Afghanistan: Election Commission announces Ashraf Ghani as the winner; Abdullah Abdullah disagrees
In the news
On 19 February 2020, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) declared the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani as the winner of the September 2019 election. According to the results, Ghani had secured 50.64 per cent of votes, defeating Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who garnered 39.52 per cent of votes.
The victorious Ghani stressed the significance of peace talks with Taliban, inviting them to contest in the elections; spoke of the need for a united Afghanistan; and congratulated Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an infamous commander who won 3.8 per cent votes.
However, Abdullah Abdullah, at a news conference in Kabul, challenging the results, has announced to form a parallel government that is “inclusive”. Taliban has also rejected Ghani’s win citing fraud.
Issues at large
Results of Afghanistan’s Presidential elections were announced five months after a vote amid low turnout owing to security concerns and apprehensions regarding electoral fraud. The results which were scheduled to be announced on 19 October 2019, were delayed continuously owing to protests from electoral candidates, electoral fraud allegations and technical issues cited by the Elections Commission. In December 2019, the “preliminary results” declared Ghani, the winner by a slim margin. Abdullah rejected the results citing fraud; Ghani scorned the allegations.
In 2014, Ghani and Abdullah shared power in the US-backed “unity government”; rigging of votes, corruption, stuffing of ballots were the primary complaints of the previous elections.
Afghanistan has an estimated 35 million population of which a small fraction, 9.6 million, are registered voters. Amidst Taliban threats and purging of over a million of the 2.7 million voters owing to electoral fraud allegations and discrepancies, a mere 1.8 million votes tallied in the September 2019 presidential elections.
The Afghan election held in 2019 was expected to add political stability. Though the polling was less, due to violence, there was an expectation that the democratic process would continue to expand and act as a bulwark against any Taliban expansion and influence.
With Abdullah Abdullah rejecting the election results, the above may not be the case.
The big question now is: will the September 2019 election and its results in February 2020 address or upset the Afghan hope in the electoral processes?
The results were declared in the wake of US-Taliban talks paving the way for a seven-day “Reduction in violence” campaign. The US-led NATO forces have been fighting armed factions and rebel groups since the toppling of the Taliban in 2001. The US demands regarding ceasefire have been debated and deliberated as an overture to a final peace deal with certain reservations.
Taliban has also rejected of Ghani’s victory; this may also delay the withdrawal of the US troops.
Afghanistan: The US-Taliban Seven Day Deal
In the news
During 14-16 February, in the sidelines of Munich Security Conference, the US had announced a tentative peace deal with Taliban leading to the “reduction of violence” for seven days at the end of this month. There have been statements from the Taliban leaders as well about the same.
Issues at large
The US and Taliban have been engaged in a dialogue over the last few years with mixed results. During 2019, both were at the brink of a similar deal but fizzled at the last minute. Trump blamed the Taliban for the death of an American, several Afghans and a NATO soldier leading, and abruptly stopped the dialogue process.
Despite the dialogue between the two, the Taliban never stopped from conducting operations and targeting the American and Afghan troops. 2018-19 was one of the most violent phases inside Afghanistan since 2001.
After several failed attempts of negotiations between both sides, this prospective “Reduction of violence” deal is expected to witness the withdrawal of the NATO forces from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban abstaining from launching attacks. It is also expected that the deal would lead to promoting negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
This deal is a good move in the establishing peace in Afghanistan, but the deal’s aftermath of satisfying both the government and the Taliban’s interest remains uncertain and ambiguous.
Nevertheless, will this lead to peace within Afghanistan? With a big difference between Abdullah and Ghani over the election results, there is already a political instability in Kabul. The US will now have to negotiate between the above two as well. Facing the elections, how much patience would Trump have?
Pakistan: Suicide terrorism returns to haunt Quetta
In the news
On 17 February 2020, a suicide attack took place near the Quetta press club where a religious party was holding a rally. Eight people, including three from the security forces killed and over 20 injured. The suicide attacker attempted to break through the police barrier and enter the rally but blew himself up while being stopped by the security personnel.
Ironically, the attack took place the same day when the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who is in Pakistan on a three-day visit, commented on Pakistan’s improved security situation.
The target of the suicide attack was the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a political party with links to a sectarian armed group. The rally was held outside the press club to mark the death anniversary of Hazrat Abu Bakr. No one has claimed responsibility for this attack.
Issues at large
Quetta has been regularly witnessing suicide attacks during recent years. The latest one was the attack on the Quetta mosque on 10 January 2020.
Violence in Quetta today has multiple motives – nationalist, ethnic or sectarian motives. These attacks have become a threat to law and order in Quetta and for the rest of Balochistan, a province that is already hit by crime, terrorism, and violence of various other issues.
