The World this Week

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The World this Week
Anti-government movement in Pakistan, Emergency in Thailand, and new Israeli settlements in the West Bank

  GP Team

The World This Week # 89, 18 October 2020, Vol 2, No 42

Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Lokendra Sharma and Lakshmi V Menon

Pakistan: PDM sets off with its first anti-government rally in Gujranwala
What happened?
On 16 October, the Opposition parties joined together to kick-start their first rally in Gujranwala under the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) banner, promising to turn the rally into a 'big power show.' The 11-party PDM in what was seen as an impressive show of strength promised to dislodge the "selected and incapable" PTI government in weeks. Hundreds of supporters and workers had gathered at the Jinnah Stadium from different cities in the form of rallies while shouting 'Go Imran Go' as violations of safety protocols were observed.

While addressing the gathering via a video link, Nawaz Sharif accused the Establishment of being behind his ouster as prime minister and for "bringing Imran Khan into power". Further, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) Chief and the PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the Opposition was committed to restoring the sanctity of the people's vote. Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, as she departed for the tweeted, "I embark on this mission as your foot soldier, Nawaz Sharif. I have dedicated myself to your struggle, your mission for Pakistan and its people." Similarly, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari invited every Pakistani to become part of the PDM and end the "joke" that is going on in Pakistan for the last 70 years.

What is the background?
First, the rise and coming together of the Opposition parties. The Opposition in an attempt to challenge the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and its "military backers" took a stand with the creation of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). In September, at the All Parties Conference, a 26-point resolution was adopted in which they vowed to oust, the "selected prime minister" through a mass movement, and called for an end to the Establishment's role in politics. However, this is not the first time that Opposition parties launch anti-government protests. In 2019, the heads of both the PPP and PML-N had attempted to bring the Opposition together on a common anti-government agenda.

Second, the PTI government's response to the PDM. Prime Minister Imran Khan has termed the PDM as an "alliance of jobless politicians," stating that the government would allow for their peaceful procession. However, he has also warned that the law would take its course if anyone was to break it. Further, he has also said that the Opposition wants to create a rift between the government and armed forces, and said that Nawaz is playing a risky game by criticizing the army.

What does it mean?
The creation of the PDM reflects the Opposition's success in coming together. This, in turn, has allowed them to have leverage given its composition of both mainstreams as well as smaller provincial and religious parties. Further, the other major difference between the PDM and any other alliance is the anti-establishment agenda which clearly reflects a marked shift in the Opposition's stance, with the focus now on the Establishment, whom they see as the real power behind the PTI government. 

However, the success of the PDM will depend on how it establishes itself as a movement moving from political sloganeering and rhetoric to implementing the objectives of the alliance.
The PTI government has kept a brave face thus far; however, this is just the beginning. It is yet to be seen if the government's confidence will decline as the rally closes in. On the other hand, what the payoff for the Pakistani people remains vague at this point.

Thailand: Emergency declared in Bangkok as protests intensify
What happened?
On 16 October, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha chaired an urgently convened meeting of the cabinet and formally approved the state of emergency in Bangkok which was declared a day earlier. The emergency would be in place for a month and comes in the wake of intensifying pro-democracy street protests. The PM also rejected calls to step down and warned about imposing night curfews.

According to the emergency rules, any gathering of five or more people is prohibited; media organizations cannot publish anything that harms the public order and national security; and one could be detained up to 30 days without being charged. 

Despite the imposition of emergency, protestors have come out in large numbers in the streets of Bangkok, defying the prohibitory orders. Even as many prominent leaders have been arrested, protestors have vowed to continue with their struggle for democracy. 

What is the background?
First, the immediate trigger for the protests. After a long conspicuous absence, Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn returned from Germany to observe his late father's death anniversary. On October 13, the royal motorcade was obstructed by the protestors who shouted slogans and raised their three-finger salute. This expression of direct dissent towards the monarchy is quite unprecedented in a country where the monarchy is revered. This incident was cited by the government for declaration of emergency. 

