On 19 January 2019 Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) carried out an operation on a highway near Sahiwal in which a white car believed to be carrying Islamic State members was stopped. The following police operation or “encounter” resulted in the death of a couple, their teenage daughter and the driver. The victims were identified as grocery store owner Mohammad Khalil, his wife Nabila, their 13-year-old daughter Areeba and their friend, Zeeshan Javed. Their son Umair Khalil sustained bullet wounds while his sister Muniba’s hand was injured due to broken glass of car while Hadiba, their daughter, remained unhurt.
According to CTD’s statement the officers signalled the white Suzuki Alto car and a motorcycle to stop, but they did not pull over and instead opened fire at them. The CTD officers retaliated and four people were killed by the “firing of their own accomplices” in the ensuing firefight. However, later it turned out that except for Zeeshan, all other occupants of the car were members of an innocent family.
The incident triggered a nationwide scandal and the government felt obliged to come clean on this case. So a joint investigation team was formed to probe into the incident, which soon confirmed that the family had indeed been innocent and that CTD officials had been responsible for their killing. As a result, the government in Punjab removed some top CTD officials and suspended others, while announcing to charge five CTD officials with acts of terrorism and murder.
Although it was clear from the start that it had been a botched anti-terrorist operation and the CTD officials were squarely blamed for it, evidence suggests that the story behind the incident is much more complex than what has been told so far.
The killing of four innocent people in a “police encounter” has once again drawn attention towards the menace of extrajudicial killings in Pakistan. Police forces in South Asian nations are notorious for their high-handedness, torture in custody and killings in fake encounters. Unfortunately, the Police Order of 1861 still remains enforced in Pakistan as only some cosmetic changes have been introduced over the last few years. As a result, common people are still afraid of police instead of feeling protected and safe whenever they see them anywhere close to them.
The “War Against Terrorism” has even made things worse as it has provided another excuse for the police to stage extrajudicial killings with further impunity. In this particular case, officials of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed that those killed in the shooting had been terrorists belonging to ISIS or Daesh.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “an encounter killing occurs when the police justify the killing of a criminal suspect either as an act of self-defence or as a means of preventing suspects from fleeing arrest or escaping from custody … many are faked outright, and are not merely the use of excessive force but an extrajudicial execution.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also claimed that 2,108 men and seven women were killed in police encounters across Pakistan during 2015. 696 suspects were killed in Karachi alone. Punjab was even worse where 1,191 men and 3 women were killed.
For Pakistani police, extrajudicial killing is an easy and quick way of bringing criminals to justice because they believe that otherwise they will get away and hardly get punished in the courts due to loop-holes in the judicial system. As a consequence, anyone can be branded an alleged terrorist or a facilitator offering a reason to be killed in a police encounter.
After having been a supporter of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales has during 2017 and 2018 gradually turned against them, with the conflict escalating drastically during December and January 2019. When CICIG, an UN-mandated group tasked with investigating illegal influence and corruption in the country, started investigations on President Morales in January 2017, his former support of the group turned sour. With the escalation of attacks on CICIG by President Morales, he is not only upsetting the domestic population, but also the international community. President Morales is now likely facing a lose-lose situation, where he either submits himself to the CICIG’s investigation and risk impeachment and trial, or keeps his bid to terminate CICIG, likely to lead to nationwide, violent protests and condemnations from the international community. Escalations in protests could lead to an uptick in Guatemalan migrants heading towards Mexico and the US. And if Morales successfully removes CICIG, the level of corruption in Guatemala is likely to increase.
CICIG’s official mission is to investigate criminal efforts to infiltrate the government and undermine the democratic rule in Guatemala. Previously, the justice system in Guatemala was weak, and corruption was extremely deeply rooted. An Amnesty International report from 2002 called the climate a “corporate mafia state”. CICIG was requested by the Guatemalan government to help with the problem. They started their work in 2007 and has since then been responsible for cases against more than 680 people. In November 2018, they claimed to have won 310 convictions and taken down 60 criminal networks. Even though CICIG has got a long list of enemies, it is backed by both the international community and domestic public opinion. This backing is likely the reason why the group has been able to survive and succeed for so long.
