June 09, 2017

War is Back: The International Response to Armed Conflict

1 Jun 2017

By David Harland for Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre)

Armed conflicts – i.e., the number of wars; the number of battle deaths; the number of terrorist incidents; and the number of people displaced by violence – are proliferating, argues David Harland. But while global discord is increasing, the tools to contain or resolve it have not evolved as quickly. They need to be reshaped, starting with the recognition that, at least as far as armed conflict is concerned, the state is just one actor among many.

This article was published in the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue's 2016 Annual Report on 16 May 2017.

From the end of the Cold War until 2010, war seemed to be going away. Interstate warfare disappeared almost completely for a while. Civil wars continued, but at an ever-lower level, and came to be seen less as an existential threat than as a policy challenge to which regular instruments of public policy could be applied. A consensus emerged as to how those public policy instruments should be used, with the elimination—or near-elimination— of armed conflict as the goal.

Since 2010, however, this has unravelled. War is back. Armed conflict has been increasing steadily: the number of wars; the number of battle deaths; the number of terrorist incidents; the number of people displaced by violence. Almost everything to do with war that can be reliably counted has been getting worse. Not yet catastrophically so, but to a degree and at a pace that has so far defied efforts to staunch it.

The instruments that had been used in the previous decades have been applied, but have not prevented the continuing surge in armed violence. Military interventions are failing; peacekeepers are immobilized by terrorists; and traditional diplomacy struggles to accommodate the role of non-state actors, without whom most conflicts can no longer be resolved. Conflicts are evolving, but the tools for containing or resolving those conflicts have not evolved as fast. These tools, therefore, need to be re-shaped, starting from the understanding that, at least as far as armed conflict is concerned, the state is just one actor among many.

The Post-Cold War Policy Consensus

From the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, the annual worldwide total for battle deaths seldom fell below 100,000, with major spikes of violence taking the totals to above 200,000 for extended periods. And then, it largely stopped. The first few years after the Cold War produced localized spasms of violence—in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Rwanda—but the global trend was dramatically downward. With the end of the Cold War, the world became much more peaceful (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Battle deaths, 1946–2010

Source: UCDP, PRIO Battle-related Deaths Dataset 2015

As the Cold War dust settled, war almost disappeared from the rich world, and even from middle-income countries. Serious commentators argued that “the end of history” had arrived, and that there was nothing left to fight about. Or, at least, it was argued, the epic conflicts between supporters of contending visions of how human society should be organised were over. It was felt that, with the Cold War triumph of market democracy, alternative models for human society had been discredited.

Meanwhile, as warfare was declining, so was poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day dropped by almost a billion. This was the biggest and fastest migration out of extreme poverty in history. With the end of the Cold War, trade barriers fell, paving the way for China’s entry into the international trade system, and to a doubling of the size of the world economy in 20 years. It was an unprecedented period of both peace and prosperity.

Except for those left behind. Those who missed out on one also missed out on the other: those who were still caught by war were more likely to be poor; and those who were still caught in extreme poverty were also more likely to fall victim to war. There appeared to be an irreducible minimum of armed conflict in the world, and it was closely correlated to poverty—the poorer a country, the greater the chance that it would be affected by war. The populations of these countries were trapped in a cycle of war and want (see Figure 2).

A policy consensus emerged on how to deal with the “conflict-poverty trap.” Three elements were held to be essential, and to benefit from external support: physical security, economic growth, and time. If these elements were present— as in Guatemala, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Timor Leste, and others—a country might gradually escape the trap. If they were not present—as in Afghanistan, Congo, or South Sudan—escape would not be possible.

Each of the elements needed to escape the conflict-poverty trap spawned an international machinery. International mediators, many of whom became major public personalities, helped “the warring parties” reach peace accords. The age of absolute victory by one side or another seemed to be at an end. These accords were then often supported by growing numbers of peacekeeping troops, usually from the United Nations, but later also from the African Union, the European Union, and elsewhere. The World Bank and others sought new ways to program funds in countries emerging from conflict.

Figure 2 Poverty and war risk

Source: Macartan Humphreys and Ashutosh Varshney, based on Collier and Hoeffler 2002

And the policy consensus seemed to be producing results. The second half of the 1990s was, by many measures, the least violent period in human history. In much of the Western world, perceptions of the decade beginning in 2000 were shaped by the 9/11 attacks on the United States and by the “global war on terror,” including the U.S.-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, however, these tragedies obscured the larger and more positive trends in global conflict. Both before and after the 9/11 attacks, most of those who were killed in war were not killed in conflicts connected to 9/11 and the subsequent response. Rather, they were killed in a large number of conflicts in poor countries—mainly in Africa, and mainly unnoticed by the Western media. And in these twilight zones of forgotten conflict, a formula for escaping the death spiral seemed to have been found. All the major trends in violence were downward, as extensively documented in Steven Pinker’s iconic study The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011). This was true of large- and small-scale conflict, of long- and short-term conflict, even when factoring in 9/11 and its aftermath.

Having plotted war’s co-variance with extreme poverty, and having identified the measures needed to address both war and poverty— and having partly aligned those international interventions to conform to those measures—the Western policy establishment was optimistic. The challenge of preventing and resolving armed conflict was seen by some as comparable to the challenge of eradicating global polio or to that of eliminating commercial aircraft crashes. The goal of ending war—or of nudging it asymptotically close to zero—seemed to many to be within reach. The war against war was being won.

The End of the End of History

In his Preface to the Philosophy of Right (1820), Hegel observed that “the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk”—that we are wise about events only as those events are ending. The post-Cold War consensus on the management of armed conflict was captured in a series of important publications in 2010 and 2011. The data was showing—with greater clarity than ever before—not just how fast armed conflict was declining, but also the positive impact of efforts to break the conflict-poverty trap. Based on this data, the policy prescriptions for dealing with the residual caseload of armed conflict were refined.

But the owl had already flown. Just as this body of literature was emerging, the trends began to go into reverse—slowly at first, and then faster in the years that followed. The first four cases to buck the trend were in the Middle East: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and, above all, Syria. By 2014, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, global annual battle deaths had again topped 100,000. In the same year, the global total of refugees and internally displaced persons topped 50 million, a number not seen since the epic population movements at the close of World War II and during the civil war in China.

A new wave of literature emerged, focus- ing on the “Arab Spring,” on the particular pathologies of the Arab autocracies and the “youth bulge” in those countries, and on the unmet expectations and unrespected rights of those youthful populations. But the owl was flying again. Mali, which is not an Arab country, imploded in 2012, partly as a knock-on effect of the war in Libya, with the north of the country being lost to armed Islamist groups. The Central African Republic, which is even less Arab than Mali, drifted perilously close to a genocide in 2013, as did South Sudan. Ukraine fell into conflict in 2014, as did Iraq after several years of much lower levels of violence. Yemen, too, erupted into open warfare in 2014.

During the same period—and partly linked to the same phenomena—terrorism reached levels never before seen. The number of attacks, and the number of casualties, almost tripled between 2010 and early 2016. Belgium, France, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand, and Turkey all saw unprecedented levels of terrorist violence. While not threatening the viability of any of these states, terrorism— including in its trans-national aspects—became a global challenge.

By 2015, most of the gains in the 25-year “war against war” had been lost. The number of wars and the number of people killed were back to Cold War levels. The number of terrorist attacks and the number of refugees had surpassed the worst of the Cold War. Military interventions that had been launched with the stated aim of ending specific threats of violence—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya—had not only failed to achieve their goals, but had lingered, spread, and facilitated the emergence of new conflicts (see Figure 3).

This backsliding was not for want of trying. The United States spent an estimated $3 trillion in an effort to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq. The UN Security Council entered into almost permanent session, adopting, among many others, the resolution that was used as the basis for the Western-led military intervention in Libya. The UN deployed more “Special Envoy” mediators than ever before, even bringing back former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mediate on Syria. The number of UN Blue Helmets rose steadily, from 20,000 in 2000 to over 100,000 in 2015.

Figure 3 Battle deaths, 1990–2014

Source: UCDP, PRIO Battle-related Deaths Dataset 2015

Weakness of Tools to Prevent and Resolve Armed Conflict

There have only ever been a limited number of tools for preventing or resolving armed conflict. Across history, six major instruments have dominated these efforts.

