On Easter weekend, a time of hope and renewal for many Canadians, we thought we would focus first on some very good news: namely, significant improvements in three multi-year conflict situations. According to the International Crisis Group conflict tracker:
In a major step forward for Libya’s peace process, a unified government, the first in over seven years, received a vote of confidence and assumed power.
The ceasefire along the Line of Control which divides Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir held as rhetoric cooled between the sides.
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan struck a deal to resolve longstanding border disputes.
We will briefly examine each one in turn.
Libya has first unified government in over 7 years
On 10 March the Libyan House of Representatives overwhelmingly endorsed the “Government of National Unity” in an “historic political milestone” that saw 130 members support a Cabinet representing different regions and constituencies.
In the words of Ján Kubiš, the top UN Envoy for Libya, after more than a decade of conflict and instability, an emerging political will for unification had come through Libyan dialogue and decision-making:
grounded in the wishes of the people to finally end the divisions and confrontations to reclaim their country and reinstate its unity and sovereignty.
For a lively, informative ICG podcast on the successful formation of the interim government in Libya and the manifold challenges ahead in unifying the country, see Good News in Libya? featuring ICG Libya expert Claudia Gazzini (Hold Your Fire! Podcast, 18 March 2021).
For a direct link to the podcast click the arrow below.
Reaffirmation of ceasefire along the Kashmir Line of Control continues to hold
Both India and Pakistan claim in full the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, but each administers a separate portion of it, divided by the de facto border or Line of Control (LoC). For years, hostilities between the two nuclear-armed neighbours across the LoC have included frequent small-arms, mortar and artillery fire, resulting in dozens of casualties on both sides.
But 25 February 2021 saw a surprising and most welcome turn of events. Aljazeera’s Bilal Kuchay writes:
there was a rare thaw in the otherwise frozen relations between the two countries as their armies announced a sudden and rare reaffirmation of a 2003 ceasefire agreement, pledging to bring a halt to violence that killed at least 74 people in 2020 alone.
Both sides agreed to “strictly observe” a ceasefire at the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed region of Kashmir.
There is much speculation about the reasons behind this positive development, including reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “brokered” the India–Pakistan détente as part of a four-step “roadmap for peace”. Officials of all three countries have declined comment on this alleged peace facilitation process, which India has categorically resisted in the past.
this process appears to be the most concerted effort in years, and comes as the Biden administration is seeking wider peace talks on Afghanistan — a place both countries for years have battled for influence.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to shore up growth and focus military resources on the border with China, while Pakistan’s leaders are also facing economic woes and looking to make a good impression with the U.S. and other powers.
Whatever the impetus for, and mediators behind, these talks, we know that the ceasefire agreement is still being respected and official statements from each side have been “shorn” of the customary harsh rhetoric about the other.
Good news indeed!
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan settle longstanding border disputes
Eurasianet.org reported on 26 March 2021 that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have agreed on a treaty to resolve the recurrent territorial disputes that have pitted border communities against one another in frequent, often violent, confrontation due to unresolved issues of demarcation and delimitation of borders.
In the words of Kamchybek Tashiyev, the head of the Kyrgyz security services:
Issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent….There is not a single patch of disputed territory left.
The deal involves easing cross-border traffic, multiple land swaps, and control of some important irrigation infrastructure retained by Uzbekistan in relation to certain transferred land.
It clearly appears to be a “win-win” agreement that will make the lives of many border communities considerably easier.
And now we turn from very hopeful news to a fraught negotiation that is apparently hanging by a thread.
Can the Iran Nuclear Deal be saved?
In an article entitled The Arduous Path to Restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal (armscontrol.org, April 2021), Naysan Rafati writes:
Washington and Tehran are in a peculiar position of agreeing to the end point of a diplomatic process—mutual JCPOA compliance—but they are in a stalemate at the start of it.
As we have reported in detail in a past blog on this issue, the diplomatic impasse has many reasons and possibly only one clear way forward, despite Iran’s past rejection of an EU-facilitated meeting. According to Rafati:
Discreet bilateral contacts or mediation efforts from a third party such as the European Union could prove crucial in breaking the impasse.
