Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
Unrest and crackdown in Kazakhstan, Another jail term for Aung San Suu Kyi, Two years after Qasem Soleimani, and Canada's reconciliation with the indigenous people

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #106, 12 January 2021, Vol.2, No.42
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Vibha Venugopal, Ankit Singh and Sarasi Ganguly

Kazakhstan: Bloody unrest and a brutal crackdown
In the news
On 2 January, protests broke out in the western town of Zhanaozen after a sudden spike in fuel prices when the government lifted price caps for LPG. Protests spread to other parts of the country, including Almaty and quickly turned violent, resulting in the death of over 160 people and over 1000 injured. On 4 January, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev restored the price cap on fuel; however, protests continued. Demonstrators pulled down a statue of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, burning buildings and vehicles.

On 5 January, Tokayev declared a state of emergency, issued a "shoot-to-kill" order terming the protesters as "bandits and terrorists." He also called for Russian assistance to curb unrest. The following day, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) deployed over 2500 troops. Additionally, Tokayev dismissed the prime minister and his cabinet, first deputy head of the national security service and announced that he would replace Nazarbayev as the country's Security Council leader.

On 10 January, Tokayev declared that order was restored in Kazakhstan and that they weathered an attempted coup d'etat. He stated: "Under the guise of spontaneous protests, a wave of unrest broke out … It became clear that the main goal was to undermine the constitutional order and to seize power. We are talking about an attempted coup d'etat."

On 11 January, he announced that the CSTO would start withdrawing its troops, stating: "In two days a phased withdrawal of the CSTO united peacekeeping contingent will begin. The withdrawal process of the contingent will take no more than 10 days."
Issues at large
First, the causes and the immediate trigger for the protests. While fuel prices may have been the trigger for the outbreak of the protests, the deeper resentment of the people due to the increasing income inequality, corruption, and the lack of democracy are factors that are fuelling the protests. Although Kazakhstan had seen substantial economic growth because of exports of fossil fuels, its wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few, causing resentments among the masses.

Second, recurring protests in Kazakhstan. Over the last decade, Kazakhstan has witnessed sporadic protests. In 2011, people took to the streets protesting supporting oil workers, who were dismissed after a strike. In 2014, over a currency devaluation. In 2016, over the passage of controversial land law. In 2019, over the contentious election caused Nazarbayev to step down.

Third, the State response. The brutal clampdown against the demonstrators shows that dissent in any form will not be tolerated in the country. Additionally, it also reflects the challenges of Tokayev, who, less than three years into his rule, has still not managed to gain the support of the mass to whom he has promised several reforms.

Fourth, Russia's intervention. Given that Kazakhstan shares a vast border with Russia and is an ex-Soviet country, it becomes a significant territory for Moscow's influence. Thus, the intervention which seemed superficial is only a means to make a statement that Moscow is ready to send its support in any means to defend its interests.

In perspective
First, the magnitude of the protests. Though protests are not a frequent phenomenon because they are always met with clampdown, the 2022 demonstrations are unlike that of the past because of the magnitude and pace at which it took place. Second, Tokayev's game plan. What is clear from Tokayev's actions is that he is trying to secure his position against the 'old man' Nazarbayev. With Nazarbayev largely out of the picture, Tokayev now has the space to establish his position. Whether he goes the 'old man' way or chooses another path remains to be seen.

Myanmar: Another trial, and another jail term for Aung San Suu Kyi
In the news
On 10 January, Myanmar's ousted leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years in jail for possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies and breaking coronavirus rules by a court in Myanmar. This is an additional charge levied over a series of previously laid down offences. On the same day, in a statement to the AFP news agency, the Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun confirmed the verdicts and sentences, informing that Suu Kyi would remain in house arrest while the proceedings of the other cases are on. The White House spokesperson Ned Price called the convictions "an affront to justice and the rule of law" and it demanded the release of Suu Kyi and other political detainees.
Issues at large
First, the cases against Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Since the coup in February 2021, she has been sentenced with a two-year sentence for breaching the export-import law by importing and owning walkie-talkies and one year for having a set of signal jammers. Both sentences will run concurrently. The court also further issued a two-year sentence for breaching the natural disaster management law related to coronavirus rules while campaigning. The conviction was built on an earlier ruling from December 2021, when Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years. 

