Conflict Weekly 82

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Conflict Weekly 82
Taliban offensive, New Zealand's apology over the Pacific communities, Peru's new problem, and an inter-State clash in India's Northeast

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #82, 4 August 2021, Vol.2, No.18
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office

Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Avishka Ashok, Vishnu Prasad, and Wonchibeni Tsopoe

Afghanistan: Taliban's offensive reaches Afghanistan's major cities
In the news
On 1 August, the Taliban escalated its countrywide offensive by continuing assaults in three provincial capitals: Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. Several commandos were deployed to the western city of Herat, while authorities in the southern city of Lashkar Gah called for more troops to counter the fierce fighting. On the same day, the Taliban also struck the Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan with at least three rockets. A Taliban spokesperson said: "Kandahar airport was targeted by us because the enemy were using it as a centre to conduct airstrikes against us." On 3 August, the residence of acting Defence Minister came under a car bomb attack, followed by sporadic gunfire and hand grenade blasts.
On 2 August, President Ashraf Ghani blamed the US "hasty" troop withdrawal for the worsening violence in Afghanistan. Further, he said that his administration would now focus on protecting provincial capitals and major urban areas in the face of the rapidly advancing Taliban, who he previously said has become "more cruel and more oppressive."
On 3 August, US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said: "At this point, they (Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government, given the military situation as they see it," adding, "the Taliban say they do not want to be a pariah state," He said: "the Talibs have been emboldened by the developments in recent weeks in terms of the gains that they have made and are in a maximalist frame of mind."
Issues at large
First, the Taliban's offensive. Since May 2021, the Taliban has launched a large-scale offensive across the country and has made substantial territorial gains by captured around half of Afghanistan's 400-odd districts, seizing land, closing in on the central government compound and taking control of key border crossings with neighbouring countries amid the US and NATO troop withdrawal. The recent attacks in Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar mark a shift in the Afghan conflict, before these, clashes were largely confined to the country's rural areas or smaller cities contested by the militants. However, large-scale conventional attacks in Afghanistan's largest cities shows that the Taliban is marching towards the centre of these cities.

Second, the return of former prisoners to the battlefield. According to Afghan officials, the Taliban commander supervising the offensive in Lashkargah is one of 5,000 former prisoners released by the Afghan government in 2020 under pressure from the US. Similarly, several former prisoners that were released to further peace talks have returned to the battlefield to join the Taliban offensive, highlighting a miscalculation on the part of the US.
Third, Kabul's defensive. In efforts to counter the Taliban's offensive, the Afghan forces have lead operations and counterattacks against the Taliban in several provinces. The Afghan forces have responded with substantial air support, retaking some districts. However, both the Afghan air force and its commando forces are exhausted and overwhelmed. Although, the government has repeatedly dismissed the Taliban's territorial gains, it has largely failed to reverse their pace on the ground.
In perspective
First, the Taliban's end game. This is the first time that the Taliban has advanced into urban areas since they were overthrown nearly two decades ago. The current focus of the Taliban's efforts seems to be several key provincial capitals. Additionally, the Taliban's offensive depicts that they are not looking for power-sharing but something more. If the Taliban if succeeds in capturing any major urban centre, the current offensive would move to another level, impacting the already deteriorating situation in the country.
Second, Kabul's unsystematic response. The Taliban advance has once again left the Afghan government rattled. Although the Afghan forces have holding ground in several key areas, Kabul still lacks clear direction in countering the Taliban, which in the long run would be futile.

