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Contemporary trends of conflict and peace (2000 – 2020)

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An Internal conflict when joined by many powers or states becomes an international conflict. At the Global level number of conflicts has declined since the cold war and most conflicts in today’s world are interstate or intrastate conflicts that have been internationalized. Local conflicts are often seen as reflections of global trends. The way they have erupted, sustained, and resolved shows that there is a shift in the relations of states and also in the power aims of bigger states. The role of the U.S under the leadership of current President Donald Trump is changing rapidly, America is willing to hold the fruits of its leadership but at the same hand, it’s not in the mood to share the burden. The roles of major powers like China are changing rapidly as it is continuously gathering influence through soft power but not in a hurry to exercise it. Russia, in contrast, tries to portray itself as a more reliable partner than the western powers, it also tries to portray this by sending military or contractors to different states. The policies of these powers only revolve around how they can gain more influence and turn the conflicts for their benefit. The current situation in middle east depicts that in Libya Russia has sent its military in support of a General hoping to topple the capital, the USA sending confusing signals, and Turkey threatens to become the part of game in order to rescue the central government. In Syria, the U.S first supported the Kurds but then disappointed them, Turkey always in a hurry to take benefit of the situation while Russia and Iran standing behind the ruler with full weight. The Afghan government and the Taliban have realized this thing that America will no longer stay in their country, KSA and its allies are fighting against the Houthis but this war has not brought any benefits for the world-recognized government of Yemen supported by Saudi Arabia.

Another trend that needs attention is the new phenomenon of mass protests in different states, these protests are equally difficult or threatening to the countries governed by right or left, democratic or monarchic. The long protests brought down the monarch of Sudan Omar al Bashir, the protests in India against the controversial citizenship act have also alarmed bells in the power corridors about the possible resistance from the general public in future. The behavior of China in Hong Kong & Tibet, India in Kashmir, and Iraq in Kurdish areas also show that states have not learned anything from Past and humanity would continue to suffer as states would continue to exert their energies for more influence at regional or global level. There are numerous factors that can influence the conflicts in the contemporary world and those are the threats from terrorist organizations, extremist mindset, threats from states which are trying to extend their area of influence, the impact of growing advancement in technology which may cause cyber-attacks, the undermining of the international rules and laws which make it harder for the states to agree on one point and to tackle the global threats.

The paper examines the trends of conflict and peace at global, regional, interstate and intrastate level. Several peace processes have also been carried out in past decades few of them brought short term results however in the long run such processes have not given the desired or forecasted results to minimize the threat of violence in any conflict. U.S Taliban peace agreement has paved a way for U.S to leave Afghanistan, although this doesn’t ensure peace post withdrawal but the agreement has somehow secured a good face for U.S withdrawal. The paper also examines the nature of war which has changed now, from traditional military activities to sponsored non state actors. The new wars can be fueled by using anyone or all of the issues like deprivation, exploitation of natural resources, religious ideology, political power and many others.

Trends of Conflicts

Today’s trends of conflict are more complex than compared to the past, about 2 billion populations almost third of world population live in the conflict affected states of the world. According to an estimate, conflicts around the world cost around $ 13.6 trillion per year. The interstate violent conflicts have declined due to several reasons and thus paved a way for the states to use different means against the enemy states like fueling the insurgencies, supporting the terrorist networks, or hitting the states diplomatically by making alliances or relations with other states. A few of the discussed conflicts in different areas of the world are The U.S. China Cold War, Israel Palestine conflict, armed violence in Africa, and Kashmir Conflict. In the contemporary world the state avoids any kind of direct confrontation, the non-kinetic ways are used to give losses to the enemy states, like cyber warfare, information warfare, etc.

US-China Cold War

Before running for the Presidential office, Donald Trump once tweeted from his official account that neither China is an ally nor friend of the U.S. while during the campaign for his elections in 2016 he said that China cannot be allowed to rape the U.S economically. It can be portrayed as a new cold war between two powers as more and more industries are being penalized ahead of the new elections are arriving in U.S by November 2020. Both states have blacklisted each other’s companies, stopped the flight operations, expelled journalists etc. This pressure may be increased with the arrival of November as both President Trump and Joe Biden are facing each other and the one who takes tougher line on China may get an edge in polls. President Trump has recently blamed China for spreading the Pandemic COVID-19 also blamed that China was trying to steal the industrial secrets of U.S. On the other hand, the runner for President Mr. Joe Biden also criticized the Chinese President Mr. Xi Jingping by calling him a thug. China has always rejected the statements by U.S officials regarding mishandling of Pandemic, Uighur Muslims, Hong Kong situation by firing back at the Trump administration by calling it as an uncalled cold war by U.S.A. By citing the security concerns U.S has blocked the China Mobile Ltd., from entering its market, it has also tried to limit the reach of Chinese Huawei Tech which the largest telecom equipment manufacturer.