The question of CICIG’s continued existence has largely developed into a legal battle on an institutional level. On paper, it is quite easy to get rid of CICIG, as their mandate to operate has got to be renewed every two years. If it is not, the commission has to be disbanded. In August 2018, Jimmy Morales announced that the mandate would not be renewed, and the commission was to be dissolved by September 2019. At the beginning of January 2019, Morales escalated the bid, giving the investigators in the commission 24 hours to leave the country. A battle between governmental institutions ignited after the announcement as the expulsion was blocked by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. The Guatemalan Congress, mostly consisting of Morales-loyalists, subsequently tried to impeach several judges in the Constitutional Court. They claimed that the judges had overstepped their authority by ruling in foreign affairs issues. It is likely that Morales’ decision to terminate CICIG was based on the fact that they started investigations into Morales and his party at the beginning of 2017, which was a real threat to the president. The extent of CICIG’s powers was demonstrated when they targeted Morales’ predecessor Otto Perez Molina, who was forced to step down and stand trial after CICIG’s investigation revealed evidence of corruption. He was subsequently jailed and is still awaiting trial.
Morales’ bid against CICIG could lead to an uptick in migrants heading towards the US. His actions have sparked nationwide protests, as thousands have taken to the streets to express their discontent with the President. These protests risk escalation and could lead to a more severe situation in Guatemala if Morales does not back down. The issue does, therefore, not stop with Guatemala. Guatemalans are one of the most prevalent migrant group making its way to the US, and if Morales’ bid leads to a security crisis in Guatemala, it is highly likely to bolster the number of people fleeing the country. Further, if CICIG is successfully removed, the judicial apparatus in Guatemala is weakened, likely leading to higher levels of corruption. This will also, besides the obvious domestic issues, probably lead to a higher number of migrants fleeing Guatemala, in the mid-term.
CICIG has, because of its success, been akin to a role model for neighbouring countries who are also fighting widespread corruption. In 2016, Honduras launched MACCIH (Support Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras), as inspired by CICIG. El Salvador has also initiated an UN-backed anti-corruption programme, albeit with fewer powers than CICIG. What is happening with CICIG and Morales has revealed a glaring weakness in the resilience of the programme and can be used as a lesson for similar future endeavours. However, it can also set a precedent of Presidents shutting down inconvenient investigations. How the international community, and indeed the domestic public, responds might decide what we learn from this.
The downfall of democracy in Nicaragua during the protests in 2018, and the protesting resulting in the fall of Guatemala’s ex-President Otto Perez Molina, can help guide us through possible outcomes of Morales’ battle with CICIG and the protests that have ensued. In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega announced social security reforms that sparked a massive upheaval in April 2018. Despite Ortega’s cancellation of the reform five days later, the opposition had grown too strong, and calls for Ortega’s resignation had begun. Protests intensified, but Ortega’s government stood firm. Since July 2018, crackdowns on the protesters increased. Protesting was declared illegal in September, several media offices were raided and human rights organisations in the country got their licences revoked in December 2018. Nicaragua has, due to the protests and Ortega’s responses, seen a breakdown in democracy and is now facing severe international sanctions and increased violence and turmoil. In Guatemala, with the protests against former President Otto Perez Molina in 2015, protests, although being massive, did not turn into a severe nationwide crisis. Molina, even though he at first refused to resign, let the judicial apparatus do its thing. He eventually resigned after a warrant was issued against him. In the light of these cases, the current situation in Guatemala can take several turns. If Morales’ doubles down and keeps pushing for the termination of CICIG, he risks extended, violent domestic turmoil. However, if he stops his bid against CICIG, and let CICIG do its work, he might face trial but save the country from extended protests.
How the situation plays out will have consequences not only in Guatemala, but internationally as well. Besides severe domestic consequences, If Jimmy Morales does not back down, there is likely to be a hike in migration, mainly towards Mexico and the US. However, CICIG serves as a kind of example of corruption commissions in Latin America, and despite the horrific costs the present situation might lead to, there will be lessons to learn. How Morales’ acts in this lose-lose situation is likely to determine the state of security and corruption in Guatemala in both the short-term and the long-term.