New Zealand: Pacific communities receive a long-overdue apology
In the news
On 1 August, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern represented the government and formally apologized to the Pacific communities for the relentless "Dawn Raids" which targeted individuals from the Pacific islands of Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and more. While addressing the crowd gathered at the Auckland town hall, she said: "The immigration laws of the time were enforced in a discriminatory manner and that Pacific peoples were specifically targeted and racially profiled when these activities were carried out."
Issues at large
First, the Dawn Raids. The Dawn Raids refer to the crackdown on the Pacific communities by the Labour government in the mid-1970s. In 1974, the police in Auckland, equipped by the government, started conducting raids in an attempt to deport outsiders who were overstaying their work permit. The raids were conducted at dawn to catch overstayers before they left for work. This move was initiated due to the economic downturn which led to heightened unemployment and jobs scarcity. There was a growing anti-foreigner sentiment as New Zealanders were increasingly losing out to Pacific Islanders on economic opportunities. The Dawn Raids were problematic because the raids intentionally targeted people who did not look like "White New Zealanders." Even though both, Pacific communities and the Europeans, represented one third of the overstayers each, the rate of deportation was 86 per cent for the Islanders while that of Europeans was five per cent.
Second, the Pacific communities in New Zealand. The Pacific Islanders include people from Hawaii, Samoan Islands, Tokelau, Tahiti, Tonga and other Micronesian and Melanesian islands. This populace has steadily evolved in New Zealand; from 2200 people in 1945 to 2,95,941 people in 2013 which is almost 7.4 per cent of the total population. The Islanders starting moving to the country in big numbers in 1950s during the industrial boost. However, this minority community is often subject to discrimination which had been covertly institutionalized in the 1970s. The 2013 National Statistics prove this discrimination as the group of Islanders earned lesser than the national average and over 28 per cent of the children belonging to the community lived in poor conditions. The Recognized Seasonal Employer Scheme (2007) further propagates this discrimination as it allows for the agricultural sector to employ foreigners for seasonal work; thereby exploiting the Islanders as cheap and disposable labour and also limiting their right to live permanently in the country.
Third, intolerance in New Zealand. Despite being considered as a tolerant country, New Zealand has also had a history of discriminatory policies against select groups of individuals. It imposed a poll tax on Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century and there have been numerous instances of discrimination against Samoan communities. A small part of the population in the country continues to see Islanders as secondary citizens who drain the economy.
Fourth, the Polynesian Panther's demands. The Polynesian Panthers Party ignited a movement to protect their community's rights and improve their quality of their life in New Zealand. They also pushed for the national apology in April 2021 and demanded schools to educate students regarding the unfair discrimination and provide scholarships for students from the community. The party aims to end the prejudice against the Pacific Islanders by enlightening the people regarding the conduct of the government instead of brushing it off.
In perspective
New Zealand's apology to the community comes after half a decade but is a positive step towards accepting Islanders as a part of the country. The apology also comes at a time when there is a growing indigenous movement, not just in the Pacific Ocean region but also across the world in Canada, the US, Mexico and more.

