Research & Analysis

Conflict Weekly: Violence escalates along the India-China border, Cartographic tensions over India-Nepal border, Gas explosion in Assam and Deadly attacks by the Boko Haram in Nigeria

Violence escalates along the India-China border in Ladakh; while 20 killed on the Indian side, casualties on the Chinese side not released

In the news
On 17 June, the Hindu reported the loss of 20 military personnel by India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. According to the Global Times, there were casualties on the other side confirmed by the Chinese military, but the latter did not release any numbers.

Both sides at the military and diplomatic levels made statements on the need to maintain peace and tranquilly along the LAC, but also expressed their commitment to safeguard “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Both referred to an earlier meeting in June, and have accused the other of breaking the promise of disengagement.

Both sides did not fire a single shot, but used iron clubs and rocks in the violent exchange, the first in the last many decades.

Issues at large
First, the challenge of border disengagement. According to the recent talks (6 June 2020), both troops were to disengage from the recent confrontation in two areas in Ladakh – the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Tso. The former is a narrow valley along the Galwan river that flows from Aksai Chin (under the Chinese control) into Ladakh (under the Indian control) before joining the river Shyok (an Indus tributary). The Galwan valley has been under the Indian control; the Chinese side now claims the entire valley.

Second, the failure of 6 June talks leading to disengagement. These talks were held at the military levels led by the Commander of the 14 Corps based in Leh on the Indian side, and the Commander of the South Xinjiang military region on the Chinese side. At the LAC level, this meeting should be considered as a senior-level one. Both sides agreed to disengage; a week later, with the latest round of violence, it appears that Commander level meeting has not yielded the results.

Third, the need for the political leadership to step in, before jingoism and nationalist sentiments step up the military casualties. While India has announced the military casualties, China has not yet. The casualties and body bags will raise the popular fervour, that needs to be avoided. The Indian media has been talking about teaching Chinese a lesson, banning the Chinese goods and “2020 is not 1962.” According to the Global Times editorial, China “does not and will not create conflicts, but it fears no conflicts either. This policy is supported by both morality and strength. We will not trade our bottom line with anyone.”

Fourth, is the need to settle the border differences, and convert the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into a bilateral border. The border dialogue has been going for a long time; there is a perception on both sides to prolong the dialogue and bid more time. It is the differences over where the border lies along the LAC that has led to provocations and whether one side can build infrastructure on its side or not.

In perspective
India and China have to minimize the military interaction at the border level immediately and maximize the political interactions at the bilateral level.

Trump has announced earlier his intention to intervene; this is what Beijing fears –  India falling into the American orbit or the US using India as its Asian pivot. New Delhi has to convince Beijing, the two bilateral ties (with the US and China) are independent. New Delhi also has to convince Beijing that the recent measures in J&K (revocation of Article 370 and administrative reorganization of J&K) are not targeted against China and is a part of an internal strategy.

Outside the LAC, India also has to look into what is happening along the borders with Pakistan, China and Nepal. There has been violence across all three borders in recent weeks. What was discussed as a two-front war, is becoming a three-front one. It is not in New Delhi’s interest to allow China to intervene in India’s neighbourhood, and has to convince Beijing to avoid that temptation.

Furthermore, all the above have to be done politically. And bilaterally. With China. And also with Nepal.


Cartographic tensions on India-Nepal border: Nepal Parliament endorses a new map including Kalapani on its side

In the news
On 13 June, Nepal’s House of Representatives unanimously endorsed the Constitution Amendment Bill, paving the way for a new political and administrative map that includes Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. The region in dispute is of geostrategic importance for both, and has been under the Indian administrative control since the 1960s.

The India-Nepal bilateral ties have again come under strain after the Indian Defence Minister inaugurated an 80-km-long strategically crucial road in Kalapani which has been considered as disputed.

Issues at large
First, the unresolved border dispute. The contention over the Kalapani region is not new and it goes back to 2015 when both India and China without Nepal’s consent agreed to hold negotiation on augmenting the list of traded commodities along with expanding the border trade at Nathu La, Qiangla/Lipulekh Pass and Shipki La. After this agreement, the Government of Nepal (GoN) had immediately expressed its disagreement, which was neglected without adequate diplomatic attention to address the disputed tri-junction. This issue intensified in 2019 when India updated its new political map, including the Kalapani region. Thereafter Nepal’s MOFA sent a diplomatic note to India objecting the inclusion of Kalapani region as it violates the 1816 Suguali treaty between Nepal and the then British administration. According to Kathamndu, despite several serious efforts from the GoN to resolve this dispute and most recently through a diplomatic note dated 20 November 2019 in response to the new political map, New Delhi has ignored the request. As India inaugurated a newly constructed road, the tension has escalated further.