2018 has generally been troubling for Iran. The implementation of US sanctions, with the toughest ones targeting Iran’s financial and oil sectors in November, have resulted in the Islamic Republic facing economic difficulties and general poverty spread across the population. Inevitably, tensions have mounted between Iran and the US, played out through these restrictions and fighting in Syria and Yemen. Iran has publicly criticised the US decision to enforce sanctions, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urging Muslims across the world to unite against America. However, news of the US withdrawal from Syria is arguably music to Iran’s ears and could give them the upper hand which they have been waiting for. Additionally, the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has meant that Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince have been the subject of worldwide scrutiny, with the incident highlighting the conflict in Yemen and leading to a number of countries discontinuing arms deals with the Saudi Kingdom. Having its rival undercut in light of the death of Khashoggi, along with the promise of new relations between regions and looming potential advantages, means Iran is likely to raise its global status this year.
The US withdrawal of troops will have significant repercussions for Middle Eastern countries and could result in power play tactics between rival regions. On 19 December, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would be pulling troops from Syria. The unanticipated news has been met with a mixed reception of scepticism and praise, with some critics arguing the Islamic Republic will reap the benefits of the US withdrawal by way of the region increasing its influence across Syria and lessening the discomfort of the US sanctions by accessing the oil-rich region. According to Lina Khatib, a Middle East expert at Chatham House in London, removing American troops could raise the chances of Iran profiting from oil fields in the northeast. The US troops are currently stationed in areas which are rich in oil and near the border with Iraq. The presence of troops blocks Iran’s access to these fields and their freedom of movement into Iraq. If Iran were to gain access to oil, the US sanctions may be undermined to an extent, cutting the leash that Iran is currently on and putting the region in an undoubtedly influential position and free to further fund terrorist groups through the supply of weapons and funding without any resulting consequences from America. David M. Halbfinger of The New York Times writes that the American presence in Syria was exasperating for the Islamic Republic, as it hindered Iranian-backed militias from entering into the war-torn country from Iraq. The Iraqi border would be permeable if US troops were to pull out, allowing Tehran to easily move weapons and fighters between the countries. This could include supplying the Iranian-funded terrorist organisation Hezbollah with missiles which could be used to further exert their influence in Lebanon. Khatib agrees that withdrawing troops will “grant a lifeline to ISIS, threaten Israel and empower Iran.” Furthermore, it will “undermine Trump’s own promises and goals, boosting Iran’s fortunes instead.”
Iran and US relations are abysmal which only look set to continue, particularly in light of the sanctions. Eight countries have been given temporary waivers including China, India, Japan and South Korea. Iran have urged the UN to support them in light of these sanctions and take an official stance against the US. Many EU countries appear to be in support of Iran, with the EU promising to launch a special purpose vehicle. This would allow EU countries to circumvent the sanctions so they can continue trade with Iran. However, there is no sign of the materialisation of this special purpose vehicle. Iran has expressed its frustration with the EU’s pace in establishing this, but it is likely that it will be materialising this year as the EU has stated that it is keen to keep the 2015 nuclear deal as a matter of respecting international agreements and regional security. It is uncertain if the US sanctions will be tightening. The US has said however that it will not be issuing anymore waivers which indicates they are looking to turn up the heat on the region. Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran said earlier this month that the US will grant no more waivers in light of the US need to deny the regime revenues. He said: “Eighty percent of Iran’s revenues come from oil exports and this is (the) number one state sponsor of terrorism…we want to deny this regime the money it needs.” The waivers given to these eight countries are only temporary however and will be expiring in May. It is uncertain whether or not Trump will renew them. If he does not and Iranian oil revenue is drastically reduced as a result, Iran could act out in retaliation. Marwan Kabalan, the Director of Policy Analysis at the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, writes that Iran could act on its recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, which could hinder other Gulf states from accessing the oil market. Therefore, the foreseeable possibility of an escalation between Iran and the US is real.