Peru: Protests a sign of challenges facing Castillo
In the news
On 31 July, protests were held in the Peruvian capital of Lima against new president Castillo's decision to appoint a hardliner Marxist as his Prime Minister. Guido Bellido has been accused of sympathizing with the terrorist group Shining Path, which had been engaged in a violent effort to seize power in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Terrorism, never again," Aljazeera reported the crowd as chanting, with many holding placards bearing anti-communist messages. Many in the protests were linked to the Popular Force Party, whose leader Keiko Fujimori had lost narrowly to Castillo in the elections.
Media outlet TeleSUR reported that a group of 300 protesters reached within a block of the presidential residence of Saturday, which led to reinforcement of security.
Issues at large
First, Bellido's alleged defense of the Shining Path. The controversy seems to have been sparked by comments that Bellido made on Friday after taking up his parliamentary seat. According to France24, Bellido said: "The country was a disaster, there were Peruvians who mistakenly took a path — are they Peruvians or not? What do you have against the senderistas (Shining Path)?" This touched a nerve with a lot of Peruvians for whom traumatic memories of the violent uprising by Shining Path still remains raw. According to a 2003 report by a commission to investigate the Peruvian conflict of the 80s and the 90s, the Shining Path had been responsible for the deaths of more 30,000 people in the country.
Second, an erosion of Castillo's credibility. Castillo had been accused of having links to far-left terrorist groups, including the Shining Path, during the election campaign. These had been strengthened with the group allegedly distributing anti-Fujimori pamphlets, threatening people who voted for her. Castillo had refuted those allegations by pointing out that he had been a Rondero, a member of peasant patrol groups who had fought against the Shining Path. Nevertheless, appointing Bellido will only strengthen these suspicions further.
Third, Fujimori's ability to prevent Castillo from ruling. That many of the protesters belong to Fujimori's party, show that she still has the ability to mobilize her supporters and create unrest in the country. While Castillo's Peru Libre is the largest party in the parliament, Fujimori could still form a right-wing coalition against him, preventing him from passing legislation or even impeaching him. Castillo has not done himself any favours with Bellido's appointment likely to alienate many moderates in the parliament.
In perspective
The protests, just a couple of days after Castillo's swearing-in, sees his reign as president off to a tumultuous reign. Bellido's appointment has dashed hopes that Castillo would adopt a more moderate approach. Like Castillo, Bellido too is a political novice who has never held public office and it remains to be seen if either of them can navigate the choppy waters of the Peruvian political landscape. Castillo is Peru's sixth president since 2016.
The role that Fujimori has played in engineering these protests is important. With her still not fully accepting the election results, it is probable that such disruptions will become a regular feature of Peruvian politics.

India: Long-standing tensions escalate in Assam-Mizoram border
In the news
On 26 July, six officers of the Assam police and one civilian were killed at the Assam-Mizoram border as a long withstanding boundary issue over the two states aggravated violent clashes.
On 30 July, both states agreed to the deployment of CRPF at the four-kilometre stretch from Assam's Lailapur to Mizoram's Vairangtei under the command of a senior CRPF official.
The North East Students' Organisation (NESO) the umbrella body of several unions in the region condemned the violence along the Assam-Mizoram border on Monday, the leaders of the students' bodies further said, "The fragile situation is a reminder of how vulnerable security of border residents can be when such conflicts arise."
Issues at large
First, the Assam and Mizoram border demarcation problem. Assam became a constituent state of India in 1950 and lost much of its territory to new states that emerged from within its borders between the early 1960s and 1970s. In 1972, Mizoram became a Union Territory, separating itself from Assam before attaining full statehood in 1987. Three southern Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj share a 164 km long border with Mizoram's Kolasib, Mamit and Aizwal districts. Both the states oppose the demarcation as they claim land on the border between Assam's Cachar and Mizoram's Kolasib district. Due to this disagreement, alleged transgressions have taken place over the decades, and skirmishes increased in recent months; the dispute took an ugly turn on 26 July and escalated into a violent clash.
Second, the colonial roots to the conflict. The British government used Assam as ingress to capture the surrounding tribal areas. On 20 August, 1875, the British government stipulated a clear demarcation between the Cachar plains and Lushai hills, which was also a corollary of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BERF) Act of 1873. Mizoram, then called Lushai hills, was turned to a district of Assam. During this time, in 1875, the British released a notification differentiating Lushai hills from the plains of Cachar (present Assam). The second demarcation came in 1933, the map of Mizoram was redrawn and the Cachar-Mizoram border was dissolved.  The new demarcation marked the separation between the Lushai hills and Manipur, which indicated the Manipur border began from the tripping of Lushair Hills, Assam's Cachar district and Manipur.
Third, the difference between the two states. According to the Mizos, the first demarcation was done in consultation with Mizos chiefs and two years later, this also became the basis for the Inner Line Reserve Forest demarcation in the Gazette. Mizoram follows the first demarcation saying it is the only prescription that took into consideration of the Mizo community. On the other side, Assam follows the notification of the second demarcation because of which the dispute has been simmering for decades now. Despite multiple peace agreements to maintain the status quo, differences have prevailed over the years.
In perspective
The clashes between the two states date back to nearly a century and a half and both sides accuse each other of encroachment. There is no consensus boundary between the two; therefore, maintaining peace is difficult in the region. The two states should deter from violence as it overshadows the actual cause and rather negotiate for a diplomatic solution. While demarcating, a lot of history, ethnicity and tribal claims were overlooked, because of which the role of the central government is important to settle the problem amicably.