Norms: Despite claims to the contrary from the ill-named “realist” school of international relations, there is ample evidence that norms have significantly constrained the use of violence in the international system. Norms have, for example, contributed to a steady decline in the number of interstate invasions.Information: The use of information—both real and invented—has been an essential element in starting wars, preventing them, and stopping them. Deterrence: The likelihood of a party going to war is reduced by the reasonable expectation that force can be deployed to prevent that party from attaining its goals.Force: When deterrence fails, the use of force is the normal means by which an act of armed aggression is ended.Economy: Tribute, trade, sanctions, and, more recently, economic development assistance, have all been used to encourage nations on the path to peace, and to otherwise shape their behaviour.Diplomacy: Negotiation and mediation have been the means by which alternatives to armed conflict have been sought.

Weakened Tools

The fundamentals of these tools do not change much. What changes most is the extent to which they are adapted to a particular context. The peculiarity of our own age is that all six of the tools have been honed with the state remaining the basic unit of reference. Armed conflict, however, has been evolving in precisely the opposite direction, partly due to the way technology has evolved.

Below the state level, social media technology has enabled large, leaderless groups of people to express their grievances as never before, and even to remove repressive regimes, as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Ukraine. At the trans-boundary level, the internet abets the radicalization and recruitment of terrorists from one country for action in other. Web technology also enhances the trans-boundary trafficking that underpins many of the world’s armed conflicts. Supra-national conflict, such as resurgent Sunni-Shia conflict, is likewise enhanced by “new media.”

Technology is not the only reason for the feeble impact of traditional tools for managing conflict in our time. Without attempting to enumerate all the new and emerging drivers of armed conflict in our world, it is still possible to identify some of the factors that have diminished these tools.

The framework of “universal norms,” for example, is now subject to robust challenge, and is presented by challengers as a framework of “Western norms”. Geopolitics is back on the international scene, after a hiatus of some 20 years, and political ideas are one of the battlegrounds.

Exacerbating this, Western countries have been distinctly less-than-attentive to norms such as non-interference in the internal affairs of states, and to respect for the territorial integrity of states. If this laxity has not actually weakened the international security architecture, it has, in the context of renewed geopolitical competition, provided a convenient rationale for Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The role of information—and misinformation and disinformation—in shaping the perception of key constituencies has never been stronger, and the balance has tipped away from the world’s status quo powers. The Great Firewall of China, Russian troll factories, and the gory spectacles of ISIS’s al-Fuqan media production all shape perceptions about issues of war and peace, and the traditional Western state actors have so far produced no effective answer.

Nor are military deterrence and the use of force as effective as in earlier contexts. No effective deterrent to terrorist action in an open society has yet been found. And with American-led military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya widely perceived as both expensive and unsuccessful, the use of expeditionary military operations as a tool for maintaining peace and stability in the international system has declined—at least for the time being. The reluctance of the United States to intervene in Syria reflects, in part, dissatisfaction with the results of previous interventions.

The UN’s peacekeeping efforts have also run into trouble, for some of the same reasons. The original peacekeepers of the late-1940s and 1950s were neutral observers positioned between the front lines of regular armies. As conflicts became steadily more complex, so too did the operations themselves, thus culminating in “robust peacekeeping operations” that had elements of counter-insurgency or “spoiler management.” The latest such operation, in Mali, has already taken a large number of casualties from Islamist terrorist operations, and the viability of the UN model is being questioned, including in the UN itself.

Efforts to shape the international security system through economic measures do work. The emergence of robust market democracies in East and Southeast Asia correlates very strongly with peace. American efforts to hasten the collapse of the Soviet economy by forcing it to over-invest in armaments were effective. Economic sanctions can also work. The agreements signed between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations explicitly links constraints on the development of Iran’s nuclear program with the easing of economic sanctions.

These measures work, but not fast. At least until updated to reflect the speed of the modern economy, their efficacy in the face of short-term security challenges will remain limited.

Which leaves diplomacy, including mediation. Those who dislike its transactional nature enjoy referring to diplomacy as “the world’s secondoldest profession”. It is indeed an old profession— there is not a lot that modern diplomats could teach the Warring States’ emissaries of Sima Qian’s Histories, while Krishna’s epic mediation in the Mahabharata has never been surpassed. But the failure of contemporary diplomacy to provide a framework for preventing and managing armed conflict—and its failure to manage a slew of violent crises—is not a failure of its distant past.

Current diplomacy around violent conflict is a prisoner of its recent past—it is excessively wedded to the interactions between states at a time when fewer and fewer conflicts can be resolved exclusively within that matrix. This weakness is exemplified by the UN Security Council, whose deliberations exclude almost entirely non-state, private sector, and civil society actors that are essential for any effective response to armed conflict.

Adaptation of Existing Tools

What to do? The natural policy choice would be to do nothing. Little attention is paid to the rise of armed violence as a general phenomenon, requiring systemic responses. Security threats are mostly considered within their immediate political context. Terrorist attacks by adherents of ISIS in France or Belgium are routinely considered within the framework of the crisis in Iraq and Syria. Russian intervention in Ukraine is considered within the framework of Russia’s efforts to re-establish a sphere of influence, or to re-establish itself as a major world power. Tensions in the South China Sea are considered within the framework of China’s efforts to establish security domination in its region.

Some consideration is given to the policy responses needed to what might be termed “mid-range” security challenges: “the Arab Spring,” “hybrid warfare,” or counter-terrorism in the context of the recruitment of citizens of EU states for terrorist attacks in the EU itself. These lead to limited adjustments to security budgets and security posture, and even to some adjustments to social and economic policies. Policies for “countering violent extremism” or “preventing violent extremism” are examples of policy responses to these midrange threats. So far, however, these measures have not reflected a general willingness to engage with the broader issues of preventing and resolving armed conflict.

A broader effort to improve global capacity to manage security threats would start with a recognition that, irrespective of the specific political factors at play in each crisis, the traditional tools for the management of armed conflict are now poorly aligned with the threats. The tools must be adapted to contexts in which states are only one of a number of actors.

Some movement in this direction is perceptible. The mediation of armed conflict, for example, has evolved to accommodate actors other than states. As early as 1994, the Community of Sant’Egidio mediated the peace agreement ending the civil war in Mozambique. The Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, of which I am Executive Director, mediated the first Cessation of Hostilities between the Government of Indonesia and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement. The former President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, was able to take this one step further with the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding that ended that war.

Private mediation actors have also developed a capacity for “multi-stakeholder” and “multilevel” processes. In Tunisia, for example, local and international actors were able to broker a series of agreements between Islamist and secular political forces that helped keep Tunisia stable following the 2011 ouster of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its role in this effort, and Tunisia remains the only “Arab Spring” country to have undergone a successful transition—though that stability is being challenged by instability in neighboring Libya and other factors.

Nor is it just the field of diplomacy and mediation that is slowly adapting to the less state-centric world of modern conflict. ISIS leads the way in the effective use of information to shape the battlefield, and the most effective responses now also come from non-state actors—albeit of a very different kind. As Kenya tipped towards civil war in 2008, it was civil society’s Ushahidi crowd-sourced information that was able to provide the most effective real-time counter-mobilization.

Republican Party Secretary-General Maya Jribi signs the Charter of Honour on the fair conduct of elections in Tunisia, July 2014.
The Charter, signed by the main parties from across the political spectrum, contributed to peaceful elections in the country in 2014. © HD

But these are exceptions, and they are still relatively minor. The tools for managing armed conflict remain overwhelmingly dominated by states; and they are failing. State-based norms on the use of force gain little traction with individuals and non-state actors at a time when power continues to move from the former to the latter. Business is now a major actor in many of the world’s most conflict-prone arenas, but plays only a very limited direct role in the prevention and resolution of armed conflict. Illegitimate business interests are actively sustaining conflict, but the countervailing efforts of “corporate social responsibility” are marginal.

Armed conflict is surging, and is now largely unconstrained by the traditional state system. Efforts to contain this new generation of warfare will, likewise, need to reach beyond the traditional repertoire of statecraft. Many of the next generation of tools are already available, and have been tested. What is so far lacking is the political will to deploy them systematically and at the required scale.

This article was first published in Horizons, Spring 2016, Issue N°7, Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development.

