Conflict Weekly 86

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Conflict Weekly 86
The US exit from Afghanistan, the Houthi violence in Yemen, and Hurricane Ida in the US

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #86, 1 September 2021, Vol.2, No.22
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office

Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Rashmi BR, and Akriti Sharma

Afghanistan: The US completes its evacuation amid drone and terrorist attacks
In the news
On 30 August, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military's Central Command announced that the US has completed its military withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan. He said: "Tonight's withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after 11 September 2001."
On 26 August, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) carried out a deadly attack outside Kabul airport which killed at least 175 civilians and 13 US soldiers and several injured. The ISKP said that its suicide bombers singled out "translators and collaborators with the American army" in the attacks. 
On 29 August, the US forces launched a drone strike in Kabul which killed a suicide car bomber suspected of preparing to attack the airport. The strike was the second carried out by US forces since the Islamic State suicide bomber struck the airport. In response to the attack, President Joe Biden said: "This strike was not the last," adding, "Those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay."
On 30 August, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan. The resolution demanded that Afghanistan not be used to threaten or attack any nation or shelter terrorists. The resolution was adopted after 13 Council members voted in favour, while permanent members Russia and China abstained from the voting.
Issues at large
First, end of the US's 20-year occupation. The US, along with the allied forces, have waged war for 20 years with the sole purpose of defeat terrorists in Afghanistan. The war has cost over USD two trillion and claimed more than 170,000 lives. Now, post the withdrawal, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has stated: "A new chapter of America's engagement with Afghanistan has begun," adding, "It's one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over." 
Second, the reaction from the international community. The reactions and responses to the Afghan issue have been divided. While the western powers are critical of the situation, countries like China and Russia have stood behind the Taliban. Meanwhile, as most countries are moving out of Kabul, the evacuations have taken a disorderly path, unlike what was promised.
Third, the threat of ISKP. The group has been responsible for some of the worst attacks in Afghanistan in the recent past, carrying out attacks in mosques, public squares, educational centres and hospitals. In the first quarter of 2021, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 77 attacks that were claimed by or attributed to ISKP. The recent attack highlights the fact that the group continues to be a threat to Afghanistan and the region. Additionally, the bitter rivalry between the Taliban and ISKP and ISIS will be a major challenge to the stability and security the Taliban promise to provide for Afghans.
In perspective
First, the threat of terrorism with the reactivation of sleeper cells. The attack carried out by the ISKP shows that the group's sleeper cells in the region have been reactivated and that the group has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul. Thus, contrary to the statements made by the Biden administration previously on the success of the 'War on Terror' and the main objective of ensuring that Afghanistan would not be a launching pad for terrorism had been achieved, the threats of terrorism continue.
Second, justifying the 20-year occupation by the US and allied forces. Twenty years later, Afghanistan is being handed over to who the US and allies saw as a threat. Although the occupation can be justified by giving Afghans a shot at democracy and freeing many women to pursue education and careers, however, has failed in the sole purpose of combating terrorism. 
Third, the future of Afghanistan. This new era for Afghanistan will be different politically, economically and socially. Taliban has gained international legitimacy; however, the group does not enjoy absolute power in Afghanistan. Economically, Afghanistan will now need to fend for itself with international aid and assistance largely being cut. Socially, Afghanistan is going to witness challenges, no doubt; however, one hopes it would not be a repeat of the past.