Second, the recent history of protests, starting from February 2020. It all started in February when the pro-democracy Future Forward Party (FFP) was declared illegal by a Thai constitutional court. Third largest in terms of parliamentary seat share, FFP was popular among the young people. Protests that followed disbandment of FFP soon met an end because of the spreading pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. In June, a prominent pro-democracy activist went missing; protestors allege that the State had a role in it. This led to the resumption of the protests and has now continued for more than three months. 

Third, the expanding list of demands by the protestors. In its earlier iteration in February, the immediate concern of the protestors was FFPs dissolution. In its recent iteration, the protestors have expanded their demands. Some key demands include the stepping down of the Prime Minister Prayut (a former army general who came to power after 2014 coup); limiting the power of the monarchy and bringing it within constitutional limits; a new constitution replacing the existing one drafted by the military; and to reduce the role of the military in politics and check its power. 

Fourth, the demography and the geography of the protests. Although protests have happened across Thailand, the epicentre has been Bangkok. In terms of participation, there has been a cross-section of Thai society; but is led by the youth, mostly students. This cross-sectional participation has also contributed to the expansion of demands. For example, women, who have come out in large numbers, have brought the issues of patriarchy and gender inequality to the fore. 

What does this mean?
The protests are treading on a dangerous path. There have been instances of violence by the state and military in the past. So far, notwithstanding the arrests and detention of prominent protest leaders, the administration and the police have been accommodative and allowed an element of dissent. However, with the protests intensifying, the administration has calibrated its response by declaring a state of emergency. 

If the protesters continue to defy prohibitory orders, or if the scale of protests assumes unmanageable proportions, the State might employ police or the military to disperse them using violent means. It would change the nature of protests and also the State response.

Israel: The State resumes new settlements in West Bank, as a US delegation visits Israel, Bahrain and UAE
What happened?
On 14 October, ending an eight-month settlement expansion lull, the Israeli government approved 2,166 new settler homes across the occupied West Bank. The approvals come before the visit by a US delegation of top officials to Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in support of the recently concluded US-brokered normalization deals between the three countries – the Abraham Accords. The delegation aims "to support expanded economic cooperation" amongst the signatories. 

Meanwhile, the global watchdog group Peace Now says that Israel has already approved over 12,000 illegal settlement houses in 2020.

What is the background?
First, Israel signed the Abraham accords with UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations less than a month ago. Israel had pledged to freeze its annexation plans in exchange of normalization. Moreover, responding to Muslim and Arab criticism, UAE had justified the normalization as being in exchange for the permanent freezing of Israeli annexation.

Second, the accords are a part of US President Donald Trump's larger initiative for Middle East peace. The uptick in settlement ruins the possibility of a larger Arab-Israeli peace by making normalization difficult for other Arab states like Oman.

Third, settlements are considered illegal under international law and globally they are seen as a hurdle for a two-state solution. It signals Israel's dismissal of Palestinian statehood.

What does it mean?
Before drawing inferences, two things must be considered:
First, in January 2020, a controversial plan unveiled by Netanyahu gave the US blessing to Israeli annexation of swathes of the West Bank, including the illegal settlements. Second, in August 2020, Trump's adviser  Jared Kushner said that the US would not approve Israeli annexation for "some time".  Thus, the US is on board with Israel's resumption of West Bank annexation. While blunt reactions can be expected from the US, UAE and Bahrain, the Palestinian cause has lost its power over the Arab world. Furthermore, the politics of the Arab world is transforming from the strife for Palestinian statehood to the containment of Iran. Arab unity has crumbled.

Also in the news…
by Harini Madhusudan, Rashmi Ramesh, and Sukanya Bali 

East Asia and Southeast Asia This Week
New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern wins second term
On 17 October, Jacinda Arden won the elections in New Zealand in what is seen as the biggest victory for the centre-left Labour Party in half a century by securing the highest votes in the general elections. The Labor party won 64 of the 120 seats with 49 per cent of the total votes. The opposition party secured  27 per cent votes. The mandate ensures that Arden can form a single-party government, a first in decades since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system. The major attribute to her victory is the management of the Covid situation in New Zealand, and her swift action to ban guns after the shooting in 2019.