By taking counter measures China stopped the U.S. airline flights for more than two months and faced a reaction from America where visa restrictions were imposed, China expelled few American Journalists. It has also imposed certain restrictions on American companies by telling them that they have to co-invest with local companies after the authorization from the central government of the main land. The emergency meeting of G20 leaders about new Pandemic concluded with an aim to jointly fight the pandemic COVID-19 followed by a phone call between President Trump and Xi Jinping, the officials from both sides agreed to set aside the difference and jointly fight the pandemic. The trade war between both big powers also depicts the tug of war to increase the area of influence, U.S. has been a sole super power having influence in most of states of the world, with rise of China as a soft power to gather influence among states through trade relations has threatened U.S. The current international system is gradually tilting towards multi polar system where many big powers will emerge having influence on geographical basis. The trade war between the U.S. and the China has also impacted the global economy, China being the low cost manufacturer for many goods being used as global level wouldn’t be an easy target for U.S. but if this trade war deepens then there would be die consequences for many other states as well which are having close economic

relations with U.S. and China. The Belt and Road initiative of China with is connecting so many states of the world will bring more trade opportunities for China. The frictions and competitions among China and U.S. are real and both states trying to extend their influence over areas and states, China being the largest state of South China Sea have more stakes and interests over there, however the U.S. believes in dominance in maritime, security commitments with states in South China Sea that’s why it has a powerful presence over there. The China – U.S. rivalry in South China Sea is growing with every passing day but both states are far away from any face to face conflict. Both states also use cyber warfare as a tool against each other and blame for theft of data.

Israel and Palestine Conflict

Palestinians and Israelis have clashed several times over the Holy Land; this conflict is one of the oldest armed conflicts in Middle East. U.S. being on side of Israel has always tried to find a peaceful and diplomatic solution for both parties but no important breakthrough has been witnessed. The government of Israel continues to impose the restrictions on Palestinians by restricting their movements and by settling the Israelis in West bank. Fighting between the armed groups of Palestine and Israel involve the attacks on civilians on both sides in Israel as well in Gaza, the air strikes, shelling often kill the innocent civilians who have not taken up arms against Israel’s occupation. For past two decades, thousands of homes of Palestinians have been demolished and same number of new houses have been built by government of Israel to settle its citizens to occupy more and more land. Every day in and out several Palestinians are arrested and kept in detention centers, west bank Palestinians are tried in military courts and often sent to jail with different punishments. During 2000 the leaders from Israel and Palestine attended the Camp David Summit to negotiate about any settlement plan to end the crisis, after the collapse of these talks there were clashes which claimed the lives of thousands from both sides. During 2013 the Obama administration tried to start the peace talks but the deadlock remained and no solution was found on the settlements and division of land among Palestine and Israel. With the New U.S. President in house it was expected that there may be a new round of talks as used to happen with any new president but the President Donald Trump announced his decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to the Jerusalem recognizing it as capital city of Israel. In March 2019 U.S. recognized the Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights, In November 2019 U.S. announced that Israeli settlement plans are not against the International Humanitarian Law. In January 2020 U.S. President Donald Trump presented a plan for peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Middle east, the
180-page document called peace for prosperity, the Plan recognized Jerusalem as capital city of the Israel. The two state solution doesn’t seem to be a reliable or actionable plan; Palestinians may not get some good concessions package from Israel.  With plan of Israel to annex the west bank would be disaster for the conflict and this may compel the Palestinian armed groups to withdraw the agreements with the Israelis and there may be a fresh wave of armed actions from both sides. The annexation would further undermine the two state solution, not more than few days ago the Palestinian armed group Hammas called the annexation plan as a declaration of war. In any kind of uneasy situation there may be a strong opposition from the west bank and Gaza would definitely be ready to support.

