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  • 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
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Bangladesh could face a protracted political crisis in the lead-up to the 2013 elections unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government changes course and takes a more conciliatory approach towards the political opposition and the military. In December 2008, following two years of a military-backed caretaker government, the Awami League (AL) secured a landslide victory in what were widely acknowledged to be the fairest elections in the country's history. The hope, both at home and abroad, was that Sheikh Hasina would use her mandate to revitalise democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, ending the pernicious cycle of zero-sum politics between her AL and its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Three and a half years on, hope has been replaced by deep disillusionment, as two familiar threats to Bangladesh's democracy have returned: the prospect of election-related violence and the risks stemming from an unstable and hostile military.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Political Violence, Democratization
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Asia
  • Publication Date: 12-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: 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.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Regime Change, Popular Revolt
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Africa
  • Publication Date: 04-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Nearly a year after the crackdown on anti-establishment demonstrations, Thailand is preparing for a general election. Despite government efforts to suppress the Red Shirt movement, support remains strong and the deep political divide has not gone away. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's roadmap for reconciliation has led almost nowhere. Although there have been amateurish bomb attacks carried out by angry Red Shirts since the crackdown, fears of an underground battle have not materialised. On the other side, the Yellow Shirts have stepped up their nationalist campaigns against the Democrat Party-led government that their earlier rallies had helped bring to power. They are now claiming elections are useless in “dirty” politics and urging Thais to refuse to vote for any of the political parties. Even if the elections are free, fair and peaceful, it will still be a challenge for all sides to accept the results. If another coalition is pushed together under pressure from the royalist establishment, it will be a rallying cry for renewed mass protests by the Red Shirts that could plunge Thailand into more violent confrontation.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Democratization, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Asia
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For the past quarter-century the Tamil diaspora has shaped the Sri Lankan political landscape through its financial and ideological support to the military struggle for an independent Tamil state. Although the May 2009 defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has dramatically reduced the diaspora\'s influence, the majority of Tamils outside Sri Lanka continue to support a separate state, and the diaspora\'s money can ensure it plays a role in the country\'s future. The nature of that role, however, depends largely on how Colombo deals with its Tamil citizens in the coming months and on how strongly the international community presses the government to enact constitutional reforms to share power with and protect the rights of Tamils and other minorities. While the million-strong diaspora cannot regenerate an insurgency in Sri Lanka on its own, its money and organisation could turn up the volume on any violence that might eventually re-emerge.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Armed Struggle, Diaspora, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Asia, Sri Lanka
  • Publication Date: 06-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: South Ossetia is no closer to genuine independence now than in August 2008, when Russia went to war with Georgia and extended recognition. The small, rural territory lacks even true political, economic or military autonomy. Moscow staffs over half the government, donates 99 per cent of the budget and provides security. South Ossetians themselves often urge integration into the Russian Federation, and their entity's situation closely mirrors that of Russia's North Caucasus republics. Regardless of the slow pace of post-conflict reconstruction, extensive high-level corruption and dire socio-economic indicators, there is little interest in closer ties with Georgia. Moscow has not kept important ceasefire commitments, and some 20,000 ethnic Georgians from the region remain forcibly displaced. At a minimum, Russians, Ossetians and Georgians need to begin addressing the local population's basic needs by focusing on creating freedom of movement and economic and humanitarian links without status preconditions.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Humanitarian Aid, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Asia
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: An explosion of violence, destruction and looting in southern Kyrgyzstan on 11-14 June 2010 killed many hundreds of people, mostly Uzbeks, destroyed over 2000 buildings, mostly homes, and deepened the gulf between the country\'s ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. It was further proof of the near total ineffectiveness of the provisional government that overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, and is now trying to guide the country to general elections in October. Given the government\'s slowness to address the causes and consequences of the violence, the danger of another explosion is high. Even without one, the aftershocks of the looting, murder and arson could seriously damage Kyrgyzstan\'s ailing economy, cause a significant outflow of ethnic Uzbeks and other minorities, and further destabilise the already fragile situation in Central Asia in general. The route back to stability will be long and difficult, not least because no reliable security or even monitoring force has been deployed in the affected area. It should start with an internationally supported investigation into the pogroms, as visible an international police and diplomatic presence as possible to discourage their recurrence, and close coordination on effective rebuilding of towns and communities.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Genocide, Fragile/Failed State