Yemen: Houthi attack on the al-Anad base, an indication of the continuing confrontations
In the news
On 29 August, the Houthis launched drones and ballistic missiles on the al-Anad military base in Lahij, a government-held southern province. Considered as one of the deadliest attacks in recent years, it killed at least 30 and wounded more than 60 soldiers belonging to the Southern Forces backed by the UAE and part of the Saudi-led Arab coalition. 
On 31 August, the coalition stated that the Saudi air defence forces intercepted a drone launched targeting the Abha International Airport. 
Issues at large
First, the stall of ceasefire talks. Saudi Arabia proposed a ceasefire plan in March 2021, aimed at lifting the blockades on Sana'a International Airport and the seaports of Yemen and ending six years of fighting that now includes multiple national and international actors. The plan and the talks were supported by the United Nations and backed by the United States. Following brisk diplomatic activities and high profile talks mainly held in Oman, the talks are now stalled after the parties failed to reach a deal. The drone attack comes against the backdrop of the failure of talks. 
Second, continuing war and lingering stalemate. Yemen is marred by internal political differences and the fight between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The role of the external countries like the US, Arab countries and Iran fuelled the war further. The Marib offensive is one of the deadliest clashes in the six years, taking a heavy toll on the conflicting parties. While the Houthis seemed near victorious in capturing a resource-rich Marib, they are facing stiff resistance from the government forces and the coalition that have killed thousands of fighters in recent months. 
Third, continuing confrontations. Even prior to the battle of Marib, the confrontations between the Arab coalition, especially Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, have occurred. While the Houthis have launched a series of attacks on the bordering cities, airports, and Aramco oil facilities, the Kingdom has responded by intercepting the drones and missiles. 
Fourth, the sustenance of the Houthis. The Ansarallah started as a movement to overthrow the internationally recognized regime and gained substantial territorial control of Yemen. Over the years, they have been able to sustain, despite heavy military bombardments from the Arab coalition supported by the US. This speaks volumes about the support they receive from Iran and Hezbollah and also Tehran's expanse in the region. 
Fifth, the Middle Eastern great game. Yemen is a battleground that is used by the regional states to establish their influence in the Middle East. 2015 marked the intensification of the war when the Arab coalition entered. As mentioned earlier, Iran and its proxies are supporting the Houthi rebels against the coalition. In other words, the war in Yemen has unfolded the larger geopolitical rivalries in the Middle East and the necessity of the key states to prove their sway over regional affairs. 
In perspective
First, misplaced priorities. Yemen is experiencing the world's worst humanitarian crisis, claiming the lives of more than 233,000 people and the risk of one of the greatest famines. Yet, the fighting seems to occupy a central stage, and the misplaced priorities of the conflicting parties are evident. With the war reaching a stalemate, the objectives of either side are far from achieved. 
Second, the indifference of the international community. Yemen is not the first country to face such a crisis. Rwanda, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and many others, have all been victims of long-lasting conflicts that have affected millions. Yet, the indifference and insensitivity of the international community have remained consistent. 

Climate Change: Hurricane Ida destructs the US Gulf Coast
In the news
On 29 July, hurricane Ida, a category 4 storm made landfall near Port Fourchon in Louisiana with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and a minimum central pressure of 930 mb. It again made a second landfall as category 4 storm in the southwest of Galliano with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph and a minimum central pressure of 935 mb. It made landfall on the 16th anniversary of hurricane Katrina reminding the people of the devastation caused fifteen years ago. The hurricane was so strong that it reversed the course of the Mississippi River.
On 30 July, President Joe Biden said: "We know Hurricane Ida had the potential to cause massive, massive damage, and that's exactly what we saw." He added: "We're going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf as long as it takes for you to recover."
Issues at large
First, the vulnerability of the Gulf Coast. The coastline along the Gulf of Mexico is more susceptible to tropical storms. Additionally, the coast is prone to receiving early-season cyclones. Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, central America, are more likely to witness the storms of severe category. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US' coasts are vulnerable to cyclones and hurricanes, especially North Carolina and Florida.
Second, the frequent weather anomalies. The US has recently witnessed heatwaves and wildfires across the country. The risk of climate disasters is increasing in the region. Weather anomalies have become frequent and intense in the northern hemisphere.
Third, the impact of human-induced climate change. The storms are moving slower, producing more rainfall and generating increased surges along the coasts, which can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Hurricanes are getting intense because of the excessive warming of the oceans. Global warming facilitates the increased intensity of hurricanes. The recent Sixth Assessment Report by the IPCC states that the global proportion of the cyclones of category 3 to 5 have increased in the past four decades due to the rapid warming of the ocean. Hurricane Ida is said to have undergone a rapid intensification of 65 mph in 24 hours which is only possible if the ocean warming is occurring at an abnormal pace. 
Fourth, inability to build resilience. The hurricane has destroyed the oil and gas refineries along the gulf coast, which will lead to an increase in prices. Even after the destructive landfall of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the industrial infrastructure in the region, it lacks the ability to build disaster-resilient infrastructure. With the increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, building resilient infrastructure is the key to reduce the loss. 
In perspective
First, the early warning system. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US has already predicted the landfall of a severe hurricane. Compared to Hurricane Katrina which took the lives of 1,800 people, Ida has only caused one casualty. The ability to manage disasters and hurricanes, in particular, has improved over the years. However, the infrastructural loss still remains a concern. So far, building resilient infrastructure has not been successfully achieved. 
Second, the climate disasters and the pandemic. The region is already facing the fallouts of the pandemic, and climate disasters like the hurricane make it worse. The US has witnessed heatwaves and wildfires in recent weeks, and their link with climate change is becoming clearer. Such events serve as the climate alarm and indicate that efforts taken towards the mitigation of climate change are not enough.