Second, the regime's end game vis-a-vis Aung Sang and the National League for Democracy (NLD). Since the coup, many of her political allies have been arrested and jailed on charges of alleged electoral fraud during the 2020 polls. This detention and targeting describe how the junta has been trying to grip its hold over the country, signalling the end of 10 years of tentative political reforms followed by decades of strict military rule.

Third, the failure of regional and international responses. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: "The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically motivated." ASEAN has also sorted to use its influence in the crisis now, but with Hun Sen's visit, the Cambodian chair to the regional bloc has drawn criticisms. Unfortunately, these responses seem to be the same old that have not impacted Myanmar like the earlier cases.

In perspective
The regime continues to grow stronger by ignoring the international responses and continuing its vendetta against Suu Kyi, which involves viewing more cases and increased jail terms for her and her party members. Irrespective of the regime being called out to engage in constructive dialogue and serve the people's aspirations, this violent process seems to continue owing as a hindrance to the restoration of democracy in the near future of Myanmar.

Iran: Two years after Qasem Soleimani
In the news
On 3 January, Iran marked the second anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani with parades and mourning. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in his speech on the anniversary of assassination said: "The aggressor, murderer and main culprit - the then president of the United States - must be tried and judged under the (Islamic) law of retribution, and God's ruling must be carried out against him." 

On the same day, in Iraq, two armed drones were shot down near an Iraqi military base hosting US force near Baghdad's international airport. The wings of downed drones had written on them "Leader's revenge" and "Soleimani's revenge." On the same day Jerusalem Post, the leading daily of Israel also suffered a defacing attack on its website, there was a picture live on the site referring to Dimona nuclear facility and it said: "We are close to you where you do not think about it."

Issues at large
First, the Soleimani legacy. Iranian General Soleimani was an interlocutor and acted as an umbrella for all its allies; being a charismatic commander, he became an accepted and respected figure in the politics of counterbalancing US's proxies in the middle-east. His legacy will be hard to revive, denting the Iranian hegemony.

Second, the targetted killings. The US and its allies have been targeting Iranian scientists and military generals for more than a decade; the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani was part of the pattern. The killings are mainly intended to destabilize and distort the actions of Iran.

Third, Iran's response. The use of drones and cyber-attacks is a developing spectrum of hybrid war, as was seen in the Georgia-Azerbaijan conflict recently. Drones do not carry a human, enhancing the threshold of damage done as there can be no capturing of citizen subjects. Therefore, drones have enlarged the threshold of an all-out war, yet the damage done can be more lethal.

In perspective
What has changed in the Middle East since his assassination? The nuclear talks are back on the table, yet the Iranian proxies continue unabated secretly. For the US, the priorities have shifted to the Indo-Pacific, and it has left the Gulf in a wounded state, and the possibility of more conflicts has increased. The Persian Gulf has become the theatre of heightened military tensions and a new row in the maritime domain. The mourning celebration as part of the anniversary is an effort by Iran to consolidate the support from its allies and obtain internal legitimacy for their policies towards the US.

Canada: Compensation and reconciliation with the indigenous communities
In the news
On 4 January, the Canadian government announced a settlement of USD 31.5 billion as compensation to the indigenous communities. Referred to as a landmark settlement, it was finalized at the end of multiple lawsuits filed by the First Nations activists and groups against the Canadian government. The case was brought to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007 by the country's largest Indigenous group, "Assembly of First Nations." Indigenous leaders and advocates have welcomed the settlement. Saskatchewan First Nations social worker Raymond Shingoose stated: "I'm optimistic, but I've got apprehensions."
Issues at Large
First, a brief hisory of the issue. The Indian Residential Schools were a major tool in the assimilation attempts of the colonial rulers who settled in the different provinces of Canada. Between the mid-1800s to 1900s, children from indigenous communities were forcibly taken away and separated from their families to live in boarding schools. If there was any resistance from the families, they were often punished with prison time and threats of losing their other children. The First Nations Children, Inuits and Métis were the main groups who had suffered the tragic fate of residential schools and their attempt to "westernize" their society. In 2021, researchers found 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. This was followed by a discovery of 751 graves in June at the cemetery of the Marieval Indian Residential School in the Saskatchewan province. Records of various eyewitness accounts were followed by using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), which tracked down graves of children aged seven to fifteen. The graves of children are evidence of the mismanagement of those schools where children were subject to diseases, starvation and physical and mental abuse.

