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CWA # 608, 11 November 2021
Conflict Weekly #96, 11 November 2021, Vol.2, No.32
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office
Conflict Weekly #96, 11 November 2021, Vol.2, No.32
Harini Madhusudan, and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Poland: The Belarus threat of pushing migrants into Europe
In the news
On 8 November, a strong international condemnation was directed towards Belarus when the European Union, the United States, and NATO blamed the Lukashenko government after thousands of migrants began to cross into Poland on the same day. They stated that the sudden surge in the number of migrants massing the Polish border is due to a coordinated attempt by the Belarusian authorities. During an emergency debate at the Polish Parliament, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Vladimir Putin of being behind the migrant crisis at the borders and described the situation as an attempt by Russia to disrupt the region that it had control over during the Soviet era. "The security of our eastern border is being brutally violated. This is the first such situation in 30 years when we can say that the integrity of our borders is being tested," he said. The Belarusian Red Cross, on their Telegram Channel, stated that they were ready to provide assistance, in the form of food, hygiene kits, and other essentials, to the migrants at the Belarusian-Polish Border.
Issues at large
First, the ground situation across the Belarus border, and the threat for Poland. Since May 2021, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia have complained of a sharp rise in the number of migrants crossing into their borders. Over 30,000 people have tried to cross the Polish- Belarusian border, which led Warsaw to declare a state of emergency and take up the measure to build a strong barbed-wire-fence at the border. Both Belarus and Poland have steadily increased the presence of their troops at the borders; with Belarus having an estimated 10,000 servicemen and Poland, up to 12,000 of their forces. Poland later plans to build a fortified border, equipped with sensors, measuring five meters in height. Poland has consistently stopped the migrants from moving across the borders and has maintained a strong response against the actions of the Belarusian government.
Second, the Belarusian strategy and the end-game. The Belarusian government understands the vulnerability of the situation of migration in the European Union strategy. Belarus has been known to be encouraging migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East to cross into Central Europe, and the wider European Union, which has begun to cause a major confrontation in the region. The Belarusian government has put the lives and health of the migrants at risk to provoke Poland and the EU. This is because Lukashenko expects the EU to remove the sanctions placed on his regime since the disputed elections in Belarus. Poland is the region that hosts the largest number of opposition leaders of the Lukashenko regime, which is likely the reason for the influx of people in large numbers to Poland. The border committee of Belarus insist that the people were arriving legally and countered the 'weaponization of migrants' argument saying, "the migrants were only exercising their right to apply for refuge in the EU." Lukashenko during this week stated that he wanted to avoid any military escalation on the border and said, he was not a 'madman' and knew what was at stake.
Third, regional and international responses. After a video was posted by the Polish defense ministry, Ursula Von der Leyen, announced that two top EU officials would travel to the main countries of origin of the migrants to prevent the nationals from joining the Belarusian trap. The US State Department called on Belarus to stop the manipulation of the situation, and NATO accused Lukashenko of using migrants as a "hybrid tactic." The human rights groups have criticized the EU governments for pushbacks of migrants on the border with Belarus, calling out the weaponization of the situation where the migrants are stranded in terrible conditions. In the region, both Latvia and Lithuania have faced a sense of emergency with the rising number of people at their borders. Like Poland, Lithuania has also moved its troops to prepare for the influx of migrants. One statement called the latest influx a "form of revenge" by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko against Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, to destabilize the region.
Fourth, the ground-zero and the humanitarian responses: The migrants who were promised passage into the region are seen stranded at the borderlands under terrible physical and weather conditions. During the week, Poland had summoned Belarus' chargé d'affaires over "unidentified uninformed individuals armed with long guns," on Polish territory. They state that Belarus has escalated the situation. In their official statement, the UNHCR called the images from the Belarus-Poland border, deeply concerning and called the using refugees and migrants to achieve political ends, unacceptable. "It's time to act now, we call on Belarus to avoid putting lives at risk," they said. The humanitarian groups have called on both Belarus and Poland to respect the dignity of the migrants and implored them to abide by their legal obligations to provide asylum. Red Cross and other organizations have taken up the charge to provide immediate food and health assistance to the thousands of people stranded at the borders.
