Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

30
Apr

Iraq election campaign

Iraq holds national elections on Wednesday, its first since the US left in December 2011. Relations between its Sunni and Shia communities have deteriorated and the country is on the brink of civil war as well as territorial disintegration.

The elections are likely to sustain and exacerbate these problems. The country has struggled to contain domestic instability and regional volatility since the US withdrawal, to the extent that many believe it is no longer a question of if, but when, the 2006 sectarian civil war is repeated. That conflict, also between Sunni and Shia communities, took the country to the brink, claimed thousands of lives and divided Baghdad along sectarian boundaries.

Iraq is also facing the resurgence of al-Qaida and other Islamist groups, who have been emboldened by the civil war in Syria and who last December took control of a province in the Sunni-dominated north.

Various Sunni Arab actors from both Iraq and Syria developed cross-border ties as part of the post-2003 Iraqi insurgency, particularly in the Sunni north-west areas that separate Iraq and Syria. Sunni Arab militants from Syria fought alongside Iraqis during the insurgency; Iraq’s Sunnis have returned the favour during the course of the Syrian civil war.

The overlap between sectarian conflict within Iraq and the regionalised sectarian war unfolding in Syria has, therefore, given militants in Iraq a fresh momentum.

Fearing that Bashar al-Assad’s downfall would allow Syria’s Islamist-dominated opposition to intensify its support for Iraq’s militants, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government has in turn allowed Syria-bound Iranian cargo flights to use Iraqi airspace. It has also turned a blind eye to Iraqi Shia militias entering Syria to support the Syrian regime. These militias have ensured the survival of the Assad regime alongside other Shia actors such as Hezbollah.

As a result, sectarian conflict is unlikely to abate. As usual it will be Iraq’s Shia parties who will continue to define and dominate the Iraqi state. As usual, few of Iraq’s Sunnis will be convinced the Shias are willing to share power and treat them as equals. At the same time, Iraq’s Shia community fears a return to the past when it suffered heavily under Saddam Hussein and a Sunni-dominated state.

As with previous elections it will be Iran that emerges as the ultimate winner and decision-maker – the country exercises considerable influence over Iraq’s Shia parties.

In little over two years since the US withdrawal Iraq has lost full control of its biggest province, Anbar, and is facing growing demands for a Sunni autonomous region similar to Kurdistan in the north. The ultimate victim of the growing sectarian polarisation could soon be the Iraqi state itself.

By Ranj Alaaldin; Published on 29 April in http://www.theguardian.com

28
Apr

At last, a ray of hope for Afghanistan

Written on April 28, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, front-runner to succeed Hamid Karzai.

Provisional results from the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election look as if they will stand the test of tortuous fraud checks and complaint processes. Decisive margins make them robust. AlthoughAbdullah Abdullah, who emerged in the lead, has raised serious concerns about fraud, the first round should leave him facing Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, in a run-off.

Both Abdullah, a veteran of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and Ghani say they are ready for the second round, as electoral law requires. But a winner-takes-all contest is not the only way this contest could end. Abdullah set a precedent in 2009 by pulling out of the second round. That allowed Hamid Karzai to be declared elected unopposed. This time, many Afghans expect a deal between the two leading candidates to form a unity government and avoid a second round. This would entail Abdullah and his running mates taking the presidential and vice presidential slots but drawing on the other campaign teams to form the new administration.

There are powerful reasons why a hybrid administration might be best for Afghanistan. It would be a case of collectively quitting while you are ahead. The Taliban, after failing to disrupt the first round are delighted to get a replay in which they can inflict more damage. Countless election workers and security personnel will pay with their lives if Abdullah and Ghani fail to reach a deal.

The purpose of the election was to allow Afghans to choose a legitimate successor to Karzai. If Ghani endorses Abdullah, together they can claim the support of 75% of voters, far more than any sole candidate will ever obtain. There is a pluralism argument also. Afghanistan has four main ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. Both candidates deserve credit for campaigning in all regions, seeking cross-community support and articulating reform programmes. But on polling day, broadly speaking, Tajiks and Hazaras backed Abdullah and Pashtuns and Uzbeks backed Ghani. A run-off would become more divisively ethnicised, with Ghani obliged to rally the Pashtuns, undermining the idea of an inclusive administration with which all Afghans can identify.