Despite addressing and tackling several terror elements, Quetta continues to be an endless victim of deadly attacks. Quetta, bordering Iran and Afghanistan is the capital of the mineral-rich province, Balochistan.
Although measures have been taken to address these issues with the number of attacks and resulting casualties steadily declined, attacks like these continue raising the fears of relapse of violence.
Given the current economic and political situation in Pakistan, the government needs to maintain stability and peace and reduce the violence from non-state actors.
Pakistan: Court convicts LeT founder Hafiz Saeed
In the news
On 12 February, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has been convicted by a Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Court. He has been served two prison sentences of five and half years for two counts of crimes. According to his lawyer, Saeed was found to be a member of a ‘proscribed organization’ and also for possessing illegal property.
Issues at large
While Hafiz Saeed claims to be not involved with any terror groups, he heads Jamaat-ud-Da’wa (JuD) which is the charitable arm of LeT, both of which have been listed as ‘banned’ organizations under Pakistani law.
Saeed was wanted by the US for long, which also announced a bounty of US$10 million on his head. India has accused him as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack; his conviction has been a long-standing demand of New Delhi.
Though there have been arrests in the past, this is the first time Saeed is getting convicted since 2008. This comes days ahead of a meeting of the intergovernmental terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting (now being held) in Paris. It will decide whether Pakistan should be moved out of the ‘grey list’ or to ‘blacklist’ of uncooperative countries. A country in the blacklist would face international sanctions.
A FATF blacklist will be detrimental to Pakistan’s already struggling economy. Pakistan has been under international scrutiny for long for serving as the launchpad for terrorism in South Asia. Pakistan banned Saeed’s organization JuD fearing to blacklist by FATF only in 2019.
Pakistan has been lenient towards terrorist organizations in the past. The arrest and effectivity of Saeed’s conviction have been questioned earlier, with the government not pursuing a serious legal course and proper investigation, that would be tenable in the courts. As a result, Saeed was repeatedly released, despite the arrests, due to weak charges against him.
Even though Pakistan wants to send out a message that it is tightening its grip on terrorist organizations, the timing of Saeed’s conviction seems too convenient. Pakistan has to bring credibility, and continue strengthening its policy towards organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba.
India’s Northeast: Committee submits report on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord
In the news
The high-powered committee constituted to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has completed its report and is awaiting the Home Minister’s response now.
The report was finalized on 17 February 2020. According to the committee, they have recommended that 1951 must be the cut-off year to define the indigenous people of Assam. It also suggested the introduction of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Assam to curb the influx of migrants outside the state.
Issues at large
The committee was constituted by the Home Ministry and is led by Justice (retired) Biplab Sharma. It was formed in July 2019 and was given six months to complete its report.
The primary issues are the following: first, the problem of National Register for Citizens (NRC) persists as the Home Ministry is unhappy with the outcome. They want another exercise to define the “indigenous” people so that the illegal immigrants can be sorted out from the indigenous population.
Second, the Assamese are still protesting, in a democratic manner, against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as they fear of losing their cultural and political identity along with opportunities of job and services.
Third, the term “indigenous” is sensitive to describe the people of Assam. Because of the exclusion of many from the NRC as they were not able to produce official documents of their land rights, around 19 lakh Assamese who claim their nativity are in a phase of uncertainty.
First, the report clarifies that Assam will not be exempted from the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), but the indigenous people will have their political and land rights protected. It will only be effective if seat reservations are acknowledged and restrictions on land transfer introduced.
Second, senior officials accept that the implementation of ILP will affect the economy as trade and businesses will suffer. At the same time, they understand the importance of border protection and are hopeful that they would be able to implement the vigilance strictly.
Third, this report may not see the light of the day if the government finds it unnecessary to place it in front of the Parliament. If it is accepted, then it would affect the lives of many. The non-acceptability of the report is highly probable.
Climate Change Fallouts: Impacts on the Bird population in India
In the news
The 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species is being held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat during 15-22 February 2020. As part of its proceedings, first-of-its-kind research that assimilated 867 bird species and titled ‘State of India’s Birds 2020’ (SoIB) was released.
Key findings point to a drastic 80 per cent loss in India’s bird diversity over 25 years. Two significant threatened regions include the Western Ghats, which is a biodiversity hotspot and the northeast known for indigenous species.
Issues at large
An informal group of birdwatchers, ornithologists, naturalists and conservationists called Bird Count India recorded observations of 15,500 citizen scientists. They categorized the birds into: ‘High Conservation Concern for India’ that includes 101 species; ‘Moderate Conservation Concern’ which includes 319 species; and ‘low conservation concern’ that has 442 species.