The migrant situation at the Polish and Belarusian border brings to the fore deeper concerns in the region. The Lukashenko regime's approach in getting the EU to waive the sanctions placed on their regime may never work in their favor. At the same time, the principles that the EU is built on, cannot have this situation challenge its foundations, it also cannot let the migration situation encourage these countries to take stricter border controls. This would go against the idea of the European Union as a region for free movement. Both sides seem to understand this conflicting situation.
It is extremely deplorable to leave the migrants stranded at sub-zero temperatures without food and adequate shelter, they have been made a pawn in the game between Belarus, its neighbours, Russia, and the EU.
Moscow has largely kept itself away from the EU response to the elections in Belarus and the crackdown that followed, but it has offered the EU the option of following the methods from the EU-Turkey deal of 2016. It is important that the Russian side take a step forward and take a stronger stance in the Poland-Belarus border conflict.
Pakistan: A month-long ceasefire with the TTP
In the news
On 8 November, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that a "complete ceasefire" had been reached between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The minister stated that talks between the government and the TTP were underway, stating: "the state's sovereignty, national security, peace in relevant areas and social and economic stability will be considered during the talks." Additionally, he added that the interim Afghan government had facilitated the negotiations.
Later, on 9 November, he reiterated: "There are various groups within TTP; there are [some] ideologues, while there are others who joined the organisation under compulsion. The state of Pakistan wants to give its citizens a chance if all of them, some of them or a fraction of them want to come back and show their allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan." Meanwhile, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani confirmed that the ceasefire which will begin on 9 November would remain in place until 9 December, during which both sides will form a committee to continue talks.
Issues at large
First, Imran Khan's efforts to reach out to proscribed groups. Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with TRT World stated: "There are different groups which form the TTP and some of them want to talk to our government for peace. So, we are in talks with them. It's a reconciliation process," arguing that dialogue was the only solution and is willing to "forgive" the TTP if an agreement is reached. PM Khan has always maintained that he favours negotiations over military action because of which he has been criticised for being a sympathizer of the militants.
Second, challenges in addressing the TTP issue. Dealing with the TTP comes with several challenges. The lack of national consensus because of the government's unilateral approach along with the divide over how the negotiations should take place are the main challenges currently. This in turn has caused an intense backlash from the opposition parties, civil society and media who believe that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is going soft of the TTP.
Third, TTP's track record. The group's network was initially dismantled to a large extent after military operations that were carried out in the country in recent years. However, isolated attacks claimed by the TTP in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan the targeting of a high-security location has raised concerns of the TTP's resurgence. Additionally, the regroup within the group has also been concerning as the United Nations in a report addressed the activities of the TTP and noted the "reunification of splinter groups [of TTP]." Meanwhile, this is not the first time that the Pakistan government and the TTP have agreed to a ceasefire. Previously, in March 2014, a similar agreement was reached but it was short-lived as the Pakistan army launched a counterterrorist operation driving the group out.
First, PM Khan's alternative strategy. PM Khan seems to believe in a softer approach while dealing in proscribed groups such as the TTP. Although this may not be the ideal approach to many, he may be trying to use an alternative approach to address the issue given that the multiple strategies of the past have mostly failed. Additionally, with the Afghan Taliban on board with the negotiation, there is probably a more viable for talks.
Second, the ambiguity around the terms of negotiations has made the talks extremely controversial. Although this is not the first time Pakistan is trying to reach an agreement with the TTP, the group has once again only agreed to a short-term ceasefire, showing no indication that they are willing to lay down its arms and accept the Constitution. Besides this, TTP considers its beliefs and actions as the absolute truth and being righteous thus reaching common ground with groups will be extremely difficult. Additionally, given that the TTP has the blood of thousands of innocent Pakistanis on its hands, it will not be an easy task to gather public support for peace talks.
Also from around the World
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China: Global Times report accuses India of cyberattacks against neighbours
On 5 November, Global Times published its investigative report laying allegations that through cyberattacks, India has frequently targeted defense, military, and state-owned units of its neighbours, being China, Pakistan and Nepal. The news report maintains that such attacks are carried out by "Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)" organisations which operate with government support. The report quotes a cybersecurity company, Antiy Labs, which alleges that such threats from India date back to as early as 2019 and that more than 100 phishing fake websites have been detected by the company.
