The latest edition of Conflict Weekly covers: Targeted Violence in Pakistan, Protests in Hong Kong and the Charlie Hebdo Trial in France | Contributors to this edition are: Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Harini Madhusudan and Sourina Bej
Pakistan: Targeted Violence continues in Waziristan
In the news
On 7 September, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) confirmed that a mastermind of militant attacks along with four accomplices was killed during an intelligence operation in North Waziristan tribal district. The ISPR claimed that he was responsible for 30 attacks, including the targeted killing of government officials and security forces personnel.
On 6 September, an army officer and a soldier were wounded in an attack on security forces by militants in North Waziristan tribal district. According to Dawn, the militants attacked a military vehicle. On the same day, three suspected terrorists from the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were killed in an exchange of fire with members of security forces in South Waziristan district. This was the first clash between security forces and the TTP after two splinter groups of militants declared the launch of an armed struggle against Pakistan earlier last month.
Further, these attacks came a day after a soldier was martyred and three others were wounded in an attack on an army patrolling party in North Waziristan tribal district.
Issues at large
First, continuing small-scale militant attacks. They indicate that these militant organizations are still able to slip across the border, or that sleeper cells on this side of the border have become more active.
Second, the consolidation of power within the militant factions. For many years, militant organizations in Pakistan were divided due to factionalism. It appears that the Pakistani Taliban is trying to resolve their internal differences and reunify. According to reports, the TTP, led by Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, has convinced its breakaway factions Jamaatul Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar, as well as a few other commanders and small groups, to rejoin its ranks.
Third, the devasting impact of militancy on the daily lives of civilians. It has been nearly six years since the military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan to eliminate TTP; however, the militancy is continuing. People have been left with no access to clean water or facilities such as schools, hospitals or medical dispensaries; others have been displaced.
The strategy of a military solution which has been adopted in the past has not addressed the issue. Engaging with local political actors along with the provincial government to stir up a more extensive political dialogue is the missing key.
Suppose these increased militant activities continue to go unabated with the government failing to provide essential services, this could leave more residents vulnerable to recruitment by groups. It would become a bigger challenge.
Hong Kong: Return of the protests, as the administration decides to postpone the election
In the news
On 6 September, the people of Hong Kong, took to the streets to participate in a rally over the delay in holding the legislative council elections. The Hong Kong government in July, announced the postponement of the elections by one year, citing COVID as the reason. Hundreds of protestors staged a demonstration against, ‘unjustified infringement on voting rights,’ by the administration. The government stationed up to 2000 police officers, and around 280 people were arrested on the day of which 270 were charged with illegal assembly.
On 6 September again, there was another protest. It was an online protest. #BoycottMulan was endorsed by Joshua Wong, which gained momentum across Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand, over the comments that Liu Yifei made in 2019, in support of the Hong Kong Police.
Issues in the background
First, COVID as the reason. Under the law in Hong Kong, the elections can be postponed by up to 14 days, only in the likeliness of “any danger to public health or safety.” On 31 July, at a time when the daily increase in cases had broken into triple digits for two weeks then, Carrie Lam postponed the elections by a year. Many called the long delay unjustified and unconvincing. Lam was seen admitting that there was no consultation with medical advisors before the announcement. In a sense, the postponement can be associated with the need to get Hong Kong under control, and the pandemic became an easy excuse. On the other side, the protestors, activists are also seen making good use of the situation to further their cause.
Second, the protests appear muted after the Security bill. The plan to hold demonstrations was not authorized by the government. However, the protesters went ahead despite warnings from the government. The fear of the security bill has led people to remove protest materials from their stores, observe self-censorship, or rethink the idea of joining demonstrations. With a change in the legal landscape, the pro-democracy movement can be seen as losing its popularity among the masses.
The impact of the security bill is reflected on both sides, which has widened the gap between the government and the protesters. The police are known to be consciously turning a blind eye to the multiple, unauthorized small protests in the city. Both sides are looking towards hardening their stance. The postponement of the elections seen combined with the disqualification of a dozen democracy candidates from contesting the elections indicates that there is no scope for reaching a middle ground anymore. Though the boycott of the movie Mulan cannot be seen in relation to the pro-democracy movement, the timing of the release could be used as a catapult for the cause against the election postponement.
France: Trial begins for 14 suspects of the Charlie Hebdo attack
In the news
On 2 September, the trial of 14 people began in Paris on charges of assisting the gunmen who attacked the weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket five years ago, leaving 17 people dead. Only 11 of the suspected accomplices have appeared in court who will be facing the charges of conspiracy in a terrorist act or association with a terror group while the other three who fled to territory controlled by ISIL (ISIS) in Syria or Iraq will be tried as absentee. On the same day, Charlie Hebdo reprinted in its issue the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that stirred an outrage among many Muslim countries and is said to be the trigger for the attack.
French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Lebanon paid tribute to the victims of the attack and defended the weekly’s republication saying “a president should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist because there is freedom of the press which is rightly cherished in France.”
