern Nigeria."

Earlier, on 11 December, more than 500 were kidnapped by hundreds of unidentified gunmen who stormed an all-boys senior secondary Katsina state. The State Governor blamed 'bandits' (a term used for unorganized crime groups in the region) for the incident. As soon as the news broke out, social media was abuzz with #BringBackOurBoys and criticism against the government.

Issues at large
First, Boko Haram's kidnapping strategy. According to the UN, more than 1000 children have been kidnapped by the Boko Haram since 2013. In 2014, Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok; more than 100 are still missing. In 2018, the group kidnapped 110 girls from a parking school in northeastern Nigeria. Apart from the terrorist group, many armed bandits carry out abductions for ransoms. The abductions were a way to extort; besides the rich, farmers and herders have also been targeted. Most often, these targets are unable to pay ransoms, leading to their death. 

Second, state failure. This is the second large-scale attack by Boko Haram in less than a month. The state has failed to announce any concrete measure against the insurgency which has been going on since 2009 and has increased since ISWAP split from Boko haram. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on his promises that he would improve the security. However, apart from a few statements on the inefficiency of the security forces, Buhari has not introduced any substantial change in the security system. 

Third, Boko Haram's anti-west rhetoric. According to the UN, "at least 2,295 teachers have been killed and more than 1,400 schools have been destroyed" from 2009 to 2018. The literal translation of 'Boko Haram' is 'western education is forbidden.' While claiming the latest mass abduction, the group said: "What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices such as Western education." 

In perspective
The unaccountability of the State after the #EndSARS protests, Maiduguri massacre and the latest abductions will increase the insecurity in the minds of the civilians. Further, the #BringBackOurBoys is derived from #BringBackOurGirls which was used by Nigerians after the 2014 Chibok incident. 

The boys' abduction is a reminder that mere statements by the President will not improve the security. Recently, the Chief of Army Staff said that terrorism in Nigeria is likely to persist for 20 years. However, it is unlikely that the Nigerian population will resist the threat of terrorism for the decades to come.

Afghanistan: The surge in violence continues, with targeted assassinations
In the news
On 14 December 2020, in Kabul, Mahbubullah Mohibi, the deputy Governor of Kabul province was killed along with his secretary, when the "sticky bomb" planted to the vehicle exploded. On the same day, in another targeted assassination, another sticky bomb killed a provincial council deputy chief of the Ghor Province in central Afghanistan.

On 16 December 2020, according to a New York Times report, a police officer and a government intelligence officer were killed in two different attacks in Kabul, again using the same modus operandi – the sticky bomb attached to their vehicles.

On 10 December 2020, in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, a woman journalist was killed along with her driver.

Issues at large
First, the surge in violence in recent months. According to a New York Times report, there has been a surge in the number of people killed during the last few months. In November, more than 444 people killed, that include 244 government forces and 200 civilians. In October 2020, 580 people were killed in October 2020, that include 369 government forces and 212 civilians. 

Second, the surge in targeted assassinations in the national and provincial capitals. During the recent period, the Taliban seems to be focussing on select assassinations of government officials and pro-government leaders. The targeted assassinations are being carried out not only by the Taliban but also by the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan. The latter has taken responsibility for the killing of the journalist in Jalalabad.

Third, the focus of attacks on urban centres and targeted assassinations of the government officials and media personnel. One could see a trend in the assassinations, as they take place in Kabul, and other towns, especially the capitals of regional provinces, or targetting of regional officials in Kabul. Malalai Maiwand, who was killed in Jalalabad, is the third journalist to be killed in recent months. In November 2020 alone, a radio journalist was killed in Helmand province, a former news anchor in Kabul, and another former executive of a local news network in Kabul. The New York Times quoted an executive of a media organization in Kabul stating in 2020 alone, ten journalists and media workers have been killed so far. 

Fourth, the surge in violence taking place with the Afghan government and the Taliban engaged in a dialogue in Doha. During the last week of November and the first week of December, the meetings continued in Doha, and even breakthroughs have been reported between the two sides. 

