MS Risk Blog

Deteriorating Security in Afghanistan Increasingly Threatens Neighbouring Pakistan

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Continuous conflict in Pakistan between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani/Afghan security forces is causing mass violence and casualties in the country and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

On Thursday, the Afghan and Pakistani security forces retook control of a major border in Pakistan that the Taliban had previously captured. Yet the Taliban have dismissed these statements and are claiming they still have control of the town. This could be true as Taliban fighters highly outnumber the Pakistani and Afghan security forces in the area. These continuous conflicts between the Taliban and Pakistani forces are growing in the area, due to the US led international forces withdrawing from the area for the past few months, after being there for 20 years. This is allowing the Taliban more free reign in the area. They have already captured several districts and crossed many borders.

The Taliban claim to control 85% of Afghanistan, which has caused several warlords to mobilise their fighters and defend their territory and help back the government forces fighting them. However, on Saturday, Pakistans ambassador to Afghanistan urged the international community to strengthen the countries security forces, warning that militiamen awaits the Taliban could worsen the situation in the war torn country. The conflict and violence from Afghanistan has already encroached into Pakistan, with growing violence and conflicts on the borders. In fact on Thursday a powerful roadside bomb exploded in Pasni, a district in the impoverished Baluchistan province of Pakistan. The explosive killed 2 security officers and injured many more. This is not the first act of violence in the region and security officers say in recent months such attacks are increasing along the borders with Afghanistan. Additionally, there is also the concern that the worsening situation in Afghanistan could cause a new wave of refugees fleeing into Pakistan in the near future.

In addition to the Taliban growing popularity in Pakistan, the extremist group TLP (TehreekeLabbaik Pakistan) has been a driving force of violence in the country since 2015 and isn’t going away. There have been lots of violent attacks in April especially and these conflicts demonstrate that arguably the country and Khan can’t cope with the increasing levels of religious based radicalism they have fostered. Not only that, but Pakistan’s tolerance for radicalism has deadly consequences for its neighbours. “India is the second largest Muslim nation in the world and Bangladesh has a large Muslim community where there is a section which can be expected to lead to violent protests and embrace radicalisation,” said Ambassador Trigunayat. India has been victimised by Pakistani terrorists, including Laskhar e-Taiba, which orchestrated the deadly 2009 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.

Overall, Pakistan needs to control its growing radicalisation in its own country and deal with the growing violence flowing in from neighbouring countries too, before it turns into a war torn country like Afghanistan. President Khan has a difficult job in trying to solve these issue, and at the same time his popularity is decreasing too. This is because of his sexist comments made in April regarding sexual violence in Pakistan, in fact he blamed rape victims for “vulgarity.Islam’s modesty culture can help “keep temptation in check,” he said. These comments have made him very unpopular with the Pakistani and international community. The political and civil unrest will only make it more difficult to solve the growing violence and extremism in the country and neighbouring nations.

The Contentious Issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), as its name suggests, would herald in a new era for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. The GERD, which is expected to be formed of 10 metric tonnes of concrete and reaching 175 metres, with a volume of 79 km3, is an outstanding achievement of engineering. When completed later this decade, the $5 billion dam will be Africa’s greatest hydroelectric-power project. Apart from the Congo River project of the Democratic Republic of Congo (once completed), the GERD will be unrivalled in the continent. Located on the Blue Nile, the dam would create 6,000 megawatts of energy, double as much as all of Ethiopia’s present output. Dams in general have several purposes, including to prevent floods, generating energy and storing water for irrigation. However, they create conflict and misery for many, due to environmental damage or the displacement of individuals whose dwellings will be lost underneath dammed waters. This dam has also been the cause of strife between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. For years, the three countries have been locked in ineffective talks over the GERD, and despite severe objections, Ethiopia continues to build the dam, claiming that the hydropower project will considerably enhance livelihoods throughout the region.

Some of the points of contention are the rate at which a planned reservoir behind the dam would be filled, the manner of annual replenishment, and the amount of water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multiyear drought develops. To date, approximately 80% of the dam’s construction has been completed. Ethiopia is aiming for a seven-year filling schedule in order to begin producing power as soon as possible, but Egypt is expecting a lengthier period of 12 to 20 years. Egypt is concerned that the project will suffocate the Nile’s waters. Ethiopia’s timeline implies a reduction in the Nile’s flow in Egypt, which depends on 59% from the Blue Nile. The Nile provides 95 percent of the water used by the country’s 115 million people. According to some experts, the GERD might cut the river’s yearly flow by a quatre and prevent fertile silt from reaching the Nile Delta. Sudan shares a sense of dependency and concern. The Blue Nile River also produces the majority of the silt that contributes to the richness of the soils along the river’s path. Crop production in both countries may be harmed as a result of the dam.

