Afghanistan: Seven Days of Peace
In the news
The US and the Taliban agreed on a seven-day “reduction in violence” across Afghanistan beginning 22 February 2020. According to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, this would “will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan” and lead to intra-Afghan negotiations. It is expected that this process would lead to the signing of a larger deal on 29 February in Qatar between US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Javid Faisal, the spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Adviser, said, “based on the plan, the reduction in violence will start between the Taliban and international and Afghan security forces for one week.” He also said that Afghan security forces would continue normal operations against other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, and would respond if the Taliban violated the RIV agreement.
Under the terms of the “reduction in violence”, which covers all of Afghanistan and also applies to Afghan forces as well as the United States and Taliban, all sides have committed to ending attacks for seven days. For the Taliban, that includes roadside bombings, suicide attacks and rocket strikes. The Taliban military commission issued instructions to its commanders “to stop attacks from February 22 against foreign and Afghan forces until Feb 29.” The peace deal also calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, most of whom are being held by the Afghan government.
Issues at large
US President Donald Trump has long sought a comprehensive agreement with the Taliban, which could bring about a diminished US presence in the region. The RIV Agreement comes following months of negotiations between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and his team and Taliban negotiators in Doha. Khalilzad has met with key international and US stakeholders over the past several weeks.
The US and the Taliban reached an agreement “in principle” in early September 2019, Trump’s special envoy for Afghanistan said at the time. But shortly thereafter, Trump called off peace talks and said he cancelled a secret Camp David summit with the militant group after they took credit for a deadly attack in Kabul that killed a US service member.
In a surprise visit to Afghanistan in November 2019, Trump announced that the talks had restarted. The US President made the announcement shortly after the Taliban released an American and Australian professor in exchange for the release of three Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government. The State Department announced in early December 2019, that Khalilzad had re-joined talks with the Taliban in Doha.
By agreeing to pause hostilities for seven days, the US and the Taliban could set Afghanistan on the path toward a peace agreement that has eluded the country for nearly two decades. If it succeeds, it could ultimately lead to a significant reduction of the approximately 12,000 US troops in Afghanistan. This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a haven for terrorists.
But the road ahead is fraught with difficulties, particularly as some Taliban elements and other groups have shown little interest in negotiations. It also remains unclear who would represent Kabul at the intra-Afghan talks. Ghani’s rivals have disputed the Afghan election commission’s declaration that he won the presidential election. The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government and also denounced the election results, saying they will talk to government representatives but only as ordinary Afghans, not as officials. Germany and Norway have both offered to host the all-Afghan talks, but no venue has yet been set.
Pompeo’s statement did not say who would represent Kabul only that “intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon” after the signing in Doha “and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”
India: Violence in Delhi
In the news
On 23 February, violence erupted in Delhi, leaving more than 20 dead and 200 injured in the first two days of violence in the northeast parts of the capital. The violence escalated between Hindu-right-wing groups supporting the CAA and anti-CAA protestors, in the Muslim majority areas including Jaffrabad, Chand Bagh, Shaheen Bagh, Bhajanpur and few other locations.
The violence expanded, as the protestors burnt vehicles, pelted stones at each other, fired shots, hurled petrol bombs and attacked shops and vehicles.
Curfew has been imposed at several locations in Delhi.
Issues at large
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has been criticised as an anti-Muslim bill, came into effect on 11 December 2019. Clashes broke out on 23 February against the bill. Post CAA, Delhi was witnessing tensions that started with the student protests in Jamia Milia Islamia. Violent clashes between students and rioters escalated during the Delhi elections, when a gunman opened fire at student protestors on 30 January. Mobs vandalized places of worship on Tuesday evening, which further paralyzed the capital.
Earlier this month, the increasing protest leading to blockades, rose a matter of concern for the public. The Supreme Court expressed agitation over, ‘what if another section, will choose the same path for some cause’. Justice Sanjay K Kaul and K M Joseph said ‘indefinite protest on roads cannot be permitted’.