To that end he makes the following proposals:
- The identification of initial steps that the USA and Iran can each take in parallel, as “mutual, reciprocal action”;
- This in turn would lay the groundwork for an informal convening of the U.S., Iran, and other JCPOA participants.
A hugely complicating factor for Iran continues to be its June presidential elections, with hardline elements potentially maneuvering to deny the departing administration a political victory that could bolster the centrist camp’s electoral prospects.
Equally challenging is the issue of the degree of sanctions relief that Biden can grant Iran without significant “domestic political blowback”, bearing in mind that the manifold sanctions levied by the Trump administration relate not only to Iranian nuclear activities but also to human rights and counterterrorism. Rafati notes:
As such, a proposal of sanctions relief sufficient to meet Iran’s minimal threshold of acceptability is likely to encounter deep skepticism or outright opposition, among not just congressional Republicans but some key Democrats as well.
Emphasizing the knife-edge on which hang both reinstatement of the JCPOA and the follow-on agreements it could facilitate, Rafati nonetheless concludes on a grimly hopeful note:
A sense that the alternative is worse for both sides—a growing nonproliferation headache for the West, worsening penury for Iran—could be the incentive that breaks the deadlock.
Breaking news: US–Iran meeting in Vienna signals new hope for JCPOA
Since writing the above commentary on the state of play of the Iran nuclear deal, a news flash has just come across our desks indicating that:
[t]he United States will be participating in next week’s meeting in Vienna between Iran and global partners towards reviving the JCPOA….
For the full story, by Dr. Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, click here.
Revisiting the latest book from leading peace advocate former Senator Douglas Roche O.C.
We have already briefly profiled the latest book from former Parliamentarian, Canadian UN Disarmament Ambassador, Honourable Senator, and O.C. recipient Douglas Roche, entitled Recovery: Prospects for Peace in the Biden Era (roche.apirg.org, November 2020).
But his cogent analysis of the moral malaise afflicting America and the world, and his assessment of the difference that President Biden, the “pragmatist”, can and must make, justify a closer look at this wonderful little book.
In the first chapter, Roche asks:
[H]ow can we measure whether a Biden presidency will truly make the world a safter place?
To do so, he examines the four pillars of the UN’s human security agenda: economic and social development, environmental protection, arms control and disarmament, and the advancement of human rights. He goes on:
In this book I examine the challenges in each of these huge fields…and how Biden is initially responding.
I also put forth a suggested Canadian response to the triple emergency [climate, covid and nuclear weapons] that a Biden presidency makes possible.
Roche then refers to something that we have been tracking in our blogs since the onset of the pandemic:
Without doubt, public opinion is slowly moving forward in the desire for a more human-centred world. COVID-19, though a terrible affliction…, is helping to accelerate this trend….
He further writes:
The forces of greed still have a stranglehold on many governments, but a new hunger for social justice has broken out….
Decrying a world where governments in 2019 spent $1.9 trillion on their militaries but only $50 billion to fund all the operations, including peacekeeping and all the development programmes, of the United Nations, he asks:
What does it say about our civilization when governments spend on building the conditions for peace only 2.7 percent of what they spend on preparing for war?
Recalling the close inter-linkage between disarmament and development, and the fact that security cannot be achieved without meeting basic human needs, he identifies “international cooperation as a moral imperative” and “transformational” not “transactional” political leadership as an urgent requirement.
In the final chapter of his book, entitled HUMAN SECURITY AS A BASIS FOR CANADIAN FOREIGN POLICY, Douglas Roche writes:
COVID-19 and President-elect Joe Biden have each brought Canada to a recovery moment in its foreign policy…. Biden’s openness to the human security agenda enables Canada to find its voice again and play a much stronger role in multilateral fora.
We conclude this review, and our Good Friday blog, with the final paragraph in Recovery:
The Biden era has started. A great cleansing is underway. The shouting continues but no longer prevails. Idealism can breathe again.
Pragmatic managers are at work. The prospects for peace have brightened. The question everyone should now ask is: What can I do for peace?
Photo credit: Wikipedia images (Siachen conflict)