Armed Violence in Africa

                   Since 11 September 2011 terrorist attacks on the soil of U.S. terrorism has become a new threat at global level as well as in Africa. Currently the eastern, western and northern regions of African witnessed growing terrorist activities. The most important armed groups of Africa are Boko Haram or Nigeria and Al Shabaab of Somalia, both of them along with their allies in different parts of Africa have led to the damage of property, civilian fatalities and mass displacement of the civilians. Boko Haram can be traced back to 2002 when it was established after having different religious beliefs in the area. The famous tactic of Boko Haram was abduction of 276 girls from a small village in Nigeria, this draw international attention as this event also gave gender dimension to the violent activities. Boko Haram remains the main reason behind the forced displacement in the region, more than
2 million people have been displaced by crossing the international borders or settling in other areas of countries of origin. The Al Shabaab insurgency in Africa can be traced back to 1970s when the group stood up against the regime of Siad Barre. Al Shabaab remains one of the most prominent violent group which has gained territory in Somalia’s central and southern parts. The Armed Conflict between Somali Army and the group Al Shabaab resulted in displacement of civilians. Boko Haram and Al Shabaab which are religious organizations are always trying to carry out indiscriminate attacks to create more impacts. Since Cold war the nature and dynamics of war have been changed and new forms and ways have replaced the old ones. The problematic situation because of poverty, corruption, illiteracy, exploitation of natural resources etc. provide breeding grounds for the organizations like Boko Haram and Al Shabaab to recruit more and more youth for their operations. Seriousness in peace has not been shown from any side and ultimately with every passing day the violent activities keep the same pace if not increase.

Kashmir Conflict

            The dispute over Kashmir has resulted in three Indo-Pakistan wars in 1947/48, 1965, and 1999, both countries are following a ceasefire since 2003 but both sides blame each other for ceasefire violations across the Line of Control. PM Modi invited the PM of Pakistan Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in 2014 to attend his oath-taking ceremony, it was hoped that relations between the two states would become better and a door of negotiations and talks would open but the relations became bad after some time when India cancelled the talks at foreign minister’s level after Pakistani High Commissioner met the Kashmiri leaders. Indian Occupied Kashmir is among the most militarized regions of the world, witnessing the draconian laws against the humanity. Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA) and Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) have been used to govern Kashmir, these laws give special impunity to the Armed forces which helps them to stay safe from any legal course of action against the Human Rights violations they do in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. By changing the status of Kashmir, the Indian regime is aiming to bring demographic changes in the area for the creation of a Hindu majority which is a prime example of Hindu nationalism and the extreme mindset followed by the ruling elite. Kashmir which was a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan has now become a struggle for rights, self-determination, freedom from occupation, and a humanitarian crisis in its own type.

Ever since the Kashmir conflict was started there have been many ups and downs in the struggle of locals against the occupying forces however the new trend started by the late Burhan Wani by using Social Media as a platform to disseminate the narrative he or his group was carrying shows that this struggle is no more in the hands of the old activists who had made an alliance previously in the name of Hurriyat Conference. The use of Social Media and by Burhan Wani gave a new soul to the freedom struggle and not only him the other youth activist who had taken up arms against the India forces tried using this new platform to disseminate their narrative to the public to counter the narrative by the Indian ruling government. The joining of youth in the resistance movement shows that oppressive measures taken by state turned to be counterproductive, this also shows the problems from which the youth passes in daily life. The detentions, arrests, fake encounters, rapes, false operations have brought people to the point where their frustration against the occupying state has transformed into aggression. On 14th Feb 2019 a suicide bomber hit the vehicle to the convoy of Indian Paramilitary forces which claimed the lives of 40 troops of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) resulting in a standoff between India and Pakistan later in the same month. On 5th August 2019 Indian ruling government scraped the articles 370 and 35 A which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, it was one of biggest step taken by the government of India to bring demographic change in the region. With the continuous lockdown and deployment of extra troops India forcefully implemented the decision on the Kashmiris which is totally against the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. The present-day dynamics of the conflict, gross human rights violations by Indian Armed Forces raises questions and puts responsibility on International community to react over these violations under “Responsibility to protect” (R2P). Kashmir has always been a burning issue among India and Pakistan, both sides claim it to be their part of territory, both sides often face each other on Line of Control and suffer causalities. After every few week harsh statements and the counter statements have become part of the routine now. Since India scrapped Article 370 and 35 A which gave special status to the Indian Occupied Kashmir, the tensions among both states are on rise. Pakistan has been portraying highlighting it as a Humanitarian Crisis at international and diplomatic fronts while India calls it an internal move for sake of betterment of Humanity in Kashmir. The dispute remains unresolved since the partition and likely to remain like this as both sides are not in a position to back off from their hard stance.

Peace Trends

A peace negotiation is a process in which government, military and diplomats engage with other parties to establish resolutions. There are four kinds of peace negotiations Truce, Cessation of hostilities, ceasefire and armistice. In past two decades several negotiations have been carried out, though very fewer results were achieved from them as most of them either ended in deadlocks or short term solutions. Few of the important peace dialogues discussed in this paper are Peace agreement between The U.S. and Taliban, Indo Pak composite dialogue, U.S. and North Korea Denuclearization negotiations.