Second, Nepal’s frustration with India. One of the questions that have been often asked is why Nepal rushed to endorse a new political map, as the issue was imminent since 1962 when the Indian Army camp was stationed in Kalapani after the India-China war. The rationale behind this unprecedented move by the Nepal parliament is the perception that India is bullying Kathmandu into unilateral action on the disputed territory.

Third, Nepal’s attempt to steer clear from China rhetoric. Nepal’s parliamentary endorsement needs to be looked beyond the China rhetoric. Nepal has severe reservations with China which were clear when Nepal sent a diplomatic note to China as well after the 2015 India-China bilateral trade agreement. Nepal has equally blamed China and held it responsible for agreeing to include Lipulekh Pass in the Sino-India bilateral trade route without consultation. Amidst the recent border crisis, Nepal might extend its diplomatic talks with China (once the issue is resolved with India) and perhaps pursue trilateral discussions. Viewing Nepal’s concerns as “being raised at China’s behest” (as stated by the Indian Chief of the Army) has led to an adverse environment in the Nepal-India bilateral ties and will create a fault line in the long-existing trust and friendly people to people relation between the countries.

In perspective
First, the Nepalese people have wholeheartedly welcomed the current government’s effort to endorse a new political map. Conversely, considering the government’s elevated ultra-nationalism, some also sees this nation-wide acknowledged action as intense political propaganda and vote bank politics that the ruling Communist Party would play in the upcoming national election.

Second, the critical challenge for the government of Nepal is to get back the claimed territory through diplomatic efforts and dialogue based on historical facts and documents. Despite its small size of 335 square kilometres, this tri-juncture holds a crucial geostrategic and geopolitical significance for India as it can keep an eye on any attempt by China to encroach or the PLA’s move towards India. Therefore, the road ahead for Nepal is not easy and comfortable, despite having robust and indubitable evidence to claim the lost territory.


Assam’s gas explosion brings out the crisis in resource extraction in India’s Northeast

In the news
A massive gas leak in the oil well, run by the Oil India Ltd in the Tinsukia district of Assam state in the Northeast, led to a raging inferno last week. Reportedly, two firefighters have lost their lives, and thousands have been displaced from the area. Tremors have also been reported in the area and Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, called for experts to look into this on an emergency basis.

The Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas also visited the area along with Chief Minister Sonowal. Inquiry committees have been set up at various levels to look into the matter. Given the circumstances of the incident, the committees will be looking into the issue of culpability, the impact on the ecological environment of the area and the measures required to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Issues at large
First, the ecological damage. The oil well is located extremely close to the Dibru-Saikhowa national park, and to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, which has increased the threat to wildlife and the broader ecological environment of the area. According to reports, crops, water bodies and wetlands in the nearby areas have been severely affected, and the threat is not yet over.

Second, the immediate loss of life and long term impacts on public health. The damage done to flora and fauna of the area, and to people’s lives are those that are evidently visible. The ill-effects of the gas leak over a longer period is yet to be known. All efforts as of now have been focused on fighting against time and elements to put an end to the immediate ordeal. The toxic releases from the blow out of the gas leak are being seen as a major concern, and questions are being raised on new explorations and setting up of oil wells without proper studies conducted on the potential impact.

Third, the attention of the national media on issues related to the North East. The national media not only needs to report on such emergencies in the nook and corner of the country, bring it to the public attention but also shed light on the lapses on the part of regulation regarding resource exploitation leading to such mishaps with deep and wide-ranging implications.

In perspective
First, a number of areas in the Northeast, have been projected as being rich in resources that can be exploited and extracted to fuel the economy. However, another side of the story is also to listen to those who raise concerns, related to the environmental repercussions of such economic ventures. The rich biodiversity in the region is also a resource that needs to be preserved, and all steps need caution to balance economic entrepreneurship and the call for environmental security.

Second is the lack of preparedness in terms of quick response to such disasters. Are there requisite safety standard, precautions and regulations being followed to make sure that such dangerous incidents could be handled and also avoided in the future?


Africa: Twin terror attacks by Boko Haram’s splinter kills dozens in Nigeria

In the news
On 13 June, at least 20 soldiers and more than 40 civilians were killed, and hundreds injured in twin attacks claimed by the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) a splinter group of Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state. Militants armed with heavy weapons including rocket launchers arrived in Monguno, which is a base for many international non-governmental organizations where they attacked government forces in the area.