About the Author

David Harland is the Executive Director of the HD Centre. He has previously worked for the United Nations, including in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Timor Leste, and as adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Affairs (SAIS

Nepal: A Decade of Fragile Peace

9 Jun 2017

By Anurag Acharya for Saferworld

Just over a decade ago Nepal ended an internal war that killed 13,000 people and ‘disappeared’ an additional 1,300. Since then, the country’s peace has been an uneasy one. Yes, Anurag Acharya agrees it’s remarkable that Nepal’s leaders have managed to bring all sides of the armed conflict into a peaceful political mainstream, but the drawn-out political transition towards a secular federal republic continues to cause problems. Here are the details.

This article was originally published by Saferworld in June 2017.

This briefing sets out findings that arose from three workshops conducted in Siraha, Nepalgunj and Lalitpur, Nepal from January-February 2017, which included participants from 20 districts across Nepal. After the successes of the Capacities for Peace project1, the follow-up workshops highlighted a series of potential flashpoints for conflict in the country in the coming months and years as the country undergoes a process of constitutional change.

Saferworld and our partners promote a people-centred engagement model that builds on existing local peacebuilding initiatives and empowers conflict-affected communities to identify their main security threats and respond to them in a constructive and non-violent way. Over time it is intended to lead to a greater understanding of conflict dynamics, which enables outside actors to support communities to reduce levels of violence while strengthening the capacities of those communities and actors to manage conflict peacefully.

Recent outbreaks of violence across Nepal, coupled with the prospect of profound constitutional change, suggest that local peacebuilding will be essential to harnessing the potential of Nepal’s new chapter for building long-term peace, stability and shared economic growth. This policy briefing is intended as a contribution to those shared goals.

Introduction

On 21 November 2016, Nepal marked a decade since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the violent conflict (1996-2006) which killed 13,256 people, resulted in the disappearance of more than 1,350 and injured thousands more.2,3

Remarkably, Nepal has succeeded in bringing all sides of the armed conflict into a largely peaceful political mainstream, although the drawn-out political transition to a secular federal republic continues to pose challenges. The disbanding of the Maoist ‘People’s Liberation Army’ and subsequent integration of former combatants into the national army, as well as their rehabilitation into society were major achievements that helped in consolidating peace. Further, the elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) that drafted Nepal’s first republican constitution in 2015, and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), have all contributed to the peace process.

However, mobilisations during the conflict and the ‘People’s Movement’ that led to the abolition of the monarchy in 2006 also liberated the political, social and cultural aspirations of historically disadvantaged groups who began to assert their rights and demand space in the new political system. Ethnic and regional groups formed political caucuses inside the CA, as well as taking to the streets to demand their share of representation at all levels of the state. Among these, a regional group known as the Madhesi Front, a loose coalition of political parties based in Nepal’s southern plains, was strong in its demand for political and cultural autonomy. There were also ethnic groups, collectively known as the Janajatis, who demanded recognition of linguistic and cultural identity as well as meaningful political representation in the new constitution. Women and sexual minority groups also demanded their rights and recognition in the new political system.

The assertions by these groups inside and outside the CA, which also functioned as the interim parliament, meant the peace process which originally had only two parties – the state (represented by the Seven Party Alliance) and the ex-rebels negotiating mutual terms – often stood at odds with other stakeholders of the statute drafting process. This stalemate led to the unfortunate closure of the first CA on 27 May 2012.4

The demise of the first CA was followed by months of mutual recriminations between different political actors. Finally the parties agreed to hold second CA elections on 19 November 2013 under a bureaucrat-led government, providing a new lease of life to statute drafting and the peace process. However, the points of contention that brought the downfall of the first CA continued to haunt the second, as Nepal entered another period of political stalemate.

On 25 April 2015 the country was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people and injured thousands across 18 districts in the eastern and central regions. The national crisis turned into an opportunity, as the political parties once again engaged in lengthy meetings to thrash out issues of contention.

However as the new draft constitution was being prepared, civic and political groups from Nepal’s southern plains as well as those in the mid-western hills, launched separate protests against the proposed federal structures and other provisions in the constitution. The groups also protested against what they perceived as ‘high-handedness of the big parties’, pushing the constitution through without proper consultation with the public.5 Initial protest over the draft federal demarcation erupted in the mid-western hills including Surkhet and Jumla districts, where three people were killed by the police. Following the protests, the CA made changes to the federal map to address the demands of protesters in the mid-western hills, but left the demands of those protesting in the Terai unaddressed.

On 24 August 2015, violence erupted amid street protests by the Tharus in the town of Tikapur in far-western Kailali district. Eight policemen and a toddler were killed when a violent mob attacked the police deployed to take control of the situation. In the counter-violence, another mob-attack vandalised and torched dozens of homes and shops belonging to Tharus in the town. The violence quickly spread to other central and eastern Terai districts, where clashes between protesters and the police led to death of another 49 people including women, children and a police constable who was travelling off-duty.

After eight years of political stalemate, on 20 September 2015 Nepal’s political parties promulgated the new constitution amid great contention and protest. Following the promulgation of the constitution, a blockade along the Indo-Nepal border was launched that prevented vehicles carrying petroleum products, medicines and other essential goods from entering into the country, which continued for five months. While the Madhesi protesters claimed responsibility, the government in Kathmandu blamed India for aiding and abetting the blockade.

More than a year since the end of the blockade, the Terai is simmering with yet more protests, launched separately by the coalition of Madhesh-based parties and Tharu groups, angry at the governing coalition’s delay in amending the constitution as earlier promised.6

Constitutional deadlock, reconstruction and local elections

Nepal has been without representative local government for the last 15 years, after the last elected local bodies were dissolved in 2002. Since then, local bodies have been run by bureaucrats and an informal ‘all- party mechanism’ which has gained notoriety for embezzling the local development budget, as well as interfering in management committees of public schools, hospitals and forest user groups.7 This has become a major governance problem in a country which is trying to boost its economy by investing in infrastructure including roads, hospitals and hydro-electricity projects to tackle acute power deficits and stimulate economic growth.8 Local elections will also prove crucial for post-earthquake reconstruction in the affected districts where people still languish in makeshift camps.

Under intense pressure from public and civil society organisations, the Nepal government declared the next local elections in two phases, to be held on 14 May 2017 and 14 June 2017, which will elect representatives to more than 700 village and municipal councils.9 However, impending disputes over constitutional provisions that have held Nepali politics and society hostage for the last eight years have already dampened public enthusiasm and expectations for how the elections may be able to improve their lives.

There are four major areas of contention surrounding the new constitution: state boundaries, constituency delineation, citizenship and proportional representation at all levels of the state mechanism. The agitating groups want the boundaries of No.2 and No.5 provinces expanded to accommodate areas with Madhesi and Tharu populations respectively, which are presently in neighbouring provinces. Similarly, they want at least 50 per cent of the local level constituencies to be in the Terai region, given that the region accounts for half the country’s population. They also wish to see proportional representation in the lower house of the parliament, which was reduced to 40 per cent, to be raised to 50 per cent and the provincial representation in the upper house of parliament to be in proportion to its population. And finally, the demand for non- discriminatory citizenship provisions, including citizenship being passed down to children by mothers, as opposed to exclusively fathers, as is currently the case.10

The government’s delay in addressing demands for constitutional amendments recently led to the Madhesi Front withdrawing support from the government. The Front has issued an ultimatum, threatening to launch another wave of protests in the Terai if the government fails to make amendments soon. At a time when the government is racing against a constitutional time-frame to hold parliamentary, provincial and local elections by January 2018, the escalation of tensions risks the peaceful conduct of the elections themselves, and the potential conflict that may be left in their wake.

Cross-regional conflict dynamics

Governance

The adverse effect of Nepal’s political instability and protracted transition is readily apparent in the governance of various sectors. A lack of transparency, accountability and mismanagement of the public sector has made accessing services difficult for communities, placing them in potential conflict with government agencies.

Workshop participants reported that the absence of elected representatives at local level for a long period has promoted self-serving collusion between bureaucrats and local political leaders in the temporary all-party mechanism that has been leading local bodies. Incidences of budget allocated for the welfare of disadvantaged groups being diverted for different purposes have been widely reported from several districts in the eastern, central, mid-western and far-western region. A participant from Dang district, for instance, reported that the welfare budget allocated for women and children was spent for infrastructure development such as the construction of roads.