U.S. Taliban Peace Deal and Intra-Afghan Talks

The first direct high-level talks between the U.S. and the Taliban occurred in July 2018, the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation added a good motion to the effort of the peace talks. After almost one year Mr. Khalilzad announced that an agreement has been reached containing the counterterrorism assurances and U.S. Troops withdrawal, but later on in September 2019 President of the United States called of talks when the Taliban killed in U.S. soldiers, it took three months to resume the talks. On February 29, 2020, an agreement was signed between Special Representative Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. According to the agreement the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops in a period of 14 months completing in April 2021. The U.S. Taliban agreement doesn’t provide comprehensiveness as the Afghan government was not party to it and conclusion of intra Afghan talks would shape the real future of Afghanistan. So far the only good thing about the peace agreement is that the U.S. has secured a good way to leave Afghanistan without losing more soldiers but if an agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban is not met then things may go towards a proper civil war which is not in favor of Afghan government as well as Afghan people. Although the Afghan government after negotiations is following a power sharing formula, President Ashraf Ghani shall have half of its cabinet members as introduced by Abdullah while he will also lead the Reconciliation Council to negotiate with Taliban. Release of prisoners was started in back months but both sides blame each other for not doing enough in that. The U.S. troops have reached to the number of 8,600 as per peace agreement but there has been a hike in attacks in different parts of Afghanistan claiming a lot of civilian lives especially the religious scholars. With a threat from several groups operating in Afghanistan, it would be very early to predict or assume that post withdrawal there would be peace in Afghanistan.

Korean Peninsula and Denuclearization Negotiations

Despite a lot of efforts, the nuclear issue of North Korea remains unresolved for almost six decades now. From Clinton to Trump, all the presidents of the U.S. had their won agreements and talks with North Korea, the agreed framework of 1994, the Six-party talks of 2015, the Leap day deal of February 2012 and the latest joint statement of Singapore in 2018, all these peace talks and agreements eventually failed with the passage of time. During 1993 when North Korea announced a withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT, the President of U.S. Bill Clinton threatened to attack the North Korean nuclear reactor with cruise missiles and stealth jet fighters. After the negotiations, an agreement was met in 1994 according to which North Korea had to freeze its nuclear reactors. When G.W. Bush took the office of the President of the United States in 2001 he followed a harder line towards North Korea and thus terminated the agreed framework of 1994. The new talks were started in 2003 and this time it was China leading the six-party talks, an agreement was met in 2005 and according to that North Korea would abandon its nuclear program but this agreement was broken when North Korea refused to give access to IAEA in 2009. Another deal commonly known as the Leap Day Deal of 2012 quickly collapsed when North Korea tests a missile and called it a satellite, Obama administration pursued different kinds of pressures on North Korea to bring it back to the table for negotiations. The acceleration of the nuclear program continued and four nuclear tests were conducted in between 2013 to 2017, UNSC applied sanctions however the nuclear program neither stopped nor decelerated. The summit which was held in Singapore in June 2018 resulted in a joint statement, however, it also turned out to be a symbolic joint statement and no action plan was followed further. Negotiations always failed in Korean Peninsula for sustainable peace and denuclearization, another attempt at talks in 2019 in Stockholm also ended without narrowing the gap between the U.S. and North Korea. Two years have passed since the joint declaration of Singapore and both sides are continuously increasing the preconditions for further negotiations which are not acceptable for either side hence the deadlock is there despite some good statements from both sides.

