The latest edition of Conflict Weekly covers: Conflict and COVID in J&K, Dispute over constructing a temple in Islamabad, Return of the Indian fishermen into the Sri Lankan Waters, and the water conflict over River Nile in Africa | Contributors to this edition are: D Suba Chandran, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Ruwanthi Jayasekara and Rashmi BR
Conflict and COVID as the double jeopardy to the tourism industry in J&K
In the news
On 6 June, the Tribune carried a news report highlighting the plight of taxi operators in Jammu. The news report quoted a taxi operator in Jammu stating: “The government is yet to decide on the resumption of the Vaishno Devi pilgrimage and there is no work at the local level as well. We are virtually on the verge of starvation. This taxi was the only source of income for me. My family has not been able to pay the tuition fee of our two children which is being repeatedly demanded by the school.”
The problem is the same in Kashmir valley and holds for all economic activities in both the regions of J&K – Jammu and Kashmir – which is dependent on tourists – who come from rest of India and across the world – for different purposes – pilgrimage, holiday and adventure. For those who are dependent on tourism, Summer is lost already.
Issues at large
First is the COVID restriction that has prevented the movement of people into J&K. The closure of traffic into J&K by rail, road and air due to COVID restrictions has hit both the regions equally. During this period – the two capitals – Jammu and Srinagar should have been brimming with tourists and pilgrims. Multiple airlines from different destinations would bring rest of India into these two regions. And also, international tourists.
Second is the self-restriction by the tourists and the pilgrims, due to the impression that the situation in J&K is not normal to visit. Last year (2019) witnessed many developments before and after 5 August (when the Government of India revoked the special status of J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution) that has been widely discussed in the national and vernacular media. The tourists and the pilgrims, who would throng J&K for a shikara ride in the Dal lake in Srinagar, or play winter sports in Gulmarg, or take the pilgrimage trek to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath – have become a trickle.
Third, is the security lockdown. Much before the COVID, there was a security lockdown imposed, due to the resurgence of conflict in the Valley. Violence has been steadily increasing, and 2020 has already witnessed a record number of terrorist incidents in the last few years.
Fourth, is the increased investments in the tourist infrastructure by individuals. During the late 2000s and early 2010s, and the domestic expectations within J&K increased with a spurt in tourist arrivals to both the regions – Jammu and Kashmir. There was an increased investment within J&K on the tourism industry by individuals, as the tourism numbers steadily increased before 2016-18. New trains and flights to the cities of Jammu and Srinagar would mean, increased tourists and economic opportunities. Many took loans or gave up other activities and invested in tourism-related infrastructure. Like the taxi operator quoted above. There are numerous others from multiple industries – hotels, roadside eateries, guides, indigenous handicrafts (for example – carpets, curtains, paper maches) etc. And it is not just people from the two cities; it included others from towns such as Gulmarg in the Valley or Katra in Jammu.
For both the regions of J&K, it is double jeopardy with conflict and COVID. Third jeopardy comes with the topography of J&K, where the industrial sector has not taken off. Agriculture and tourism have become the mainstay of the economy. And there has been a shift from agriculture to the services during the recent years, due to other problems that are facing agriculture in the rest of India, from produce to labour. As the COVID outside and conflict inside continues, the tourism industry in J&K will face a tough time this year.
Pakistan court dismisses claims against Hindu temple construction, while the State seeks advice from the Council of Islamic Ideology
In the news
On 8 July, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) dismissed three identical petitions filed against the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad observing that the construction of a place of worship requires mandatory approval of the Capital Development Authority (CDA). The matter is now being referred to the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) an independent government advisory body of religious leaders, to make recommendations on this issue. Further, the government has asked for consultation on whether public funds can be used for the construction of the temple.
Several clerics have raised objection to the construction of the temple, with pressure mounting from religious, political and civilian bodies. On 5 July, a group of men destroyed a partially constructed wall around the temple’s land stating that it was their Islamic duty to do so.
Issues at large
First, PTI’s promise on ensuring religious coexistence derails. When Prime Minister Imran Khan won the elections in 2018, he promised to uphold Pakistan as a symbol of hope and tolerance away from the country’s violent sectarian past with regard to the construction of this temple. He also promised to improve conditions for Pakistan’s religious minorities who have always faced discrimination. However, the recent development has only derailed his plans of projecting Pakistan as a secular country.
