10 Conflicts to Watch in 2013
International Crisis Group
27 December 2012
Louise Arbour is President of the International Crisis Group
Every year, around the world, old conflicts worsen, new ones emerge and, occasionally, some situations improve. There is no shortage of storm clouds looming over 2013: Once again, hotspots old and new will present a challenge to the security of people across the globe. (…)
What follows, then, is a "top 10" list of crises that does not include the ongoing, drug-related violence in Mexico, the simmering tensions in the East China Sea, or the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsula after a rocket launch by Pyongyang. As if this mix wasn't combustible enough, there are new leaders in China, Japan, and on both sides of Korea's de-militarized zone who may well feel pressured to burnish their nationalist credentials with aggressive action.(…)
The only lasting solution is a comprehensive one, bringing all of Sudan's stakeholders together to reform how power is wielded in a large and diverse country. Over the long term, the status quo -- incessant warfare, millions displaced, billions spent on aid -- is intolerable for all parties. If it is to be resolved for good, the NCP and international players will need to offer much more than at any time in the past -- the former a process of genuine all-inclusive dialogue, the latter economic and political incentives.
Political tensions in Turkey are also rising, as the legal Kurdish movement, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), takes an increasingly pro-PKK line.(…)
(…)It appears to be Erdogan's ambition to win Turkey's 2014 presidential elections, for which he has been aligning himself ever-more firmly with rightwing and nationalist voters. More militaristic factions in the PKK, emboldened by their allies' successes in Syria, are also gaining the upper hand, and likely will continue attempts to hold areas in the southeast and attack symbols of the Turkish state in 2013.
(…)The best guarantee of Afghanistan's stability is to ensure the rule of law during the political and military transition in 2013 and 2014. If the leadership fails at this, the coming crucial period will result in deep divisions and conflicts within the ruling elite, which the Taliban-led insurgency will exploit. At worst, it could result in the fragmentation of the security services and trigger extensive internal conflict. Some possibilities for genuine progress remain -- and we have to remain hopeful -- but the window for action is narrowing.
Drone strikes continued to cause tension between the United States and Pakistan in 2012, though NATO supply routes did reopen in early (…).
With fresh elections taking place in 2013, Pakistan's government and opposition must urgently implement key reforms to the electoral commission to cement the transition to democracy. (…) An increasingly interventionist judiciary, which appears bent on destabilizing the political order, also must not be allowed to undermine the country's chance for its first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another through a credible election.
(…) Three successive years of devastating floods have threatened the lives of millions, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced due to military operations and militancy.
Sahel: Mali, Nigeria, and beyond
(…)The coming year will see both the rollout of a necessary international intervention in Mali, and possibly more important, a political process to reunify the country. On the former, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union have already approved a mission of 3,300 soldiers to help the Malian state wrest control of the northern part of the country from Islamist fighters, pending international endorsement of such a move by the U.N. Security Council.(…)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
(…)Congo's dismal state should also force the international community to take a hard look at its own behavior. Ten years into a massive commitment to shore up stability in the DRC, bring legitimacy to the government in Kinshasa, and protect civilians in the east, the situation is going from bad to worse. The government of President Joseph Kabila lacks national buy-in; the citizens of the eastern Kivu provinces -- despite the presence of the largest-ever U.N. peacekeeping operation -- remain woefully unprotected; and the country's integrity remains prey to the whims of predatory neighbors.
(…)Two leading presidential aspirants, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, have been charged with crimes against humanity and are due to face trial at the ICC in April 2013, raising hopes that finally a serious attempt is being made to erode long-standing immunity for political elites.(…)
The 2013 elections will likely play out against a backdrop of threatened attacks by Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab and protests by the separatist Mombasa Republican Council. Either could provoke a backlash against the country's sizable ethnic Somali and Muslim communities, causing further destabilization during what will already be a difficult year for Kenya.
Syria and Lebanon
(…)As Syria's religious and ethnic communities have polarized, regime supporters have dug in their heels -- committing atrocities spurred on by their perception of facing a "kill or be killed" situation, and their fears of large-scale retribution when Assad falls.
(…)Inevitably, and especially due to the sectarian undertone this conflict has acquired, Syria's war is leaking over its border into Lebanon. History bodes ill: Beirut seldom has been immune to the influence of Damascus. It is crucial that Lebanon's leaders address the fundamental shortfalls of their governing structure, which exacerbate factionalism and leave the country vulnerable to the chaos next door.
(…) Tajikistan lumbers into 2013 with nothing good to show for 2012. Relations with Uzbekistan continue to deteriorate, and internal domestic disputes threaten to foment separatist ambitions in Gorno-Badakhshan. This mountainous and remote eastern province had little time for the central government in Dushanbe -- even before government troops clashed with local fighters, many of them veterans of the Tajik civil war, whom they described as members of an organized crime group. (…)
Kyrgyzstan is no better. It continues to ignore festering ethnic tensions and rule-of-law issues in the south while a long-anticipated ethnic policy languishes unadopted in the office of the president. (…)
If trends continue, Kazakhstan faces another violent year ahead -- 2012 saw a record number of terrorist attacks in western and southern parts of the country by previously unidentified jihadist groups. (…)
(…)Maliki has repeatedly burned his bridges with Iraq's other religious and ethnic communities, taking measures to expand his control over political institutions and the security forces. His actions violate the Erbil agreement, which was formulated in 2010 to limit the powers of the prime minister and grant fair power sharing to Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties.
Maliki now faces resistance not only from the president of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, but also from Sunni and secular opponents -- and even from cleric Muqtada Sadr in his own Shiite Islamist camp. (…) But efforts to hold a parliamentary no-confidence vote against him have foundered over deep divisions among his opponents.
(…)This effectively leaves Maliki as caretaker prime minister until the next elections in 2014. It is a recipe for violence, and it is certainly possible for a spiraling sectarian-tinged civil war in neighboring Syria to exacerbate tensions in Iraq and usher the country into yet another round of strife in 2013.
And now, for some good news – Colombia
Finally, a political solution to Colombia's long and bloody guerrilla war may be in sight. Following a year of secret contacts, formal peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas opened in October 2012.
The success of the talks is not assured. Differences over policy issues on the agenda are substantial, skepticism toward the FARC remains widespread among many in Colombia, and -- even though a majority of Colombians back the process -- support for the negotiations has been falling. (…)
This could be the year that sees the Philippines take decisive steps toward establishing lasting peace in the troubled south, after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest and best armed insurgent organization, signed a breakthrough peace agreement in October.(…)
(…)The MILF will need to sell some tricky provisions in the deal to its supporters. The Aquino administration will need to persuade Congress to pass the new law and clear constitutional hurdles before it can devolve power to the government in the new autonomous region. The obstacles are huge, but hopes are high that peace in the southern Philippines is finally within reach.
Myanmar's leaders continue to fulfill their pledges on reform, moving the country decisively away from its authoritarian past. Political prisoners have been released, blacklists trimmed, freedom of assembly laws implemented, and media censorship abolished. (…)
The West has moved quickly to begin dismantling sanctions on Myanmar and end its diplomatic isolation. (…) Both the government and the opposition need to show moral leadership to achieve a lasting solution to lingering ethnic-based conflicts, which threaten their country's reform process and stability.
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