However, Iran may have a bargaining chip or two hidden up its sleeves. On 9 January 2019, Iran confirmed that it has detained US navy veteran Michael R White at a prison in the region. The circumstances of White’s detention remain uncertain. The Associated Press in Tehran consider the possibility that the Islamic Republic could be using this arrest as a leverage in negotiations between itself and the US, given its history of detaining westerners and dual nationals to give them clout. Iran is already under fire for the high-profile detention case of Nazanin Zagheri-Ratcliffe, who was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment in 2016 for allegations of spying. Additionally, the conflict in Yemen could help further Iran’s agenda for power. Although the December peace talks between the Iranian-backed Houthis and Saudi-led coalition were largely successful, Hodeidah has been subject to an extremely fragile truce between the warring parties. The last few weeks have already seen violations, including an incident where bullets struck a vehicle carrying Patrick Cammaert, who is overseeing the truce in Hodeidah. The incident highlighted the hostile and volatile environment in Yemen, which Iran is most likely hoping will continue. Marwan Kabalan suggests that it is not in Iran’s interests to help reach a final settlement in Yemen between warring parties. The region hopes to keep Saudi-Arabia occupied in Yemen so they do not have the resources to undertake activities against Tehran on other fronts in the Middle East. Additionally, and arguably somewhat ambitiously, Iran may be hoping to use the Yemen conflict as a bargaining chip in a multi-complex deal to lift the US sanctions and recover the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Iran enjoyed under the Obama administration. This could be a feasible possibility this year if the ceasefire between the warring parties completely disintegrates and the UN is forced to make a decision and divert a further humanitarian disaster. The UN is already struggling to keep the peace agreement together, so a lapse of ceasefire looks likely. Given the desire of a number of European countries to safeguard the 2015 Nuclear deal and the real possibility of the complete fragmentation of the ceasefire and the likely humanitarian catastrophe that will follow, Iran could potentially find itself in a strong position to free itself of the US sanctions.
It is likely that Iran will build a closer diplomatic relationship with both Turkey and Iraq. It is probable that Turkey feels side-lined due to the US withdrawal in Syria, along with the sting that came with the US threats not to attack the Syrian Kurds. Despite the scrambled attempt of US officials to smooth things over, we have witnessed the relationship between Turkey and the US grow frosty. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has remarked that the US will struggle in its withdrawal from the war-torn region, particularly in separating from the Kurdish fighters it allied with to fight ISIS. He stated: “It is hard to break up with a terrorist organisation after being involved with it at this level.”The comments came a day after a reportedly tense visit between US National Security Adviser John Bolton and officials in Turkey. John Bolton has stated the US will not withdraw troops from northern Syria until it receives guarantees from the Turkish government that the Syrian Kurdish forces will not be attacked. The remarks have angered Turkey, with President Erdogan accusing Bolton of making a “serious mistake.” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has also warned that Turkey will launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces if the US delays the withdrawal of troops from Syria. In an inflammatory tweet on 13 January, Trump threatened to “devastate” Turkey economically if it attacked Kurdish forces in Syria, stating that a 20-mile “safe zone” should be established. Erdogan has approved the formation of this zone, after a phone call with Trump in an attempt to clear the air after the US threats. The Kurds have rejected the US proposal on the grounds that it infringes on the sovereignty of Syria. Nevertheless, however many phone calls the leaders make to one other, tensions will likely still remain and it is possible the disagreements could push Turkey closer towards Iran. The two countries have already been interacting positively since Erdogan came to power in 2002 as the leader of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist political party. In mid-December, Iran and Turkey vowed to work closer together on Syria. Hassan Rouhani and Turkish counterpart Erdogan held a joint press conference after meeting each other in Ankara. Rouhani stated Iran, Turkey and Russia will continue with the Astana negotiations on Syria’s future. Erdogan agreed that Turkey is “deepening [its] cooperation with Iran,” emphasising that the country does not endorse the US sanctions on Iran. A close relationship between the two states would be a snub to the US and beneficial to Iran’s status in the Middle East.
