Research & Analysis

Conflict Weekly: Aurat March in Pakistan, US-Taliban Deal in Doha, Anti-CAA protest in Meghalaya, Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from UNCHCR Resolution, and problems of two ceasefires in Syria and Libya

SOUTH ASIA
Pakistan: Getting ready for another Aurat March amid strong condemnation 

In the news
Since the condemnation from various religio-political parties and their leaders for trying to put a stop to the Aurat March, which is to be held on the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8 March, there has been support pouring in from many channels. Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari strongly condemned the same; she has also stated that the government is committed to ensuring that discrimination and harassment of women ends and it has put in place programs, policies and legislative measures to empower women and girls.

Pakistan Federal Union for Journalists (PFUJ) President Shahzada Zulfikar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi also issued a joint statement the same day condemned threats given by some opposers to organizers and participants of the Aurat March. The PFUJ leaders have stated that threats such as these raise a serious concern regarding the fundamental rights of citizens, particularly women and minorities, in the country and situation such as these contribute to hate speech against women’s rights advocates. The PFUJ has urged the government to ensure that the marchers are provided necessary security so that they can hold a peaceful march.

Senator Sherry Rahman has also shown her support for the march. She stated that “In a democratic society, asking for your rights is not only valid but also extremely important.” Further, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) also gave its support to the Aurat March and condemned the threats against the participants and organisers of the event. The PBC stated that March and peaceful protests are essential parts of the human rights of an individual.

Issues at large
For the last two years, the Aurat march has turned into a massive resistance movement against the patriarchal structures of society, resulting in a strong backlash against the participants and organizers of the march. The Aurat March is organized under the banner of “Hum Auratain” a broader term for feminist women, transgender individuals, nonbinary persons, and gender and sexual minorities who stand against the patriarchal structures that result in the sexual, economic, and structural exploitation of women.

The movement started in 2018 when a couple of feminist groups from Karachi held a march on International Women’s Day. The core principles of ‘Hum Auratain’ states that the march will not be able to get funding from NGOs or corporations. Instead, the organizers arrange fundraising events to collect funds. The marches, which are to be anonymous and diverse, are held in all major cities of Pakistan, including Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, and Quetta. Each year, the organizers release an Aurat March manifesto that demands responsibility and justice against violence targeted at women at the workplace, at home, and in public spaces. It also pushes for economic justice, inclusion, and access to public spaces for all.

In 2019, the March organizers had complained that they received threats and were harassed online. They were also labeled as “bad women” and Western agents who want to damage the culture of Pakistan. Some men even threatened them with rape.

In perspective
The Aurat March has given new energy to the feminist movement in Pakistan. The March has become a proud tradition of women’s rights movements in Pakistan where women have come to stand in unity to their fight against the struggle for women’s rights. However, the March has also attracted fierce criticism, especially leaving the organizers and participants at risk. Further, the march is not fully being supported; this polarization in the political parties’ views, religious persons and others has not helped the matter.

However, this march remains to be a promising means through which women in Pakistan can first become aware of their rights and secondly, awareness allowing them to demand and fight for their rights.

The Doha deal between the US and the Taliban: What it is all about?
After 18 months of negotiations, the US officials and the Taliban representatives signed an agreement on 29 February at Doha, Qatar, to end the longest war fought in Afghanistan since 2001.

The US Special Representative, Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the agreement in the presence of the representatives from the countries like Qatar, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, India and Tajikistan. This agreement will initiate the formal withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan.

  • The agreement has four points that mainly include, a timeline of 14 months for the withdrawal of all the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Second, the drawdown process will begin with the US limiting its armed forces to 8,600 from 13,000 in the first 135 days and reducing it from five bases. Third, the agreement upholds a ‘Taliban guarantee’ that the Afghan soil will not be used as a launch pad that would threaten the security of the US. Last, the agreement will pave the path for an intra-Afghan negotiation by 10 March. This will aim at negotiating a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing agreement between the rival Afghan groups. The agreement also proposes the release of 5,000 Taliban members from prison, in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the Taliban.
  • The Afghan government will also begin negotiations with the Taliban for a political settlement which would establish the role that the Taliban would come to play in the future. These negotiations are expected to start in March 2020. One of the primary aims of the intra-Afghan dialogue is to achieve a lasting ceasefire in the country.
  • In Kabul, the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg signed a joint declaration with the Afghan government, represented by President Ashraf Ghani. This declaration commits the Afghans to these up-coming negotiations with the Taliban and to provide Afghanistan with security guarantees as this process unfolds.

Sri Lanka withdraws from 30/1 Geneva Resolution

In the news
The previous government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 30/1 Geneva resolution on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The newly elected government proposed to withdraw from the resolution in 2020, which was a promise given during the presidential election campaign.