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
  • Publication Date: 11-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The deadly conflict in Thailand's predominantly Malay Muslim South is at a stalemate. Although military operations might have contributed to the reduction in violence, the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has made little effort to tackle the political grievances that drive the insurgency. A limited unilateral suspension of hostilities offered by rebels has met no significant response. Draconian laws that grant security forces sweeping powers remain imposed while justice for serious cases of past abuse remains unaddressed and torture of suspects continues. As bloody anti-government protests in Bangkok distracted the nation in early 2010, the death toll in the six-year-long insurgency steadily climbed. The conflict in the Deep South remains on the margins of Thai politics and unresolved. A paradigm shift is needed to acknowledge that assimilation of Malay Muslims has failed and that recognition of their distinct ethno-religious identity is essential. Dialogue with insurgents and reform of governance structures remain two missing components of a comprehensive political solution.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Armed Struggle, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Asia, Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Publication Date: 03-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan's provincial capital, Quetta, demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Pakistani citizen and state. These radical Sunni groups are simultaneously fighting internal sectarian jihads, regional jihads in Afghanistan and India and a global jihad against the West. While significant domestic and international attention and resources are understandably devoted to containing Islamist militancy in the tribal belt, that the Pakistani Taliban is an outgrowth of radical Sunni networks in the country's political heartland is too often neglected. A far more concerted effort against Punjab-based Sunni extremist groups is essential to curb the spread of extremism that threatens regional peace and stability. As the international community works with Pakistan to rein in extremist groups, it should also support the democratic transition, in particular by reallocating aid to strengthening civilian law enforcement.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Globalization, Islam
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Asia, Tribal Areas
  • Publication Date: 06-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: While Thai leaders are preoccupied with turmoil in Bangkok, the insurgency in the South continues to recruit young Malay Muslims, especially from private Islamic schools. These institutions are central to maintenance of Malay Muslim identity, and many students are receptive to the call to take up arms against the state. This is not a struggle in solidarity with global jihad, rather an ethno-nationalist insurgency with its own version of history aimed at reclaiming what was once the independent sultanate of Patani. Human rights abuses by the Thai government and security forces have only fuelled this secessionist fervour, and policies that centralise power in the capital have undermined a regional political solution. Changing these policies and practices is essential as the government tries to respond to the insurgents' grievances in order to bring long-lasting peace to the region.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Armed Struggle, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Asia, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Bangkok
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Nepal's peace process is in danger of collapse. The fall of the Maoist-led government, a mess largely of the Maoists' own making, was a symptom of the deeper malaise underlying the political settlement. Consensus has steadily given way to a polarisation which has fed the more militaristic elements on both sides. While all moderate politicians still publicly insist that there is no alternative to pursuing the process, private talk of a return to war – led by generals of the Nepalese Army who have never reconciled themselves to peace – has grown louder. Outright resumption of hostilities remains unlikely in the short term but only concerted efforts to re-establish a minimal working consensus and a national unity government including the Maoists can avert the likelihood of a more dangerous erosion of trust. Strong international backing, with India eschewing short-term interference in favour of longer-term guardianship of the process it itself initiated, will be essential.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Socialism/Marxism
  • Political Geography: Asia, Nepal
  • Publication Date: 12-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: On taking office, Thai Prime Min­­ister Abhisit Vejjajiva pledged to reclaim policy on the southern insurgency from the military. But a year of distracting fights between supporters of the establishment and an ousted populist leader has meant little progress in resolving violence in the South. Despite glimpses of new thinking in Bangkok, the weakness of the government and its reliance on the military for political support have meant the top brass still dominates policymaking in the predominantly Malay Muslim South. Harsh and counterproductive laws remain in force and there are no effective checks on abuses by the security forces. Alternative policies have not been seriously explored and, after a temporary reduction in violence in 2008, the attacks are rising again. It is time for the government to follow its words with actions if it wants to move forward with a political solution.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Political Violence, Islam, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Asia