India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue

Since 1947 India and Pakistan have carried out peace talks numerous times, mostly they were to normalize the relations during times of tension. The Agra Summit and Lahore Declaration were two very important talks between Islamabad and New Delhi for the sake of improving relations. Under the umbrella of the Lahore Declaration, the Prime Ministers and the foreign secretaries of both India and Pakistan signed an MOU, and both states recognized the need of a resolution for all the issues. Due to Kargil war in the summer season of 1999 these negotiations were stopped. 2 years after the Kargil war, the Agra Summit was held in 2001, however, both states didn’t agree for a joint statement because of the Kashmir issue, both showed the interest to discuss issues like border issues, drug trafficking, nuclear risk reduction etc. later on India made the cross border issue as a core point of discussion while Pakistan always stick to Kashmir. Then President Musharaf visited India in 2001, round of negotiations started but they were not conclusive because of the old stance adopted by both of the states. During 2001 there was an attack on the Indian parliament which created tensions on both sides and as a result of both countries brought militaries to the border.
India demanded the return of few criminals living in Pakistan, to stop the support of militants, stop the infiltration through border, both states deescalated in June 2002, an unconditional dialogue was offered by Pakistan which was refused by India with a demand that Pakistan should stop the cross border infiltration. In 2003 PM of India announced that India is ready to resume talks with Pakistan, leaders of both countries met beside SAARC summit in Islamabad and in a joint brief Indian PM emphasized on hostility, prevention of violence and terrorism while Pakistan’s President General Musharaf assured that Pakistan’s territory would not be used for terrorism purposes. Two year after the Agra summit both states started inclining towards each other but the talk stopped because of Mumbai attacks in 2008. Both states met several times to discuss issues and these discussions remained as discussions only, neither party was in a position to show flexibility in the adopted stance. Because of the divergent interests of both states the negotiations and suggestions always remained on piece of paper and were never portrayed in practical steps. Negotiations for the sake of resuming the negotiations were done, these dialogues didn’t move forward in the right direction. Since PM Modi came into power, no fruitful efforts have been made by both sides to carry on any kind of bilateral talks at diplomatic level to ease the problems and address the conflicts.

Iran’s Negotiations with P5+1

Iran’s nuclear program has been in news since its start and is often referred as a threat to the regional peace by the western powers which are always busy in trying to put a halt in the program. The Iran and P5+1 (France, United Kingdom, Russia, China and U.S. plus Germany met in 2012 in Istanbul and agreed to carry on negotiations and a step by step process. The main aim of the talks from P5+1 was to stop Iran to make nuclear weapons, the negotiations continued for next 3 years and both sides met several times to hold political level as well as technical level talks to meet a joint agreement which is acceptable for all. During the elections 2013 in Iran, Hassan Rouhani a negotiator from Iranian side was elected as President, he asserted that Iran will continue its nuclear program while it would be more transparent. After three days of assuming the office, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani called for resumption of talks with P5+1 regarding the nuclear program of Iran. The negotiations during that time were not widely useful and both sides were maintaining a firm stance over the issue, President of the United States had a telephone conversation with President Hassan Rouhani on September 27, 2013. This was the first time since 1979 when the highest level of contact was established between the Presidents of both states. In October 2013 Iran presented an updated proposal to P5+1 which was appreciated by the opposite side saying that it was an important contribution. In November 2013 both sides signed an agreement that stated that each side to formulate a plan for the first phase of a comprehensive solution in six months. On July 14, 2015, Iran and P5+1 announced a deal giving a road map for the IAEA to investigate the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. Many quarterly reports were issued after that showing Iran’s compliance with the deal “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”. The U.S. and EU lifted the sanctions on Iran after the day of implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran tested several missiles during the period before Donald Trump was elected as the 45th U.S President after which he announced that there is a need to renegotiate the deal however the European allies of U.S. signaled that they would resist renegotiating the deal. U.S. withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and new economic sanctions on Iran made situation very difficult for the other states in the deal, however the reaction from other states, later on the EU Commission announced to ban the European companies from complying with U.S. Sanctions against Iran. Tehran gradually distanced itself from some of the obligations of the nuclear as U.S. imposed new sanctions on Iran. At the end of 2019 the tensions remained very high among the U.S. and Iran but with rise in attacks against U.S. in Iraq, the head of revolutionary guards General Qassem Suleimani was killed in Iraq by U.S. During May 2020 the U.S. said that it will use all diplomatic options to extend the U.N embargo against Iran, however Russia and China went against it by saying the JCPOA is the only right way moving forward.

Conclusion

The changing nature of wars can be seen through the lenses of massive impact on humans.  The contemporary trends of conflict and peace show that all the states pursue their interests in the international system and always try to dominate in using new ways and means to meet the state interests. There is a decrease in the interstate conflicts however the use of proxies against the enemy states seems to be replacing the conventional steps. Many conflicts like trade war between China and U.S have been limited to the sanction, cyber threads, information war but there are no conventional ways adopted by any party to give losses to either side. Conflict trends in past two decades show that conflicts are inevitable and thought the nature and dynamics of the conflicts have changed but this have not removed the threat of conflict. The peace trends in past two decades show that peace talks or negotiations may be helpful to defuse the tensions for a specific time but they have not given any big solution for sustainable peace. The recent peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban has given hope for regional peace but the stakes of regional states in a landlocked country, the power of the Taliban, and non-state actors in Afghanistan would surely become a hurdle in achieving sustainable peace.

 

About Author:

Qasim Mehmood has done Mphil in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defence University and Currently Working as a Senior Research Officer.

 

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