Security Bulletin

Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq, Scarborough Shoals and Dual Conflicts in Kashmir

Spotlight: Humanitarian Crisis in Iraqiraq

major humanitarian crisis is brewing as Iraqi and Kurdish troops try to take back Mosul from the so- called Islamic State. The effort which has lasted more than two weeks is aimed at Mosul as it is one of the last strategic strong-holds of IS in the region.

The humanitarian crisis affects two major groups. The first is those who are still in Mosul and are being used as human shields by IS. The second group are those whose homes have been destroyed in the fighting (including air strikes).This week, the UN reported that IS have been kidnapping civilians and herding them to Mosul to be used as human shields. On Wednesday, last week a reported 232 people were killed.

The second group drastically impacted are those who have been displaced ever since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in Mosul, In the process, all existing public utilities and signs of culture in the area were destroyed. Thousands are homeless now without adequate access to clean drinking water and other essential resources. Among the most affected are children below the age of ten who often suffer from malnutrition, permanent displacement, and the risk of becoming orphaned or abandoned.

The fighting stopped on Friday but the offensive is expected to resume shortly. With a match-up of 6,000 IS troops against an estimated 30,000 combined forces of Iraqi troops, Turkish Pashmerga, Shia militias, Turkish- backed troops and US special forces, it is a safe to assume that Mosul will be recovered from IS in the coming weeks.

The question we must ask ourselves though is what will happen now after Mosul is re-taken?  A broad coalition of disparate and often competing interests are involved in the military action. How will Mosul and other parts of the region be secure and not spiral into a desert of death as several post-conflict areas around the world have done? There has been no indication about a plan yet. But whatever is decided needs to address the humanitarian concerns to work. Otherwise, it is likely that those displaced and angered can easily become a recruitment pool for further future radicalization.

Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

A surprise development took place in the South China Sea this week. Filipino fishermen have been allowed to fish peacefully around the Scarborough Shoal with minimal interruption by the already reduced Chinese naval presence in the area.

The Scarborough Shoal is a place of abundance (in terms of quantity and quality of fish) for Filipino fisherman and it is essential for their livelihood and economic activity. In an aggressive act in 2012, China seized the Scarborough Shoal. This action escalated into a major international issue with a permanent court of arbitration ruling in the Hague against China’s claim to the region. The ruling infuriated the Chinese regime.

china-ph-1_editedSo, what has changed? This is a prime example of domestic politics drastically impacting the security environment of a region. Four months ago, Rodrigo Duterte was elected as the new President of the Philippines. In a dramatic reversal of the former president’s foreign policy, Duterte has begun to cosy up to the Chinese and has denounced the US, a historical ally. This is the same President Duterte who famously insulted President Obama.

How does this change things? The Philippines have long been an ally of the United States and the US still has military bases present on Philippine soil. With Duterte’s apparent shift towards China, we may see short-term easing of tensions in the South China Sea, as China has begun to act less aggressively towards its new friend. However, in the long-term this could prove disastrous. The U.S. and China are already at loggerheads in the region, desperately trying to organize alliances as the US tries to contain China and China tries to exert dominance in the region. This move is a major blow to the US policy of ‘Rebalancing Towards Asia’ as the Philippines was a lynchpin in its strategy.

Dual Conflicts in the Kashmir Region

The Kashmir region is facing two simultaneous and conflicts now; one domestic and one international. The first is the civil unrest which has now entered its 115th day (Read our analysis of the first 100 days of the conflict here) as the separatist-sponsored strikes and their demand for self-determination. Normal life is still disrupted with minimal economic activity and very few people on the road. There is a strong presence of Indian security forces in the region. So far 85 people have been killed thousands injured (mostly blinded by the Indian security forces use of pellet guns).

The other conflict which remains out of the hands of the Kashmir people is a looming battle between India and Pakistan – both nuclear powers –  which could escalate into the fourth war the two states have fought over the region. Tensions between the two countries are very sour as troops build-up along the border and frequent reports of troops crossing the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto border. Over the weekend, both countries expelled each other’s diplomats.

Next week: an in-depth look into the conflict between India and Pakistan.