Iran has made clear its eagerness to form a closer alliance to Iraq. On 16 January, Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif remarked that Iran wants to rebuild Iraq in the wake of the fight against ISIS. Stating that Iranian firms should have a key role in rebuilding Iraq, he argued that the US did not defeat ISIS, but rather it was the Hashed Al Shaabi. Hashed partnered with Iraqi forces in 2014 to fight ISIS in Iraq, whilst receiving military and political support from Tehran. Zarif has said that whilst Iraq looks to rebuild, Iranian firms should be favoured because of the support his country provides and the higher “costs” of working with European or American companies. Last week, Tehran and Baghdad discussed the expansion of their ties in light of the recent US sanctions. On 10 January, the Iranian Minister of Petroleum and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi met to discuss ways to boost cooperation between the country. The meeting took place a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Iraq, in a somewhat fruitless attempt to persuade Baghdad to restrict its ties with Tehran and steer the region towards western influences as the US begins withdrawing troops from Syria. The meeting allegedly confirmed the “deep relations between the two countries, the two neighbouring peoples and the importance of strengthening them in areas that serve the interests of the two peoples, foremost of which is cooperation in the fields of oil and gas.” The Iraqi prime minister has previously announced that Iraq “will not be part of the [US] sanctions regime, as it will not be part of aggression against any country.” A strong Iran-Iraq allegiance could possibly lead to Iran exerting influence over the Iraqi government and would be counter to previous US efforts.
The weakening of Saudi Arabia may continue into 2019. The Saudi regime has been the focus of criticism, driven by Western media and human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The fact that Saudi Arabia has been diplomatically weakened and undermined over the death of Khashoggi has been fortunate for Iran, mainly due to the fact that Saudi Arabia is their main rival when competing for power and influence in the Middle East. Recently, the media have given special attention to women’s rights activists in the Saudi kingdom, with the region coming under reproach due to allegations of the mistreatment and imprisonment of these activists. Earlier this month, Mike Pompeo discussed the issue of jailed women’s rights activists with the Saudi Prince. The recent case of Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun who made international headlines after barricading herself in a hotel room in Thailand to avoid extradition back to Saudi Arabia, has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian rules and the lack of rights bestowed to women and girls. The critical focus on the Arab region is beneficial for Iran as Saudi Arabia diplomatically weakened means that Iran has a stronger footing in the Middle East and is in a more flexible position to exert its power.
Despite an economically difficult year, Iran could potentially strengthen its global status in 2019. Through bolstering relations with Turkey and Iraq, accessing Syria, overcoming the US sanctions and bargaining and undermining, Iran could get its economy back on track, expand its influence and wield its dominance across the globe. In particular, the withdrawal of troops in Syria presents an opportunity for the Islamic State to boost its authority and amp up animosities with the US.
In December 2018, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the migrant crossings in the English Channel to be a ‘major incident’ and appointed a gold commander to deal with the growing crisis. On 31 December, the Home Office released the official figures on the number of migrants that have attempted to cross the Channel over the past few months. It has been recorded that in 2018, 539 migrants attempted to travel to the UK in small boats, with 434 in the last three months of the year and 42% intercepted by the French authorities.
The rising trend in migrant crossings in the English Channel has been attributed to a range of factors such as the conditions in the camps in France, and police intimidation that have pushed the migrants to attempt the perilous journey by sea. Charities have repeated flagged up the increasing intolerable conditions in the migrant camps in northern France, where the police conduct regular raids in which tents are destroyed, personal belongings disposed and even pepper sprayed used to disperse the population. It has been considered that such experiences fuel migrant desperation and have increased numbers willing to travel to the UK in small boats. However, it has been noted that migrants that do attempt to reach the UK often have connections or family in the country, are already fluent in English or consider the UK a preferable option than remaining in France.