Second, the idea and strategies of "assimilation." Students were not allowed to speak in their native tongue. They wore western uniforms and were trained to lead a 'better' life. Today, the survivors recall their experiences as a "cultural genocide," saying there was a deliberate attempt to cut them off from their roots. 

Third, the measures by the Canadian state to address the mistakes of the past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was launched in 2008, as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The aim of this commission was to act as the buffer organization between the state and all indigenous communities who were directly and indirectly affected by the residential school system. TRC spent six years all across Canada to record stories of more than 6,500 witnesses. This was combined with official records to present a final report for the reconciliation process of all communities in the country.
In perspective
First, the allocation of the settlement amount has made the childcare system of indigenous children its top priority. Equal amounts (USD 15.75 billion) are set to be spent in improving the child and family welfare of indigenous children in foster care, which assures equality in a faulty system that had been called inherently discriminatory.

Second, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is an indication of the state accepting blame for the tragic history and their willingness to right the wrong, even if it is late. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted Canada's role in the past and vowed to rebuild Canada's relationship with all the people who suffered and honor their legacy for generations to come.

Also from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sejal Sharma and Sruthi Sadhasivam 
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
Taiwan: Nine Chinese military aircraft intrude into defense zone
On 10 January, Chinese military aircraft and intelligence planes entered Taiwan's defense zone. Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported that four Shenyang J-16 fighter jets, one Shaanxi Y-8 electronic intelligence plane, and four Shenyang J-16 fighter planes flew towards the southwest region of the Taiwan air defense zone. Taiwan retaliated by issuing radio warnings and deploying the air defense missile systems to monitor the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) planes. Taiwan has been vocal about China's grey warfare tactics and airspace violations and has increased its defense capabilities in recent years.
China: Support to Tokayev amidst Kazakhstan protests
On 10 January, in a telephonic conversation, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi expressed firm support to its Kazakhstani counterparts to end violence and maintain stability in the country. According to Yi: "After the storm comes the rainbow. We are convinced that under the strong leadership of President Tokayev, peace and stability will be fully restored and Kazakhstan will emerge even more resilient and stronger from this dark hour." The Chinese President, Xi Jinping expressed his strong opposition to external forces threatening to sabotage the national security of Kazakhstan. 
China: 14th Corps commander level meeting with India to be held
On 11 January, China's Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Wang Wenbin declared that India and China would hold their 14th round of senior highest military commander-level talks in the Chushul-Moldo meeting point on the Chinese side. Given that the 13 corps commander-level talks reached a stalemate, the upcoming talks are expected to resolve the issue of disengagement in the hot springs area. The frictions between the two sides have been increasing due to both sides' construction of bridges and roads in the contentious zone.
North Korea: Two missile tests in a week sparks nuclear deliberation 
On 11 January, North Korea appeared to fire a ballistic missile into its eastern sea, making it the second launch this week. This comes amid stalled talks with the US and South Korea, in addition to the UNSC sanctions banning North Korea from all ballistic missile and nuclear tests. Leader Kim Jong UN's plan to advance the state's nuclear arsenal has created security concerns in Japan and South Korea. The North claimed the first launch to be a successful test of a hypersonic missile, however, South Korea at the time downplayed it claiming that the North is far away from possessing credible hypersonic systems. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff assessed that the second missile could be more advanced than the previous one, and that this act is North's counter to South Korea's initial statements.
South Korea and Japan: Seoul and Tokyo condemn North Korea for repeated missile tests
On 11 January, South Korea and Japan detected the launch of a second ballistic missile test by North Korea that landed in its eastern sea. South Korea is in talks with the United States to assess the missile tests and has agreed to put in effort towards peace processes with the North. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pointed out that the United Nations had just finished discussions over the first missile test, which was carried out earlier this week. He said: "It is extremely regrettable that North Korea has continued to fire."