China: Trade relations with Australia decline further
On 12 October, the Chinese government indicated to its state-owned power stations, steel mills, and ports, to suspend the import of Australian coal, a move that could impact the Australian economy by $15 billion annually. On 16 October, China further announced a ban on cotton imports from Australia. The move has led Australia to call for immediate negotiations with China. Australia-China relations have steadily worsened over the past 18 months, with trade disputes impacting multiple industries, especially the barley, wine, wheat, and beef industries. 

The Philippines: Duterte Govt lifts moratorium on energy exploration in South China sea
On 15 October, President Rodrigo Duterte announced removing the ban on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea. The ban was put six years ago by Duterte's predecessor due to the then rising territorial tensions between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea. The removal of the ban could lead to the Philippines and China, potentially creating a joint venture to explore for resources.  In late 2019, the Chinese and Philippine foreign ministers had sealed an agreement to pursue joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.   

Myanmar: India to deliver its first Submarine 
On 15 October, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that India would deliver INS Sindhuvir, a Kilo-class submarine to Myanmar Navy. It is seen as a positive step following India's vision of SAGAR and a commitment to building capacities and self-reliance among neighbouring countries. An official from the MEA stated that cooperation in the maritime domain is part of India's strategy for enhanced relations with Myanmar.

Malaysia: King's statement on political maturity amid uncertainty about the Prime Minister
On 16 October, at the Parliament house welcoming ceremony, Malaysia's King Al-Sultan Abdullah asked the politicians not to drag the country towards political uncertainty. He also urged them to resolve the issue through constitutional means or negotiations. Seven months after forming the government, the country observes a power struggle over premiership between Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. The King's advice to "display maturity," comes amid the uncertainties of the leadership and the impact of the pandemic on Malaysia's economy.  

South Asia This Week
India and China: Seventh round of military talks
On 12 October, India and China held the seventh round of Corps Commander level meeting at Chushul on the Indian side of the LAC. Similar to the sixth round of the talks, representatives from the military and foreign ministry from both sides were present, yet failed to reach a disengagement agreement. The joint press statement did not clearly state a timeline for a possible disengagement.
China has once again blamed India for the standoff at the LAC. The infrastructural development along the LAC and the abrogation of Article 370 have been the major irritants in this regard. The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that Beijing does not recognize the creation of Union Territory of Ladakh, as it includes Aksai Chin. India, on the other hand, has opposed China's unilateral actions in changing the status quo in Eastern Ladakh.

World Hunger Report 2020: South Asia's ranking
World Hunger Report 2020 ranks 94 of the 107 countries rated in the index. It fares worst in child wasting and child stunting, two of the four parameters that are considered while determining the rankings. 
India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have scored 27.2, 16.3, 19.5, 20.4, 24.6 and 30.3 respectively. In South Asia, Sri Lanka and Nepal are the only two countries in the "moderate" category, while others are in the "serious" category. This report does not include the impact of the pandemic, which if calculated for the next index, will reflect the worsened condition in terms of hunger and poverty.

Sri Lanka: In talks with China for a loan of $500 million
On 11 October, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka announced that Colombo is negotiating with a financial institution in China for a loan amounting to $500 million. This is an addition to China's $90 million grant that was announced during the visit of a high-profile delegation to Sri Lanka.
In a situation where Colombo is struggling to repay the outstanding debt to Beijing, and the narratives of debt trap are well cemented in the bilateral relations, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa played down the "risks" associated with Chinese investments. He also sought further help from China in bringing Sri Lanka on the path of development while it recovers from the pandemic.

Bangladesh: Visit of the US Deputy Secretary of State
The US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun visited Bangladesh from 14-16 October. Enhancing bilateral relations and involving Bangladesh in the larger Indo-Pacific framework was the main purpose of the visit. During the joint press briefing along with foreign minister Abdul Momen, Beigun said that Bangladesh's economic progress, geopolitical location and stability has created a favourable impression in the US, and has emerged as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Central Asia, West Asia, and Africa This Week 
Kyrgyzstan: Amid Disputed Elections, Kyrgyzstan President announces resignation 
On 15 October, following days of protests in Kyrgyzstan, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov announced his resignation saying he intends to bring an end to the crisis which has been sparked by the disputed parliamentary. The resignation comes a week after the Opposition groups seized government buildings in response to protests against the parliamentary elections and annulled the results of the elections that were held on October 4. The protesters have also forced the mass resignations of the Prime Minister, the cabinet and several Governors and Mayors. 