In perspective
The surge in targeted assassinations in the urban centres highlights the new wave of violence in Afghanistan. Certainly, there is a pressure tactic by those who are engaged in violence – either the Taliban or the ISIS, to bring down the morale of the State – those who work, and those who support. The targeted assassinations of the media personnel is an effort to strangle the free media, undermine any credible reporting and prevent any negative narrative on the non-State actors.

The surge in violence in Afghanistan vis-à-vis the dialogue in Doha highlights the new normal, as the year comes to an end. This should not continue in 2021, but unfortunately will be the case. With the pressure on the Afghan government to engage with the Taliban, and the threat of American troops withdrawal, Kabul has an inherent disadvantage in the current environment. 

India: Farmers' protests intensify, State resolute on not repealing the farm laws 
In the news
On 17 December, the farmers' protest entered the 22nd day as the government remained resolute with no signs of withdrawing the agricultural reform legislations. Consequently, agitation by farmer unions expanded in several parts of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Many 'khaps' (local organizations) of Muzaffarnagar in UP extended support and promised to join the stir on 17 December on Delhi borders.

On 16 December, a Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice proposed setting up a committee that would include farmer leaders from across the country and government representatives. According to the Chief Justice, "The committee can talk and resolve this issue. Secure the names of some farmers' unions who want to join... It should include BKU and other farmer leaders. They should be drawn from across the country. It affects all and this will soon become a national issue." 

On 15 December, to keep the dialogue open with the farmers protesting against farm bills, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar proposed willingness of the government to discuss once farmers respond to the proposed amendments.

On December 14, the protest was organized in 350 districts across the country and was claimed as successful to the satisfaction of farmers. Farmers also made 150 toll plazas free. Expanding the protests have in turn caused inconvenience to the public as highways and borders to the country's capital remain blocked.  

Issues at large
First, the politicization of the protest. Barring the inherent flaw in the bill, which is the core focus, the protests by the farmers have now being usurped by different political actors and counter rhetoric. The government has blamed the opposition parties for their failure to rectify the plight of farmers, when in power. The opposition parties have ganged-up to malign the image of government misinforming the farmers about the merit of the laws. This has put the farmers in a spot between the blame games. Members of the government have also been claiming of external hand and support to the protest. Mud-slinging upon the protests, including claims and counterclaims, have increasingly politicized it amidst its intensification.  

Second, the State's diversionary tactics to evade dialogue with genuine protestors. On 15 December, Tomar and members of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) had a dialogue. Accordingly, the working committee of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) has criticized the government of adopting illusory and diversionary tactics as the people whom the government is talking to, neither represent the struggling farmers nor do they articulate the right demands. Startlingly enough, it reveals the crack within the farmers' movement. Nothing could be more detrimental than this to the cause of agriculture and farmers.

Third, the farmers' loss of life and expansion of the protests. Nearly 20 farmers have been declared 'shaheed' (martyr) by now, which has further enraged them to escalate the protest. Subsequently, farmers are getting firm that they will negotiate only after the three laws are repealed. However, earlier the farmer unions claimed that they are ready to negotiate provided government pay heed to their demands with concrete proposals. This is making the deadlock a hard nut to crack with enough potentials of turning violent and further loss of lives in the process given toughening winter conditions.

Fourth, industrial production stands choked. Many of the agriculture-based industries are on the verge of shutting down on account of the shortage of raw material even though they are operating at 30 per cent of their workforce. ASSOCHAM claims loss of 3,000 to 3,500 crores on account of value chains and transport disruptions in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and J&K. This will further damage industrial production reeling on account of lockdown and shows the deep dependency on agrarian production.

In perspective
Neither the daunting cold nor the COVID-19 pandemic have deterred the spirit of farmers since 26 November, when they commenced their protest. Increasing politicization and invectives about them on social media too has not let down their courage to stand like gladiators against the government machinery, which is hell-bent on castigating and declaring it anti-social, anti-national and politically motivated. Persistent and protracted protest indicates government to get into serious negotiations and resolve it amicably in the larger interest of farmers. Good sense must prevail on 'opposition leaders' not to politicize the interest of farmers and agricultural business for sheer political mileage.   