Indonesia: Deliberation on sexual harassment bill to resume 
On 11 January, President Widodo publicly urged the Parliament to resume deliberation over "an anti-sexual violence" bill. The formalization of the bill into a draft law began in 2016, but was not taken up due to strong religious opposition. The Bill, if passed, would be a landmark move in making Indonesia the first Muslim-majority nation to have adequate laws to address sexual violence. Religious groups and Islamist parties have shown strong resistance to this Bill, claiming that it would encourage extra-marital affairs disregarding the country's rising cases of sexual violence. In addition, the Bill would reduce the current requirement of producing three pieces of evidence to one to facilitate immediate action. However, to appease conservative lawmakers changes have been made- one of them being the omission of an article that required consent from parties involved in the sexual act.
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
Srilanka: Court releases 13 Indian fishermen
On 5 January, the Sri Lankan court in the Northern Mannar district released 13 Indian fishermen accused of illegal fishing. In December 2021, 68 fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy, and ten merchandise boats were also seized. In the wake of the release, the Indian consulate in Jaffna presented sweets to the freed Tamil Nadu fishermen. Diplomatic initiatives are undertaken to release the remaining fishermen. The Palk strait issue is an area of contention where Indian fishermen are angered due to unwarranted arrest by the Sri Lankan Navy and Sri Lankan fishermen are angered due to the use of unsustainable bottom trawling methods from the Indian side.
Bangladesh: Fire erupts in Rohingya refugee camp, destroying several shelters
On 9 January, a fire broke out in Rohingya refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, rendering thousands of refugees homeless. The Armed Police Battalion spokesperson claimed that fire swept across Cox Bazar, and 1200 shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin got destroyed. The fire was brought under control within two hours, but the cause for the blaze is yet to be established. Previously, on 2 January, it was reported that a fire raced through a COVID-19 treatment centre for refugees in the region. This indicates that refugees continue to suffer due to a lack of secure living conditions and poor infrastructure.
Pakistan: Six suspected IS fighters killed in Quetta
On 9 January, the counterterrorism department (CTD) issued a statement regarding its recent intelligence-based operation conducted in the Quetta district. During the operation, six suspected terrorists of the  Islamic State (IS) were killed. According to the spokesperson on CTD: "They were moving to attack a sensitive installation in Quetta. On receiving the information, a CTD team reached the place and intercepted the terrorists."
Afghanistan: Three Daesh fighters killed 
On 9 January, three Daesh fighters and two others were killed. According to a member of the Islamic Emirate forces Zahid: "They hid in a very complex place and there was no way for us to enter so we were forced to use rockets and grenades." The Islamic Emirate officials and force members have said that the attack was launched where the Daesh members were located. 

Afghanistan: Protests against the Taliban; the UN announces a plan for humanitarian relief
On 10 January, the Tolo news reported that women and activists have been protesting against the restrictions since the Taliban took over. Recently the way of protesting has shifted from protesting in the streets to writing their demands on the walls of Kabul in the night. According to a woman activist Navida Khurasani: “Today’s women are not the women of 20 years ago. Our new protest methods will expand in all the provinces, and we will use any possible means to raise our voice.” 
On 11 January, the United Nations and partner non-government organizations (NGOs) have announced the launch of joint response plan to provide humanitarian relief to 22 million people in Afghanistan which includes the displaced and the local communities.
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Yemen: Iran importing weapons to Yemen, says UN report
On 9 January, a confidential UN report on Yemen was cited by the Wall Street Journal, claiming that weapons seized in the Arabian Sea were likely smuggled from one Iran port into Yemen. The arms seized by the US Navy indicated a common pattern of supply, possibly from government stocks thus, hinting towards Iran as the supplier. Iran has long been accused of supplying arms to the Houthis by the US and Saudi Arabia, however, it actively denies the charges. There was no immediate response from the Iranian authorities although a Houthi official in Yemen denied the claims.
Yemen: Government forces recapture Shabwa from Houthis
On 10 January, Yemen's Giant Brigade claimed full control over the Shabwa province after ten days of fighting. The Shabwa province, along with Marib was part of a seven-year conflict between Yemen and Houthi forces. The conflict appears to be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and had intensified starting earlier this year as the Saudi-led coalition of the Giant Brigade sent reinforcements to Shabwa following the loss of Marib to Iran-led Houthis.