Issues at large 
It was believed that the provisions in the resolution violated the country’s sovereignty and made Sri Lanka bound by International Human Rights Law. The move has further emphasized on safeguarding national security without compromising the democratic space of Sri Lankans.

The inception dates back to 23 May 2009 with the Joint statement by the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN at the conclusion of UN Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka. The excerpts of the statement highlighted that “Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with the international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations.” The report of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and Paranagama Commission were a part of this commitment.

30/1 resolution consisted of provisions on reparation, truth-seeking, democratic institutional reform, ensuring accountability post-conflict, advancing the rule of law in accordance with International Human Rights Law and investigations on crimes committed by both parties for which the current government doesn’t want to stand. Sri Lanka believes to have become successful in demining, resettlement, the return of land used by security forces, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-LTTE combatants, rapid infrastructure development, restoration, the establishment of domestic mechanisms to address issues related to accountability, rule of law and human rights after a 30-year armed conflict.

The previous government is criticized for accepting the OISL report which was used at the basis for 30/1 and condemn Sri Lankan security forces and creating space for further allegation by the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross.  Co-sponsoring has violated the democratic and sovereign principles of Sri Lanka. One of the main questions remain as to how Sri Lanka co-sponsored and got the resolution passed at the UNHRC without the perusal of the President.

The decision of Sri Lanka is to withdraw from 40/1, which incorporates 30/1 in 2015 and 34/1 in 2017 while recommending to appoint a Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a Justice of Supreme Court to review the alleged violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and propose deliverable measurements. Sri Lanka is determined to carry forward the commitment on 2030 sustainable agenda and advance commitment to individual and collective rights.

In perspective 
The next possible option for Sri Lanka is to propose a counter resolution at the UNHRC Council. However, Sri Lanka doesn’t seem to have a support base of developing countries voting for the counter resolution at the moment.

Several countries including the United States, Germany, Canada and India are very critical and disappointed about Sri Lanka’s decision to disrespect international norms and ignore human rights.  China and Russia seem to be neutral on the issue for the moment.

The decision has impacted Sri Lanka’s image internationally; it has to pay attention on diplomacy and foresight in devising foreign policy.

Violence in Meghalaya: Anti-CAA protests persist; ILP demanded

In the news
On 28 February, the Khasi Student Union of Meghalaya staged a protest in Ichamati against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP). It went rogue when the clashes between the students union and the non-tribal escalated leading to the death of some civilians. Meghalaya is actively protesting against the CAA since its initial developments as well as the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which was introduced in December 2019.

On 2 March, Tathaghata Roy, the Governor of Meghalaya went on leave prompting the Governor of Nagaland to take charge. The former made a sensitive comment in Twitter against the protests which created a further uproar in the state. Previously, he upset the public by not giving assent to amendments of the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act, 2016.

Issues at large
First, the protests are about the influx of “outsiders” into the state and taking over their businesses and jobs. The tribal, indigenous people of Meghalaya fear losing opportunities to them and thus are adamant about being exempted from the CAA. Second, the insecurity is also about the influx of Bengali-speaking people from Assam. Assam, becoming hostile towards the Bengali-speaking communities exhibit high chances for the latter to flee for safe shelter, Shillong being the first choice of preference. The state feels highly vulnerable to the Hindu population in Bangladesh as it is a border region between India and Bangladesh. The CAA will provide them entry into India and there are high chances of that happening through Meghalaya.

Third, Meghalaya falls under the sixth schedule of the Constitution of India. This schedule safeguards the tribal areas and provides them with special administrative rights over their lands. In this manner, most of the state is exempted from CAA automatically. In spite of this, the protests are on because the state capital of Shillong is the only place where the CAA would be applicable. Thus, the main economic and administrative hub of the state is under threat, according to the tribes of Meghalaya.

Fourth, they are also protesting because they want the Government of India to implement the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in their state. The population wants the ILP as it will create a barrier between the state and the outsiders, especially those who will plan to settle illegally in the state.

In perspective
The protests in Meghalaya and the rest of Northeast India are strikingly different from that elsewhere in India. While the rest of India is in uproar against the CAA as they feel that a particular religious community’s rights are compromised, Northeast India is putting up a secular fight.

Irrespective of religion or language, the settling down of any new immigrants in the region is being protested about. All the protesting states of northeast India, including Meghalaya, wants its indigenous population to be protected against all the chances of being deprived of opportunities, jobs and resources.