Furthermore, the uncertain future immigration restrictions that are likely to follow Brexit, have reinforced the sense of urgency as smugglers attempt to seize the opportunity before 29 March 2019. In addition, smugglers are exploiting new routes to the UK as it has become more difficult for migrants to smuggle themselves onto UK-bound vans and lorries or stow away on trains and larger ships used by ferry services. This has been largely due to the increased security measures in ports have been implemented following the dismantling of the ‘jungle’ camps around Calais. However, the availability of these new routes has been dependent on migrants being able to afford the smugglers fees, with others continuing to attempt previous routes.
Help Refugeeshave observed migrants from several countries attempting to cross the Channel. On 29 December, the 12 migrants found in a small boat off the coast of Kent were identified as being from Iran and Syria. The large number of Iranian migrants identified in the English Channel crossings, have been accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of Iranian nationals in Northern France. In the camps of Calais and Grande-Synthe there are currently 1,000 and 2,000 migrants. Field Manager Josh Hallam reports that in Grande-Synthe the migrants are mostly Kurdish people from Iraq and Iran and smaller groups from Pakistan and Sudan. While in Calais, mostly Iraqi Kurds, Iranians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Afghans and Sudanese. However, the number of migrants crossing by sea to the UK are a small fraction compared to the Mediterranean crossings that reached a total of 110,833 in 2018.
The 12 migrants found off the coast of Kent in December have led to the arrest of a the 33-year-old Iranian and a 24-year-old British man by the National Crime Agency in Pendleton, Greater Manchester on suspicion of arranging the ‘illegal movement of migrants’ across the English Channel during. While Javid has highlighted that the evidence has shown that there is organised criminal gang activity behind the illegal migration attempts by small boats across the Channel, it has admittedly been known to the British and French authorities for some time. The smugglers have been active in the camps for many years but there has been a need for more collaborative partnership between the British and French authorities in order to tackle the smuggling gangs, rather than the migrants.
Gunmen Storm Kenyan Hotel
UPDATE: 16 January 2019– Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta disclosed on Wednesday that Kenyan security forces have “eliminated” the militants who stormed an upscale hotel compound, killing at least 14 people, adding that more than 700 civilians have been safely evacuated from the dusitD2 complex. Officials are reporting that eleven Kenyans, an American, and a Briton are amongst the causalities. While at 23:00 on Tuesday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i announced that all the buildings in the complex had been secured by security forces and that “the situation is under control and the country is safe,” just an hour later gunfire and sporadic explosions were reported in the area. There was more heavy gunfire heard at about 7:00.
On Tuesday 15 January, at about 15:00 local time (12:00 GMT), gunmen stormed a hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in a lethal attack that is being claimed by Somali-based militant group al-Shabaab. Gunfire and blasts were heard at the compound, which is located in the Westlands district of the capital, and a plume of smoke rose above the compound with several vehicles on fire in the car park. Eyewitnesses have reported that the complex was stormed by four armed men. An explosion targeted three vehicles at the entrance of the compound and a Suicide Vest Improvised Explosive Device (SVIED) denoted in the foyer of the Dusit D2 Hotel. Officials are reporting that at least one person was killed and a further eight injured, though unconfirmed reports indicate that at least 30 causalities are being reported by local hospitals. Police are warning that the “terror attack” may still be ongoing as assailants remain in the upscale 14 Riverside Drive complex. Security operations are ongoing.
The complex is home to the local offices of international companies including BASF, Colgate Palmolive, Reckitt Benckiser, Pernod Ricard, Dow Chemical, and SAP, as well as the dusitD2 hotel, which is part of the Thai hotel group Dusit Thani. The Australian Embassy is located across the road from the compound.
Kenya has often been targeted by al-Shabaab, with the militant group claiming responsibility for the 2015 attack at Garissa University, which resulted in the deaths of almost 150 people, and the 2013 attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi. The 80-hour siege at the upscale Westgate shopping centre killed 67 people. Al-Shabaab has also carried out numerous cross border attacks.
Anyone currently in the Westlands district of Nairobi is advised, if you are able to do so safely, to consider leaving the area. If you are caught up in the incident, you are advised to turn any mobile phones or other devices to silent and do not put your location on social media. Remain vigilant and follow the advice of local security authorities if they are present.