Israel: Prime Minister Bennett terms Iran as its most significant enemy
On 10 January, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Benett gave his first appearance to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, since his election as the government head. In his public address, Bennett remarked: "In regard to the nuclear talks in Vienna, we are definitely concerned…Israel is not party to the agreements. Israel is not bound by what will be written in the agreement, if they are signed and will continue to maintain full freedom of action anywhere, anytime, with no constraints." His comments addressing Iran as its most significant enemy come in the light of a potential military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, amidst the Vienna talks. The defense budget has been increased to nearly NIS 60 billion (USD 19.2 billion), which appears to be Israel's biggest security rearmament to deal with Iran.
Ethiopia:  Air raid kills displaced civilians
On 8 January, an air attack was launched against Internally Displaced People (IDP) across the Dedebit town in the northwestern Tigray region killing 56 of them. Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). spokesperson, Getachew Reda, described it as another callous drone attack by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's armed forces on the IDP. The ruling government released political opponents including leading members of the TPLF in a bid to hold talks for reconciliation. The United States had rebuked the air attack and called for an end to the conflict. Further, President Biden raised concern over the detentions amidst a state of emergency in Ethiopia.
Sudan: The UN to initiate a political process to end Sudan conflict
On 8 January, the United Nations has decided to launch a political process on 15 January by extending an invite to Sudanese military officials, political parties, armed military movements, civil society, and resistance committees to end the ensuing post-coup crisis. The UN efforts to keep the Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, in power failed with the latter's resignation. The no negotiation doctrine of the pro-democracy protesters' and their brutal crackdown by security forces has aggravated the political turmoil in Sudan.
Nigeria: Armed bandits attack Zamfara
On 9 January, armed bandits struck the northwestern Nigerian state, Zamfara killing hundreds of civilians. The President, Muhammadu Buhari claimed that the armed forces had acquired equipment to counter the bandits who have subjected the people to a reign of terror. The gunmen in motorcycles raced through villages situated in the Anka and Bukkuyum districts killing innocent civilians, burning and looting their houses. The military forces have killed 537 armed bandits and have rescued 452 civilians. Nigeria has designated these criminal groups as terrorists under its terrorist prevention act imposing stringent sanctions on those who engage and support terrorist activities in the region.
Mali: ECOWAS to close borders and cut diplomatic relations
On 9 January, in response to the delay in holding elections after a military coup in 2020, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-state regional bloc, will close their borders with Mali. Apart from this, it will also cut down the diplomatic relations and impose severe economic sanctions to iron its stance on Mali. The Malian government has been surprised by the decision, but the bloc is taking a stronger stance to protect democracy. 
Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Poland: Medical relief teams fail to meet refugees
On 7 January, Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian group's medical relief workers, left Poland as they were prohibited from reaching out to the vulnerable migrants and refugees. Poland's Interior ministry imposed a state of emergency that denies the entry of all the non-residents, including journalists and non-governmental aid workers to the problematic border region. The Polish government has raised a barbed fence across the border, and migrants are constantly abused by the border police. The Polish forces have been forcefully sending back migrants to Belarus, and the latter has been pressurizing the EU to take in the migrants
Nicaragua: Sanctions tightened following the re-election of Daniel Ortega
On 11 January, the US and EU tightened sanctions over Nicaragua, in condemnation of the unfair re-election of the authoritarian Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo as the Vice-President. Ortega is accused of human rights violations and electoral fraud, with several high-ranking officials in the state, police force and electoral body accused of supporting his interests. With the international community reprimanding Ortega and issuing sanctions over his draconian politics- Managua has initiated joining hands with China and Russia.

About the authors
Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Project Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Vibha Venugopal is a Post Graduate Scholar at Christ University. Ankit Singh is a PhD Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Sarasi Ganguly and Sejal Sharma are postgraduate scholars at  Pondicherry University. Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Assistant at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.  Sruthi Sadhasivam is a Post Graduate Scholar at Christ University.

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