Also from around the World
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China: Death toll from July floods rises to 302
On 3 August, Al Jazeera cited a local government's news briefing wherein the officials said the death toll from the floods in July in central China had risen to 302. Of the total deaths, Henan province accounted for the highest casualties at 292 deaths and 47 missing. The state capital of Henan, Zhengzhou received 617.1 millimetres of rain in three days starting 17 July. Meanwhile, several people on social media reportedly expressed criticism on the government's response and disaster management. However, the outrage also sparked hostility towards foreign journalists covering the floods; the Foreign Correspondents Club of China raised concerns over harassment of journalists working for the Los Angeles Times, AP, BBC, and Deutsche Welle.
Hong Kong: First person charged under National Security Law sentenced to nine years prison
On 30 July, Tong Ying-kit, the first person to be charged under the National Security Law, was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was found guilty of inciting secession and terrorism for carrying a flag which read: "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times." The judges observed: "We consider that this overall term should sufficiently reflect the defendant's culpability in the two offences and the abhorrence of society, at the same time, achieving the deterrent effect required." BBC's new report says that since the law came into effect in 2020, more than 100 have been arrested and the latest verdict sets the tone for how similar cases will be heard.
North Korea: FAO-WFP report says food shortage to worsen in next four months
On 31 July, The Korea Herald reported on a joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme wherein it said that North Korea's food security situation was set to worsen in the August to November period. The report estimates that food shortage will amount to 860,000 tonnes in 2021 or "approximately 2.3 months' worth of food use." The food shortage has been attributed to strained access and the effect of trade limitations. Therefore, the report said, "Measures to facilitate the import of bilateral and multilateral food assistance, and/or significant levels of commercial imports, will be required if this gap is to be covered."
North Korea: Kim Yo-Jang expresses displeasure over military drill between US and South Korea
On 1 August, Kim Yo-Jong, the North Korean leader's sister, warned that the summertime military drills between the US and South Korea will hinder progress of the inter-Korean talks. The Korea Herald quoted her: "I surely see the military drill, which takes place at an important turning point like this, will become an unpleasant prelude to seriously hurting the will of the leaders of the North and South seeking to take the step toward rebuilding trust again and further clouding the path lying ahead for inter-Korean relations." The development comes within a week after the hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul was restored on 27 July.
South Korea-Japan: Nuclear envoys discuss lasting peace on Korean peninsula 
On 1 August, the chief nuclear envoy of South Korea held a telephonic conversation with his Japanese counterpart, and discussed ways to build lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said the two officials "exchanged opinions on ways to cooperate between the South and Japan, and among the South, the US and Japan for substantive progress in the efforts for the complete denuclearization of the peninsula and the establishment of lasting peace."
Myanmar: Hlaing declared as Prime Minister; promises to hold free elections 
On 1 August, the State Administrative Council announced itself as the caretaker government and declared Min Aung Hlaing as the Prime Minister. Hlaing, while reportedly calling the National League for Democracy (NLD) party members as terrorists, promised to conduct "free and fair multi-party election." He described them as "extremists [who] chose the act of terrorism instead of doing or solving it in line with the law." The above announcement exactly on the day Myanmar marked six months of the February coup. 
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India-China: Another military hotline established in north Sikkim
On 1 August, a hotline was established between the Indian Army in Kongra La, north Sikkim, and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) at Khamba Dzong in the Tibet Autonomous Region. According to the Indian Army the hotline was set up to "further the spirit of trust and cordial relations along the borders," adding, "the inauguration was attended by ground commanders of the respective Armies and a message of friendship and harmony was exchanged through the Hotline." This is the sixth hotline for local commanders between the two armies.
India: Assam signs agreement with Nagaland on the border issue