Also from around the World
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
Hong Kong: Tiananmen Massacre vigil organizers served letters under national security law
On 25 August, the police national security unit served letters to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China which organizes the annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil. The letter cited the national security law and demanded information from the group. However, the contents of the letter were not shared but the group's vice-chairwoman said the letters cited paragraph 5 of Article 43, which maintains that a political organization of a foreign country should reveal information on cases related to national security. 
North Korea: Yongbyon reactor in operation since July, says IAEA report
On 27 August, the International Atomic Energy Agency annual report said that North Korea had reactivated the main 5-megawatt nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon complex. The Korea Herald quoted from the report that the reactor seems to have been operating since July 2021, a first since December 2018. The report further observed that there were signs of a radioactive laboratory operating from mid-February 2021 to July 2021. The report said: "The DPRK's nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern. Furthermore, the new indications of the operation of the 5-megawatt reactor and the radiochemical laboratory are deeply troubling."
South Korea-North Korea: Seoul calls for early resumption of talks with Pyongyang
On 30 August, the Unification Minister, reiterating that dialogue is the only way forward, called for resuming talks with North Korea. Speaking at the annual Korean Global Forum for Peace, the Minister outlined that even in the absence of "perfect conditions," it was necessary for Seoul, Pyongyang, and Washington "should first open their (communication) channels, sit down together and resume talks, as dialogue is the only way toward achieving objectives they want." The Minister further added, "The table for dialogue and negotiations never lies far away, nor does the path toward building fundamental trust that can remove long hostility through dialogue."
Japan: Coast Guards spot four Chinese vessels off Senkaku Islands, ask them to leave
On 29 August, the Japanese Coast Guard said that four Chinese vessels had entered Japan's territorial waters in the East China Sea, near Uotsuri and Minamikojima islands. The vessels, which were approaching Japanese fishing boats and were present for 10 hours, left after the Coast Guard asked them to leave. According to the NHK World-Japan news report, this is the 28th time in 2021 when Chinese government vessels entered the waters off Senkaku Islands. 
The Philippines: Human Rights Watch shed light on "red-tagging" of communists 
On 30 August, Human Rights Watch reported that the Cordillera region in northern Philippines had adopted the "tokhang" method as a counterinsurgency strategy. In this, the police or other officials visit activists' allegedly supporting the New People's Army of the communists; they then plead to the activists to stop supporting the communists. However, in the process, several communists are "red-tagged" and over years, several have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested, abused, and killed by the government. The HRW says this method has threatened the space for leftists in the country. 
Myanmar: Over 100 soldiers die in clashes with KNLA, MNDAA; bombs explode at 12 locations 
On 31 August, the district information department of the Karen National Union claimed that 118 military troops had been killed and 68 injured in clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in Papun district. The KNU said that it recorded no casualties on its side. Similarly, at least 15 troops were killed in Shan state in clashes with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which have been going on since 28 July. In another development, on 29 and 30 August, Yangon and Mandalay regions witnessed at least 12 blasts, including at the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) offices.
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Floods in Assam claim the lives of three
On 31 August, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) officials stated that one child was washed away, taking the death toll to three caused by the floods. The officials stated that 1,278 villages in 61 revenue circles had affected 5,73,938 people. Additionally, the rising water of the Brahmaputra inundated over 70 per cent of the Kaziranga National Park. The overall flood situation in Assam deteriorated as the rising Brahmaputra River, and its tributaries inundated vast tracts in several districts. Additionally, the floods have been triggered by continuous heavy rainfall in the catchment areas.