Nagorno Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan announce a fresh ceasefire, but faces a problem hours later
On 17 October, a week after the Russia- brokered truce fell apart soon as it was brokered, Armenia and Azerbaijan announced a new agreement to establish ceasefire and abide by the Moscow deal. The announcement came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s calls with his counterparts in both countries and no new violations were announced after the ceasefire took effect at midnight. Earlier, on 16 October, Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged in clashes that claimed the lives of 13 civilians and injured over 40 people with Azerbaijan claiming that the Armenian side had launched an early-hours ballistic missile attack on its second-biggest city, Ganja, injuring civilians in their sleep. However, the Armenian defence ministry had been denying these claims

US - Saudi Arabia strategic dialogue 
On 14 October, the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, participated in a “strategic dialogue," with an aim to strengthen their ties. The meeting concluded with an understanding on the need to address “destabilizing behaviour” of Iran. Pompeo invited Saudi Arabia to join the “changing dynamic” in the region by recognising Israel; following the other Arab Gulf states and also observed that frequent attacks by the Houthis on Saudi territory was an indicator of Iran's involvement. Prince Faisal raised concerns over the SAFER oil tanker on the Red Sea, which the Houthis blocked partially.

Additionally, the United States has invested $1 billion on diplomatic construction in the kingdom, with its plans to  build a new Embassy in Riyadh and the missions in Jeddah and Dhahran.

Europe and the Americas This Week
France: Killing of a school teacher in Paris 
On 16 October, a teacher at a secondary school was murdered for showing the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. The attacker is said to have inflicted multiple wounds with a knife and then beheaded him after which he posted photos of the victim to a Twitter account, along with insults to Mr Macron and French "infidels" and "dogs." The attacker later fired at the police with an airgun before being shot dead. President Emmanuel Macron has stated that the attack bore all the hallmarks of an "Islamist terrorist attack" and the teacher had been murdered because he "taught freedom of expression".

Europe: The Second-wave and a new lockdown 
As winter approaches, there are heightened fears of the pandemic bringing another public health emergency closer to Europe. The UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic have all unveiled new virus-related restrictions this week. In Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, infections hit record daily highs on 15 October, and France has imposed evening curfews in its biggest cities. Countries across Europe are seeing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases after successfully slowing outbreaks early in the year, and the vast majority of countries are declaring more cases each day now than they were during the first wave.

UK: Johnson asks to prepare for no-deal Brexit 
On 16 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that it was now time to prepare for a no-trade-deal-Brexit unless the European Union fundamentally changed course. At a "Brexit Summit," the EU had delivered an ultimatum for 15 October saying it was concerned by a lack of progress and called on London to yield on key sticking points to avoid breaking of ties with the bloc after 1 January 2021. Major disagreements over fishing rights and state help for businesses are said to remain in between them. The EU leaders, however, stated that the negotiations would continue and the EU negotiators would go to London to intensify the discussions. 

Mexico: A water dispute with the US over Colorado and the Rio Grande rivers
On 13 October, the tensions between the US and Mexico over water sharing led to a cross-border fight between the two countries, where farmers who armed themselves with sticks, rocks and homemade shields, ambushed hundreds of soldiers guarding a dam and seized control of the dam. Water rights between them are governed by the decades-old treaty that compels the two countries to share the flows of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers. Since Mexico has fallen far behind on its obligations to the United States, it was seen fulfilling its deadline to deliver the water. Rising temperatures and droughts in the region have made the shared rivers more valuable raising the stakes for both the nations.

About the authors

Sukanya Bali, Lakshmi V Menon, and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associate, Research Consultant, and Research Assistant respectively, and Lokendra Sharma, Rashmi Ramesh, and Harini Madhusudan are PhD Scholars with the School of Conflict and Security Studies, at NIAS. 

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