Numerous reports consider the incendiary speeches by BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, as the trigger for the violence. On 23 February, Kapil Mishra led a rally in favour of the law, demanding police to remove protestors in three days. “We will wait till Trump is here. But after that, we won’t even listen to you, if the roads aren’t cleared, we appeal to the police, to clear Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh till Trump leaves. If not, we’ll have to take to the streets.”
The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned ongoing CAA protests hearing till Wednesday. Advocate Sanjay Hedge and Sadhana Ramachandran, the court interlocutors submitted a report to the Supreme Court of their four-day attempt to persuade the protestors at Shaheen Bagh, to shift to another location.
Former bureaucrat, Wahjahat Habibullah filed an application to the Supreme Court to ensure the safety of the protestors. He sought to register FIRs against attacks and security for women protesting in Shaheen Bagh. He also alleged that Kapil Mishra was behind the provocation of this violence. Supreme Court agreed to hear both the cases on Wednesday.
The agitation by pro and anti CAA protestors are borne by the population through blockades on roads and metros, destruction of public commute and property leading to shut-down of school and change in the CBSE board exam.
The protest has divided the society along political, religious lines and has disrupted the lives of the common man.
Continuous violence has put India’s secular status at risk and showcased a failed centre and peace in the newly-elected state, of the country.
Libya: rivals withdraw from Geneva peace talks
In the news
Libya’s warring sides have suspended their participation in the United Nations-sponsored peace talks. Military commander Khalifa Haftar has refused to take part in the negotiations on 25 February 2020 due to the UN’s approval of only eight of 13 names which they have put forward for the delegation. Further, the eastern Libyan lawmakers have stated that they would not participate in peace talks with politicians allied to the internationally recognized government.
The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) ruled by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli, pulled out of the process on 19 February 2020, after rockets hit a port in the capital, further stating that it would wait until progress was made on military negotiations.
These developments come amid the UN Libyan Mission’s statement that senior military figures from both sides have agreed to submit a draft ceasefire agreement to their leaderships before they meet again next month. The UN was to bring legislators on 27 February 2020, from both sides to end the fighting over the capital and engage in dialogue regarding military, politics and the economy.
Issues at large
Libya has been torn by conflict since the 2011 uprising which ousted long time strongman Muammar Gaddafi. The country is currently split between two rival administrations – the Tripoli-based GNA and another allied with Haftar in the eastern city of Tobruk that controls key oil fields and export terminals. Each administration is backed by numerous foreign countries.
Several rounds of talks between both sides have taken place this year. A ceasefire was reached between Haftar’s LNA and forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli on 14 January 2020. However, both sides blamed each other for breaches. Both sides then travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian and Turkish mediators, aimed at reaching a long-term agreement. However, the deal in Moscow was left unfinished.
High-ranking military officers from both sides attended UN-sponsored talks in Geneva for the first time in an attempt to build a lasting ceasefire on 4 February 2020. Representatives from two warring parties began United Nations-led talks in Geneva. Five senior officers appointed by the GNA and five appointed by Haftar participated in the talks.
The 10-member body known as the Libya Joint Military Commission which was created at the end of a 12-nation summit held in Berlin was to supervise a tentative truce. However, since the Berlin talks, both sides have increased the intensity of fighting and repeatedly breached a UN arms embargo first imposed in 2011. Libya’s warring sides resumed talks in Geneva on 21 February 2020 aimed at brokering a lasting ceasefire in the war-torn country.
The conflict has resulted in Libyan oil production to collapse. 90% of the Libyan government’s revenue is dependent on oil and gas exports. The blockade imposed by Haftar has created immense problems for Libya. Political instability and conflict have derailed Libya’s plans to diversify its economy. The ideological divide that exists between the warring sides in Libya has resulted in aggravating the issue. Furthermore, the militias are split along regional, ethnic and local lines, making it a sensitive mix that has no clear understanding of democracy. Further, the fighting has left many people dead and has forced people to move from their homes.