States like Meghalaya feel vulnerable towards an Act like this as they are the peripheral states of the country. Immigrants entering the country through Meghalaya or Tripura have high chances of settling in places closer to the border. With these reasons alive, the protests against the CAA in the northeastern states of India will stay for sometime.

MIDDLE EAST
Syria: A Ceasefire hope in Idlib’s dynamic battle

In the news
On 3 March, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced his hopes for an Idlib ceasefire deal in his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart on March 5.

The situation in the Saraqeb city of Syria’s Idlib province is in flux as the rebel groups and Syrian forces scuttle for control over Idlib. In less than a month, reins of Saraqeb changed hands twice. Reports of Turkish drone-power backed opposition forces taking strategic positions in Idlib are adding to the dynamicity of the battle ahead of the summit.

Meanwhile, Syrian state media and the opposing armed groups are releasing contradictory reports amid persistent street fighting.

Issues at large
First, amidst heavy Russian bombardment and fighting, on 2 March, SANA (Syrian state media) claimed the government had seized Saraqeb back from the rebels; pledging to “confront the flagrant Turkish aggression”. Turkish-backed opposition forces had reclaimed the city on 27 February. Since December, Iranian-Russian backed Syrian forces have advanced in Idlib, the opposition’s last stronghold.

Second, Turkish deployed UAVs and drones are becoming a game-changer; opposition claims gaining control over parts of Idlib’s Jabal al-Zawiya curbing government’s advance towards the M4 highway that links Latakia to Aleppo.

Third, on 28 February, the deadline Erdogan had given the Assad regime to withdraw from northwest Syria had expired. On 29 February, Turkey announced the launching of operation Spring Shield against Syrian government; apparently after the 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib.

In perspective
Refugee crisis, game-changing Turkish drones, upcoming Erdogan-Putin summit, and the fluid persistent battles add to the complexity of the ongoing Syrian war. First, with the exchange of threats post-Turkey downing two Syrian warplanes, Turkey and Russia are inching towards direct confrontation (from proxy wars) in Syria. In the past, although they were on opposing sides, they had closely coordinated.

Second, Syria-Turkey (NATO-member) confrontation poses a worry of a larger conflict resulting in a 2015-like refugee crisis; straining Europe. Turkey (accommodating over 3.6 million Syrian refugees) says it will not absorb more in an attempt to pressurize Europe. Since December, according to UN, over a million people have been displaced in Idlib near Turkey’s southern border causing the worst humanitarian crisis in the Syrian war.

Third, deployment of Turkish-made Bayraktar-TB2 and ANKA-S with the present intensity is a first. Coupled with air-raids, it has altered ground dynamics. High-ranking officials and significant positions of Syrian government and allied militias have been hit; making Assad lose “the psychological advantage”.

Fourth, the upcoming summit would hopefully pacify the situation and avoid the escalation that is looming large.

AFRICA
Libya: Ceasefire in tatters, as the UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame resigns

In the news
The United Nations’ envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, who is the Head of the UNSMIL, has announced his resignation on 2 March. In a Twitter post, Salame stated that he would be stepping down from his position due to health reasons. He further added that he has tried to unite the Libyans and restrict foreign influence in the country however due to health reasons he could no longer hold this highly stressful position and sort to ask the UN Secretary-General to relieve him of his duties.

The resignation comes amid many Libyan politicians and social media activists pushing for Salame to leave, stating that he is biased to one party of the conflict over the other. Salame, a former Lebanese culture minister, was appointed as a UN envoy in Libya in June 2017 and since then has struggled to bring the two sides together for talks to end Libya’s conflict.

Issues at large
International efforts to broker a Libyan ceasefire will be further pushed into chaos by the unexpected resignation of Salame. Further, Salame stated that he was disappointed with the major players involved in the conflict who have failed to keep their commitments at a peace conference in Berlin in January. His decision to quit is likely to be followed by a further rise in political violence, and the continuation of an oil depot blockade that has led Libya’s oil production to a standstill.

Salame has been unable to persuade major powers to use their influence to end the civil war between Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces in the country’s east, and the UN-recognised government of Fayez al-Sarraj, based in the capital, Tripoli. With both sides suspended their involvement, this leaves room for the turmoil to set in.

In perspective
Salame has been an active player in efforts to restore peace to the North African country. The resignation comes as a hit to the already fragile truce in war-torn Libya. Salame was involved in mediating three-tiered talks between Libya’s warring sides on economic, political and military matters. Although spokesman of the UN Chief, Stephane Dujarric stated that Salame’s exit would not constitute a setback to peace efforts in the country, the sudden move to leave comes at a time when the rivals side have pulled out from the Libya peace talks, thus it becomes important to ensure a quick and efficient transition is implemented to avoid unfavourable consequences.

 

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