The unbalanced use of the river is a major stumbling block for Ethiopia. The Blue Nile is a major tributary of the Nile River, with Ethiopia accounting for up to 85% of its flows. Despite this, Ethiopia only uses 1% of the river’s capacity. The history of asymmetric river allocation dates back nearly a century, to the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian agreements, which granted Egypt and Sudan nearly all of the Nile’s waters. This agreement, as well as subsequent negotiations in 1959, defined consumption rights that excluded the eight other states that the Nile runs through. Egypt was allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres and 18.5 billion cubic metres was allocated to Sudan – nearly 90% of the Nile’s 84 billion cubic metres total flow. Upstream countries, irrespective of origination point or internal demand, were left without any formalised rights to the river’s waters as a result of these accords.

Rounds after rounds of talks between Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt have failed  to overcome the impasse over the contentious project. This is preceded by years of failed negotiation between the riparian countries. The negotiations over the Blue Nile’s use have been marked by a complex process of trilateral negotiation and international mediation, with Ethiopia frequently withdrawing before any real deal could be reached.

Ethiopia considers past restrictions on its capacity to consume even a small portion of the waters that originate within its borders to be a violation of its sovereignty. Ethiopia’s upstream position, along with the GERD’s development, gives them the potential to substantially regulate the flow of the river’s waters, bolstering their claims to production-based river use. As a matter of fact, Ethiopia has utilised practically every step of dam construction and negotiation as a means of reclaiming self-reliance in the region, assuming that neither Egypt nor Sudan will explore military alternatives to return the region to a state of stagnation that favours them unevenly. The GERD has become a source of pride and a symbol of the country’s future, and it is seen as a method to reinforce the country’s dominance in the area. Completion of the $5 billion (USD) dam, which is entirely self-financed, is expected to be the lynchpin in Ethiopia’s economic turnaround.

However, for the Egyptians, the GERD is a threat to their hydro-hegemony in the region, as well as its capability to provide for its people, who are nearly totally reliant on the river for freshwater. Only 4 billion cubic metres of the Egypt’s 55.5 billion cubic metres allotment are emptied into the Mediterranean Sea each year, meaning Egypt uses 93% of its yearly allocation. With plans to develop the agricultural sector, even fully utilising the river’s water allocation will not be enough to fulfil Egypt’s rising demand. To complicate matters, Egypt has a record of openly hostile responses to any threats to its hegemony over the river, frequently backed by military intervention threats. While it is imprudent to rule out the possibility of conflict between the nations, full-out war between the states is improbable. Thus, Egypt’s intervention through proxies in Ethiopia’s current and increasing intra-state crisis is a real likelihood.

Sudan’s GERD stance is comparable to that of Egypt. Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Yasser Abbas, has indicated that the dam’s next filling, which has reportedly started (5th July 2021), could represent a direct threat to Sudan’s security. Egypt announced Ethiopia had informed them that the second phase of filling at the GERD had begun, but it denounced the move as a threat to regional stability. Sudan confirmed that it had received the same notification. According to Egypt, the second filling of the dam, which went ahead without having reached an agreement with the downstream riparian countries, will intensify the region’s crisis and tension, resulting in the formation of a situation that jeopardises regional and international security and peace.

To avoid conflict in the Horn of Africa, a stalemate in negotiations between the three countries over the GERD must be resolved quickly and peacefully. However, Ethiopia has repeatedly rejected and opposed calls for outside mediators, stating that the country “believes in resolving African problems by Africans.” In the wake of the second filling, and with it the potential rise in tensions, the United Nations has urged all parties involved to recommit to dialogue and to refrain from taking unilateral measures. The African Union’s involvement in mediating between the countries is supported by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Similarly, the United States has said all parties must commit to a negotiated settlement that is agreeable to all parties.

However, it seems that despite rising international pressure on Ethiopia – whether over the GERD or the conflict in Tigray – the Ethiopians appear unwilling to make any meaningful compromises. Ethiopia maintains that the GERD is within its sovereign domain. Thus, it will not be restricted by external restraints that reduce the GERD’s benefits because it needs the dam for the country’s development. A compromise between those two opposing viewpoints may appear difficult to achieve, yet it is necessary to handle this lingering issue that has the potential to generate conflict.

Peru Presidential Elections

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Peru’s transformation has just started.