  • Publication Date: 02-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Six months after the collapse of autonomy negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippines government, low-intensity conflict continues but moves are under way to resurrect talks. It is not clear whether negotiations will resume and if they do, with what agenda. Certainly no settlement is likely during the remaining tenure of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; the two sides are too far apart, the potential spoilers too numerous, and the political will too weak. The best that can be hoped for is progress around the edges.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, War
  • Political Geography: Israel, Asia, Philippines, Mindanao
  • Publication Date: 02-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: A year after the near-fatal shooting of President José Ramos-Horta, security in Timor-Leste is strikingly improved. Armed rebels are no longer at large. The atmosphere on the streets of Dili is far less tense. The government does not seem to be facing any serious political threat to its survival. It has, at least temporarily, been able to address several of the most pressing security threats, in large part by buying off those it sees as potential troublemakers. Nevertheless, the current period of calm is not cause for complacency. Security sector reform is lagging, the justice system is weak, the government shows signs of intolerance towards dissenting voices, and it has not got a grip on corruption. These problems, which have been at the root of the instability facing Timor-Leste since independence, must be tackled if the country is to escape the cycle of conflict.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Political Violence
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Asia, Vienna
  • Publication Date: 03-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Tensions in Aceh are high as elections approach, although they have receded somewhat from a peak in mid-February. The murders of three former combatants of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM), other shootings and numerous grenade attacks over the last two months – all with unidentified perpetrators – have set the province on edge, and there remains a risk of sporadic, low-level violence before and after general elections on 9 April. Disputes over the results, with 44 parties competing for seats in district, provincial and national legislatures using a new and complicated system of voting, are also likely. There is little danger in the short term of violence escalating out of control, let alone a return to armed conflict, but the underlying causes of the tensions are not just election-related and need to be addressed if peace is to be preserved in the long term.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Political Violence, Democratization
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Asia, Australia/Pacific, Southeast Asia
  • Publication Date: 05-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Indonesia has earned well-deserved praise for its handling of home-grown extremism, but the problem has not gone away. In April 2009, ten men involved in a jihadi group in Palembang, South Sumatra, were sent to prison on terrorism charges for killing a Christian teacher and planning more ambitious attacks. Their history provides an unusually detailed case study of radicalisation - the process by which law-abiding individuals become willing to use violence to achieve their goals. The sobering revelation from Palembang is how easy that transformation can be if the right ingredients are present: a core group of individuals, a charismatic leader, motivation and opportunity. Another ingredient, access to weapons, is important but not essential: the Palembang group carried out its first attack with a hammer and only later moved to making bombs.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam
  • Political Geography: Asia
  • Publication Date: 07-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: On 17 July 2009, suicide bombers attacked two hotels in the heart of a Jakarta business district, killing nine and injuring more than 50, the first successful terrorist attack in Indonesia in almost four years. While no one has claimed responsibility, police are virtually certain it was the work of Noordin Mohammed Top, who leads a breakaway group from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the regional jihadi organisation responsible for the first Bali bombing in 2002. One of the hotels, the Marriott, was bombed by Noordin's group in 2003; this time, a meeting of mostly foreign businessmen appears to have been the target. The restaurant of the nearby Ritz-Carlton was also bombed.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Asia
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: More than a month after the 17 July 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta, Noordin Mohammed Top remains at large, but his network is proving to be larger and more sophisticated than previously thought. Not only was it responsible for coordinated bombings at two luxury hotels in the heart of Jakarta's business district, but it also was apparently contemplating a car bomb attack on President Yudhoyono's residence. As more information comes to light, it looks increasingly likely that Noordin sought and received Middle Eastern funding. While the extent of foreign involvement this time around remains unclear, recruitment in Indonesia has proved disturbingly easy. The salafi jihadi ideology that legitimises attacks on the U.S. and its allies, and Muslims who associate with them, remains confined to a tiny fringe, but that fringe includes disaffected factions of many different radical groups and impressionable youths with no history of violence.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: United States, Indonesia, Asia, Jakarta