Second, opposition from the religious right. The religious right within Pakistan has strongly criticized the construction of this temple in Islamabad. Mufti Zia-ud-Din of the Lahore chapter of Jamia Ashrafia, a leading cleric in Pakistan, has issued a fatwa against the construction of the temple by calling it “un-Islamic.” The fatwa, issued initially when the grant was approved, also states that according to Sharia laws it is not permitted for non-Muslims to build their new worship places or rebuild those which were in ruins as “this is a sin in an Islamic state.”
Last, criticisms from the political right. The political right has also echoed similar criticisms like that of the religious right over the construction of the temple. The speaker of the Punjab Assembly along with other political leader have voiced strong contestations against the construction stating that it is against Islam and an insult to the Islamic kingdom.
First, the contention over the temple construction has brought out the stark realities of the minority rights in Pakistan. The mere construction of the temple has shaken the foundations of a republic which has promised equal rights to the minorities. For long Pakistan’s minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, have been the targets of religious hardliners. The country’s strict blasphemy laws have been disproportionately applied against religious minorities. It is the government responsibility to ensure that the rights of these minorities are secured.
Second, although Pakistan was founded as an Islamic country, the country has a liberal section, starting from its founder Jinnah. The rise of the religious right has been challenging the liberal values; the democratic State is unable to resist the former and defend the latter .
Post lockdown, Indian trawlers make a comeback in large numbers in Sri Lankan waters
In the news
The recent reports on the increase in the numbers of Indian trawlers in the Sri Lankan waters have put the focus back on the unsolved dispute over the fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka. The reports of trawlers breaching the international maritime boundary and entering the Sri Lankan waters did not slow down during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even though the trespassing of the illegal fishermen were very less when India was under lockdown, the numbers have witnessed a further increase with the easing of the lockdown.
Issues at large
First, the historical nature of the dispute. The maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka is limited to 24 nautical miles in the Palk Bay and the Palk Strait. Despite having strict laws and regulations by Sri Lanka on trawlers, bottom nets and catch, the Indian fishermen have frequently resorted to utilizing more and more trawlers and bottom nets to scoop up marine varieties, which have led to the loss of maritime resources. Approximately, there are 300 Indian boats per day entering Sri Lankan waters that have been identified by the Sri Lanka Navy and Coastguard on every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Even though, the frequent trespassing marks a violation of international maritime law, the historical nature of the claims of the Indian fishermen on the Sri Lankan has remained unresolved and have led to frequent clashes between the two countries.
Second, no arrests of trespassers with fear of COVID-19 spread. As infections are increasing in India, there is a possibility of the spread of COVID-19 back in Sri Lanka through Indian fishermen. Therefore, currently, no arrests of Indian fishermen are taking place; instead, they are being chased away. This same old issue has redefined its threats as it can directly impact the overall health security apparatus of Sri Lanka, at a time when Sri Lanka has been able to manage the pandemic better than the other regional countries. However, lack of arrests have encouraged the Indian fishermen to engage more in IUU fishing in the Sri Lankan waters.
First, the northern fishing community in Sri Lanka keeps complaining to the authorities about IUU fishing by Indians in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar. This has posed direct threats to their livelihoods. Arresting fishermen become a temporary solution to the decade long fishing dispute, as, by the time they are released, another set of fishermen are arrested.
Second, the issue of IUU fishing is linked with various other issues such as smuggling of goods, human smuggling, maritime terrorism and marine pollution. In the long-term, this poses a critical issue in violation of sovereignty. Although there have been formal bi-lateral discussions, they have not met with success. It is necessary that Sri Lanka balances its relations with India while finding solutions to the dispute.
Damming the Nile: Tensions escalate between Egypt and Ethiopia as talks stall
In the news
After two weeks of mediation by the African Union, the new round of talks in resolving the dam dispute on the Nile had resumed among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. These talks have now been stalled owing to Ethiopia’s refusal to enter into a binding agreement regarding filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
With the negotiations stalled, Egypt has stated that its delegation had assessed the situation before presenting a proposal that took all the three countries’ interests into consideration. The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources pointed out that it recognizes Ethiopia’s need to generate electricity, and also places Sudan’s concerns within the loop.