Taiwan: China to punish diehard secessionists
On 5 November, Chinese mainland announced that it would take steps to punish hardcore secessionists from Taiwan. These measures would include a ban on secessionists and their families from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao, restrictions on their respective organisations in collaborating with those in the mainland and persecution for criminal liability. Global Times reported that experts believe these measures will ensure accountability from secessionists and reiterates that reunification is inevitable.
North Korea: Artillery fire competition held; US reiterates commitment to sanctions
On 7 November, state media KCNA reported that North Korea's mechanised troops had conducted an artillery fire competition on 6 November with an aim to boost defence capabilities. The Strait Times quoted the KCNA which said that the drill was conducted "at a time when the enthusiasm to undergo intensive training prevails throughout the Korean People's Army (KPA) for ushering in a new heyday in strengthening the state defence capabilities under the banner of self-defence." On the same day, the spokesperson for the US State Department said that they are committed to the imposition of UNSC resolutions on North Korea for limiting the latter's nuclear and ballistic missile program. The development came after China and Russia, "with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population" in North Korea, circulated a draft resolution calling for lifting some sanctions on the country.
Japan: Tokyo decides to skip agreement to phase out coal power
On 9 November, Reuters reported that Japan had taken a "leap backwards" after the country refused to sign an agreement to phase out coal power at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Instead, the Japanese PRime Minister pledged to implement other measures. The decision to restrain itself from this commitment indicated that Japan, which once led initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol, had shifted its stance. However, a deputy director from the industry ministry said: "In Japan, where resources are scarce and the country is surrounded by the sea, there is no single perfect energy source...For this reason, Japan does not support the statement."
Australia: People demand more from climate policies
On 6 November, thousands gathered in Sydney and Melbourne in protest to the climate policies that the Australian government presented at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The development comes as Australia refrained from committing to the global methane pledge. The Strait Times quoted protesters who said: "We're all out here to show that we want more from our government" and carried signs that read: "We need human change, not climate change."
Indonesia: Several dead as floods hit East Java and West Kalimantan
On 8 November, The Jakarta Post reported that at least seven people had died in East Java and two casualties were recorded in West Kalimantan, after floods resulting from the La Nina phenomenon hit these regions. The Batu Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) said that as of 6 November, the floods in East Java had displaced at least 89 families, destroyed 35 houses and submerged 33 houses
Myanmar: Rights organisations call for immediate action in Chin State; bomb explodes in Naypyitaw
On 4 November, Human Rights Watch published a letter it wrote, along with 520 other organisations, to the UNSC calling for immediate attention to increasing attacks in Chin State. The letter called on the UNSC to adopt a resolution to bring an end to the "military's assault" against the Myanmarese. It also outlined the atrocities in Karen, Shan, and Karenni States. In another development, On 6 November, a bomb was targeted at an electricity office in the capital, Naypyitaw. The bomb is believed to have been used by civilian resistance fighters against the collection of electricity bill payments, while the people are refusing to pay the bill to be a part of the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Terrorists kill two people in targeted attacks
On 8 November, a salesman who worked in a shop owned by a Kashmiri Pandit was killed by suspected militants in Bohri Kadal, Srinagar. On 7 November, a policeman was shot dead in the Batamaloo neighbourhood of Srinagar by suspected militants. The two killings took place within 24 hours despite heightened security across Srinagar bring the total number of civilians to be killed to 17 since 2 October.
India: New Delhi hosts first Afghanistan conference since Taliban takeover
On 10 November, India hosted a regional summit to discuss the ongoing situation Afghanistan, the first meeting since the Taliban takeover earlier in August 2021. The Delhi Regional Security Dialogue for Afghanistan was attended by representatives from India, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and was chaired by India's National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. Pakistan and China did not attend the conference. The 'Delhi Declaration' announced by the Ministry of External Affairs stated: "The sides paid special attention to the current political situation in Afghanistan and threats arising from terrorism, radicalization and drug trafficking as well as the need for humanitarian assistance." It also read that the participants "condemned in the strongest terms all terrorist activities and reaffirmed their firm commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."