The militants also burned down the United Nations’ humanitarian hub in the area, warning all civilians in the region not to work with the military or international aid groups. Further, the militants also entered Nganzai at about the same time. These twin attacks have come just days after the militants killed at least 81 people in a raid in Gubio.

Issues at large
First, the growing influence of Boko Haram’s splinter ISWAP. The group has moved geographically from its base on the bank and islands of Lake Chad to waging war across north-eastern Nigeria and other regions. The group has also been able to gather support among the locals by filling the governance gaps and has turned this into a source of economic support. Although the group’s methods are often violent and coercive, it has established a strong relationship with the local Muslim population and is much more organized than the parent organization and other rival faction.

Second, the double trouble for Nigeria and the issue of regional violence. Nigeria now has two groups to tackle. The threat of Boko Haram and ISWAP is proving to be detrimental for the country in recent times, with the increase in the number of cases targeting not just military establishment but also civilians. Further, links with the other external Islamist groups will intensify regional security concerns. Together, both the group have killed and displaced vast numbers of people from their homes over the last decade.

In perspective
First, the ongoing battle with insurgent groups continues to threaten the stability and political integrity of Nigeria. The government of Nigeria has for long tried to bring an end to these insurgence groups, but their efforts have been futile. With groups such as the ISWAP deepening roots in the civilian population, the government’s position is weakened and threatened, thus causing instability.

Second, displacing the ISWAP will not be an easy task. For Nigeria to counter the ISWAP, more investment will have to be made in cooperative efforts such the efforts made through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) a regional command which is supposed to manage the troops of the four Lake Chad basin countries will have to be strengthened. Further, while conducting their counter-insurgent measure, the government will have to bridge the gaps that exist due to poor service and governance, especially in areas controlled by ISWAP to ensure that their defeat is sustained.


Also this Week…

Bangladesh university professors issue joint statement against arrests done under the Digital Security Act 
In a joint statement criticising the arrest of a teacher under the Digital Security Act, 53 professors and teachers across universities in Bangladesh have come in solidarity to protest against the series of arrests of bloggers, cartoonists, journalists, and teachers that have been taken place under the Act in the past few months. The arrest of the teacher, Sirajum Munira, came after she posted on social media about deceased former health minister Mohammed Nasim. In addition, two students from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet and Islamic University in Kushtia were arrested and suspended for similar reasons. The Digital Security Act has been in controversy and heavily criticised for being a tool to stifle any opposing opinions and speeches in the cyberspace. In the pretext of regulating cyber media, the government has been viewed to use the pandemic to impose the Act and arrest those with a differing view against the government.

Press freedom in the Philippines in duress as court convicts journalist of cyber libel
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, whose website Rappler once put President Rodrigo Duterte under tough scrutiny, has been convicted of libel on 15 June and will face six years of jail term, in a ruling widely viewed to stifle the countries’ media freedoms. Ressa, who was a former CNN journalist, was charged with ‘cyber libel’ over a 2012 article that linked a businessman to illegal activities.

African countries seek UNHRC inquiry into racism in the US
In an effort to steer the global scrutiny into systemic racism and police brutality, the African countries have put forth a draft resolution on 15 June seeking an inquiry in the US led by the United Nations Human Rights Council aiming to defend the rights of people of African descent. The resolution will be debated in the following weeks by the council leading to the formalizing of an enquiry body to look into the events, causes and consequences of racisms that have flared severe protest in the US.

White House to host the Balkan Peace Talks 
The White House has invited the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, the two Balkan countries in conflict for talks, in a bid to broker a resolution to a decades-long dispute in the region. Continuing with his policy of personal diplomacy and formalizing peace treaties across conflict zones, President Trump hopes to secure a long-elusive formal peace treaty by opening a channel of negotiation between the US-backed Kosovo and the Russian ally Serbia. This has already raised a string of controversies and hornet’s nest in Europe.

Violence return in Yemen after coronavirus prompted ceasefire ends
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement towards the south of the kingdom on 16 June after intercepting several drones the previous night. Violence has revived between the Western-backed alliance and the Houthi group after a six-week ceasefire prompted by the coronavirus pandemic expired last month.

 

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About the author

D. Suba Chandran, Mahesh Bhatta, Monish Tourangbam and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

D. Suba Chandran is Professor and Dean, School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Mahesh Bhatta is a Research Officer at the Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS), a Kathmandu based think-tank. Monish Tourangbam is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations and Head of the Northeast Centre at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Research Assistant at NIAS.