Insufficient local participation and inclusion in planning processes has been linked to lopsided development priorities and a lack of effective implementation of local development projects. Local hospitals and health services were reported to be in very poor condition. Lack of medicines, equipment and budget to fund trained doctors, nurses and assistant health workers are among the reasons cited for these conditions. Bikash Tiwari, from Saptari district, recently went on hunger strike for 18 days, demanding an improvement to health services and greater availability of medicines and essential medical treatment at Sagarmatha Zonal hospital in Rajbiraj.11

Similarly people visiting government offices such as the District Development Office (DDO), District Administration Office (DAO) and District Land Revenue Office to obtain citizenship certificates, passports and land ownership certificates have reported facing bureaucratic obstacles, nepotism and corrupt officials, impeding their access to effective public services.

Political mobilisation and tensions

Political mobilisation by different groups with competing agendas represents a major challenge for Nepal’s government and its agencies. While some of these groups are mainstream political forces seeking to redress grievances through the parliamentary process, other political groups identified by workshop participants do not wish to directly engage with state agencies and are mobilising outside of mainstream political frameworks.

Mobilisation by political parties - those participating as well as opposing the elections - will increase as the polling date approaches. Given that local polls are happening after an extended period, the parties are expected to launch aggressive campaigning which could lead to stand-offs between cadres belonging to different parties.

Cadres of the Madhesi Front protesting against the government decision to hold polls before constitutional amendments were recently engaged in clashes with the police in several districts. In Saptari, five people were shot dead by the police on 6 March 2017, with several others critically injured when locals including Madhesi Front cadres tried to disrupt an election campaign by CPN-UML12. A National Human Rights Commission team which went to monitor the situation was also attacked by angry family members of those killed by the police.13

The Madhesi Front have also been disrupting the government’s initiative to restructure local government offices as part of preparations for holding elections, making way for new local government under a federal provincial structure. In Parsa district cadres belonging to the Madhesi Front blackened signboards at a newly-formed District Coordination Committee office, which has replaced the District Development Committee.14

Similarly, the Tharuhat Tharuwan Joint Struggle Committee – a loose coalition of Tharu activists and organisations advocating for political rights of the indigenous Tharu community – have also launched protest movements against the demarcation of federal boundaries in two of the provinces in mid-west and far-west Nepal. The committee declared a general strike in the first week of February 2017 and has vowed to disrupt local elections if its demands are not met.15

In addition, there are two other major actors active in various regions of the country who have dissociated themselves from any political dialogue with the government, refused to recognise the new constitution, and are mobilising towards their own political ends. They include Chandra Kant (CK) Raut, who was campaigning in eastern and central Terai districts calling for a ‘Free Madhesh’ and an end to the ‘internal colonisation of Madhesh’ until February 2017 when he was arrested for the second time on sedition charges. Raut, whose separatist political agenda lacked widespread popular support in Madhesh until a year ago, has been attracting and mobilising followers among young Madhesis, disillusioned by the current political leadership in the region, as well as those who are angry at the excessive use of force by police during protests in Madhesh.16 Similarly, the former leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre), Netra Bikram Chand (Biplav) who now leads a splintered faction, is mostly active in the mid-western and far-western region. Chand and his supporters denounce the new constitution and are planning to form a militant wing that aims to launch a ‘people’s revolt’ to capture the state.17

Social cohesion and tensions

One of the major outcomes of Nepal’s civil conflict and subsequent decade-long political transition has been the growth in confidence of marginalised communities to challenge traditional social structures. This newly realised assertiveness has given impetus to the debate on inclusion but poor political management

has led to a rupturing of social relations and deep polarisation in some contexts. If this can be managed non- violently the process may still lead to greater inclusion and equality in Nepali society and ultimately contribute to long-term peace.

While ethnic polarisation in the hill districts has subsided in the months following the declaration of the constitution, divisions remain prominent in the plains. A year and half after a series of incidents – known as ‘the Madhesh movement’ that claimed 58 lives including 11 security personnel – there is deep tension and fear between communities that have historically coexisted. In Kailali’s Tikapur, the divide between indigenous Tharus and Pahades (people of hill origins) has deepened as the communities boycott one another.18

Tikapur, one year on

“After the Tikapur incident, where eight policemen and a toddler were killed by a crowd during protests, several Tharu families reported intimidation and torture in the following weeks. Women were manhandled and abused, while men were forced to flee across the border fearing arrest – many have not returned. Some of those arrested are still being detained without charges laid against them. Houses and shops belonging to the Tharu community were vandalised and torched in the aftermath of the incident. The victims are yet to receive reparation for the damage done. The annual election of the village leader Bhalmansa was cancelled last year amid fear and threats. In Tikapur town, there is still palpable tension among Tharus and hill communities whose social contacts with one another have been limited”.

– Hem Karna BK, workshop participant

Similar local disputes are leading to dangerous communal conflicts, as was the case in Kailali district where remains of dead cows found in nearby forests were wrongly portrayed as the result of a mass slaughter, and used to incite anger against a religious minority. The issue was politicised by local groups and led to several days of protests in the mid-west and far-west districts.19

Mystery of the dead cows

The incident began when communities living near Kailali’s Patela community forest found an injured cow in the forest and took it to a local veterinary clinic, where the animal died undergoing treatment. The incident led to protests by local religious groups who blamed religious minorities in the area for ‘slaughtering cows’. The protesters filed a police complaint and provided photographs from inside the community forest that showed carcasses of cows as evidence. During the investigation police found that locals from around the area as well as from nearby municipal towns routinely left old and diseased animals in the forest and concluded that the injured animal was among those abandoned by their owners. Local media reported the police findings, after which the protests stopped.

– Based on report by workshop participant

Another shocking incident took place in Siraha’s Dhangadhi village where a family from a marginalised community was barred from collecting water from a well. Despite facilitation and intervention from media and a renowned film actor, the so-called upper-caste families refused to allow the family to draw water from the well. Following a national outcry the local administration intervened and ensured the family’s access to the water.20

A workshop participant also reported an incident that took place at Banke district’s Mataiya Village Development Committee in October 2016, during the Muslim community’s Mohammad Day celebration, where two people were killed and nine injured in a dispute between locals of the Hindu and Muslim communities. The situation came under control after members of local civil society groups, the Chief District Officer and police intervened to mediate the dispute. The police also arrested and charged four people in the incident.

Participants also identified problems caused by the growing exodus of Nepalis seeking overseas employment. The lack of employment opportunities, low wages and poor working conditions at home has compelled millions of Nepalis to seek opportunities in various countries across the Gulf and Asia. Although remittances help to support the economy, it is leading to the disintegration of families, increasing social divisions and crime. Forced to live separately for many years, migrant workers often return with poor physical and mental health, while families back home face social stigma and harassment from village moneylenders. Participants reported unusually high divorce rates and property disputes leading to crime among families of migrant workers.21 In addition, drug and alcohol abuse among youth, dowry-related disputes and incidences of domestic violence were identified as triggers in localised conflict.

Resource conflicts

The absence of elected bodies has also led to resource conflicts at the local level. With no elections at municipal and village level councils, School Management Committees (SMCs), Forest User Group Committees and Local Cooperative Group Committees, have become an arena for local politics. Political parties fiercely contest elections to these bodies in an attempt to control and mobilise budgets allocated to them, often leading to violent conflict.

Participants from the eastern region discussed a case last year in 2016, where two people were killed when a fight broke out between political groups inside an SMC meeting in Dhanusa district. Six people were killed in the district over disputes in the SMCs in recent years, while three more were killed in nearby Rautahat district. Disagreements and violence have also stalled elections in 5,000 SMCs all over the country.22

Participants from the western region explained how private hydropower projects are leading to disputes in the hill districts over the community’s access to water for drinking and irrigation. Similarly, there is a rapid exploitation and depletion of natural resources along Nepal’s foothills, also known as Chure region, which extends from west to east. The illegal mining of sand and aggregates from the riverbeds and timber smuggling from the forests has been blamed for erosion and flash floods, drought and depletion of the water table. There is a clear nexus between owners of these illegal mining companies, local bureaucrats and politicians, and the growing local dissatisfaction, which is an early sign that the situation over exploitation of resources could escalate violently in the near future.23

Transitional justice

After several years of delay, and following the Supreme Court’s strong verdict against the government’s earlier attempt to form a single commission with authority to grant amnesty even in serious cases of human rights abuse, in April 2014 Nepal’s parliament endorsed bills to form two commissions to investigate atrocities and to ascertain the whereabouts of those disappeared during the conflict. Last year in 2016 the commissions began collecting complaints from families and they have to date received more than 58,000 complaints at the TRC and 2,874 complaints at the CIEDP. There were reports of intimidation of families by the Maoists as well as the security forces, with threats designed to prevent complaints being filed. Following this the commissions mobilised officials to reach out to families to collect complaints directly.