Pakistan: Series of attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
On 30 August, one soldier was killed in South Waziristan after an improvised explosive device went off during an exchange of fire. Additionally, during an intense exchange of fire, one of the terrorists trying to flee got killed. Previously, on 29 August, three security personnel and two civilians were killed in an IED blast launched from the Afghan side of the Bajaur checkpost. According to the Inter Services Public Relations, security forces killed three terrorists in retaliatory fire. Meanwhile, in two separate attacks, one sepoy was killed when terrorists targeted a bomb disposal squad in South Waziristan's Sherwangi Kandy post, with an IED and one civilian was killed and two people, including a soldier, injured, in an IED attack in North Waziristan's Razmak subdivision.
India: Presides over unanimous adoption of three resolutions at the UNSC
On 30 August, the United Nations Security Council under the presidency of India unanimous adoption of three important mandate extensions of UNSC resolutions. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla presided over the Council's deliberations on the Middle East peace process, in particular the Palestinian issue. The meetings included: Adoption of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Resolution; Adoption of Mali Sanctions Resolution; Adoption of UNSOM Resolution; and Briefing/consultations on Middle East Peace Process.
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Yerevan states that Baku has unblocked road connecting two parts of the Armenian region
On 27 August, Armenia's National Security Service (NSS) stated that Azerbaijan has unblocked a major Armenian highway between two parts of Armenia's southern region after two days of blockade. Previously, Azeri forces had to block two sections of the road connecting two of southern Armenia's main cities, Goris and Kapan after the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that two Armenian soldiers attempted to stab an Azerbaijani border guard in the area. However, Armenia denied the allegation, terming the statement as a "sheer lie" and "more Azerbaijani disinformation."
Tajikistan: 500 Russian troops take part in joint military drill
On 30 August, Russia's defence ministry stated that around 500 of its troops were taking part in military drills in Tajikistan amid fears of instability across its Central Asian allies after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. The exercise was taking place in the mountainous Sambuli military training field. The current set of drills conducted by Russia close to the Afghan border is the third one carried this month.
Israel-Palestine: Israeli Defense Minister meets Palestinian President 
On 29 August, the Israeli Defence Minister met with the Palestinian President, the first meeting of the highest level since 2014. Following the meeting, the Israeli Minister announced several plans to strengthen the PA; this includes a USD 150 million loan. He reasoned: "The stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the weaker Hamas will be," adding, "And the greater its ability to govern is, the more security we'll have and the less we'll have to do." Meanwhile, on 30 August, Al Jazeera reported that an Israeli special forces officer had succumbed to his injuries after he was wounded on duty on the Gaza Strip's border fence on 28 August; he was shot during clashes with Palestinians. The news report says that over the weekend, 41 Palestinians were wounded during protests.
Lebanon: Immigration reaches a tipping point, says Crisis Observatory 
On 31 August, Arab News quoted the Crisis Observatory, which said that the immigration from Lebanon was transitioning into an exodus due to multiple crisis in the country. The Observatory said the immigration was at a tipping point as people were escaping social, political and economic difficulties. Meanwhile, six people were wounded in a dispute amid the fuel crisis which subsequently sparked sectarian tensions between Shi'ite Muslim and Christian villages in southern Lebanon. Media reports quote sources who said that troops had to be deployed after villagers blocked roads and burnt trees. 
Iraq: French President visits Mosul a day after vowing to maintain French presence in the country
On 29 August, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Mosul; he called on Iraq's religious groups to collectively work towards rebuilding the country. Talking about the situation of Christians in the Middle East, he said, "This message is civilizational but also geopolitical. There will be no balance in Iraq if there is no respect for these communities." The visit came a day after Macron promised to maintain French troops in Iraq on 28 August. He said: "No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism."