Issues at large
Republishing the decade-old cartoon, which was a satire on Prophet Muhammad, shows Charlie Hebdo’s resilience to the attack and a defiant statement in support of free speech. But at the same time, it could also be seen as a disrespect to the religious sentiment of a particular group. Charlie Hebdo has in 2011 and 2012 come under criticism for its satire-based print journalism such as depicting Muslims as terrorists and even continued publishing right after the attack. In today’s digital journalism and personalized troll culture, Charlie Hebdo remains true to the cartoon culture that is meant to be critical and thought-provoking.
Second, a symbolic trial. It is the first time when acts of violence carried out under radical Islamist ideology will be put on trial in French judicial history. The attacks in 2015 and again in 2016 had created social boundaries amongst various groups, especially France’s Muslim communities. However, then by taking recourse to judicial relief shows the deep-rooted trust of the society in democratic institutions. This trial will also be the first since 1985 to be filmed for a public hearing to “preserve the memory of atrocities.” The trial, likely to continue till November 2020, will not only be a trial of the people who aided the Kouachi brothers but off those who have expressed several extremist ideas more uninhibited.
First, the republication of the cartoons by Charlie Hebdo should be seen in the light of sensitivity in journalism and the public cost of free speech. While cartoons, comedies and dark humour are well protected and cherished tools of free speech but so are respecting communities’ culture and religious sentiments. In a society where minorities’ group identities are increasingly marginalized on religious, race and cultural grounds against the majoritarian beliefs, a satire partial to the minorities’ group identities can easily be interpreted as social exclusion and disrespect.
Second, the trial could either be interpreted as justice or as a provocation by different communities and extremist groups within France and outside. The transnational character of the radical religious ideologies could not be hindered through a few trials but will definitely be a step for acknowledging that problem lies within your own societies’ minority-majority divide. The risk of the trial reopening the divide exists, but it could also be a chance to make one’s democratic institutions more inclusive.
Also, from around the world
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Sri Lanka: A murder convict was sworn in as MP
On 7 September, a Sri Lankan politician sentenced to death for murder was escorted from prison to parliament becoming the first convict to be sworn in as an MP. Premalal Jayasekara, from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP), was convicted in August of murdering an opposition activist after opening fire at a 2015 election rally. Later when the new parliament held its first session on 20 August prison authorities refused to let him out, but he petitioned the court of appeal, which on 6 August ruled that he should be escorted from prison to exercise his rights as an MP. Further, Opposition lawmakers wore black scarves in protest as the convicted took the oath while several other staged a walkout.
India: Steep rise of COVID cases push the country to No. 2 on the pandemic list
On 6 September, India surpassed Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of cases. As of 9 September, India’s COVID-19 case tally has crossed 43 lakh mark with a spike of 89,706 new cases & 1,115 deaths, reported in just 24 hours. Further, the COVID-19 case fatality rate has dropped to 1.69 per cent. The surge in cases comes as the government continues to ease lockdown measures to help the economy which has been devastated by the pandemic.
India-China: Shots fired along the border with both sides accusing the other
On 7 September, tensions along the India-China border took a turn after Chinese and Indian officials accused each other’s soldiers of firing warning shots. The shots fired are the first time in decades that guns had been aggressively used along the disputed frontier. According to the Chinese military, Indian troops “took the outrageous step of firing warning shots” near a Chinese border patrol. India’s actions, the Chinese said, were “a grave military provocation of a vile character.” However, Indian officials denied that their soldiers had fired any shots stating that it was the Chinese who broke the long tradition of refraining from using firearms, a protocol in place for decades. This development comes as tensions have been building along the Himalayan border and with the relationship between the two countries steadily deteriorating.
Afghanistan: Taliban delegation returns to Doha for intra-Afghan peace talks
On 5 September, Taliban officials stated that a senior delegation returned to Qatar, paving the way for the start of peace talks with the Afghan government as talks are expected to take place in Qatar. The Taliban delegation’s arrival in Qatar, where the group keeps its political office, came after the Afghan government blamed the militants for delays in starting talks. The delayed negotiations are part of a peace deal the United States signed with the Taliban in February in Doha. Further, the US has increasingly put pressure on both sides to start their negotiations to decide on the prospects of a post-war Afghanistan.
Peace and Conflict in Southeast and East Asia
Inner Mongolia: Protests against a new bilingual education policy
On 8 September, the New York Times reported that China had detained 23 in a crackdown on the protests in Inner Mongolia. This comes after ethnic Mongolians, including students and parents, in China’s Inner Mongolia region staged demonstrations against a new bilingual education policy which they claimed is endangering the Mongolian language. Further, the push for the use of these new textbooks, which initially started in other ethnic minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet, has prompted demonstrations and school boycotts by ethnic Mongolians in at least five cities and counties in Inner Mongolia.
China: Two Australian journalists leave the country
On 8 August, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith flew from China, after the Chinese authorities questioned them. They were initially informed not to leave the country as the officials wanted to question them about the case of Cheng Lei who was detained earlier in August. However, the journalists sought refuge in the Australian Embassy in Beijing, while negotiations took place for their departure. After a four day wait, both were allowed to leave China after the interviews by police. The departure of Bill and Smith means for the first time since the mid-1970s, there are no accredited Australian journalists in China.