The commissions’ functioning however has been stalled by internal feuding between members and their alleged partisan interests, as well as limited resource allocation by the government. There has been a call for amendments to the TRC Act by victims as well as national and international bodies, to empower the commission to hold a free and fair investigation. The commission has also been requesting an amendment to the act to reach internationally-recognised standards, as well as formulating necessary laws to facilitate its work.24

The uncertainties and frustrations of victims’ families at the prolonged delay in the delivery of truth and justice is turning into anger. In February 2017, hundreds of victims’ families protested in front of the Parliament Secretariat in Singha Durbar, demanding justice. Similarly, a group of former Maoist combatants picketed and padlocked the CPN (MC) office in November last year, demanding compensation for their exploitation as child soldiers.

Although Nepal may be quickly moving out of its protracted transition with the promulgation of the constitution, participants pointed out that the delay in delivering justice to the victims of war could sow the seeds for future conflict.25

Capacities for peace: identifying the challenges

Apart from cross-regional conflict dynamics, workshop participants identified common issues that present direct challenges to local peacebuilding efforts. These issues, with local and national consequences, directly limit the potential for peacebuilding in Nepal. The following section lists the main challenges identified.

Fractured political discourse

Nepal’s peace process is remarkably unique in the way it has been led primarily by domestic political forces which have direct stakes in its outcome. This has imparted legitimacy and broader ownership to the entire political discourse, from the mainstreaming of an armed group and its integration into mainstream politics, to the drafting and promulgation of a new republican constitution.

During the course of this process, political groups with contending ideological backgrounds were forced into temporary power-sharing arrangements. Besides these, there were cross-party political caucuses of marginalised groups including women, indigenous and ethnic groups, who formed loose coalitions around common agendas. The differences among these groups, however, first delayed the drafting of the constitution, before leading to the dissolution of the first CA, when it became clear they were not going to be reconciled.

Nevertheless, driven by a sense of urgency after the nation was hit by a major earthquake, Nepal’s second constituent assembly promulgated the new constitution by a majority. The achievement itself is historic for a country that was engaged in a civil conflict for a decade. However, broader public ownership of the constitution remains in question, primarily because it was pushed through without sufficient consultation to create a wider sense of legitimacy, and also due to protests by political groups demanding amendments to various provisions.

While the engagement of political leaders in a robust public exchange is welcome – often leading to compromises at that level – it is important to highlight that entrenched positions continue to be contested at the grassroots level among party cadres, sustaining and building conflict. The violence across Nepal’s southern plains last year and in Saptari are an example of how these dynamics, driven by national level disagreements, result in actual violence on the ground.

As the country comes out of the first phase of local elections in May, a second phase scheduled for June and then provincial and parliamentary elections in January 2018 means these differences may lead to further polarisation.

Managing liberated public aspirations

One of the hallmarks of Nepali democracy in the republican era has been the liberation of people’s aspirations, especially among marginalised communities whose assertion of their rights has often been at odds with the limited capacity of the state to deliver.

For a nation with such ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, ensuring inclusion at all levels of the state holds great opportunities, but is also a challenge. The new constitution provides a broad framework for this inclusion. However, the capacity and willingness to be inclusive also requires a change in the mind-set of actors in the political system. This is not an overnight process and will take persistent, sustained and long- term efforts in policymaking and governance, both at national and local levels. This has serious implications for the current short time frames envisaged by the donor community to support this process.

As the country adopts a federal governance system, it will bring government closer to the people, increasing their ability to demand services. This will test the capacity of elected representatives to deliver on their promises.

Managing young demography

Nepal has one of the youngest populations in the region, with almost 60 per cent of the population in the working age bracket of 15-55 years.26 The population has immense potential to unleash Nepal’s development which has been stalled for several decades, primarily due to conflict and political instability.

However, the lack of job creation in the economy and low wages have forced millions of Nepalis to seek employment overseas. If the current political situation continues, the young and educated will further question the ability of their political leaders to create opportunities, resulting in the continued exodus of Nepal’s skilled workforce from the country. For those who remain, there is a real danger their frustration and anger could be used by non-state forces to create further instability, which may drag the country into new cycles of violence.

Tolerance and accommodation of differences

Nepal has witnessed one of the most rapid political upheavals in its history. From a monolithic kingdom with centralised governance systems to an inclusive secular republic, the country has made significant strides, with one of the most progressive statutes in the region in the form of the new constitution. Yet this is a society where women’s participation in politics was negligible until recently and several sections of society remain ostracised and discriminated against, including gender and sexual minorities.

Thus, the institutionalisation of these constitutional gains will also require greater tolerance of difference in society. As the disadvantaged groups exercise their new constitutional rights, society at large needs to be accommodating and tolerant in response. This is inevitably a long-term process of social change, but one in which civil society is well-placed to assist.

Victims of political conflicts and social exclusion and their families are often forced to live and interact in the same social and political space with perpetrators. This puts them in a potential situation of conflict. The clash between so-called upper-class families and the marginalised Dalits in Siraha district, and recent protests by victims of war are early warnings of such conflict.

Capacities for peace: identifying the role of actors and opportunities for peace

COCAP | Nepalmonitor.org and Saferworld have been interacting with and working alongside various individuals and organisations who have a long-term stake in peace in Nepal. We see the role of the following seven actors as crucial to peacebuilding efforts – through integrating collaborative and conflict-sensitive approaches to programmes that address the underlying drivers of conflict and insecurity, especially at the local level.

Nepal’s vibrant civil society (NagarikSamaj) has historically played a crucial role in driving political discourse and debate in the country, as well as facilitating dialogue among various actors. There are

organisations like the Nepal Bar Association, Chamber of Commerce, NGO Federation, Federation of Nepali Journalists and human rights organisations, among others, that are vocal constituencies of Nepal’s civil society at the national level. In addition thousands of community-based organisations (CBOs) with their social mobilisers and volunteers are the agents of peace and change at the grassroots level.

From gender activists who have been campaigning against domestic violence and increasing women’s participation in local planning, to members of community forest user groups who have protected and ensured communities’ access to local resources, and organisations that have campaigned to end violence against sexual and gender minorities – Nepal’s CBOs play a crucial role in empowering people at the grassroots and fostering social harmony. With enhanced capacity, CBOs can play a more effective role in providing early warning and response to local conflict.

Similarly, the media has been a guardian of people’s rights in the country and among the most vocal constituency that has questioned autocratic regimes and those in power for abuses of authority even under democracy.

There are 910 registered newspapers, 85 television channels, 652 radio stations and 432 online news portals active in 75 districts across the country, constituting a vibrant media community.27 Thousands of journalists working in the newsrooms of these media outlets are important watchdogs who provide a form of early warning and intervention when public rights and safety are threatened. The rise of social media with multiple online platforms has also strengthened this intervention.

The network of community radio stations across the country continues to play a critical role in informing people by disseminating public campaigns on education and health. This has helped to reduce child as well as maternal mortality rates and raise public awareness on sensitive issues such as ‘untouchability’.28

During the devastating earthquake of 2015, radio and online media played a crucial role in disseminating information about the extent of damage which helped relief agencies prioritise their resources. They remain effective in overseeing the ongoing reconstruction process.

However, the integrity and professionalism of media and journalists has often been under scrutiny during periods of political polarisation, when some have been blamed for publishing and broadcasting politically- biased content. This undermines their legitimacy in the public’s eyes and thus reduces their potential to contribute to healthy inter-communal and state-citizen relations. Having said this, the watchdog body remains a key stakeholder to peacebuilding, both at national and local levels.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has a crucial role to play in Nepal’s capacity for peacebuilding. The constitutional body is mandated to defend the fundamental rights of Nepali citizens and non-citizens and was first established with a statutory role at the height of Maoist conflict in 2000. The NHRC is a body which can independently initiate inquiries into cases of human rights violations by both the state and non-state actors and direct the government to take necessary action as per its recommendations.

Since its inception, the NHRC has played an instrumental role in protecting and upholding human rights in the country. During the conflict, when there were reports of arbitrary detention and the disappearance of students affiliated to the Maoist party by the security forces, the NHRC asserted its right to access the premises of Nepal Army’s Bhairabnath Battalion to monitor detainees.29 Recently, the commission has also been playing a crucial role in monitoring and mediating the ongoing situation in Nepal’s southern plains.