On 31 July, Assam signed an agreement with Nagaland to end the standoff on its easter front. Both sides agreed to withdraw security forces and police personnel from the border locations "immediately" in an attempt to de-escalate the situation between the two northeast states. The Chief Minister of Assam via Twitter said: "In a major breakthrough towards de-escalating tensions at Assam-Nagaland border, the two Chief Secretaries have arrived at an understanding to immediately withdraw states' forces from border locations to their respective base camps."
India-Russia: Joint military exercise INDRA 2021 begins
On 1 August, the 12th edition of Indo-Russia joint military exercise INDRA 2021 began at Volgograd, Russia. The 13-day mega exercise will entail conducting counter-terror operations under the United Nations (UN) mandate by a joint force against international terror groups and will involve 250 personnel from both countries. According to the Indian Army, "The exercise will be yet another milestone in strengthening security cooperation and will serve to reinforce the longstanding bond of friendship between India and Russia."
Pakistan: Policemen on polio duty killed by unidentified attackers
On 2 August, a policeman on polio duty was shot dead by unidentified attackers in the Atal Sharif area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Previously, on 1 August, two similar incidents took place in which a policeman returning from polio duty was killed in an attack in an area on the outskirts of Peshawar and a policeman was injured in the South Waziristan tribal district when police mobile guarding polio vaccinators hit a landmine.
Pakistan: Aurat March Faisalabad cancelled after authorities deny NOC
On 1 August, the Aurat March in Faisalabad was cancelled on grounds that the administration had not issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to the organizers. The march which was organized against the "ongoing femicide" and to bring to light "the brutal murders of women" across Pakistan aimed at highlighting that the incidents are not isolated and "to make collective social change in the way women are treated."
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Israel-Iran: Attack on tanker sparks row between Iran and the UK, US and Israel 
On 29 July, an oil tanker managed by an Israeli company was reportedly struck in a drone attack; Israel accused Iran of the attack. However, on 1 August, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the claims. He said: "Wherever this regime has gone, it has brought with itself insecurity, terror and violence. Those responsible [for this attack] are the ones that allowed the Israeli regime to set foot in this region." On the same day, the US Secretary of State reiterated Israel's position and blamed Iran for the attack. On 2 August, the UK government summoned the Iranian ambassador; the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office said the UK Minister for the Middle East "reiterated that Iran must immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security, and reinforced that vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law."
Israel-Palestine: Over 250 protesters injured by Israeli troops in occupied West Bank
On 30 July, Al Jazeera cited the Palestinian Red Crescent which said that actions of Israeli troops, including use of tear gas, had injured nearly 270 protesters in occupied West Bank; residents in Nablus have been frequently protesting since May. The Red Crescent said that seven Palestinians were hit by live ammunition and several others needed treatment for gas inhalation. Meanwhile, the Israeli police said they were responding to approximately 150 Palestinians who had reportedly thrown rocks and burning tyres at soldiers.
Djibouti: Three die in rare instance of intercommunal violence
On 1 August, fighting between the ethnic Afar group and the Issa group led to the death of three, in what the public prosecutor termed a rare instance of intercommunal violence in the capital. The Interior Minister termed the incident "intolerable." On 2 August, with the police presence, calm was restored; however, internet services and Facebook were erratic and inaccessible respectively. The Afar groups largely reside along Djibouti's borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Ethiopia: Around 50 bodies found floating in river; Macron calls for dialogue between federal government and TPLF; airline denies involvement in conflict 
On 2 August, a Sudanese official said that local authorities had found nearly 50 bodies in the river floating between Ethiopia and Sudan; the bodies are believed to be people fleeing the conflict in Ethiopia. However, a government-operated Twitter account reportedly termed the news a fake campaign of the Tigrayan "propagandists." Meanwhile, on 31 July, French President Emmaneul Macron called for talks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). He also called for unhindered access to the region for aid delivery. In another development, on 1 August, the Ethiopian Airlines denied any involvement in transporting weapons and soldiers to Tigray. Responding to images circulating on social media, the airlines said the pictures were photoshopped and were used to tarnish the airlines' reputation.