  • Publication Date: 12-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The number of Islamists in Kyrgyz and Kazakh prisons is small but growing, in both size and political significance. Well-organised Islamist proselytisers, mostly imprisoned on charges of religious extremism, are consolidating their position within the informal structures of power behind prison walls. Incarcerating determined activists is providing them with the opportunity to extend their influence among convicts, at first inside prison and then on their release. Problems within jails in Central Asia have been known to seep outside the prison walls; the expansion of radical Islamist thought within prisons is likely to have serious consequences. The paradox of the situation is that, in private at least, political leaders in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are intensely aware that the best way to defeat extremism is to address woeful social and economic conditions, fight the systemic top-to-bottom corruption that besets all the region's regimes, and in the words of one regional leader, “give people a future”.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Asia, Kyrgyzstan
  • Publication Date: 04-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Nepal's peace process faces a crucial test this month. Elections for a Constituent Assembly (CA) are likely to go ahead on 10 April 2008 as scheduled but political unrest and violence could mar – or even derail – preparations, and the aftermath could bring turbulence. Elections in a delicate post-conflict situation are never straightforward and Nepal has many possible flashpoints, not least that the two armies that fought the war remain intact, politically uncompromising and combat-ready. Once results are in, all political players must be prepared for a difficult period in which they will need to compromise to make the CA an effective body, extend the number of parties with a role in government and urgently tackle crucial issues left aside during the campaign, including security sector reform. The international community has an important election observation function and should listen to Nepal's political and civil society groups in assessing the credibility of the process.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Political Violence, Democratization
  • Political Geography: India, Asia, Nepal, United Nations
  • Publication Date: 04-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Bangladesh is under military rule again for the third time in as many decades. Although the caretaker government (CTG) insists its plans to stamp out corruption and hold general elections by December 2008 are on track, its achievements have been patchy, and relations with the major political parties are acrimonious. Efforts to sideline the two prime ministers of the post-1990 democratic period have faltered (though bot h are in jail), and the government has become bogged down in its attempts to clean up corruption and reshape democratic politics. Even if elections are held on schedule, there is no guarantee reforms will be sustainable. If they are delayed, the risk of confrontation between the parties and the army-backed government will grow. There is an urgent need for all sides to negotiate a peaceful and sustainable return to democracy.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention, Political Violence, Democratization
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Asia
  • Publication Date: 06-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Indonesian Papua has seen periodic clashes between pro-independence supporters and goverment forces, but conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could also erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed. Violence was narrowly averted in Mano­kwari and Kaimana in West Papua province in 2007, but bitterness remains on both sides. The key fac­tors are continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia; the emergence of new, exclusivist groups in both religious communities that have hardened the perception of the other as enemy; the lasting impact of the Maluku conflict; and the impact of developments outside Papua. National and local officials need to ensure that no discriminatory local regulations are enacted, and no activities by exclusivist religious organisations are supported by government funds.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Political Violence, Civil Society, Nationalism, Religion
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Asia
  • Publication Date: 08-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The government of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is struggling for political survival and has handed the military full responsibility for tackling the violent insurgency in the Muslim-dominated Deep South, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives in the past four years. The military has restructured its operations and has made headway in reducing the number of militant attacks, but temporary military advances, though welcome, do nothing to defuse the underlying grievances of the Malay Muslim minority. For that to happen, the otherwise preoccupied government needs to find the will and energy to undertake a serious policy initiative.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention, Political Violence, Government, Islam
  • Political Geography: Asia, Thailand
  • Publication Date: 09-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Three years after the 15 August 2005 signing of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM), Aceh is politically vibrant but on edge. The sources of unease are several. As preparations get underway for the April 2009 parliamentary elections with 44 parties – six local, 38 national – in contention, the military is worried about Partai Aceh, the GAM party, winning control of local legislatures and challenging Jakarta's authority. Partai Aceh is worried about overt or covert interference from Jakarta, and smaller parties are worried about intimidation by Partai Aceh. Election officials are concerned a dispute between Jakarta and Aceh over candidate requirements could delay the polls, and other struggles with the central government are brewing. Everyone is worried about the health of Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a GAM leader with unparalleled ability to manage competing demands in post-conflict Aceh, who suffered a sudden illness – officially undisclosed but widely reported as a slight stroke – in August.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Politics
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Asia