However, although the rights body has been vocal in condemning violence and the violation of rights, its recommendations have been repeatedly ignored by both government bodies and political groups.30 Despite these setbacks, the NHRC remains an important player in local and national peacebuilding for Nepal.

Political parties have also played a historic role in mediating and ending the decade-long conflict in Nepal, by signing a CPA with the Maoists in November 2006. In the absence of local bodies, political parties formed an all-party mechanism which included members of major political parties in the area to help village and municipal secretaries run local bodies until the new elections were held. The temporary mechanism provided interim provisions for people to participate in the planning, execution and overseeing of local development activities, avoiding unnecessary disputes over resource allocation. Amid growing concerns over transparency, the government dissolved the all-party mechanism in January 2012.31

With the first phase of local elections having taken place in May and with a second phase scheduled for June 2017 and further provincial and parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2018, political parties will once again be in charge of governance at national and grassroots levels.

Local Peace Committees (LPCs) established in 2006, have been among the key players in Nepal’s post- conflict peacebuilding efforts. These committees were established at village or town level all over the country and acted as mediators and facilitators between victims’ families and the parties in conflict. Their mandate was to assist in local reconciliation and healing processes and prevent the escalation of violence.32 Over the years, the LPCs in districts where they work well have been effective in facilitating local level conflict resolution, helping communities to self-heal and reconcile. Despite their impressive work, there is a need to re-imagine their role in the coming days, by broadening their mandate to address new kinds of conflicts that have emerged at the local level. As the country moves into a federal governance system, LPCs can play a crucial role in maintaining ethnic, regional and communal harmony among people from various backgrounds.

The Nepal Police are another major actor for peacebuilding. The 72,719 member force has bases in all five regions and 75 districts. At the height of the Maoist conflict, the Nepal Police were deployed along with the Nepali Army and Armed Police Force (APF) under a unified command to oppose the rebellion and protect public lives and property. The legacy of the conflict period, however, means that there remains a deficit of trust between communities and the police, in particular the Armed Police Force, which inhibits the normalisation of relations between them.

However following the end of the war, the Nepal Police have dedicated themselves to working alongside local communities to maintain the rule of law. The force has also made efforts to modernise itself and its policing techniques, adopting the concept of community policing. The police are often too overstretched to serve the public, primarily due to lack of prioritisation of resources. The manpower and resources allocated to protecting the public are allegedly monopolised for catering to the needs of politically powerful elites. This creates an inability to deliver effective services at the local level, which risks in turn undermining public trust at the community level.33

The police have been criticised for a lack of coordination on the ground and excessive use of force.34 But analysts also point to the over-politicisation of the police force and the personal interests of some officers for jeopardising the reputation of the police in this way.

Recommendations

Nepal has experienced a protracted civil conflict, and the trauma of that violence is still fresh in the memory of the population today. While the formal conflict is over, many of the underlying drivers of that conflict remain unresolved and retain the capacity to reignite violence. To add to this, the constitution drafting process has bitterly divided a society trying to rebuild. Years of political instability, and a lack of quality public services and opportunities have left various sections of the population profoundly dissatisfied with the state. This discontent has often manifested in various forms of conflict, especially at the local level, and remains a threat to Nepal’s journey towards stability and economic growth. There is an urgent need for concrete and coordinated action from responsible actors and agencies to prevent the escalation of conflict leading to violence.

The following recommendations are based on the detailed conflict analysis workshops conducted at the regional and national level by COCAP | Nepalmonitor.org and Saferworld, attended by government and civil society representatives from more than 18 districts across the country:

Increase capacities of community-based organisations to identify potential issues that could lead to conflict, analyse trends and make coordinated efforts for early response including through the provision of adequate training and support for those involved in mediation and monitoring. Many participants of the workshops were aware of the local issues in their area and could identify potential flashpoints of conflict. Some participants from the eastern Terai districts and from the far-west even admitted to being aware of the increasing tensions that led to breakouts of violence in their region last year. They expressed an inability to make meaningful and coordinated responses to diffuse the situation before that conflict erupted into violence.Foster collaboration among local civil society, donor partners and government bodies including the NHRC, Chief District Officer and local security bodies. The donor community in Nepal must encourage effective, sustained and coherent peacebuilding approaches to support the development of a trusted, effective and responsive Nepali State that is able to command the confidence of its diverse citizens.Discourage politicisation of security bodies, including the police and the APF. The politicisation of these institutions in recent years has had an adverse effect on their capacity to professionally perform their duty to provide public securityThe manipulation of security forces for personal and partisan interests at the leadership level undermines their capability and credibility on the ground. This undermines public faith in these institutions and puts them in situations of potential conflict with the people they are mandated to protect. The government must also prioritise the allocation of resources and manpower meant for public security and guard against its diversion for other uses. The security forces must adhere to internationally accepted human rights standards while discharging their duties, especially when deployed during political protests.There is a need for stronger NHRC presence at the regional level to play an effective role on the ground. Given recent attacks on its officials during local protests, a visible NHRC at the community level could help to educate the public about its role and mandate.Political parties should refrain from stoking communal, ethnic, regional or nationalist sentiments for their political ends. While political competitions are essential for fostering democracy, exploiting public sentiments can lead to bitter divisions in communities and neighbourhoods, reinforcing a situation of violent conflict.The media, commentators and opinion shapers should be careful about polarising public opinion. While discharging their duty to inform the public the media in particular must also play a conciliatory role in moderating and mediating political and social debates.

Notes

1 Capacities for Peace is a project that was undertaken by Saferworld and Conciliation Resources from September 2013 to February 2016, funded by the EU under the Instrument for Stability. The project aimed to support local actors to undertake or take part in early warning and crisis response processes.

2 Ceasefire Report, National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, 2006. http://www.nhrcnepal.org/nhrc_new/doc/newsletter/Ceasefire%20report%20final.pdf

3 Nepal Conflict Report, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR), 2012.  http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/NP/OHCHR_ExecSumm_Nepal_Conflict_report2012.pdf

4 Black Day, Nepali Times, 2012. http://www.nepalitimes.com/blogs/thebrief/2012/05/27/black-day/

5 Nepal’s fast-tracked constitutional process trades rights for speed, The Wire, 2015.  https://thewire.in/7673/nepals-fast-tracked-constitutional-process-trades-rights-for-speed/

6 NC promises another amendment to the constitution, The Himalayan Times, 2015.  https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nc-promises-another-constitutional-amendment/

7 Corrupt at the roots, Nepali Times, 2011. http://nepalitimes.com/news.php?id=18761#.WMJEem997IU

8 Treasury surplus at all-time high as government fails to spend, The Himalayan Times, 2016. https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/treasury-surplus-time-high-govt-fails-spend/

9 Local polls in two phases, 14 May and 14 June, Republica, 2017. http://www.myrepublica.com/news/18743/

10 Nepal’s Divisive New Constitution: An Existential Crisis, International Crisis Group, 2016. https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/276-nepal-s-divisive-new-constitution-an-existential-crisis.pdf

11 Bikash Tiwari ends fast-unto-death on 18th day, The Himalayan Times, 2016. https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/bikas-tiwari-ends-fast-unto-death-today/

12 Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxists and Lenists.