A competitive and alternative market mechanism for agricultural produce is the need of the hour but not at the cost of farmers interest and lives. Thus, the challenge continues.

Also from around the World
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
Hong Kong: Media tycoon Jimmy Lai charged under the security law
On 11 December, Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai was charged under the new national security law, on the ground of conspiring with foreign forces and endangering national security. This charge comes after Lai was arrested earlier in August along with two executives of Next Digital, the company that operates the Apple Daily newspaper, for fraud over accusations that they violated lease terms on office space the company. Last week he was denied bail and remanded into custody until April. Lai is said to be the most high-profile person to be charged under the law since it was implemented by Beijing in June.

Australia: Beijing places new restrictions on imports of Australian coal
On 15 December, Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison accused China of breaching international trade rules and its agreement with Australia after reports cited new restrictions on Australian coal imports. The report was brought out by the Global Times, in which it stated that the country's National Development and Reform Commission had given power plants approval to buy overseas coal without restrictions except for Australia. Although PM Morrison stated that he is "seeking clarification" on the reports, adding that the country has yet to hear from the Chinese government, he has termed it as a "bad outcome for the trading relationship." This development is the latest in the ongoing trade war between China and Australia that appears to be escalating.

Peace and Conflict from South Asia 
India: The seventh phase of DDC elections ends peacefully in J&K 
On 16 December, the seventh phase of voting for the District Development Council (DDC) elections concluded peacefully across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The DDC elections witnessed over 52 per cent polling and battling cold weather; the polling booths were filled in Airwan, Nagri Block of Kathua. The voting for 438 Panch and 69 Sarpanch seats was conducted simultaneously. Addressing a press conference here on 15 December, State Election Commissioner KK Sharma said that a total of 31 DDC constituencies would go to polls including 13 seats from the Kashmir division and 18 from the Jammu division.

India: BJP's gamble pays off in Bodoland Territorial Council elections in Assam
On 14 December, in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) elections, the BJP emerged as the clear winner, bagging nine out 40 seats in the polls and announcing a post-poll alliance with the regional United People's Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Gana Suraksha Party (GSP). The results for the two-phased polls on 7 and 10 December took the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) by surprise who in spite of emerging as the single largest party winning 17 seats, four short of the majority mark of 21, couldn't spin an alliance with the BJP. While UPPL won 12 seats, the GSP secured one. Long time in the alliance, both BJP and BPF had decided to contest solo in this polls. Even as BPF remained confident of being chosen by the BJP, UPPL emerged as the controversial choice.

Bangladesh: On Victory Day, PM Sheikh Hasina delivers a strong statement on religious harmony 
On 16 December, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued a strong address against groups spurring religious divisions in the country. In the light of the incidents surrounding vandalisms of Mujib's bust, Hasina's statement touches chords for secularism, religious harmony and Bengali identity. "The government would not let anyone create any division and anarchy in the country over religion. This Bangladesh is the Bangladesh of Lalon Shah, Rabindranath, Kazi Nazrul, Jibanananda. This Bangladesh is the Bangladesh of Shahjalal, Shah Poran, Shah Mokdum, Khanjahan Ali. This Bangladesh is the Bangladesh of Sheikh Mujib…this country is for all," said Hasina while addressing the nation on the occasion of Victory Day.