Last month’s Peruvian election was hotly contested, but the result was clear. Pedro Castillo, a Catholic rural teacher from Cajamarca in Peru’s far north, narrowly defeated his far-right opponent Keiko Fujimori by 42,000 votes. Nonetheless, the losing candidate, the daughter of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, has accused the election of fraud and has filed a judicial challenge to overturn the outcome. Indeed, Fujimori’s political opponents are not used to such losses. After all, this is a nation that has historically been seen as part of the United States’ backyard. Since General Juan Velasco Alvarado’s military dictatorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s, no progressive, left-wing, or left-nationalist government has held power. The outcome on June 6 signalled a significant departure from this conservative heritage. Argentina’s, Bolivia’s, Nicaragua’s, and Venezuela’s presidents have all congratulated Castillo on his election as president-elect. However, even weeks after the election, the Fujimori camp seems eager to take power, perhaps via a procedure similar to Bolivia’s November 2019 coup against Evo Morales.

Soon after the results were published by the country’s official electoral body, the National Jury of Elections (JNE), Fujimori condemned the elections as “fraudulent” and launched a legal fight to shift the tide in her favour. She has sought the annulment of over two hundred thousand votes cast in rural areas, asked for an “international audit,” filed nearly a dozen requests for the election itself to be annulled, and even claimed that her defeat was the result of a worldwide “leftist” plot. Simultaneously, a letter signed by several retired and former military figures calling for “military intervention” to prevent Castillo from forming a government began to circulate on private and social media. Since the first week after the election, a tremendous sense of tension and polarisation has engulfed the country, as Castillo supporters began organising marches to prevent Fujimori from attempting to steal the result, and Fujimori supporters rallied against what they perceived as a fraudulent election and the imminent arrival of “communism” with Castillo’s victory.

Fujimori supporters attacked several members of the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE). Other members of the legal system, such as the head of the anti-corruption prosecutor, José Domingo Pérez, have been subjected to physical assaults and death threats. Pro-Fujimori groups have also attacked peasant and indigenous activists rallying outside the JNE headquarters. Many international commentators have compared Fujimori’s strategy to Trump’s reaction to the 2020 election results and subsequent attempts to overturn the results.

However, almost a month after the election, Fujimori’s legal alternatives have significantly reduced. Almost all observer missions, from the United States to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the European Union, have declared the election free, fair, and transparent. The most notable instance included the resignation of one of the JNE’s judges, Luis Arce Córdova, in response to what he said was a “lack of openness” inside the judicial organisation. Because the JNE needs a complete quorum of four judges to make a final judgement on election results, his departure was seen as an effort to further delay the process and open the door to a repeat election. If no president is recognised by July 28, a new temporary president chosen by Congress must arrange a fresh election.

Latin America was engulfed in social unrest before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now a string of elections that continues into 2022, protests in Colombia and upheaval over Chile’s constitution have investors bracing for a new wave of uncertainty over policy making. On top of that, the coronavirus is still ravaging the region, with Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Chile recording far more confirmed cases per million people than India.

Faced with the obvious election result, many right-wing and centrist opposition leaders have either distanced themselves from the pro-coup narrative, denounced Fujimori for her actions, or even met with Castillo to explore the prospect of building alliances in Congress. The right-wing National Victory (NV) party’s George Forsyth denounced the JNE issue as an attempted “coup” by Fujimori, while the Purple Party of current temporary president Francisco Sagasti acknowledged Pedro Castillo as president-elect. Because there has been no agreement between the country’s right-wing and liberal political forces, Pedro Castillo has had both time and space to continue organising mass rallies against the slow-motion coup, while also meeting with local and regional authorities across the country in preparation for assuming the presidency.  Many past and present progressive heads of state in Latin America, including Alberto Fernández of Argentina, Luis Arce of Bolivia, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Fernando Lugo, Lula da Silva, and others, have acknowledged his triumph on the world arena.

However, Fujimori’s inability to prevent Castillo from becoming the president does not imply the threat has gone. He will have to deal with a hostile, but mainly unpopular, legislature, in which his Free Peru party presently has just 37 of the 130 seats. The Left’s total legislative authority is slightly under one-third of Congress, thanks to the five seats held by friends from the “Together for Peru” alliance.

Fujimori’s Popular Force party presently has twenty-four seats, the Alliance for Progress has fifteen, Aliaga’s Popular Renewal has thirteen, and Podemos Per has five, bringing the far right and conservative bloc to a total of fifty-seven seats, which is close to half of the total. Popular Action, We Are Peru, Avanza Paz, and the Purple Party were among the centrist-neoliberal parties that won thirty-one seats. Castillo’s ambitions to transform Peru are likewise under danger. The dogmas of the US-based “School of the Americas” continue to dominate Peruvian military and police, while private media have spent three months attempting to vilify and delegitimise the Left in every manner possible. The Lima-based business elite, as well as constant pressure from the US, are also opposed to antagonism. The fight for Peru had only just started, and it was up to all anti-imperialists across the globe to protect the country’s first left-wing administration in decades.