Issues at large
First, it is a long-standing dispute. History tells us that there are multiple claims on the Nile river. The issue surrounding the dam can be traced back to 2011, when the construction for the GERD began in north Ethiopian highlands. Egypt fears that the dam will be an impediment to its fresh water supply. Sudan, also dependent heavily on Nile waters, finds itself caught in the middle of the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt.
Second, the colonial legacy. The British aimed to control the source of the Nile river as a part of their colonial policies. Britain, on behalf of its colonial territories- Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda, entered into Nile Water Treaties with Egypt. These treaties and agreements prevent the upstream countries from using Nile without the consent of the lower stream countries. Egypt, who stood to benefit from these arrangements, argues that they are valid to this day. The colonial legacy has therefore a role to play in the current dispute.
Third, the need for development. All the three countries- Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt depend upon Nile waters for sustenance and developmental activities. Ethiopia aims to generate 6,000MW from the project, thereby becoming the largest power exporter in Africa. Egypt, on the other hand, is completely dependent on the Nile to meet its needs. The country already suffers from acute water scarcity, and the UN predicts that it could run out of the water by 2025.
Fourth, the lack of trust. Each of these countries, particularly Egypt and Ethiopia do not trust each other’s methods of dealing with the issue and the solutions put forth. There is a fear that each one could act against the interests of others and take unilateral decisions in the form of proposing agreements. This has pushed Ethiopia to not enter the agreement regarding filling of GERD. There is also mistrust among the lower riparian countries- Sudan and Egypt, regarding the share of water they would be receiving if the dam becomes operational.
First, the fallout of conflict has been its transition to other domains such as the use of technology by the warring parties as show of power and strength over the other. The tensions over the GERD are not limited to the negotiating tables. Ethiopia claimed that it successfully foiled several cyberattacks from Egypt in the backdrop of the water dispute.
Second, a strong negotiating role of regional organization has helped in opening channels for water conflict resolution. Cairo knocked the doors of UNSC over the dispute. However, Addis Ababa strongly protested against this and with the help of South Africa, successfully moved the dispute to the purview of the African Union. South Africa, which is the chair of AU, is mediating among the three countries to arrive at a solution. This development reiterates that the regional organizations are better equipped to resolve regional disputes, rather than the Security Council which will have the interference of the P5 and other countries.
Also this week…
“Life Sentence” for breaking Security Law, Hong Kong gasps to live through dystopia
People in Hong Kong could now face life in jail for breaking the controversial New Security Law imposed by mainland China. The legislation came into force on 5 July, but the full text was only revealed later. It was brought in by Beijing following increasing unrest and a widening pro-democracy movement. Beijing’s spread of control and rule has extended to right the opposition narration by removing the books by pro-democracy figures from public libraries. The literary works will be reviewed to see if they violate the new law. At least nine books have become unavailable or marked as ‘under review’, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper, and it includes books authored or co-authored by Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist, and pro-democracy politician Tanya Chan.
Cameroon holds first peace talks with the separatist group since 2017
Representatives of Cameroon’s government have held talks with the main leaders of an Anglophone separatist group for the first time since the conflict began in 2017. Julius Ayuk Tabe, the most prominent separatist leader, has said that the meeting is currently searching the possibilities of a ceasefire. The peace talks mark a de-escalation in the period of violence that broke out in 2017 following a government crackdown on peaceful protests by Anglophone lawyers and teachers who complained of being marginalized by the French-speaking majority.
Four killed in Al Shabab attacks in Somalia
Explosions rocked two of Somalia’s largest cities on 4 July as officials said a suicide car bomber detonated near the port in Mogadishu and a landmine in a restaurant on the outskirts of Baidoa killed four people. Al-Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the country’s Un-recognized government, claimed responsibility for both attacks.
About the authors
D. Suba Chandran is a Professor and the Dean of School of Conflict and Security Studies. Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Rashmi B R are Research Assistant and PhD scholar respectively in NIAS. Ruwanthi Jayasekara is a Research Assistant at the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL), Colombo.