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  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: On 5 January, the first anniversary of the deeply contested 2014 elections, the most violent in Bangladesh's history, clashes between government and opposition groups led to several deaths and scores injured. The confrontation marks a new phase of the deadlock between the ruling Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) opposition, which have swapped time in government with metronomic consistency since independence. Having boycotted the 2014 poll, the BNP appears bent on ousting the government via street power. With daily violence at the pre-election level, the political crisis is fast approaching the point of no return and could gravely destabilise Bangladesh unless the sides move urgently to reduce tensions. Moreover, tribunals set up to adjudicate crimes perpetrated at the moment of Bangladesh's bloody birth threaten division more than reconciliation. Both parties would be best served by changing course: the AL government by respecting the democratic right to dissent (recalling its time in opposition); the BNP by reviving its political fortunes through compromise with the ruling party, rather than violent street politics. With the two largest mainstream parties unwilling to work toward a new political compact that respects the rights of both opposition and victor to govern within the rule of law, extremists and criminal networks could exploit the resulting political void. Violent Islamist factions are already reviving, threatening the secular, democratic order. While jihadi forces see both parties as the main hurdle to the establishment of an Islamic order, the AL and the BNP perceive each other as the main adversary. The AL and its leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid, emphasise that the absence from parliament of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her BNP make them political non-entities. Yet, concerned about a comeback, the government is at-tempting to forcibly neutralise the political opposition and stifle dissent, including by bringing corruption and other criminal cases against party leaders, among whom are Zia and her son and heir apparent, Tarique Rahman; heavy-handed use of police and paramilitary forces; and legislation and policies that undermine fundamental constitutional rights. The BNP, which has not accepted any responsibility for the election-related vio-lence in 2014 that left hundreds dead (and saw hundreds of Hindu homes and shops vandalised), is again attempting to oust the government by force, in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is alleged to have committed some of the worst abuses during that period. The party retains its core supporters and seems to have successfully mobilised its activists on the streets. Yet, its sole demand – for a fresh election under a neutral caretaker – is too narrow to generate the public support it needs to over-come the disadvantage of being out of parliament, and its political capital is fading fast as it again resorts to violence. The deep animosity and mistrust between leaders and parties were not inevitable. Despite a turbulent history, they earlier cooperated to end direct or indirect military rule and strengthen democracy, most recently during the 2007-2008 tenure of the military-backed caretaker government (CTG), when the high command tried to re-move both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia from politics. Rather than building on that cooperation, the two leaders have resorted to non-democratic methods to undermine each other. In power, both have used centralised authority, a politicised judiciary and predatory law enforcement agencies against legitimate opposition. Underpinning the current crisis is the failure to agree on basic standards for multi-party democratic functioning. While the BNP claims to be the guardian of Bangladeshi nationalism, the AL has attempted to depict itself as the sole author and custodian of Bangladesh's liberation. The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), established by the AL in March 2010 to prosecute individuals accused of committing atrocities during the 1971 liberation war, should be assessed in this context. While the quest to bring perpetrators to account is justifiable, the ICTs are not simply, or even primarily, a legal tool, but rather are widely perceived as a political one, primarily for use against the government's Islamist opposition. In short, the governing AL is seen to be using the nation's founding tragedy for self-serving political gains. The AL needs to realise that the BNP's marginalisation from mainstream politics could encourage anti-government activism to find more radical avenues, all the more so in light of its own increasingly authoritarian bent. Equally, the BNP would do well to abandon its alliances of convenience with violent Islamist groups and seek to revive agreement on a set of basic standards for multiparty democracy. A protracted and violent political crisis would leave Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia the ultimate losers, particularly if a major breakdown of law and order were to encourage the military to intervene; though there is as yet no sign of that, history suggests it is an eventuality not to be dismissed. The opportunities for political reconciliation are fast diminishing, as political battle lines become ever more entrenched. Both parties should restrain their violent activist base and take practical steps to reduce political tensions: the AL government should commit to a non-repressive response to political dis-sent, rein in and ensure accountability for abuses committed by law enforcement entities, reverse measures that curb civil liberties and assertively protect minority communities against attack and dispossession of properties and businesses; the AL should invite the BNP, at lower levels of seniority if needed, to negotiations aimed at reviving the democratic rules of the game, including electoral reform. It should also hold mayoral elections in Dhaka, a long-overdue constitutional requirement that would provide opportunities to begin that dialogue; and the BNP should commit to non-violent political opposition; refrain from an alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami that is enhancing the Islamist opposition's street power with little political return for the BNP; and instead demonstrate willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations with the AL to end a crisis that is undermining economic growth and threatening to subvert the political order.