A durable ceasefire is what Libya requires. The country has witnessed many ceasefire agreements that have not been sustainable. With the UN trying to pick up the pieces in Libya and the influence of other external actors, there needs to be a talk on just distribution of Libya’s oil wealth and a political agreement would have to be reached for the country to be stable.
Looking from a larger perspective of North Africa, other nations in the regions such Sudan and South Sudan have reached a stage where warring sides have come together. Libya should follow suit to ensure stability internally as well as externally.
A ceasefire between Israel, Islamic Jihad in Gaza
In the news
On 24 February 2020 (at 20:30 GMT), a ceasefire was achieved in the Gaza strip between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group. PIJ’s armed wing said that “al-Quds Brigades announces that it has ended its military response to the assassination crimes in Khan Younis and Damascus”. The belligerents had been trading rocket fires and air raids since February 22. A Lebanon-based senior Islamic Jihad leader, Ihsan Ataya, stated in a press conference that the truce was achieved following an international and Egyptian mediation. (Al Jazeera) The Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that no projectiles were fired from the region overnight.
Furthermore, on February 24, Israeli air raids killed six persons in Damascus. Israel has confirmed raids on the besieged Gaza strip and the Syrian capital. A noteworthy unusual move. Meanwhile, Israel is being slammed for “necroviolence”, humiliating and withholding Palestinian bodies.
Issues at large
Throughout the two days of heavy fighting, PIJ’s armed wing (al-Quds Brigades) fired heavy rockets in southern Israel and Israeli aircrafts crushed various targets in the Gaza strip. Israel’s killing of the Islamic Jihad’s armed wing’s member Mohammed al-Naim triggered the recent escalation. Israel accused him of planting an IED at the Israeli fence east of southern Gaza strip’s Khan Younis. The circulation of a graphic video showing an Israeli bulldozer aggressively retrieving Naim’s body made matters worse. Despite requests, the body remains in Israeli custody.
PIJ retaliated by pounding Israeli territory using a barrage of rockets and mortar provoking Israeli military to attack Iran-backed PIJ group’s leaders’ bases in Syrian territory killing two more PIJ members. Post the release of the much-awaited Trump-Jared Mideast Plan, violence surged as head of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas rejected the plan. However, the degree and nature of conflict was low for Israel-Palestine conflict standards. The February 22-24 fighting was the heaviest round since the two-day November battle following Israel killing a top PIJ commander.
Although PIJ, on February 24, declared a unilateral ceasefire, Israel relentlessly attacked targets in Gaza injuring over eight Palestinians, as per Gaza Health Ministry. Accusing Israel of sustained “aggression” and disrespecting the ceasefire, PIJ renewed rocket attacks encouraging further Israeli air raids and closure of a fishing zone and key border crossings of Gaza. Israel accused PIJ of launching over 80 rockets. In Gaza and adjacent areas, a shutdown was implemented to avoid casualties.
The upcoming unprecedented third Israeli parliamentary election will take place on March 1 2020, in the wake of the latest surge in violence. It will be the third vote post two inconclusive ones in 2019. Although the recent Israeli air raids only targeted PIJ positions, Gaza’s Hamas government is being held responsible for attacks from coastal regions. Israel-Hamas skirmishes have been common since 2007 and have resulted in the Egyptian-Israeli blockade on the coastal area. However, recently Hamas seems to be attempting to avoid conflict and provide better living standards in the region.
Netanyahu, with elections around the corner, seems reluctant to pick a fight with Hamas and has settled for PIJ, a disorganized spoiler to global mediation and diplomatic efforts; not a grave military or security threat. Netanyahu, who is up against Benny Gantz (former military commander and leader of the opposition Blue and White Party) may be using the situation to distract attention from the upcoming corruption trial and pose himself as the seasoned protector of Israelis. Nevertheless, a disruption of the vote could prove challenging for Netanyahu.