Nigeria: 73 abducted from a high school in Zamfara 
On 1 September, the Zamfara state police spokesman said that gunmen had kidnapped 73 students from a government high school in the state's Kaya village. He said prior to the abduction, and the armed bandits invaded the school; BBC reports state that one student was critically injured when bandits opened fire, and that a staff member was also abducted. Further, all schools in Zamfara have been directed to close.

Ethiopia: Over 200 killed in Oromia region, says Rights Commission 
On 26 August, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that over 210 people had been killed in the Oromia region since 18 August. Sources told the EHRC that gunmen linked to the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) had arrived in the region and killed over 150 people; subsequently, 60 people were killed in reprisal attacks. On the same day, the UN Secretary-General termed the unfolding of the situation in Ethiopia a "human catastrophe." Outlining that the conflict had spread beyond Tigray, the Secretary-General said: "Inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country" and called on all parties to cease hostilities without setting preconditions. 
South Sudan: New parliament session begins amid calls for protests
On 30 August, BBC reported that the new parliamentary session had begun which included members who were former rebels; this is in line with the 2018 peace deal. However, on the same day, several civil society groups called for mass protests to demonstrate against corruption, communal fights. The leadership, through arresting journalists and opponents, has shown that there is an unwillingness to fully implement the 2018 deal. However, following the call for protests, access to social media sites was suspended briefly. 
Africa: 44,000 missing across Africa, says ICRC
On 30 August, BBC reported on a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) marking the International Day of the Disappeared. The ICRC said that 44,000 people across Africa had been missing, and 45 per cent of them were children. Of the total number of missing people, 82 per cent belong to seven countries that are witnessing armed conflict and Nigeria accounts for 24,000 of the missing persons. Apart from Nigeria, the highest number of missing people belong to Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan, and Cameroon.
Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Italy: Over 500 people rescued off the island of Lampedusa
On 28 August, an Italian coastguard vessel rescued 539 migrants from a fishing boat drifting off the island of Lampedusa. The migrants are reportedly mainly from North and West African countries, while some were from Bangladesh. The rescue was one of the largest numbers of migrants to the Italian island in a single day. Italian prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the matter as to why these migrants who reportedly displayed signs of having been tortured travelled from Libya.
Russia: Court fines activist for protests in support of Afghans
On 25 August, a court in Moscow imposed a fine of 200,000 Rubles ($2,700) on two activists for demonstrating in support for women's rights to be protected in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The two activists held the demonstration outside Afghanistan's embassy in Moscow as they took turns holding up posters in a "solitary picket" one of the last forms of protest in Russia that does not require official authorization.
Greece: Athens moves to fortify its borders amid fears of Afghan refugees
On 26 August, Al Jazeera reported that Greece has announced it had finished the extension of a 40-km (25-mile) border wall on the frontier in fears of refugees from Afghanistan. The Greek Migration Minister maintained that Athens would not allow a flood of Afghans to enter, warning against a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis. Meanwhile, Turkey has also followed suit by reinforcing a border wall with Iran to prevent a feared increase of Afghan refugees.
Turkey: Foreign Minister says that Ankara cannot take new refugee 'burden' from Afghanistan
On 29 August, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Turkey cannot take the burden of a new migrant wave from Afghanistan. He said, "As Turkey, we have sufficiently carried out our moral and humanitarian responsibilities regarding migration," adding, "It is out of the question for us to take an additional refugee burden" Cavusoglu made these statements while speaking in a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey "does not, and will not, serve as any country's waiting room," adding that Turkey "will continue to do everything in our power to preserve the safety of our borders."

The US: Supreme Court refuses to block Texas Abortion Law
On 1 September, the Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law that prohibits abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The court said, "We stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants' lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas' law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts." The Texas law, as known as the Senate Bill 8, is a nearly complete ban on abortion in Texas as more than 85 to 90 per cent of procedures in the state happen after the sixth week of pregnancy. Additionally, the law is the first to be implemented after the Supreme Court refused to block it previously

Venezuela: At least 20 killed due to floods in Merida
On 25 August, a Socialist Party official in Merida announced the death toll had risen to 20 due to the floods in the western Venezuelan state of Merida. The State governor stated that more than 1,200 houses had been destroyed and 17 people remained missing as rescue workers search the wreckage. Additionally, the governor said the state nor municipal governments have the resources to help the affected areas; however, infrastructure specialists have been ordered to work with Caracas on repairing buildings and roads.
Cuba: Xi calls Diaz-Canel, reaffirms support
On 30 August, Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a phone conversation with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel reaffirmed support of Cuba irrespective of the situation. During the call, Xi commended Cuba for its relentless struggle under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), adding that China will always support Cuba along its development path to building socialism featuring prosperity and sustainability based on its national situation.
Mexico: Migrants and asylum seekers from Central America and the Caribbean move towards Mexico City
On 28 August, hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from Central America and the Caribbean left Tapachula, a southern Mexican city in a caravan heading to Mexico's capital, in hopes to seek expedited asylum proceedings. The group of around 500 people includes families with young children from Haiti, Cuba, Central America and Colombia. This move comes as Mexico and the United States are witnessing high levels of migration, especially from Central America, where violence, poverty and a hunger crisis have caused several thousand to flee.

About the authors
Rashmi BR and Akriti Sharma are PhD scholars at NIAS. Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.

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