New Zealand: Suspension of live cattle exports after the ship accident
On 4 September, New Zealand suspended the export of live cattle after a ship that left its shores with 43 crew members, and more than 5800 cows capsized off Japan earlier last week. This incident has raised questions about the safety as well as ethics of transporting livestock by sea. The large cargo ship Gulf Livestock 1 was travelling from Napier, New Zealand, to an international seaport about 170 miles from Beijing. On 2 September, the Japanese Coast Guard received a distress call from the vessel, setting off a two-day air-and-sea rescue mission. The incident has drawn criticism from advocates who say that transnational livestock trade is cruel because usually, these converted cargo ships do not meet animal welfare standards. Further, other critics note that practice is yet another contributor to climate change by the meat industry, which has a heavy carbon footprint.
Australia: Lockdown extended for two more weeks as COVID-19 cases surge
On 6 September, Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced his government’s roadmap for easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Face masks will remain compulsory while Melbourne’s stage four restrictions will be extended for another two weeks. Further, he added that a gradual easing of the measures would be implemented from October. This decision has been taken given that the state has been the epicentre of the country’s second wave, accounting for 90 per cent of Australia’s 753 deaths.
Myanmar: ‘Kill all you see,’ two soldiers confess their crimes
On 7 September, two soldiers who fled Myanmar last month were transported to The Hague, where the International Criminal Court has opened a case examining whether Tatmadaw leaders committed large-scale crimes against the Rohingya. In a video testimony, the two confess to receiving orders such as “shoot all that you see and all that you hear,” and “Kill all you see, whether children or adults.” Further, they confessed of the numerous executions, mass burials, village obliterations and rape committed by them. This confession is the first time that members of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, have openly confessed to taking part in what United Nations officials called a genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Peace and Conflict in the Middle East and Africa
Tunisia: ISIS attack kills a police officer, leaves many injured in a resort attack
On 6 September, a police officer was killed and another wounded in a knife attack in the coastal resort of Sousse. Tunisian forces shot dead three assailants who rammed their vehicle into security officers. Then on 7 September, the ISIS armed group claimed responsibility for the attack. The armed group stated that its “fighters” carried out the attack in a brief statement by its propaganda arm Amaq on the Telegram messenger service. Further, the incident comes two days after a new government was sworn in and in the same site of Tunisia’s deadliest attack in 2015 when a gunman killed 38 people, most of them British tourists.
Somalia: Al Shabab suicide bomber kills three soldiers and injures American military adviser
On 7 September, at least three Somali special forces soldiers were killed and an American officer was wounded in a car bombing, and mortar attack outside a military base is located in the south of Somalia. The al-Qaeda-linked armed group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack and put the number of dead at 20. Al-Shabab has been fighting for control of the Horn of Africa country for several years. In this regard, the Somalian government supported by the US military has launched regular air raids against the group.
Mali: ECOWAS says that military govt must name president by 15 September
The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has called on Mali’s new military government to appoint a civilian to head a transition government by 15 September. This comes after the regional bloc has come down heavily with sanctions on Mali after the 18 August coup, including closing borders and banning trade, and has called for elections within 12 months. The military government has proposed a years-long, military-led transition back to civilian rule, but ECOWAS commission chief has asserted that the country is led by a civilian president and prime minister for 12 months. However, it is yet to see if the military government agrees to these strict demands.
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Belarus: Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova’ snatched from the street’ in Minsk
On 7 September, unidentified masked men snatched leading Belarus opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova from the street in Minsk and drove her away in a minivan. Kolesnikova was seized while walking close to Minsk’s national art museum along with three other members of the opposition coordination council have also disappeared, in what appears to be a targeted attempt by the authorities to obliterate the protest movement. Kolesnikova was the last one left in Belarus of three female politicians who joined forces before the 9 August presidential election to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko. With her abduction, the protests movement is likely to become leaderless.
BREXIT: Boris Johnson urges MPs to support a bill which modifies the Brexit deal
On 9 September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the MPs to support a bill which modifies the Brexit deal he signed with the EU in January. Further, he stated that the Internal Markets Bill would “ensure the integrity of the UK internal market,” hand power to Scotland and Wales and also would protect the Northern Ireland peace process. However, his critics went on to state that this move will damage the UK’s international standing after a minister admitted the plans to break international law. Further, in response to this European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen PM Johnson of breaking international law and undermining the EU’s trust.
The US: Tensions in Rochester after a Black Lives Matter protester was struck by a car
On 5 September, a Black Lives Matter protester was struck by a car in Rochester, New York, where a video showed the driver of the vehicle spraying demonstrators with a yellow substance as it turned at an intersection, and then hitting one person. The substance appeared to be pepper spray, with one protester stating that he was “incapacitated” by the substance. Nightly protests have been taking place in Rochester since last week’s after footage showing police arresting Black man Daniel Prude in a spit hood in March was released publicly.
About the Authors
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD scholar at NIAS. Sourina Bej and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Project Associates and Research Assistant at NIAS respectively.