  • Topic: Democratization, Political Activism, Elections
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Asia
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Growing numbers of Central Asian citizens, male and female, are travelling to the Middle East to fight or otherwise support the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL or ISIS). Prompted in part by political marginalisation and bleak economic prospects that characterise their post-Soviet region, 2,000-4,000 have in the past three years turned their back on their secular states to seek a radical alternative. IS beckons not only to those who seek combat experience, but also to those who envision a more devout, purposeful, fundamentalist religious life. This presents a complex problem to the governments of Central Asia. They are tempted to exploit the phenomenon to crack down on dissent. The more promising solution, however, requires addressing multiple political and administrative failures, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for both men and women and creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, as well as ensuring better coordination between security services.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 09-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s only even nominal parliamentary democracy, faces growing internal and external security challenges. Deep ethnic tensions, increased radicalisation in the region, uncertainty in Afghanistan and the possibility of a chaotic political succession in Uzbekistan are all likely to have serious repercussions for its stability. The risks are exacerbated by leadership failure to address major economic and political problems, including corruption and excessive Kyrgyz nationalism. Poverty is high, social services are in decline, and the economy depends on remittances from labour migrants. Few expect the 4 October parliamentary elections to deliver a reformist government. If the violent upheavals to which the state is vulnerable come to pass, instability could spread to regional neighbours, each of which has its own serious internal problems. The broader international community – not just the European Union (EU) and the U.S., but also Russia and China, should recognise the danger and proactively press the government to address the country’s domestic issues with a sense of urgency.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, Governance, Reform
  • Political Geography: Asia, Kyrgyzstan
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Myanmar's first census in over 30 years, an ambitious project conducted in April 2014 with technical advice from the UN and significant funding from bilateral donors, has proved to be highly controversial and deeply divisive. A process that was largely blind to the political and conflict risks has inflamed ethnic and religious tensions in this diverse country. The release of the inevitably controversial results in the coming months will have to be handled with great sensitivity if further dangers are to be minimised.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Ethnic Conflict, Governance
  • Political Geography: Asia, Myanmar
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: In April 2010, the eighteenth constitutional amendment committed Pakistan to free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Yet, millions are still out of school, and the education system remains alarmingly impoverished. The madrasa (religious school) sector flourishes, with no meaningful efforts made to regulate the seminaries, many of which propagate religious and sectarian hatred. Militant violence and natural disasters have exacerbated the dismal state of education. Earthquakes and floods have destroyed school buildings in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab, disrupting the education of hundreds of thousands of children. Militant jihadi groups have destroyed buildings, closed girls' schools and terrorised parents into keeping daughters at home; their attacks made global headlines with the shooting of schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2012. The public education system needs to foster a tolerant citizenry, capable of competing in the labour market and supportive of democratic norms within the country and peace with the outside world.