Nepal: Judicial crisis deepens as calls for chief justice's resignation grows
On 9 November, Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana assigned over 290 cases to Supreme Court justices who have not heard a single petition. This comes as judges are calling for the resignation of Rana, accusing him of colluding with political parties, especially with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, and even securing a ministerial berth for one of his relatives. Previously, 12 of the 20 judges met Rana calling on him to resign to save the dignity and credibility of the judiciary.
Pakistan: Government revokes ban on TLP
On 7 November, the Ministry of Interior notified that the government has revoked the ban on the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) "in the larger national interest" and in line with the "secret agreement" it had signed with the group on 31 October. The notification stated: "In exercise of the powers conferred under sub-section (I) of Section 11U of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (as amended), the federal government is pleased to remove the name of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan from the First Schedule of the said Act as proscribed organisation for the purpose of the said Act." The lifting of the ban came after the Punjab government requested the same.
Afghanistan: 460 Afghan children killed in the first half of 2021; 600 Daesh members detained in last three months
On 4 November, the United Nations Children's Funds (UNICEF) in a report stated that at least 460 children were killed due to relentless violence in the first six months of the current year in Afghanistan. Additionally, the report expressed concern over the condition of the Afghan children stating: "Children are especially vulnerable to explosive remnants of war," adding, "All forms of violence against children must immediately come to an end."
On 10 November, an intelligence department spokesperson stated: "In several parts of the country, nearly 600 members of Daesh who were involved in subversive acts and killings were detained," adding, "The detainees include some top members. They are in the prisons." Additionally, Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban government stated: "Our efforts are continuing to root out (Daesh) but the threats have been reduced to a great extent."
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia-Azerbaijan: One year of war in Nagorno-Karabakh commemorated
On 8 November, Armenia and Azerbaijan observed the first anniversary of the end of the six-weeks long war in 2020 over Nagorno-Karabakh which resulted in over 6,000 deaths. In Azerbaijan, streets were filled with celebratory cheers as the peace deal signed in 2020 was seen as a win for Baku, and the Azerbaijani President declared 8 November as the "Victory Day." Meanwhile, on the Armenian side, the peace deal led to calls for the Prime Minister's resignation. Marking the one-year anniversary, opposition parties in Armenia demanded the resignation and maintained that the government should restrain itself from making any concessions to Azerbaijan.
Iran: Vietnamese tanker freed; large-scale drill held in Sea of Oman
On 10 November, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said that a Vietnamese oil tanker, Sothys, had been released; the development comes after a confrontation with the US Navy. Iran had seized Sothys in October, claiming that the tanker was attempting to steal Iran's oil as per the US' wish. Prior to this, on 7 November, Iran conducted a sea, land and air military drill in the Sea of Oman where the above-mentioned confrontation had taken place before the commencement of the exercise. Al Jazeera quoted the Iranian commander-in-chief of the army: "Since we are aware that the enemy is trying to gather its required information after our forces mobilised in the area, from today we are reinforcing our efforts to monitor enemy movements that had begun days ago."
Iraq: PM survives assassination attempt; officials to arrest three people from Shiite group
On 8 November, Reuters reported on remarks by Iraqi officials who said that on 7 November, a drone attack targeting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was carried out with the involvement of an Iran-backed militia. The officials believed that the attack indicated the militias' willingness to use violence if they are excluded in the process of forming a government. Meanwhile, the Shafaq News agency reported that Iraqi officials had agreed to arrest three people belonging to a Shiite faction suspected to be involved in the attack.
Yemen: Arab coalition continues airstrikes in Marib
On 9 November, the Arab coalition claimed that it had carried out strikes in the Sirwah and Al-Jawf near Marib, and 110 Houthi rebels were killed at the time. The coalition said that the strikes helped destroy 22 military vehicles and a weapons storage facility. Previously, on 7 November, the coalition claimed that 138 Houthi rebels had been killed in similar strikes on Marib's Juba and Al-Kasarah districts; in these strikes, 17 military vehicles were destroyed.
