Political transitions in Afghanistan have always been fraught. The transfer of power in 2014 may yet prove the most peaceful handover of leadership in the country’s history, despite the tensions that emerged in the process. Hamid Karzai now stands as the only Afghan leader to have voluntarily surrendered his office, and his legacy will be further strengthened if he uses his considerable influence to make the next administration a success and refrains from trying to control the new president. — From Crisis Group’s latest Asia Report: Afghanistan’s Political Transition
AT A GLANCE-KASHMIR: Worst clashes since 2003 ceasefire | Alex Whiting
LONDON, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - This month, tens of thousands of people fled some of the worst violence in Kashmir since a 2003 ceasefire.
The disputed Himalayan region has triggered two wars between Pakistan and India and brought them to the brink of war in 2002. The area is one of the most militarised in the world.
Here’s an overview of what’s been happening:
Kashmir is divided into two main parts separated by what is called the Line of Control. One part is controlled by India and the other by Pakistan, but both countries want to control the whole region. About 10 million people live in the Indian-administered side and 3 million in the Pakistan-administered side. A small part lies in China.
Kashmir has triggered two wars between Pakistan and India and brought them to the verge of another in the early 2000s. Peace talks between the two nuclear powers became deadlocked after 2008 attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, but have since been revived.
FULL ARTICLE (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari/flickr
Israeli Fears of Palestinian Recognition are Unwarranted | The New York Times - Room for Debate
Crisis Group’s Nathan Thrall joins the latest New York Time’s discussion arguing that Israeli fears of Palestinian recognition are unwarranted.
According to the Palestine Liberation Organization, 134 countries have recognized Palestinian statehood. Such recognition, the majority of it dating back to the Palestinian declaration of independence in 1988, has hardly affected negotiations to end the conflict and made almost no difference in the lives of Palestinians. Recognition by the remaining holdouts, concentrated in Western Europe and North America, will likewise change little.
Nevertheless, because of the perceived moral and diplomatic weight of Western European nations, the overwrought debate about recognizing the State of Palestine has resurfaced, thanks to recent support for the idea in the British Parliament’s symbolic, nonbinding motion this week, in a pledge this month by the new Swedish prime minister, and in a suggestion on Tuesday by the French foreign minister that his country “will naturally have to assume its responsibilities” if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continue to fail.
FULL COMMENTARY (The New York Times)
Afghanistan’s Political Transition
Kabul/Brussels | 16 Oct 2014
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, inherits a government that is running out of money and losing ground to the insurgency. As foreign troops withdraw, the new government must stay united and move quickly on reforms.
In its latest report, Afghanistan’s Political Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election, analysing threats and opportunities. Any election during an escalating civil war will never reflect the full breadth of popular opinion, and the polls were marred by substantial fraud. Still, the most peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history creates opportunities to improve governance, reduce corruption and steer the country toward greater stability.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
“Ghani and Abdullah will need to continue serving as voices of restraint as they strive to make the unity government function, and they deserve to receive international support in these efforts” says says Graeme Smith, Afghanistan Senior Analyst. “The Afghan government cannot afford to drift, and any disunity in Kabul will affect the country’s ability to fight its battles and pay its bills”.
“While the two candidates’ power-sharing deals may be imperfect, they have also opened a conversation about revising the overly centralised presidential system”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser. “Afghanistan needs constitutional reforms to dilute some powers of the presidency and give more responsibilities to elected local officials. This would help mitigate factional tensions in the government and lower the stakes in future elections”.
Ukraine fears frozen conflict could yield winter energy crisis | Roman Olearchyk
At the Foxtrot appliance store in Kiev, the must-have product these days is a Delonghi electric heater.
“This is the last one left of 20 delivered to our store just a day ago,” Oleksander, a sales clerk, said, pointing to one of the Italian-made devices and noting that sales have increased fivefold from a year ago.
The bonanza is one indication of the panic gripping Ukraine as winter approaches and the country teeters on the edge of an energy crisis.
Imports of Russian natural gas have been cut off since June amid a price and debt dispute that has run alongside their military confrontation in eastern Ukraine. That has already prompted cold showers as the government has resorted to rationing domestically produced gas by cutting centrally provided hot water to flats.
The conflict is also now endangering Ukraine’s coal supplies. Mining activity in eastern Ukraine has been interrupted by the fighting while damage to railways has created transport bottlenecks. A Ukrainian army spokesperson this week accused Russian-backed militants of trying to seize railway hubs to control the flow of coal out of the region.
Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, is expected to discuss the energy situation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, when the two leaders meet at a summit of EU and Asian leaders in Milan that begins on Thursday. Yet Kiev’s energy vulnerability is regarded by analysts as another factor that has given Moscow and the rebels it supports the upper hand in a conflict that has killed more than 3,500 people.
FULL ARTICLE (The Financial Times)
Photo: Andriy Baranskyy/flickr
Why ISIS Is Gaining Ground – and So Hard to Beat | Lara Setrakian
Noah Bonsey, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, gave us an in-depth explanation of why ISIS has had so much success in Syria and the challenges ahead for degrading its influence.
As of Thursday, the Islamic State (ISIS) had seized 40% of the strategic Syrian border town of Kobani, raising questions about the success of U.S.-led airstrikes meant to stem the group’s advance. The U.N. warned that ISIS could massacre the remaining 500 people trapped in Kobani, while analysts said an ISIS victory there would destabilize both the border region and the Middle East at large.