Afghanistan: Deputy governor of Kabul among those killed in 'sticky bomb' attack 
On 15 December, the deputy governor of Kabul, Mahbubullah Muhibbi along with his secretary was killed in a blast in Kabul when an IED that was placed on the vehicle exploded. On the same day, a deputy provincial council member died in a similar attack in Ghor province. However, no group, including the Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. These attacks come amid the rising number of 'targeted killings' that have occurred across the country, with these attacks on individuals have used so-called "sticky bombs" attached to vehicles by magnets being the mode of the attack. Further, violence continues to surge despite the talks between the Afghan officials and Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of violating the peace deal
On 13 December, Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of violating the ceasefire that ended the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan's defence ministry said four of its soldiers were killed, while authorities in Armenia said six of their troops had been wounded. Further, the Russian Defence Ministry confirmed the truce violations a day earlier. However, they did not specify which side opened fire first. Additionally, it was Russia's first report of a violation since the peace deal was reached on 10 November. The blame came a month after the two sides called a truce in their latest round of armed-conflict since September.

Tajikistan: Families of IS to be repatriated from camps in Syria
On 8 and 9 December, diplomats stated that Tajikistan is preparing to bring home hundreds of its citizens from refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria, mostly Tajik wives and children of slain or imprisoned Islamic State (IS) fighters. This comes after Tajikistan's ambassador to Kuwait, Zubaidullo Zubaidzoda visited the Al-Hawl and Al-Roj camps in northeastern Syria and met with hundreds of Tajik women and their children as well as secured permission for their repatriation from the Kurdish authorities who control the camps. About 800 Tajiks stranded in the camps to be repatriated 'within weeks.' Further, the Tajik government has voiced it's determined to bring back home all Tajik women and children.

Lebanon- Syria: Smuggling operations on the rise across the border
On 12 December, Syrian army border guards fired at several young men at the Arida border crossing, one of the illegal crossings border village of Al-Qasr, killing one Lebanese man and wounding another. Although, smuggling occurs in both directions, in recent times smuggling from Lebanon to Syria has increased due to the deteriorating economic conditions in the two countries and the sanctions imposed on Syria. This includes smuggling basic goods subsidized by the Lebanese state such as flour, fuel, medicine as well as raw materials for manufacturing and car parts. Earlier this month these borders witnessed a clash between smugglers and a Syrian army patrol, where a Syrian army officer was killed and two personnel wounded.

Iraq: Clashes between Peshmerga and PKK in the northern Kurdish region
On 13 December, clashes broke out between the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Peshmerga forces in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, resulting in the death of one member of the armed wing of the PKK, and one Peshmerga soldier. According to Al Jazeera, the Iraqi Kurdish media stated that the PKK fighters in vehicles opened fire on a Peshmerga checkpoint in an attempt to breach it. Tensions have increased between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the PKK in recent months. The latest clash between Peshmerga and the PKK highlights the worsening security condition in the Kurdish region's northern border areas, where Peshmerga and Turkish powers have set up new bases and stations in an offer to keep the PKK under control.

Niger: Boko Haram attack on a village leave 27 dead
On 12 December, around 27 people were killed in an attack on Toumour in the Diffa region, while many others were wounded or reported missing. The Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack. The attackers are said to have come by foot to Toumour and set ablaze between 800 and 1,000 houses, the central market and numerous vehicles. The attack which came hours before municipal and regional elections were held across Niger was confirmed by witnesses, and other officials confirmed the attack. The governor of Diffa said that the bloodshed in Toumour is among the worst the country has suffered at the hands of the militants.

Ivory Coast: Alassane Ouattara was sworn in for a third term
On 14 December, Alassane Ouattara was sworn in to take his third term as president of the Ivory Coast amid the ongoing outcries from opposition parties. While condemned the violence that has marked the election, he urged his political opponents to help "defuse tensions." His appointment comes after final results in November showed Ouattara winning re-election with more than 94 per cent of the 31 October vote, which opposition parties boycotted and dismissed as illegal. The opposition groups stated that Ouattara violated the constitution, which only permits presidents to two terms; however, Ouattara had stated that the approval of a new constitution in 2016 allowed him to restart his mandate.

Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Greece: Migrants accuse authorities of sending them back out to sea
On 13 December, according to a report in the BBC, several migrants in the island of Lesbos in Greece have accused the authorities of pushbacks leading them to try number of times to enter the country for safe-haven. The so-called pushbacks, without consideration of a migrant's individual circumstances and without any possibility of applying for asylum, are illegal under international human rights law, said the migrants. Greece has denied it uses such methods, insisting it is complying with European and international law and protecting the borders of the European Union. Dozens of similar incidents have been reported in recent months, and NGO Aegean Boat Report alleges that since the start of the year Greek authorities have carried out close to 300 pushbacks.

France: Charlie Hebdo attackers found guilty
On 16 December, the French court found guilty the 14 accomplices behind the January 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris. Among the 14 was Hayat Boumeddiene, former partner of Amedy Coulibaly who killed a policewoman and then four people in a Jewish supermarket. One of the three suspects tried in absentia was found guilty of financing terrorism and belonging to a criminal terrorist network. She is thought to be alive and on the run from an international arrest warrant in Syria, where she joined Islamic State. The accomplices have been found guilty on different charges, ranging from membership of a criminal network to complicity in the attacks.

The US: Turkey sanctioned over S-400 missiles purchased from Russia
On 15 December, The US has issued sanctions against Turkey, a NATO member, over its deployment of a Russian-made missile defence system that was acquired in 2019. The US says Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile system is incompatible with NATO technology and a threat to the Euro-Atlantic alliance. The sanctions announced by the state department targets Turkey's weapons procurement sector. The US in the past has already criticized Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet programme over the purchase of the Russian-made missile system. "The United States made clear to Turkey at the highest levels and on numerous occasions that its purchase of the S-400 system would endanger the security of US military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia's defense sector, as well as Russian access to the Turkish armed forces and defense industry," said the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Brexit: Last few days decisive, says European Commission chief 
On 16 December, the president of the European Commission said, a "narrow path" has opened up for the UK and EU to strike a post-Brexit trade deal and that "next few days are going to be decisive" with just two weeks left before the UK quits the EU trading rules. She said differences over enforcing a deal are "largely being resolved," but talks over fishing remain "difficult." Boris Johnson, on the other hand, told there was "every opportunity" to reach a deal. Despite weeks of intensive talks, the officials leading the Brexit transition talks have remained stuck over fishing rights and how far the UK should be able to depart from EU rules.

Argentina: Lower house passes bill to allow abortion
On 11 December, Argentina became the fourth Latin American country where abortion is legal after the bill legalizing abortion was passed by the lower house. The bill, which was submitted last month by President, Alberto Fernández, was approved by a margin of 131 to 117 votes after a 20-hour debate. It will be voted on by the Senate at the end of this month. The televised announcement of the "resulta afirmativo" sparked carnival-like scenes of joy outside Argentina's National Congress, where thousands of activists had waited for the decision that was until now a crime which also happens to the homeland of Pope Francis.

Venezuela: Opposition conducts popular consultation after boycotting election 
On 12 December, Venezuela's opposition concluded a "popular consultation" vote repudiating President Nicolas Maduro's government days after boycotting a congressional election calling it fraudulent. The consultation was conducted virtually and ended with in-person participation. With 87 per cent of responses reviewed, the opposition said just under 6.5 million people participated. Of those, over three million voted in person, and 2.4 million votes were cast online. The turnout claim could not be verified independently. The consultation asked Venezuelans if they want a change of government and whether they reject the results of the election, which saw the Maduro-led political alliance win more than 90 per cent of the seats in the legislature.

The US: Electoral College uphold Joe Biden as President-elect 
On 16 December, the electoral college in the US voted Joe Biden as the President and Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris as the Vice President, bringing to an end the legal battle started by incumbent Donald Trump. Trump has called the election as fraudulent alleging widespread voter fraud. The voting by the electoral college, ideally a formality, has now become crucial in upholding the public mandate and making a scathing dent on Trump's popular vote. The peaceful passing of the torch: a hallmark of our grand democracy, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the electoral college vote.

About the authors
Dr Alok Gupta is an Associate Professor at the Central University of Jharkhand. Sourina Bej, Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Project Associate and Project Assistants at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS.

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