The declining trend of birds reveals that the root cause is more than just urbanization. Prof Sindhu Radhakrishna from the School of Natural Sciences and Engineering, NIAS says climate change as a more substantial reason for the decline in bird species. Many birds like raptors which are at the higher end of the food chain are prone to biomagnification. A classic example is the catastrophic population decline of Indian vultures from the early nineties due to renal failure caused by Diclofenac– an anti-inflammatory drug found in the carcasses of livestock that these scavengers feed on. It highlights the need to monitor the use of toxins, pesticides and other chemicals.
Sustainable development should also be sensitive to birds. A number of them including the Great Indian Bustard are get trapped in the blades of windmills plentifully installed in Rajasthan and Gujarat that is home to these critically endangered birds. Pet trade, hunting and smuggling of exotic birds still remains a major cause for concern. According to Prof Radhakrishna, birds like crows known to acclimatize quickly with urbanization have also significantly decreased. She believes that climate change alters breeding patterns of birds and also increases pathogen infections.
On the brighter side, stabilization of the numbers of house sparrows and reversal of the declining trend in the Indian Peafowl are success stories of conservation efforts. This assessment reveals the urgency for monitoring and implementation of recovery measures. Species-specific causes of decline must be identified and prompt awareness must be raised. A supportive network should be established between the public, citizen scientists and researchers to enable large scale collaborations.
Mexico: Femicide continues; so do the protests against it
In the news
A seven-year-old girl, Fathima Aldirghett was killed on the southern outskirts of Mexico City. Her body was found wrapped in a bag after a stranger took her from school. The murder is the latest in the string of women slayings and has initiated another wave of protests across Mexico.
Earlier this month, a 25-year-old Mexican woman Ingrid Escamilla was stabbed to death, and her body was mutilated and partially skinned. Protests occurred following the publication of a picture of the disfigured body of Ingrid in the front page of a newspaper. President Manual Lopez Obrador responded that the protests over the killings were an attempt to distract attention from his social programmes but later said that government is working on it so that there will not be any more women killings. Adding to that, Obrador said “Society should be purified. It had fallen into decline, a progressive degradation that has to do with the neo-liberal model.”
Issues at large
Femicide is on the rise in Mexico. In 2019 alone, 3825 women were killed in Mexico according to official reports which means on an average, ten women being killed every day. More than 700 murder cases of women are under investigation.
The capital has witnessed a series of protests over this crucial issue. On 14 February, following the murder of Ingrid Escamilla, a huge mass of demonstrators marched to the National Palace, the official residence of Mexican President, chanting “not one murder more”. The agitated crowd spray-painted “femicide state” in red on the walls of National palace and then marched to the office of ‘La Prensa’, the newspaper that published the images of the skinned corpse with the headline “It was cupid’s fault”.
Not only the attacks on women became more frequent in Mexico, but also, they became more grisly. The responses to women slayings from the part of the media portray it as a usual happening with less importance or urgency to look on.
The influence of drug trafficking groups in Mexican society remains high. The roots of the suspicion in most of the crime trace to the drug mafia. This proves that actions taken to control mighty drug mafia have not been effective.
Also in the news…
Rebels attack Ukrainian troops
The crisis in Ukraine escalated on 19 February after Russian backed rebels opened fire on the Ukrainian soldiers on the eastern front of the country. In a clash between the rebels and the forces, the Ukrainian forces broke through the cease-fire lines and got caught in a minefield. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said the rebel “provocation” would not derail its course to achieve peace. However, this violence could result in the breakdown of the 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement.
Gains in Idlib for Syria
The Russian-backed Syrian regime regained full control of the strategic M5 highway, connecting Aleppo to Hama, Homs and Damascus. Since the beginning of February, the Syrian government forces have been advancing rapidly toward the towns of the western Aleppo, which has come under heavy airstrikes. In response, Turkey’s president has said that it is “only a matter of time” before it launches an operation to stop a Syrian army assault on opposition-held Idlib province.
“Virus Profiling” against Chinese in Europe
Italy has become the latest European country to witness a surge in xenophobic incidents targeting Chinese people after the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan. This has led several Chinese to come out and launch a social media campaign against racist comments. In Italy, a Chinese man stood blindfolded with a sign reading “I am not a virus, I am a human being, free me from prejudice.” Similar Facebook and Twitter campaigns have emerged in the past few weeks in France and the UK by the Asian community to highlight xenophobic incidents. The Asian community has been subjected to public shaming, denied entry and slur remarks due to their looks which have provoked fear of the spread of the virus.