Libya: Main coastal road reopened in line with ceasefire 
On 30 July, a 5+5 committee consisting of members from Libyan National Army and Tripoli-based government announced the reopening of the main coast road which had been cut between Misrata and Sirte cities during the conflict. The reopening of the road was in line with a ceasefire signed in 2020; however, the committee clarified that the road was not open to military traffic.
The Mediterranean: Over 700 migrants rescued from the sea within two days 
On 1 August, the SOS Mediterranee said that since 31 July, it had rescued over 700 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean off the Libyan and Maltese coasts. The SOS Mediterranee tweeted that the youngest rescued was a three months old baby. The rescue operations were carried out by the organization's vessel, along with assistance from Sea Watch and ResQship. The development comes after recent reports revealed that over 1,000 were recorded in the Mediterranean in the first half of 2021. 
Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Belarus: NGO chief found dead in Ukraine
On 3 August, the body of a Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov was discovered in Kyiv a day after he was reported missing. The authorities have opened a murder probe into the incident and are pursuing all leads, including a possible "murder disguised as a suicide." Shishov was the head of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU), an organization that helps Belarusians trying to flee persecution. Meanwhile, Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland after she was recently denied participation in the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation after she criticized her athletics federation on social media.  
Turkey: Wildfires along the coast have killed eight people
On 28 July, wildfires broke out across the south and southwestern coastal towns of Turkey claiming the lives of eight. According to the Forest Ministry, most of the more than 100 wildfires that broke out in Turkey in the past few days have been contained, however, six more are still needed to be brought under control. Meanwhile, wildfires have also hit several other regions across the Mediterranean amid a heatwave in southern Europe, particularly in Spain, Italy and Greece.
Europe: Protests over Covid-19 measures in France, Italy and Germany
On 31 July, thousands of people protested across Paris and other cities against the government's "health pass" as necessary to boost vaccination rates. Although most of the demonstrations were peaceful, few witnessed sporadic clashes with riot police in Paris. Similar protests were seen in Italy, where protests took to the streets showing their opposition to plans to require vaccination cards termed as the "Green Pass." Meanwhile, 13 separate demonstrations took place around Berlin with over 600 people been arrested after participating in protests against the German government's coronavirus restrictions.
Colombia: Ex-army chief to be charged over extrajudicial killings
On 1 August, Colombia's attorney general's office stated that former army commander General Mario Montoya will be charge responsible for 104 extrajudicial executions, as part of the "false positives" scandal. Further, the attorney general's office said: "General Montoya continued to exert pressure on all the country's commanders to comply with his policy of operational results, in which combat deaths were the only criteria for evaluating the campaign," adding, "he continued to evaluate commanders by number of reported combat deaths." Additionally, under the ordinary justice system, Montoya could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison, however, under the country's transitional justice court (JEP) he could receive a sentence of between five and eight years.
Mexico: Referendum on whether to probe ex-presidents falls short
On 1 August, a referendum backed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on whether to investigate Mexico's former political leaders failed to reach the required turnout although it had backing from those who voted. According to a preliminary count of nearly 99 per cent of ballots, 97.7 per cent of participants supported the proposal, however, the turnout was just over seven per cent, far below the 40 per cent threshold set to make it binding.

About the authors
Wonchibeni Tsopoe is a Research Intern at the Global Politics Course in NIAS. Avishka Ashok, Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Vishnu Prasad is a postgraduate scholar at the Department of International Studies, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru.

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