ISIS now controls roughly one-third of Syrian territory. Its continued spread has sparked a debate over new measures to counter the group, among them the possible creation of a buffer zone in northern Syria – which could require a no-fly zone to protect it.
As part of the strategy behind coalition airstrikes, unveiled last month, the U.S. had said it would rely on moderate rebel groups in Syria – what’s been known as the Free Syrian Army – to fight ISIS on the ground. But in the past couple of days, the White House admitted that those moderate groups are not prepared to take on ISIS and win; they have been outgunned and overwhelmed by the superior weapons, training and resources that ISIS has at hand.
“The U.S. shares some of the blame for the current state of the rebel forces,” said Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
“Part of the issue here is that the U.S. is coming late into the game … prior to this current stage the U.S. had not invested significant resources in improving capacities.”
Bonsey gave us an in-depth explanation of why ISIS has had so much success in Syria and the challenges ahead for degrading its influence.
FULL INTERVIEW (Syria Deeply)
Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question
Jerusalem/Ramallah/Gaza/Brussels | 9 Oct 2014
With Palestinians increasingly doubtful that the refugee question can be resolved within a two-state framework, the Palestinian leadership should seek to reinvigorate refugee communities as well as to reclaim its representation of them. When diplomacy emerges from its hiatus, the leadership will be able to negotiate and implement a peace agreement only if it wins refugees’ support or at least acquiescence.
In its latest report, Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question, the International Crisis Group examines what could be done on the Palestinian side, without compromising core Israeli interests, to mitigate the risk that the Palestinian refugee question would derail a future agreement. For most of the 66 years since the Arab inhabitants of historic Palestine were displaced with the establishment of Israel in what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe), the refugee question was at the forefront of the Palestinian national agenda. It no longer is. Refugees feel alienated from the Palestinian Authority (PA), doubt the intentions of Palestinian negotiators, and resent the class structure that the PA and its economic policies have produced.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
“Only a Palestinian leadership perceived as legitimate, inclusive and representative by all Palestinians will be considered authorised to negotiate a compromise with Israel” says Nathan Thrall, Senior Middle East Analyst. “The lull in talks gives the national movement a chance to reconstruct itself so Palestinians of all sorts, particularly refugees, can influence negotiating positions”.
“The Palestinian leadership, the Israeli government and the international community need to understand that their current approach to the refugee question is a recipe not only for failure and strife, but for further undermining the two-state solution”, says Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Acting Program Director.
The Implications of Turkey’s Turn Towards Fighting ISIS | Katarina Montgomery
In a significant expansion of its role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), Turkey agreed to let the U.S.-led coalition use its territory to launch attacks and train moderate Syrian rebels.
The move comes after weeks of complaints that Turkey hasn’t done enough to combat ISIS, as it swept across Syria and Iraq and seized nearly half of the strategic border town of Kobani.
Didem Akyel Collinsworth, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, explained why Turkey has stepped up its cooperation with the international community in the fight against ISIS.
Syria Deeply :Turkey will now allow the U.S. and its allies to use its bases against ISIS. Why this move and why now?
Collinsworth: The agreement to train moderate Syrian rebels on its soil, the latest motion at parliament to allow cross-border military operations into Iraq and Syria, and to allow foreign troop deployment on Turkish soil, were all important steps recently taken.
From a public perspective, the moves show that Turkey is taking proactive steps towards its safety, so in that sense it was a defensive move.
Recent developments have tarnished Turkey’s image in Western Media and called in to question Turkey’s NATO membership. These steps shows its Western allies that Turkey is not just standing on the sidelines and that it is still a valuable NATO ally.
Many of the reasons why Turkey is shying away from direct military intervention and involvement in northern Syria are understandable. Opening up the bases is one way Turkey can contribute, but even before that, Turkey took steps that didn’t jeopardize its safety. Turkey allowed the use of its air space, opened up humanitarian corridors to Syrian refugees, and allowed information sharing.
FULL INTERVIEW (Syria Deeply)
Central African Republic: A Transition at Risk | Crisis Group
On 26 September 2014, the United Nations Secretary-General convened a high-level meeting on the Central African Republic. The meeting aimed to identify the next steps for the restoration of peace and stability in the country, following the signing of the Brazzaville Cessation of Hostilities agreement on 23 July, the appointment of a new transitional government on 24 August and the transfer of authority from the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) on 15 September. The meeting was attended by CAR’s President Catherine Samba-Panza and representatives of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, regional states, regional organisations and international financial institutions. The International Crisis Group sent the following letter to the participants ahead of the meeting.
Letter to the Participants of the High-Level Meeting on the Central African Republic | 26 September 2014
The Central African Republic’s seven-month-old transition is at risk. The country’s leaders and partners meeting in the special high-level event at the UN General Assembly on 26 September 2014 should redouble efforts to put it back on track.
The July Brazzaville summit, which aimed to end CAR’s de-facto partition, has not stopped the fighting. The main armed groups are in disarray, lack clear leadership, seek to expand their areas of control and pursue banditry as much as politics. They should be contained to allow space for the political process. Political elites in Bangui are divided. The government has become weaker, faces growing popular discontent and has been accused of favouritism, with the choice of a new Prime Minister criticised. Despite a display of unanimity, CAR’s neighbours pursue competing and often ambiguous strategies in the country.
FULL LETTER (In Pursuit of Peace - Crisis Group Blog)
Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak