Friday, 16 December 2011

Holding Libya Together: Security Challenges after Qadhafi


As a recent uptick in violence vividly illustrates, the fate of militias that ousted Qadhafi’s regime must be carefully addressed lest they jeopardise Libya’s transition.

Holding Libya Together: Security Challenges after Qadhafi , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the challenges stemming from the large number of local forces and militias which were decisive in ousting Qadhafi’s regime but are now becoming a significant threat to the country’s security.

Having swiftly achieved broad international recognition, the National Transitional Council (NTC) quickly became the face of the rebellion. On the ground however, the picture was different. The uprising was highly decentralised with essentially autonomous, self-armed and self-trained military brigades in both east and west and an array of forces in Tripoli. Today, over 125,000 Libyans reportedly are armed and members of well over a hundred militias. These are in the process of institutionalising themselves, mimicking the organisation of a regular military and engaging in independent activities (registering persons and weapons; arresting and detaining suspects) that are becoming ever more entrenched.

“Libya was liberated in piecemeal fashion, mostly by local rebellions and ad-hoc military groupings that used both military means and negotiations to achieve their goals”, says William Lawrence, Crisis Group’s North Africa Project Director. “As a result, a large number of local forces and militias grew up that could legitimately proclaim themselves national liberators”.

The problem posed by militias reflects hard truths about the political landscape from which they sprung. Defectors from within Qadhafi’s regime, who were instrumental in forming the NTC and the rebel National Army, stand accused by revolutionary fighters of belonging to the old order. Rifts between regions as well as between Islamists and secularists play into this dynamic. Weapons are in abundance and suspicion among armed fighters runs high. Above all, the NTC has inherited a country with a long tradition of local government and divided, indecisive ministries, reinforcing mistrust of central authority.

Until a more legitimate governing body is formed and until more credible national institutions are developed, notably in the areas of defence, policing and vital service delivery, Libyans are likely to be sceptical of the political process, while insisting on both retaining their weapons and preserving the current structure of irregular armed brigades. To try to force a different outcome would be to play with fire, and with poor odds.

But that does not mean doing nothing. The NTC should communicate clearly, act with transparency and consult closely with local military councils and community leaders on all issues related to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). Together, they should agree on and enforce a common set of rules and behaviour for all armed fighters – particularly in terms of treatment of detainees -- and join their efforts to reintegrate armed rebels, notably the youngest among them, by offering alternative civilian employment. The international community should offer its own advice and technical assistance.

“A top-down disarmament and demobilisation effort by an executive lacking legitimacy would backfire”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “Qadhafi centralised power without building a central state. His successors must do the reverse”.



As the recent upsurge of violence dramatically illustrates, the militias that were decisive in ousting Qadhafi’s regime are becoming a significant problem now that it is gone. Their number is a mystery: 100 according to some; three times that others say. Over 125,000 Libyans are said to be armed. The groups do not see themselves as serving a central authority; they have separate procedures to register members and weapons, arrest and detain suspects; they repeatedly have clashed. Rebuilding Libya requires addressing their fate, yet haste would be as perilous as apathy. The uprising was highly decentralised; although they recognise it, the local military and civilian councils are sceptical of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the largely self-appointed body leading the transition. They feel they need weapons to defend their interests and address their security fears.

A top-down disarmament and demobilisation effort by an executive lacking legitimacy would backfire. For now the NTC should work with local authorities and militias – and encourage them to work with each other – to agree on operational standards and pave the way for restructured police, military and civilian institutions. Qadhafi centralised power without building a central state. His successors must do the reverse.

A dual legacy burdens Libya’s new authorities. The first was bequeathed by Qadhafi in the form of a regime centred on himself and his family; that played neighbourhoods and groups against one another; failed to develop genuine national institutions; and deliberately kept the national army weak to prevent the emergence of would-be challengers. The second legacy stems from the way in which he was toppled: through the piecemeal and variegated liberation of different parts of the country. A large number of local forces and militias volunteered to take part in this fight. After Qadhafi’s fall, all could legitimately claim to have sacrificed blood and treasure for the cause, and all could consider themselves national liberators.

To much of the world, the NTC was the face of the uprising. It was formed early, spoke with authority and swiftly achieved broad international recognition. On the ground, the picture was different. The NTC was headquartered in the eastern city of Benghazi, a traditional base of anti-regime activity that provided army defectors a relatively secure area of operations, particularly after NATO’s involvement. The eastern rebellion was built around a strong kernel of experienced opposition and commanders who found friendly territory in which to defect at relatively low cost and personal risk. But it could only encourage western cities and towns to rise up, not adequately support them. At key times, army components that defected, stuck on the eastern frontlines, by and large became passive observers of what occurred in the rest of the country. In the eyes of many, the rebel army looked increasingly like an eastern, not a truly national force. As for the NTC, focused on obtaining vital international support, it never fully led the uprising, nor could it establish a substantial physical presence in much of the rest of the country.

In the west, rebels formed militias and military brigades that were essentially autonomous, self-armed and self-trained, benefiting in most instances from limited NTC and foreign government support. Some had a military background, but most were civilians – accountants, lawyers, students or labourers. When and where they prevailed, they assumed security and civilian responsibility under the authority of local military councils. As a result, most of the militias are geographically rooted, identified with specific neighbourhoods, towns and cities – such as Zintan and Misrata – rather than joined by ideology, tribal membership or ethnicity; they seldom possess a clear political agenda beyond securing their area.

The situation in Tripoli was different and uniquely dangerous. There, victory over Qadhafi forces reflected the combined efforts of local residents and various militias from across the country. The outcome was a series of parallel, at times uncoordinated chains of command. The presence of multiple militias has led to armed clashes as they overlap and compete for power.

The NTC’s desire to bring the militias under central control is wholly understandable; to build a stable Libya, it also is necessary. But obstacles are great. By now, they have developed vested interests they will be loath to relinquish. They also have become increasingly entrenched. Militias mimic the organisation of a regular military and enjoy parallel chains of command; they have separate weapons and vehicle registration procedures; supply identification cards; conduct investigations; issue warrants; arrest and detain suspects; and conduct security operations, sometimes at substantial cost to communities subject to discrimination and collective punishment.

They also have advantages that the NTC and the National Army lack, notably superior local knowledge and connections, relatively strong leaderships and revolutionary legitimacy. In contrast, the NTC has had to struggle with internal divisions, a credibility deficit and questions surrounding its effectiveness. It has had to deal with ministries still in the process of reorganisation and whose employees – most of them former regime holdovers – have yet to cast off the ingrained habit of referring any decision to the ministerial level.

But the heart of the matter is political. The security landscape’s fragmentation – and militias’ unwillingness to give up arms – reflects distrust and uncertainty regarding who has the legitimacy to lead during the transition. While the NTC and reconstituted National Army can point out they were among the first to rebel or defect and were crucial in obtaining international support, others see things differently. Some considered them too eastern-dominated and blamed them for playing a marginal role in liberating the west. Civilians who took up arms and who had been powerless or persecuted under Qadhafi resent ex-senior officials who defected from the army and members of the regime’s elite who shifted allegiances and now purport to rule. Although they are represented on the council, many Islamists consider the NTC overly secular and out of touch with ordinary Libyans. Above all else, militias – notably those in Tripoli, Zintan and Misrata – have their own narrative to justify their legitimacy: that they spearheaded the revolution in the west, did the most to free the capital or suffered most from Qadhafi’s repression.

Formation of a new cabinet was supposed to curb militia-on-militia violence as well as defiance of the National Army; it has done nothing of the kind. Instead, violence in the capital if anything has escalated, with armed clashes occurring almost nightly. Regional suspicion of the central authority remains high as does disagreement over which of the many new revolutionary groups and personalities ought to be entrusted with power.

The problem posed by militias is intimately related to deeper, longer-term structural issues: Qadhafi’s neglect of the army along with other institutions; regional friction and societal divisions (between regions, between Islamist-leaning and secularist-leaning camps, as well as between representatives of the old and new orders); the uprising’s geographically uneven and uncoordinated development; the surplus of weapons and deficit in trust; the absence of a strong, fully representative and effective executive authority; and widespread feeling among many armed fighters that the existing national army lacks both relevance and legitimacy.

Until a more legitimate governing body is formed – which likely means until elections are held – and until more credible national institutions are developed, notably in the areas of defence, policing and vital service delivery, Libyans are likely to be suspicious of the political process, while insisting on both retaining their weapons and preserving the current structure of irregular armed brigades. To try to force a different outcome would be to play with fire, and with poor odds.

But that does not mean nothing can be done. Some of the most worrying features of the security patchwork should be addressed cooperatively between the NTC and local military as well as civilian councils. At the top of the list should be developing and enforcing clear standards to prevent abuses of detainees or discrimination against entire communities, the uncontrolled possession, display or use especially of heavy weapons and inter-militia clashes. The NTC also should begin working on longer-term steps to demobilise the militias and reintegrate their fighters in coordination with local actors. This will require restructuring the police and military, but also providing economic opportunities for former fighters – vocational training, jobs as well as basic social services – which in turn will require meeting minimum expectations of good government. Even as it takes a relatively hands-off approach, the international community has much to offer in this respect – and Libyans appear eager for such help.

Ultimately, successfully dealing with the proliferation of militias will entail a delicate balancing act: central authorities must take action, but not at the expense of local counterparts; disarmament and demobilisation should proceed deliberately, but neither too quickly nor too abruptly; and international players should weigh the need not to overly interfere in Libya’s affairs against the obligation not to become overly complacent about its promising but still fragile future.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Transitional National Council (NTC):

01. Strengthen the legitimacy of central authorities by ensuring greater transparency in decision-making and in identifying and selecting Council representatives and members of the executive.

02. Ensure all decisions relating to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) are taken in close consultation with local military councils and militias, by appointing a credible personality to liaise and coordinate with such local bodies.

03. Enhance opportunity for involvement by community and religious leaders in sponsoring and supporting DDR initiatives.

04. Back local DDR initiatives financially in cooperation with local councils, including weapons registration, improvement of detention facilities and support for young fighters.

To the Revolutionary Brigades, Local Military Councils and Local Civilian Councils: 


05. Seek to reintegrate armed rebels, notably the youngest among them, inter alia by identifying and registering those who wish to pursue careers in the police and military; offering alternative civilian employment; and sponsoring civic improvement initiatives with city funds.

06. Disclose all sources of funding.

07. Agree on and enforce codes of conduct and mechanisms for dispute resolution, especially where several militias operate in the same area.

To the NTC, Revolutionary Brigades, Local Military Councils and Local Civilian Councils:

08. Agree on and enforce a common set of rules and behaviour for all armed fighters; implement a single procedure for weapons registrations; and ban the display of heavy weapons in town centres and the bearing of arms at checkpoints and key installations.

09. Transfer as quickly as possible responsibility for detainees to central authority and, in the meantime, ensure respect for rule of law and international standards in arrest and detention procedures; release persons whose detention is not consistent with such practices; and bring to justice, speedily and in accordance with international law, those accused of criminal acts.

10. Agree on a process for NTC inspection of arms depots, detention centres, border posts, checkpoints and other militia-controlled facilities.

11. Implement initial steps toward DDR by:

a) focusing at first on heavy weapons;

b) through a joint effort by the government and local councils, providing support for young fighters in particular;

c) establishing an NTC-funded mandatory training program covering rules of engagement and discipline for militia members who wish to pursue careers in the military or policing; and

d) providing vocational training for militia fighters as well as necessary financial incentives.

12. Establish and implement criteria for appointment to senior posts within the defence ministry and army on an inclusive basis.

13. Create at both the central and local levels a non-par­ti­san, inclusive committee to review and refer candidates for recruitment into the police and national army.

14. Institute an appeals procedure for rejected candidates.

To the UN Support Mission in Libya and other International Stakeholders, including Arab countries, the European Union and the U.S.:

15. Offer the NTC assistance in, inter alia:

a) undertaking quick assessments of security, DDR, and related needs;

b) police training, including possibly establishment of a gendarmerie function;

c) security force professionalisation, including specifically on human rights and civilian oversight; and

d) border control. (ICG)

South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State


Unity State, a territory of unique importance and complexity in the fragile new country of South Sudan, faces a perfect storm of political, social, economic, and security dilemmas.

South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines a series of inter-related pressures and a governance crisis – with a national subtext – which together threaten continued destabilisation in the state. Some challenges are specific to Unity, but others exemplify concerns across the republic that gained its independence from Sudan in July.

“Instability must be considered in light of the complicated history of this frontline state within the “old” Sudan, the strategic interests of national powers, and the complex web of relationships and shifting alliances among the state's political and military actors”, says Zach Vertin, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “Some troubles have festered for years, while more recent developments – prompted by the partition of Sudan – have exacerbated instability and intensified resource pressure”.

Since 2005, the lion's share of attention was focused on national issues such as the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the Sudan's long civil war, volatile North-South politics, the referendum that brought about Southern independence and negotiations toward a constructive relationship with Khartoum beyond partition. Now this focus is shifting to the latent stabilisation agenda at home, and the challenges deferred are nowhere more evident than in Unity.

Recent rebel militia activity has drawn attention to the state, highlighting internal fractures, a familiar dilemma of army integration, and the need for reforms in both the political and military arenas. But the fault lines in Unity run deeper than the rebellions. Polarised politics, territorial disputes, cross-border migratory tensions, economic isolation and a still tenuous North-South relationship also fuel instability, each one compounding the next. The influx of tens of thousands of Southern returnees from the North and war across the new international border in neighbouring Southern Kordofan likewise complicate a rapidly evolving post-independence environment.

As new political realities emerge, many state constituents have high hopes for more stable, more accountable and more democratic administration of government. “Now that independence has been achieved, long-suppressed grievances will increasingly surface in an already tenuous political environment”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group's Horn of Africa Project Director. “Untangling Unity's web of intersecting challenges will prove no easy task”.


Unity state confronts a set of challenges unparalleled in South Sudan. Some exemplify concerns that register across the emerging republic; others are unique to the state. Situated abreast multiple frontiers, its political, social, economic and security dilemmas make for a perfect storm. Some have festered for years, while more recent developments – prompted by the partition of the “old” Sudan – have exacerbated instability and intensified resource pressure. Recent rebel militia activity has drawn considerable attention to the state, highlighting internal fractures and latent grievances. But the fault lines in Unity run deeper than the rebellions. A governance crisis – with a national subtext – has polarised state politics and sown seeds of discontent. Territorial disputes, cross-border tensions, economic isolation, development deficits and a still tenuous North-South relationship also fuel instability, each one compounding the next amid a rapidly evolving post-independence environment. Juba, and its international partners, must marshal attention and resources toward the fundamental sources of instability in places like Unity if the emerging Republic is to realise its full potential.

Since 2005, the lion’s share of Juba’s – and international – attention was focused on national issues: implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war, volatile North-South politics, the referendum that brought about Southern independence and negotiations toward a constructive relationship with Khartoum beyond partition. Southerners likewise put the unifying goal of independence ahead of other grievances and aspirations. Now focus is shifting to the latent political, security, social and economic stabilisation agenda at home. Nowhere are the challenges deferred more evident than in Unity state.

Situated along the North-South border and atop much of the South’s known oil deposits, Unity is a strategic territory and a primary source of the country’s economic lifeblood. Its subterranean resources made it a centrepiece in Sudan’s civil war; its people, land, and social fabric were devastated by two decades of conflict that pitted national forces, border-area proxies, Southern rebels and its own ethnic Nuer clans against one another. As both wounds and veiled allegiances remain, the legacies of this era continue to influence the politics, and instability, of the present.

Politics in Unity are deeply polarised, and the reverberations are felt well beyond state boundaries. Citizens in many states harbour grievances about their local governments, but resentment is particularly palpable and widespread in Unity. The dispute at the heart of the state’s body politic is partly linked to broader national politics, the unreconciled legacies of a long and divisive war, and fundamental questions of identity and ethnic competition. As new political realities emerge, it remains to be seen whether the alliances of the recent past will endure. Many have high hopes that independence will pave the way for a new, more democratic and transparent administration in Bentiu (as well as in the national capital, Juba), but those hopes are conditioned on fundamental changes taking place in the state.

A series of armed rebellions emerged in the South in 2010-2011, several in Unity. Though sometimes dismissed as mere armed opportunism, they have together drawn attention to more endemic grievances, some of which are manifest in Bentiu. Divisions over security policy and a flawed counter-insurgency strategy highlighted a familiar dilemma of army integration. An inconsistent response has yielded mixed results, sometimes generating more violence, fuelling community grievances, or hampering efforts to bring other rebels back into the fold. Northern support for such groups is highly inflammatory and must cease, but external subversion remains an exacerbating agent as much as a root cause. A demonstrable commitment to reforms in the security sector and rule-of-law institutions, an opening of political space, as well as a more stable North-South relationship will be necessary to discourage future rebellions.

Meanwhile, boundary disputes and cross-border tensions persist. The North-South border is now an international boundary, but it is not yet demarcated and critical sections – including in Unity – remain dangerously militarised. The seasonal migration of nomadic Misseriya cattle-herders to Unity has been interrupted in recent years, generating violence and anxiety along the already tense border. In the absence of negotiated migratory arrangements and implementation of a North-South security pact, there remains considerable uncertainty as to what the coming seasons hold. Likewise, still undefined internal boundaries fuel inter-communal tensions inside Unity state and many others.

A tumultuous end of the CPA era, partition of the country, domestic turmoil in the North, and the absence of arrangements to govern the future relationship between the two Sudans have compounded instability and left questions unanswered. Tens of thousands of Southerners returned from the North to their places of origin, their future uncertain as the state struggles to absorb them. A Khartoum-imposed blockade of North-South transit routes has choked supply chains and caused economic shock in an already isolated state capital. The outbreak of war in neighbouring Southern Kordofan further undermines cross-border movement and trade, protracts North-South tension and has driven refugees into Unity, many of whom need emergency services.

Finally, resources have driven instability and will continue to shape the political, social and economic character of the state in the independence era. Oil has fuelled the national economy and generated state revenue. But Unity constituents remain undecided about its net effect, as tangible development gains are lacking, allegations of oil revenue misuse are widespread, and the social and environmental consequences of extraction persist. The assumption of greater oil sector responsibility will bring changes and an opportunity to revisit contracts and operating standards; it may also prompt new investment. Though production is in decline, industry management and the relationship between state, oil companies and community will be a key determinant of future stability. Large-scale land acquisitions have also generated controversy and drawn attention to inadequate regulation. The potential for new commercial investment will force land policy issues to the fore.

The brutal lessons of oil sector development in Unity illustrate that rigorous regulation and government oversight are necessary to protect the rights and interests of local populations. Meanwhile, violent cattle raiding afflicts many of the state’s agro-pastoralists, often stoking disputes with ethnic Dinka communities in neighbouring Warrap and Lakes States.

Now that independence has been achieved, the challenges and grievances deferred will increasingly surface in what is already a fragile environment. Many aspire to use the 9th of July – independence day – to make a break with the troubles, injustices, and divides of the past. But untangling Unity’s web of intersecting challenges will prove no easy task.

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Monday, 12 December 2011

Islamic Parties in Pakistan


Islamabad/Brussels, 12 December 2011: Religious intolerance, sectarian violence and radical Islamic parties threaten to undermine the democratic reforms on which Pakistan’s stability depends.

Islamic Parties in Pakistan, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines the internal workings, policies and agendas of these parties, and their relationship with the state, particularly the military, in order to assess how they maintain political influence despite limited electoral support. Due to their ability to mobilise street power and influence public institutions, Islamic parties, particularly the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F), but also the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) remain significant political entities with narrow partisan agendas that they are willing to defend through violence. Equally important, they share the ideological goal of enforcing Sharia (Islamic law), while maintaining sizeable madrasa and mosque networks that are breeding grounds for extremist groups that threaten the country’s stability.

“Sectarian politics are, in fact, becoming increasingly violent, as more Islamic parties and groups espouse militancy as the most effective method to promote their interests”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “The majority of Islamic parties are far from abandoning the concept of militant jihad or cutting their ties to local and regional militants, including sectarian extremists, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked jihadi outfits”.

Reforms during military rule, particularly General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation process (1979-1986), fundamentally altered the structure of the constitution and the legal system, giving Islamist forces new sources of influence and a political role disproportionate to their popular support. Around 25 Islamic parties are now involved in domestic politics in some form. A large part of their agenda is to prevent a rollback of those reforms. Largely independent of electoral results, their influence lies in their ability to pressure governments from outside parliament or by entering into politically expedient alliances with the two largest mainstream parties that are moderate on religious issues: the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

While their agenda and hence their popular appeal remain limited, the Islamic parties could still benefit from destabilisation of the democratic transition. To reduce religious intolerance and sectarian violence, enforce the rule of law, and strengthen democratic governance, the PPP, which controls the central government in Islamabad, should adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards all forms of religious discrimination, prosecute any individual or political party encouraging or supporting violence and require Islamic parties to disband their militant wings.

Zia’s discriminatory legislation remains one of the biggest tests for the PPP, a party that has repeatedly pledged to uphold the basic rights of all citizens and curb religious extremism. If the Pakistani state is to tackle these issues, its legislative branch should prioritise ameliorating discriminatory Islamic laws still in effect and pass a constitutional amendment to abolish the Federal Shariat Court.

“An Islamist takeover in Pakistan is highly unlikely, whether through militant violence or the ballot box”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “But as long as the Islamic parties are able to pressure governments, through parliamentary and/or often violent street politics, they will continue to obstruct vital democratic reforms, thus reinforcing an environment in which religious intolerance, vigilantism, and militancy thrive, the rule of law continues to deteriorate, and elected governments are unable to stabilise that vital country”.


The ability of Pakistan’s radical Islamic parties to mount limited but potentially violent opposition to the government has made democratic reform, and by extension the reduction of religious extremism and development of a more peace­ful and stable society, more challenging. This is a reflection of those parties’ well-organised activist base, which is committed to a narrow partisan agenda and willing to defend it through violence. While their electoral support remains limited, earlier Islamisation programs have given them a strong legal and political apparatus that enables them to influence policy far beyond their numerical strength. An analysis of party agendas and organisation, as well as other sources of influence in judicial, political and civil society institutions, is therefore vital to assessing how Pakistan’s main religious parties apply pressure on government, as well as the ability and willingness of the mainstream parties that are moderate on religious issues to resist that pressure.

These parties’ ability to demonstrate support for their various agendas is an expression of coherent internal structures, policymaking processes and relations between the leadership and the rank-and-file. These aspects of party functioning are, therefore, as critical to understanding their role in the polity and prospects of influencing policy in the future as in understanding their relationship to the state.

The Islamic parties that are the subject of this report might operate within the current political order, but their ultimate aim is to replace it with one that is based on narrow, discriminatory interpretations of Islam. They have also taken equivocal positions on militant jihad: on the one hand, they insist on their distinction from militant outfits by virtue of working peacefully and within the democratic system; on the other, they admit to sharing the ideological goal of enforcing Sharia (Islamic law), while maintaining sizeable mad­rasa and mosque networks that are breeding grounds for many extremist groups.

Moreover, belying their claims of working peacefully, the major Islamic parties maintain militant wings, violent student organisations and ties to extremist groups, and have proved more than willing to achieve political objectives through force. After parlaying military support during the 1980s into significant political and legislative gains, and even absent military support and the electoral assistance that entailed, the parties have still been able to defend earlier gains through intimidation and violent agitation on the streets. In response, faced with their opposition, the mainstream moderate parties have often abandoned promised reforms while in government, or even made further concessions, such as the National Assembly’s constitutional amend­ment in 1974 declaring the Ahmadi sect non-Muslim.

Such compromises have not offset the pressure of the ulama (religious scholars), as intended, but only emboldened religious hardliners.

The success of the six-party Islamic coalition, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), in the 2002 elections in Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan was initially perceived to be testament to the Islamic parties’ power if they were unified in a single bloc. This result, however, was in fact due to massively rigged polls by the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf, which sought to sideline its main opposition, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Furthermore, the alliance, as reflected in its subsequent breakup, arguably revealed more about internal differences between the parties – particularly between the two largest and most influential, the revivalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the orthodox Deobandi Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) – than about their unity. Deprived of the military’s support in the 2008 polls, the MMA was routed by the PPP, PML-N and Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP).

Although the Islamic parties support the enforcement of Sharia, they represent different schools of thought, and their resulting acrimonious relations have resulted in intra-religious violence and created splinter factions that have weakened the original party or, in some cases, made it defunct. This has also diminished the likelihood of a restored alliance in the next general election. Nevertheless, the Fazlur Rehman-led faction of the JUI (JUI-F), the JI and smaller Islamic parties remain relevant due to their relative internal coherence; a committed hardcore base, including youth recruited through madrasas and, particularly in the JI’s case, university campuses; and the ability to leverage state institutions.

Their prospects for access to meaningful political power, however, still depend on military patronage. Should an ambitious high command decide to disrupt the current democratic dispensation, as in the past, it would likely rely on the Islamic parties to counter the mainstream moderate opposition. In a sustained democratic transition, however, the ability of these parties to influence the polity will depend on the effectiveness of the mainstream moderate parties to consolidate civilian rule and mobilise support for political and legal reform.

Discriminatory religious provisions and judicial and political structures such as the Federal Shariat Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology remain on the books and in frequent use. In the current climate, if the government is to fulfil earlier pledges to repeal discriminatory legislation, the mainstream parties, particularly the PPP and PML-N, will have to exploit their far greater and moderate popular base and create consensus on restoring and defending fundamental rights and equality for all citizens. Their success in rallying nationwide mass support against the Musharraf regime in 2007, ultimately effecting its ouster, demonstrates their capacity to do so. Building on the gains they have made with the return to civilian rule, both major parties should, adopt a policy of zero tolerance toward all forms of religious intolerance and extremism as a fundamental element of their efforts to stabilise a still fragile transition the success of which is vital to the country’s stability. But it will require far more active engagement with party activists and grassroots organisations to implement that policy.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To reduce religious intolerance and sectarian violence, enforce the rule of law, and strengthen democratic governance

To the Executive Branch of the Government of Pakistan:

01. Prosecute any individual or political party encouraging or supporting violence, including through hate speech and rallies against religious and sectarian minorities.

02. Require Islamic parties to disband their militant wings by invoking Article 256 of the constitution, prohibiting private militias; and take strong action against those that refuse, including disqualifying them from contesting elections.

03. Remove the ban on student unions but prosecute any student or student group engaging in hate speech or violence.

04. Revive earlier plans to reform the madrasa sector, specifically by:

a) registering all madrasas and enforcing transparent financial reporting requirements;

b) banning violent jihadi and sectarian teachings from syllabuses;

c) closing all madrasas affiliated with banned militant organisations and prosecuting their leaders, if sufficient evidence exists, under existing criminal law regarding violent acts or involvement in incitement to violence; and

d) keeping any madrasa suspected of links with militant jihadi groups under close surveillance.

To the Legislative Branch of the Government of Pakistan:

05. Repeal the Nizam-e-Adl 2009 establishing Sharia in the Malakand region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province and avoid any concessions to Islamic parties in the future that undermine basic constitutional rights and federal parliamentary democracy.

06. Ameliorate discriminatory Islamic laws that are still in effect by:

a) introducing and enforcing strict punishments for false/frivolous accusations of blasphemy or crimes under the Hudood Ordinances; and

b) ensuring a high level of protection for judges, prosecutors, witnesses and accused during trials under these laws.

07. Pass a constitutional amendment to abolish the Federal Shariat Court, whose functions to review legislation for repugnancy to Islam are covered by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).

08. Ensure the impartiality of the Council of Islamic Ideology, so long as it remains in place, by:

a) prohibiting parliamentarians from serving as its chairperson; and

b) abiding by the letter and spirit of its constitution to ensure a diverse and representative membership, including judges, scholars and women.

To the Judicial Branch of the Government of Pakistan:

09. Develop a clear interpretation of the state’s authority to enforce Islamic moral values that is consistent with the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision on the Hisba Bill; and protect constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights by directing parliament, pursuant to such judicial doctrine, to repeal the Nizam-e-Adl 2009, the Hudood Ordinances and all discriminatory religious provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code.

To the Mainstream Political Parties of Pakistan, in particular the PPP and PML-N:

10. Cease partnerships for short-term political and electoral gain with Islamic parties and groups that propagate or resort to violence and/or limit options to implement democratic reforms.

11. Initiate a national dialogue and engage party bases to build public support for repealing all laws that discriminate on the basis of religion, sect and gender, including the blasphemy law, anti-Ahmadi laws, Hudood Ordinances and Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (blood money) laws. (ICG)

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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Syrian crisis draws in regional and major powers

The Arab League’s announcement of economic sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has set in motion a rapidly escalating crisis that is drawing in both the regional and major powers.

The offensive being mounted against Syria now threatens a wider conflagration in the region.
 
For all the Arab League’s assertions that the sanctions are designed to avert foreign intervention, the opposite is the case. Plans for a military intervention are well advanced, with Turkey and France playing leading roles.
 
As in the case of Libya, the imperialist powers are using the 22-member Arab League—made up of feudal despots and Egypt’s military junta, engaged in its own lethal crackdown on protestors—to legitimise such a criminal venture.
 
The Arab League ultimatum included demands on the Syrian regime to halt its attacks on protesters, withdraw its tanks from restive cities and engage in a dialogue with the opposition, while making no corresponding demands on oppositionists armed and backed by Turkey and the Gulf States.
 
The ultimatum was expressly designed to elicit a refusal from Syria. Sanctions are the first step towards a military intervention aimed at installing a more pliant Western stooge and isolating and ultimately furthering the campaign to overthrow the Iranian government, Syria’s key ally in the region.
 
Turkey, although not a member of the Arab League, was present at its meeting as an observer. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said that Assad’s government had “come to the end of the road”.
 
Ankara has played a prominent role in ratcheting up the pressure on Damascus. It has given shelter to Syrian army defectors and organised in the Free Syria Army (FSA), which is launching armed attacks inside Syria. The FSA, along with the exiled leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for a “no fly” zone or “humanitarian corridor”and Turkish military intervention in the country to “resolve” the situation.
 
Ankara has also sponsored and promoted the Syrian National Council (SNC), made up of discredited former regime supporters, CIA assets, Islamists and others, as an opposition group that could form the basis of a future government.
 
Turkish foreign ministry officials have admitted that Ankara has contingency plans for variously “no fly”, “buffer” zones, “safe havens” or a “humanitarian corridor” involving the deployment of its troops on Syrian soil.
 
No-fly zones would provide air cover for military attacks launched from the buffer zones against Syrian security forces, as they did in Libya. Turkey has also threatened that militant Kurdish attacks launched from Syria would constitute grounds for military action, with President Abdullah Gul warning Damascus to this effect.
 
France is working closely with Turkey to establish territorial bridgeheads on Syria’s borders, as well as with Lebanon and Jordan to the same purpose.
 
After talks in Turkey last week, French foreign minister Alain Juppe said that the situation was “no longer sustainable” and that the United Nations must permit the setting up of safe havens for civilians fleeing Syria. He said, “We have done this in other situations and it is the only way in the short term to ease the plight of the population”.

Davutoglu backed his call, saying that time was running out for the Assad regime. “Its days are numbered, that is obvious. It is totally isolated today,” he said.
 
Assad, referring to Turkey, a former ally, said in a speech, “The dream of the Ottoman Empire remains vivid in some minds. Although they know it is only a pipe dream, they try to exploit political parties raising religious slogans to boost their influence in the Arab world.”
 
With the UN route barred by Russia and China, which hold veto powers in the Security Council, the major powers are seeking other forums. Last Friday, as Juppe was holding talks with Davutoglu, France hosted a meeting in Paris of officials from the US, France, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan to discuss their plans to set up buffer zones in southern and northern Syria.
 
To create a possible casus belli, a UN Human Rights Council commission report, authored by representatives from the US, Turkey and Brazil, said that “crimes against humanity have been committed” by the Assad regime, including the deliberate killing of children. This is despite the author’s admission that they do not have reliable evidence, saying that its facts and findings are attributed only to unspecified “reliable sources,” as no independent monitors were allowed into Syria to take statements.

The manoeuvrings against Syria are understood in Iran as part of a wider strategy on the part of the Western powers to isolate Tehran.
 
Last week, the US, the European Union and Canada announced new measures against Iran in the wake of a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that suggested—on the basis of old discredited evidence—that Iran was working towards acquiring a nuclear weapon. This is on top of four rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
 
Britain has gone further, imposing additional financial sanctions against Iranian banks, including severing all contact with Iran’s Central Bank. Iran’s parliament responded by voting on Sunday to expel Britain’s ambassador and downgrade diplomatic relations.
 
On Tuesday, angry anti-British demonstrations took place. Militant students attacked the British embassy compound, ransacking offices, burning the British flag and smashing embassy windows, while others broke into an official residency some miles away. That the Iranian government allowed the demonstrations and attacks to take place indicates the seriousness with which they view the escalating crisis around Syria.
 
Russia has taken an increasingly hard line in defence of the Syrian regime, calculating that its fundamental geo-strategic interests in the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Caspian Basin are under threat.
 
Moscow has opposed the Arab League’s sanctions and repeatedly accused the US and European powers of escalating the crisis in Syria. It issued an angry response to a joint statement by the US and EU on Monday demanding the Syrian government end violence against protesters. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said, “Right now, the most important thing is to stop acting by means of ultimatums and try to move toward political dialogue”.
 
Moscow views military intervention against Syria, its key ally in the region, as increasingly likely. It is to send its only aircraft carrier group to the Syrian port of Tartus, its only naval base in the Mediterranean, for “training” next spring.
 
While Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, Russia’s former chief of naval staff, said that the timing had nothing to do with the situation in Syria, he admitted that the presence of a military force other than NATO’s would be very useful because “It will prevent the outbreak of an armed conflict”.
 
A pro-Washington government in Damascus would mean the end of Russia’s naval base in Tartus.

The deployment of Russian naval forces follows that of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Eastern Mediterranean, near Syria, and the announcement that the government in Libya has agreed to the construction of a major NATO military base in Cyrenaica.


The Obama administration’s bid to assert US dominance in the Middle East has set the region and the world on a dangerous course towards confrontation and war. (WSWS)

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Friday, 2 December 2011

South Korea: The Shifting Sands of Security Policy


Although North Korea has offered unconditional dialogue since January, South Korea is maintaining a tough policy line towards the North as Seoul approaches a year of electoral campaign politics. The risk of conflict remains serious, particularly in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the military demarcation in the Yellow Sea.

South Korea: The Shifting Sands of Security Policy, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns that relations on the peninsula remain tense, especially around the NLL. The disputed maritime area remains a flashpoint that could spark new clashes, following the deadly incidents of 2010, the sinking of the South Korean ship Ch’ŏnan in March and the shelling of Yŏnp’yŏng Island in November. But the political atmosphere in the South is changing as it enters an election season, with the mood shifting towards a more conciliatory position, including renewed interest in pacifying the NLL.

“North-South relations have played a role in past polls: both sides have attempted to use insecurity to influence results”, says Daniel Pinkston, Crisis Group North East Asia Deputy Project Director. “Although voters tend to favour more hawkish policies at times of insecurity, the right in the South is facing the paradox that voters may blame President Lee’s tough line for the increased tensions”. Threat perceptions in the South are complex: much of the noise that emanates from the North is discounted, but a hard line from the South can raise anxieties.

Elections for the National Assembly will be held in April 2012 followed by the presidential poll in December. Public opinion seems to be swinging away from the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and electoral victories by the Democratic Party (DP) or a leftist coalition could lead to significant changes in policy towards Pyongyang. However, even though the South Korean President has strong executive powers over national security and North Korea policy, future policy adjustments may be constrained by opposition control of the National Assembly.

Opposition victories and a radical shift in policy towards the North are far from certain. The deep rage that North Korea feels against Lee and his party raises the risk of a pre-election provocation. Another attack, a missile launch or a nuclear test would have a significant impact on the South and the region.

The rival claims over the NLL are unlikely to be solved in any easy or quick manner. A significant rethinking of security policy and engagement with the North, including greater efforts to develop solutions to the NLL issue, is needed. To gain public and political support in the South, any resolution of this problem will require a comprehensive agreement with issue linkage to ensure that South Koreans do not perceive it to be a simple territorial concession to the North.

“North Korea policy is not a prominent issue for the average voter unless a sudden and serious inter-Korean crisis emerges around the time of the elections”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “If a liberal candidate can gain broad public support and capture the presidential election, the implementation of the Yellow Sea peace zone initiative might be only a matter of time”. Whether this will succeed also depends on the North’s reaction, but as it is preparing for a power transfer to Kim Jŏng-ŭn, the possibilities are as broad as the uncertainties.


A year after North Korea shelled an island in the South, killing four people, relations on the peninsula remain tense. South Korea has stepped up its warnings of tough retaliation in the case of further attacks and has frozen most political and economic ties. While Pyongyang has made some efforts to restart talks, it has refused to apologise for the attack and has kept up a torrent of abuse against President Lee Myung-bak, who in turn has maintained his tough line. But the political atmosphere in the South is changing as it enters an election season, with the mood shifting towards a more conciliatory position, including renewed interest in a peace zone in the Yellow Sea.

The shelling of Yŏnp’yŏng Island on 23 November 2010 came just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel. An international investigation concluded that a torpedo launched by a North Korean submarine sunk the Ch’ŏnan, a corvette-class patrol ship, killing 46 sailors in South Korean waters. The North Korean government denies responsibility and claims the shelling of Yŏnp’yŏng Island, which killed two civilians and two marines, was an act of self-defence. Although Pyongyang has asked for unconditional dialogue since January 2011, the disputed maritime area in the Yellow Sea remains a flashpoint that could trigger a new conflict.

South Korean officials have repeatedly stated that any further attacks would be met with a firm response. The rules of engagement have been changed so that rather than limiting retaliation to the same type of weapon used in the attack, the South will use whatever force it deems necessary, including air strikes. Instead of following the earlier patterns of provocations and ensuing attempts at compromise, Lee warned the North there would be no reconciliation until they apologised.

Lee has stuck to that position but the political sands are shifting under his feet as he approaches his last year in office. Polling and recent election results show that the South is seeing a drift leftward, part of a normal cycle of change in a democratic country but also a sign, to some extent, of dissatisfaction with Lee’s policies and their failure to deliver any tangible results in relations with the North. That may lead to a significant rethinking of security policy and engagement with the country’s neighbour, including greater efforts to develop solutions to the issue of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the disputed Yellow Sea military demarcation line between the Koreas.

Elections for the National Assembly will be held in April 2012 followed by the presidential poll in December. Public opinion seems to be swinging away from the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) but opposition victories and a radical shift in policy towards the North are far from certain. Other issues such as education costs, government regulation, social welfare, employment and economic performance are much more important to the average voter than foreign policy, national security issues or North Korea. Furthermore, the electoral environment is volatile. Many Koreans are seeking change and a new face but no politician has capitalised yet on this underlying sense of unease with the status quo.

North-South relations have played a role in past polls: both sides have attempted to use insecurity to influence results. The deep rage that the North feels against Lee and his party raises the risk of a pre-election provocation. Although voters tend to favour more hawkish policies at times of insecurity, the right in the South is facing the paradox that voters may blame Lee’s tough line for the increased tensions. Threat perceptions in the South are complex: much of the noise that emanates from the North is discounted, but a hard line from the South can raise anxieties. However, a major provocation from the North – another attack, a missile launch or a nuclear test – would have an impact on the South and the region.

The South Korean president has strong executive powers over national security and North Korea policy. Whoever follows Lee, there are bound to be policy adjustments, but the new president may be constrained by opposition control of the National Assembly. However, electoral victories by the Democratic Party (DP) or a leftist coalition could lead to significant changes in policy towards Pyong­yang. In that case, one issue likely to be affected is the NLL. The rival claims over this area are unlikely to be solved in any easy or quick manner so in order to reduce tensions in the area it may be time to look for new options. Some prominent DP politicians, advisers, scholars and others on the left are seeking to revive former President Roh Moo-hyun’s vision of establishing a peace zone in the waters surrounding the NLL.

If a major North Korean provocation precedes next year’s elections, the issue of the northern neighbour and how to manage it could rise to the top of the electoral agenda. The North Korean leadership could calculate that rising tensions will push the South Korean electorate towards candidates who favour a more conciliatory policy. Pyong­yang primarily would like to see a restoration of the engagement policy that included generous economic assistance. However, a renewed appeasement policy towards the North likely would include security issues that would impact the U.S.-South Korea alliance and other countries in the region. (ICG)

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