 The lost children of Canada’s residential schools  

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During recent months Canada has had the focus of a large-scale discovery of indigenous children’s remains near many school grounds. The government funded boarding schools of which these bodies were discovered were part of a policy to attempt to assimilate indigenous children to European culture and practices, and to erase the culture they once upheld. With more and more unmarked grave sites being found, it has led to a dramatic response by the Canadian people with mass protesting and the tearing down of prominent British Royal statues.

Around 130 residential schools of forced assimilation were operated in Canada between 1874 and 1996, with 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children taken from their families and placed within these schools. Many parents were threatened with charges leading to imprisonment if they were not to comply, and therefore were forced to abandon their native cultures and speak English or French as well as convert to Christianity.

Many of the schools have poor heating and unsanitary facilities as well as a lack of medical staff, leading to the loss of life of many children by disease of neglect. Those were also subject to harsh and severe punishments leading some to run away due to physical and sexual abuse.

The first discovery of remains was back in May, in which the remains of 215 students at Canada’s largest residential school were found. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir announced that the remains of 215 children had been found near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia (BC). Later in June, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced that it had found a further 751 unmarked graves in a similar discovery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, operated up until 1996 under the Catholic Church.

The public reaction since has been extreme featuring large scale protests and demonstrations across the country. On Canada Day, usually, a day of celebration of Canada’s founding by British colonies, a prominent statue of Queen Victoria was torn down by protesters in Manitoba’s capital Winnipeg on Thursday; as well as a smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth close by. Many called for celebrations to be cancelled as many municipalities across Canada called off their events. As well as this, several Catholic churches have been burned down in indigenous communities in western Canada, with St Ann’s Church and the Copaka Church being burned within an hour of each other in British Columbia.

Since 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau has promised to implement recommendations surrounding the missing children. In 2017 Trudeau asked Pope Frances to apologise for the Churches role in the schools but has so far declined with calls again renewed asking for an apology to be made. Also, in 2019 there were plans to commit C$33.8m over 3 years to develop a school student death register, but the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has said it has only received a small amount of the money.

With the unfortunate likelihood that more burial grounds are to be discovered soon, frustration and anger towards these events are yet to dissipate. Indigenous leaders have pressed the government to investigate all 130 former schools to find additional graves. Despite evidence and work being done on this situation for several years, Canadians are now grappling with the recent revelations of something that should have been widely known long ago.

Reigniting the Papua Conflict

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On June 25th Papuan rebels reportedly took hostages and killed four workers after attacking a construction site in the west of Indonesia. The National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB), the military wing of the Papuan independence movement claimed responsibility for the recent events. Tensions between the Indonesian government and Papuan separatists have increased in recent months after an Indonesian officer was killed in April. The Indonesian government responded by dispatching 400 troops to the area, arresting Viktork Yeimo, a leader in the Papuan independence movement and be designating the group responsible as terrorists. The escalations in the last three months have marked a return to violence after a reduction in 2020.

New Guinea is the island that is home to both Papua New Guinea, an independent country, and West Papua and Papua, both parts of Indonesia. When the Dutch withdrew from Indonesia in 1949, they retained half of New Guinea until the early 1960s. When in 1962 they eventually left New Guinea, the island was eventually incorporated into Indonesia after a referendum where people voted to remain part of Indonesia. However, many Papuan people felt, and still feel today, that vote was rigged, and that they have a separate identity and would prefer to govern the island independently. As such they have been waging an insurgency against Indonesia for the last 50 years. Indonesia’s response to the Papuan quest for independence has been labelled a human rights violation for the way they handle the largely Christian population of Papua.

The attack on June 25th was carried out on people working on the controversial Trans Papua Highway “megaproject”. The road is planned to be around 4,000km long and is nearing completion. Papuan rebels have killed workers on the project before, killing 20 in 2018 in an event dubbed the Nduga Massacre. The road is being built through the country in an attempt to improve road access to areas off the coast of the island that contain oil and gas. There have been many objections to the project for environmental and practical reasons. Specifically, the potential for increased illegal logging the roads will provide and that easier travel may lead to increased inter-tribal violence. However, the Indonesian government suggest the road will provide improved access to healthcare and more availability of goods and services.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s initial response has been to increase military and police presence in the region in an attempt to crackdown on the rebels. After recent attacks on civilians, it is unlikely that the authoritarian leader will want to be seen acceding to any pressure from the rebels. So, it is highly likely that increased numbers of military and police personnel will lead to an increase in violence in the short-term. In the medium to long-term the completion of the Trans Papua Highway is likely to reduce the number of attacks on workers in the area, but it will not solve the Papua conflict.