13 Press Release, National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, 2017. http://www.nhrcnepal.org/nhrc_new/doc/newsletter/NHRC_Press_Statement_Attack_on_Commissioner_&_Vehicle_Saptari_2073_11_26.pdf

14 Madhesi Front cadres vandalise district office in Parsa, Nagarik News, 2017. http://www.nagariknews.com/news/16412/

15Tharuhat announces more protests, The Himalayan Times, 2017 https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/tharuhat-announces-more-protests/

16 Nepal is nearing a point of no return, The Wire, 2016. https://thewire.in/43938/nepal-is-nearing-a-point-of-no-return/

17 Chand Maoist planning a military wing in Rolpa, The Kathmandu Post, 2017. http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2017-02-20/chand-maoist-planning-a-military-wing-in-rolpa.html

18 Trouble in Tikapur , Record Nepal, 2016. http://www.recordnepal.com/wire/trouble-in-tikapur/

19 Unholy Politics, Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal, 2016. http://cijnepal.org.np/unholy-politics/

20 Dalits barred from well, The Kathmandu Post, 2015 http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2015-08-08/dalits-barred-from-well.html  

21 Based on information provided by participants from mid-west and far-west regions during C4P workshop and case studies reflecting social costs of remittance driven economy, published by Centre for Investigative Journalism Nepal, 2016. http://bit.ly/2i6EwAk

22 School mismanagement Committee, Nepali Times, 2016.

http://nepalitimes.com/article/nation/school-mismanagement-committee,3123

23 Crushers continue illegal operations in Chure region, Republica National Daily, 2016. http://admin.myrepublica.com/society/story/37474/crushers-continue-illegal-operations-in-chure-region.html

24 TRC Chief wants Act amended for Int’l acceptance, Republica National Daily, 2016.

http://admin.myrepublica.com/politics/story/39669/trc-chief-wants-act-amended-for-int-l-acceptance.html Interim Report, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2016. http://trc.gov.np/base/userfile/files/Interim%20Report%20Magh%2022.pdf

25 Victims demand justice on Nepal’s Maoist war anniversary, The Himalayan Times, 2017. https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/victims-demand-justice-nepal-maoist-war-anniversary/ Disqualified PLA fighters padlock CPN-MC HQ , The Himalayan Times, 2016. https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/disqualified-peoples-liberation-army-fighters-padlock-cpn-maoist-centre-headquarters/

26 Census Report, Central Bureau of Statistics, 2011 https://web.archive.org/web/20130418041642/http://cbs.gov.np/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/National%20Report.pdf

27 Annual Report, Press Council Nepal, 2016. http://www.presscouncilnepal.org/np/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Final-Yearly-Report.pdf

28 Untouchability is a discriminatory practice against so-called lower castes, whereby they are prevented from entering into temples or households of the upper castes, or from touching food or drinking water sources including public taps.

29 Nepal Conflict Report, OHCHR, 2006. http://nepalconflictreport.ohchr.org/files/docs/2006-05-26_report_ohchr_eng.pdf

30 Recommendations of NHRC ignored by government, The Kathmandu Post, 2015. http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2015-04-21/recommendations-of-nhrc-ignored-by-government.html Press Release, NHRC, 2017. http://www.nhrcnepal.org/nhrc_press_release_details-387.html

31 Local Governance in Nepal: Public Participation and Perception, The Carter Center, 2014. https://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/nepal-022814.html

32 Terms of Reference of Local Peace Committee, 2009.

33 Snapshots of Local Security and Justice Perceptions in Selected Districts, Saferworld, 2013. http://www.saferworld.org.uk/downloads/pubdocs/Snapshot-of-local-security-and-justice-perceptions-in-selected-districts-of-Nepal.pdf

34 From Tikapur to Maleth, Nepali Times, 2017. http://www.nepalitimes.com/blogs/thebrief/2017/03/12/from-tikapur-to-maleth/

About the Author

Anurag Acharya is Program Manager at Centre for Investigative Journalism in Nepal

Quote of the day: MJ Akbar

"The nations of oceans are often called small. We do not believe in small or big: every nation is sovereign. Capacities might vary, but all nations have equal rights,"

"We cannot allow our seas to turn into zones of contention. An age of shared prosperity demands co-operation... In this context, India reiterates the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight on the high seas, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means,"in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

June 08, 2017

Kurdistan independence referendum shall be on Monday, September 25, 2017

http://www.presidency.krd/english/articledisplay.aspx?id=E8ZKw7evZVQ=

President Barzani Meets with Kurdistan Region's Political Parties to Set the Date for the Referendum

KRP.org 07/06/2017Salahadin, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, (Krp.org)- President Masoud Barzani held a meeting today with the representatives of the political parties across the Kurdistan Region. During the meeting, President Barzani and the attendees discussed several salient issues including the upcoming parliamentary elections, the current political and economic situations and the issue of the independence referendum. 

The President, along with the representatives of the political parties and slates decided that the date for the independence referendum shall be Monday, September 25, 2017. It will be on that day when the people of the Kurdistan Region, as well as those living in the disputed areas, will cast their votes on whether they accept independence for the Kurdistan.

The political parties also agreed to resolve some of the outstanding political and economic issues prior to the date of the referendum. They also agreed to establish a special council for the referendum which will be supervised by President Barzani and that council will be tasked to form a number of teams to supervise the details of the referendum.

The Qatar Crisis: How do Iranians view the story?

http://www.irdiplomacy.ir/en/page/1969391/The+Qatar+Crisis+How+do+Iranians+view+the+story.html

publish date : 7 Wednesday June 2017      1:24

Though Qatar’s isolation in the Arab world initially seems to be in the interests of Iran, veteran diplomats advise caution, no direct involvement.

A clan of Arab states started their workweek by severing ties with a member of their own. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran, Reuters reported. Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government and the Maldives joined later. Transport links shut down, triggering supply shortages in the Qatari peninsula.

 

In the aftermath of the shock, Iranian media cited reeling oil prices as indicative of the many consequences this new round of rifts could have for the Middle East and the world. Most analysts agree that Iran is, in the words of Reuters, a behind-the-scenes target of the move. However, while a number of media outlets and observers find the episode in the interest of Iran, least of all financially, some veteran diplomats rushed into the debate warning against Iran's involvement.

 

Those who argue that Iran could reap the benefits of the fresh rift among Persian Gulf states mainly note Qatar's imminent need to use Iran as its main route to remain connected to the world. A large portion of all land, sea and air traffic to and from Qatar should also take Iran as their main route, sparking speculations that this could revolutionize Iran's transit revenues. Pro-reform website Asr Iran has cited the situation as a great opportunity with Iran, adding two historical instances Iran opened its borders to previously hostile countries, once in Iraq's war against Kuwait, and again in US invasion of Iraq.

 

The peninsular nation imports 80 percent of its food supplies from its Arab neighbors. Photos of long lines in Qatari shopping centers appeared online, with some industry official in Iran offering to cover up in response.

 

Familiar with the idiosyncrasies of certain Arab states, at least since they collectively cut or downgraded ties with Iran early in 2016, Tehran has avoided direct involvement, advising both sides to resolve disputes through diplomacy and explicit dialogue. On the surface, such a stance is not very different from those of Moscow and Washington. “The solution to differences among regional countries, including the current dispute between Qatar and its three neighboring states, is possible only through political and peaceful methods as well as transparent and explicit dialogue among the involved parties," PressTV quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying on Monday. Qassemi added that using sanctions in the current interlinked world was an inefficient and unacceptable move. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can't be changed. Coercion is never the solution. Dialog is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan,” Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet.

 

The mentality among Iran's veteran diplomats familiar with the Arab world is more or less the same. Iran's former ambassador to Jordan, Nosratollah Tajik has told pro-reform website Entekhab that Iran's involvement could only complicate the situation, and that Tehran should not let the sides use the Iran card in the dispute. Tajik blamed US President Donald Trump's recent Middle East visit, which concluded a record-breaking arms deal, for disrupting the region's geopolitical balance. However, he advised Iran not to overlook Qatar's disproportionate ambitions, as many of its moves are against the interests of Iran, particularly in Syria. "In fact, the country has taken our foreign policy hostage and thus I believe our siding with Qatar will not be appropriate," Tajik told Entekhab. In response to a question regarding the possibility of a coup d'état or an occupation scenario, he said such reports are publicized by the Qataris to exaggerate the situation, trying to drag countries like Iran into their own side.

 

A separate interview with Entekhab indicate that former director-general in the Middle East department of Iran's foreign ministry Ghassem Mohebali is on the same page, saying any intervention by Tehran would only accelerate détente between the sides, while the US would not let Iran expand its influence in Qatar. "During these years, Qatar has been part of a scheme, jeopardizing our security and interests in Syria and Iraq. Doha has not been an innocent state, we could side with it," he said, in reference to Qatar's sponsoring of terrorist groups including ISIL and Taliban.

 

Moderate news agency Khabar Online has consulted Hamireza Assefi, Iran's former ambassador to the UAE, who believes the crisis is just the beginning of a series of developments and that Iran should act very cautiously. "If tensions turn into conflicts, they would influence the whole region," he said. Like his colleagues, Assefi believes Iran should not let the sides use the Iran card, as Iran should take into account schemes by the US and Israel to manipulate Middle East tension, politically and financially. He further argued that if powers, mainly the United States, intervene, their influence may resolve the issue, but there is a good likelihood that they see the crisis in their own economic and political interest

Destabilizing Iran

James M. Dorsey

The Trump administration this week appeared to take a potential step closer to backing efforts plotted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to destabilize Iran; possibly topple its Islamic government; and force Qatar to fall into line with Gulf policies that target Iran, political Islam, and militants; with the appointment of a seasoned covert operations officer as head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iran operations.

The appointment of Michael D’Andrea, a hard-charging, chain-smoking operative, alternatively nicknamed the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, whose track record includes overseeing the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, suggested that the CIA was likely to take a more operational approach in confronting Iran in line with President Donald J. Trump’s Saudi and UAE-backed hard line towards the Islamic republic, which involves a possible push for regime change.

D’Andrea took up his new post at a moment that the US focus appeared to be shifting to Iran as the Islamic State suffered significant defeats with the near fall of Mosul in Iraq and the imminent fall of Raqqa, the group’s self-declared capital in Syria.

Saudi support of militant groups in Pakistani Balochistan that operate across the border in the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan is abetted by a US policy that allows militancy to fester by failing to recognize links between multiple conflicts in South and Central Asia.

Balochistan serves as a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban and as a transit station in the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan to Iran and beyond. It is also the focal point of at least two regional proxy wars: the escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the perennial dispute between Pakistan and India. Pakistan accuses Indian intelligence of supporting Baloch separatists in retaliation for Islamabad’s backing of militants in Kashmir.

Mohammad Baksh Sajdi, the assistant commissioner of the Baloch district of Kharran, in a demonstration of the influence of Saudi-inspired, anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, recently banned barbers from “cutting beards in a fashionable way which is against the principles of Islam according to all religious scholars.” A similar edict was issued in Balochistan’s Omara district. A magistrate in Kharran re-imposed the ban after it was cancelled by the government because it was illegal.

D’Andrea, who converted to Islam to marry his Muslim wife rather than out of religious conviction, brings an impressive covert operations record to challenging Iran. D’Andrea was reportedly involved in the use of torture in interrogations of suspected militants under President George W. Bush.

He also played a key role in the targeting in 2008 of Imad Mugniyah, the international operations chief for Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah who maintained close ties to Iran. Mugniyah was assassinated in Damascus in an operation carried out together with Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. D’Andrea was also involved in the ramping up of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen that target Islamist militants.

The New York Times noted that D’Andrea’s appointment came as some US officials, including Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, were pushing for a US policy of regime change in Iran.

Mike Pompeo, an advocate in the past of military action against Iranian nuclear facilities, wrote last summer before his appointment by Mr. Trump as CIA director that “Congress must act to change Iranian behaviour, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.”

Other senior Trump administration officials, including Defense Secretary General (retired) James Mattis and National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, are believed to be hardliners when it comes to Iran.

D’Andrea’s appointment stroked with an emerging Saudi strategy to escalate the kingdom’s proxy war with Iran by fomenting unrest among the Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities as well as to confront together with the United States Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Yemen. The Trump administration has already stepped up support for Saudi Arabia’s two-year old, ill-fated intervention in Yemen.

Iran is unlikely to stand by idly if Saudi Arabia and the US were to initiate covert operations against it. “There’s just one small problem: Iran is unlikely to back down,” said US Naval Postgraduate School Iran expert Afshon Ostovar. Ostovar noted that Iran’s ability to operate through proxy groups like Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shiite militia, Palestine’s Islamic Jihad, and militias in Iraq was “its most strategic asset.”

As a result, the US-Saudi-UAE strategy risks Iran retaliating by attempting to stir trouble among Shiites in Bahrain, home to a low-level insurgency since the island’s Sunni Muslim minority regime brutally squashed a popular uprising in 2011 with the support of Saudi troops, and in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich, predominantly Shiite Eastern province.

To be sure, Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Bahrainis and Saudis first and Shiites second. But decades of discriminatory policies in both regions have left their toll, and offer Iran potential opportunity to stir the pot.

Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper reported this week that authorities had foiled an attack on US forces based in Qatar. The newspaper said the foiled attempt was planned by an Al Qaeda unit headed by a Qatari national.

Okaz’s report came in the wake of a suicide bombing in Qatif in the Eastern Province and a Saudi and UAE-sponsored media campaign against Qatar because of its ties to Iran and alleged support for militants. Saudi Shiite activists accused a US-trained Saudi interior ministry unit of having instigated the Qatif bombing in an effort to bolster the kingdom’s claim that it is a victim of Iran-inspired political violence.

Qatar announced amid the Saudi-UAE campaign that six of its soldiers had been wounded in Yemen “while conducting their duties within the Qatari contingent defending the southern borders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. 

In a move reminiscent of past Qatari efforts to placate UAE and Saudi criticism, Qatar was reported to have expelled several officials of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, who were involved in the group’s activities on the Israeli occupied West Bank.

In the latest episode of the Gulf cyberwar, leaked mails from the email account of the UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, whose authenticity was confirmed by Huffpost and The Intercept, showed the UAE looking at ways to influence Iran’s domestic situation.

The UAE was also pressing the Trump administration in cooperation with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies to move its US air force base, the largest in the Middle East, out of Qatar.

The emails also revealed efforts to persuade US companies not to pursue opportunities in Iran. Various media reports suggested that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were gunning for the removal of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani as emir of Qatar.

A proposed agenda for a meeting this week between senior UAE officials and Foundation executives included discussion of possible US and UAE “policies to positively impact Iranian internal situation”. Among the list of policies were “political, economic, military, intelligence, and cyber tools,” and efforts “contain and defeat Iranian aggression.” The agenda also included countering Qatari support for Islamist and militant groups; its “destabilizing role in Egypt, Syria, Libya, the Gulf;” and “Al Jazeera as an instrument of regional instability.”

The Foundation, which has played a leading role in arguing against the 2015 agreement that ended the Iranian nuclear crisis and lifted crippling international sanctions against the Islamic republic, enjoys funding from wealthy US conservatives, including gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, who supported Trump’s election campaign and is a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

The Saudis backed by the US are likely to be fishing in murky ponds in Iran. Baloch groups are largely delineated along either nationalist or Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative lines with Pakistani intelligence backing religious groups against the nationalists.

However, communities like the Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan, Iran’s oil-rich province that Arabs call Ahwaz after the region’s main city, are deeply divided and factitious and often a cesspool of personal, political and ideological rivalries. Various of the Ahwazi and Baloch groups maintain links with one another. Yet, sorting out who is who is often an almost impossible task.

In an assertion of ethnic identity, thousands of Iranian Arabs attended in March 2017 an Asian soccer competition match between Esteghlal Ahvaz FC, the local team in the Khuzestan capital of Ahwaz, and Qatar’s Lekhwiya SC dressed in traditional Arab garb.

Ahwaz Monitor, an Iranian Arab website, said the fans were protesting government efforts to suppress their identity. It said the fans cheered their team in Arabic rather than Farsi and chanted “Arabic is my identity and honour” and “Al Ahwaz for Ahwazis and all Gulf state residents are dearest to us.” Fans also reportedly recited poetry celebrating their region’s Arab heritage.

The website created last summer by Iranian Arab activists is emblematic of the factitiousness of exile Iranian ethnic minority groups. Yasser Abadi, an Ahwazi activist, who founded the website, rejected allegations that it was Saudi-backed or had links to militant Saudi-backed groups like Jundullah in Balochistan or the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz (Harakat Al-Nizal L’Tahrir al-Ahwaz) that has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Khuzestan.

Al Nizal is believed to have close ties to Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s spokesmen appear on Wesal TV, a Saudi-based, virulently anti-Shiite satellite broadcaster.

Abadi insisted that he had funded the site himself, paying GBP 350 for three years of Internet hosting. The site “doesn’t need Saudi or Arab League support or encouragement,” Abadi said.

Abadi described Saudi policy towards Khuzestan as “volatile” and geared towards “militarizing the region.” Abadi said most Ahwazis rejected violence because of the death and destruction they see elsewhere in the Middle East. He said his group relied on “Arab influence,” which he defined as indirect “media support, Arab votes in UN sub-committees against Iranian practices...publications, and legal support.”

Iran watchers noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has allowed some voice of dissent to be heard. “The more that this happens, the less the Saudi-backed separatists win. What the separatists want is the polarisation of views and to incite the regime to attack the (Iranian Arab) community, thereby securing a popular backlash. In recent weeks, they have conducted more murders, mostly of security personnel but also of non-security officials. They want mass arrests and public executions in order to establish themselves as the vanguard of the Ahwazi resistance,” one expert said.

 

Author is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of W├╝rzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.