  • Topic: Education, Islam, Terrorism, Reform
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Asia
  • Publication Date: 07-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Enmity between China and Japan is hardening into a confrontation that appears increasingly difficult to untangle by diplomacy. Positions on the dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku island group are wide apart, and politically viable options to bridge the gap remain elusive. New frictions have arisen. China's announcement in November 2013 of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), overlapping that of Japan's and covering the disputed islands, deepened Tokyo's anxiety that Beijing desires both territory and to alter the regional order. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's provocative visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013 triggered a bitter argument as to whether Japan has fully atoned for its Second World War aggression, a still vivid sore in the region. Amid heightened suspicion and militarisation of the East China Sea and its air space, the risks of miscalculation grow. Leadership in both countries needs to set a tone that prioritises diplomacy to calm the troubled waters: November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit might provide such an opportunity.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Territorial Disputes, Hegemony
  • Political Geography: Japan, China, Asia, Tokyo, Island
  • Publication Date: 08-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: A failure of intelligence on the Korean peninsula-the site of the world's highest concentration of military personnel with a history of fraught, sometimes violent, sabre-rattling-could have catastrophic consequences. Yet the South Korean intelligence community has revealed its susceptibility to three types of pathologies-intelligence failure, the politicisation of intelligence, and intervention in domestic politics by intelligence agencies-which bring into stark relief the potential for grievous miscalculation and policy distortions when addressing the threat from North Korea. Moves by intelligence agencies to recover or bolster their reputations by compromising sensitive information have compounded the problem. Efforts are needed to reform the South's intelligence capacities, principally by depoliticising its agencies and ensuring adequate legislative and judicial oversight. Lawmakers and bureaucrats also need to fulfil their responsibilities to protect classified information and refrain from leaking sensitive intelligence for short-term personal political gains.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Intelligence, Science and Technology
  • Political Geography: Asia, South Korea, Sinai Peninsula
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The peace process to end the 30-year-old insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) against Turkey's government is at a turning point. It will either collapse as the sides squander years of work, or it will accelerate as they commit to real convergences. Both act as if they can still play for time – the government to win one more election, the PKK to further build up quasi-state structures in the country's predominantly- Kurdish south east. But despite a worrying upsurge in hostilities, they currently face few insuperable obstacles at home and have two strong leaders who can still see the process through. Without first achieving peace, they cannot cooperate in fighting their common enemy, the jihadi threat, particularly from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Increasing ceasefire violations, urban unrest and Islamist extremism spilling over into Turkey from regional conflicts underline the cost of delays. Both sides must put aside external pretexts and domestic inertia to compromise on the chief problem, the Turkey-PKK conflict inside Turkey.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Ethnic Conflict, Peace Studies, Treaties and Agreements, War, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The situation in Rakhine State contains a toxic mixture of historical centre-periphery tensions, serious intercommunal and inter-religious conflict with minority Muslim communities, and extreme poverty and under-development. This led to major violence in 2012 and further sporadic outbreaks since then. The political temperature is high, and likely to increase as Myanmar moves closer to national elections at the end of 2015. It represents a significant threat to the overall success of the transition, and has severely damaged the reputation of the government when it most needs international support and investment. Any policy approach must start from the recognition that there will be no easy fixes or quick solutions. The problems faced by Rakhine State are rooted in decades of armed violence, authoritarian rule and state-society conflict. This crisis has affected the whole of the state and all communities within it. It requires a sustained and multi-pronged response, as well as critical humanitarian and protection interventions in the interim.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention, Political Violence, Post Colonialism, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Asia, Myanmar
  • Publication Date: 12-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: On 22 May, for the twelfth time in Thailand's history, the army seized power after months of political turbulence. This is not simply more of the same. The past decade has seen an intensifying cycle of election, protest and government downfall, whether at the hands of the courts or military, revealing deepening societal cleavages and elite rivalries, highlighting competing notions of legitimate authority. A looming royal succession, prohibited by law from being openly discussed, adds to the urgency. A failure to fix this dysfunction risks greater turmoil. The military's apparent prescription – gelding elected leaders in favour of unelected institutions – is more likely to bring conflict than cohesion, given a recent history of a newly empowered electorate. For the army, buyer's remorse is not an option, nor is open-ended autocracy; rather its legacy, and Thailand's stability, depend on its success in forging a path – thus far elusive – both respectful of majoritarian politics and in which all Thais can see their concerns acknowledged.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Democratization, Ethnic Conflict, Governance, Authoritarianism
  • Political Geography: Asia, Thailand