Ethiopia: UN's Ethiopian staff and WFP drivers detained in Addis Ababa
On 10 November, the UN said that Ethiopian authorities had detained 72 drivers working with the World Food Programme (WFP). Previously, on 9 November, a UN spokesperson said that 16 Ethiopian staff members had been detained in Addis Ababa; another six were detained and released; the spokesperson said no reason for their detention had been specified. Condemning and reacting to the development, the US State Department spokesperson said: "We understand from reports… that those arrested are Tigrayan. Ethiopian government security force harassment and detention on the basis of ethnicity is completely unacceptable."
Democratic Republic of the Congo: 11,000 arrive in Uganda as fighting in North Kivu intensifies
On 9 November, the UNHCR said that at least 11,000 people in the country's east had fled to Uganda due to the flaring up of tensions in North Kivu province. The development comes as fighting continues in Binja, Kinyarugwe and Chanzu villages. Previously, on 8 November, an assistant administrator linked the attacks to the M23 rebel group. On 7 November, the US had issued an alert warning of an attack on Goma, the province's capital.
Niger: 69 including mayor killed in attack by gunmen
On 4 November, the government declared a two-days mourning for the victims of the latest attack by gunmen wherein 69 people, including a mayor, were killed by the former on 2 November. On the said date, gunmen ambushed a delegation that the Banibangou mayor was leading. The area lies in the area which borders Mali and Burkina Faso.
Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
The UK: Over 500 migrants cross the English Channel
On 9 November, the UK's Home Office stated that more than 500 people crossed from France to the UK in 16 small boats. Meanwhile, French authorities also prevented 307 people in eight boats from making the crossing. This brings the total of migrants crossing the channel this year to 21,649, compared to 8,404 in 2020, 2,300 in 2019 and 600 in 2018. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told Parliament that 70 per cent of those who tried to cross by small boat were single men who "are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers." Additionally, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander said: "These journeys are dangerous and facilitated by violent criminal gangs profiting from misery."
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Dodik to move ahead with separatist agenda
On 8 November, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik stated that he would move ahead with plans to withdraw the Serbian-majority entity that makes up part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, from national institutions. During a meeting with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar, Dodik said: "neither I nor anyone called for war as an option at any time," adding, "We agree that stability and peace should be preserved" while pushing aside international concerns such an agenda becoming a trigger for renewed conflict in the ethnically divided Balkan country.
The US: Republican senators call for sanctions on the Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline
On 8 November, a group of US Senate Republicans proposed that they would introduce a legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on Nord Stream 2, which they believe would be harmful to the US allies in the region. The six lawmakers, led by Senator Jim Risch, offered the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorisation Act, or NDAA, a sweeping defence policy bill that the Congress passes every year. Risch said: "Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration continues to ignore Congress' will on Nord Stream 2," adding, "So long as the administration continues to ignore the will of Congress, we will continue to push legislation that protects our allies and interests in Europe, while countering the Kremlin's malign influence projects."
Bolivia: Transport and retail unions go on indefinite strike
On 8 November, the transport and retail unions launched an indefinite strike in protest of a law on a national strategy to combat the legitimization of "illicit profits and terrorist financing" which critics allege is a government tool to cease private property. The opposition also joined the strike, accusing the government of President Luis Arce of using laws and the justice system to centralize power and crackdown on dissent. Clashes broke out between protesters and police in several parts including Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, La Paz, Tarija, Potosi, Oruro and Beni where protestors blocked several roads.
Peru: Protesters block Las Bambas copper transport road again
On 9 November, Protesters in Peru's Cotabambas province blocked a key mining corridor used by the Las Bambas copper mine, despite a preliminary agreement to keep the road free. The President of the Cotabambas Defense Front stated that the protest resumed because there were scheduled talks on 9 November, however, the government and the mine failed to send senior representatives.
Cybersecurity: REvil ransomware hackers arrested; NSO group blacklisted
On 8 November, three hackers who used the REvil ransomware to infect and attempt to extort as many as 5,000 victims have been arrested in Romania in a joint operation led by the United States Justice Department (DOJ) along with Romanian police and Europol. Additionally, the authorities have also retrieved over USD six million in various cryptocurrencies. In another development, the US Department of Commerce stated that the NSO Group and Candiru, another Israeli company, were added to the Entity List "based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers."
About the authors
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD Scholar; Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
D. Suba Chandran
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
D. Suba Chandran
D. Suba Chandran