Either candidate has the right to insist on the run-off – Ghani because he believes he can win or Abdullah to avoid coalition politics. Abdullah would start favourite. On a similar turnout he would need under 400,000 extra votes, attainable by attracting the supporters of either the number three or number four candidates. Ghani would need one million extra votes, equivalent to the total of both numbers three and four. For either of them and for the country as a whole, round two is a gamble.

Whether the election ends with a deal or after a run off, the six million votes cast this month constitute a powerful mandate. The voters’ message contrasts with the bigotry underpinning recent violence. All major comunities of the country want to be represented in the Kabul-based political system but want it cleaned up and reformed. They rejected the insurgents’ authoritarian alternative and showed little interest in those hardline Islamists who stood. They want to keep Afghanistan’s link to the west and an end to baiting its allies.

This calls for significant changes in how the country is run. But there will be tough bargaining within the Afghan elite before we see who gets to exercise the mandate. And the five British soldiers’ deaths in Kandahar over the weekend are a reminder of the high cost of the security umbrella which that elite has required to get this far.

Published on 27 April in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/27/afghanistan-voters-presidential-election-islamists

10
Apr

Afghanistan Votes Against the Taliban

Written on April 10, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News, Op Ed

thediplomat_2014-04-08_16-29-55-386x257

Afghanistan’s election results aren’t out yet but we know who certainly lost the election: the Taliban.

Six women were arguing with the security guards of Zarghuna High School in central Kabul to let them enter the compound for voting. The guards argued that it was already 5 p.m. and the women could not be let in as voting had closed. Still, the women insisted. The head of security came in and he too tried to drive in the point that the p.m. deadline had passed but the women contended that a few minutes here and there did not make much of a difference and if they missed the chance this time they would have a long wait ahead of them to vote, which they said they did not want to do. Seeing  their determination, the chief relented and allowed them to enter the school and they were ushered into the last classroom where the ballot box was just about to be sealed. The women voted and left the school flashing their inked fingers.

This was the mood in Afghanistan on Saturday when the country voted for in its first democratic transition of government; the country had never seen this kind of zeal to vote. According to initial estimates given by the Independent Election Commission, 7 out of twelve million registered voters cast their vote on April 5th, meaning close to 60 percent of eligible voters came out to exercise their democratic rights. The turnout is double what it was in the 2009 elections. It was higher than the first elections in 2004 as well.

But elections cannot be confined to numbers only. One has to fathom the enthusiasm and excitement of the voters to quantify the electoral exercise in a country which is making a history by transferring power through democratic means, a feat Afghanistan has never accomplished in its history so far.

“I was really keen to vote in these elections. I cannot pick up guns, but I have my vote to defeat the forces which have made our life hell and which have reduced such a great country to the margins of all parameters of social and economic development,” says  Tahira, one of the six women who were the last ones to vote in Zarghuna elections. Read more…

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat. As published on April 9 April in http://thediplomat.com

19
Mar

Integrity for what’s left of Ukraine

Written on March 19, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

 

Remember, remember: This is about the whole of Ukraine, not just Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows that. Ukrainians know that. And we must not forget it. There is nothing the West or Kiev can do to restore Ukrainian control over Crimea. The crucial struggle is now for eastern Ukraine.
If the whole of Ukraine, including the east, participates in peaceful, free and fair presidential elections on May 25, it can survive as an independent country (minus Crimea). It will also be back on an unambiguously democratic, constitutional path. In everything the European Union and the West does over the next two months, that should be our first priority.

 

Only the criminally naive or the hardened fellow traveller could maintain that the pro-Russian groups now working to produce chaos in cities such as Donetsk and Kharkiv are not actively supported by Moscow. In Tuesday’s New York Times, there was a fine account of one such stage-managed demo in Kharkiv. At the base of a giant Lenin statue, a huge banner read, “Our homeland: USSR!” As the reporters pointed out, this was all made for Russian television. Whatever Mr. Putin finally decides to do, the media narrative will be prepared.

It would be equally naive, however, to pretend that there are not real fears among many in eastern Ukraine. The labels “ethnic Ukrainians” and “ethnic Russians” mean almost nothing. What you have here is a fluid, complex mix of national, linguistic, civic and political identities. There are people who think of themselves as Russians. There are those who live their lives mainly in Russian, but also identify as Ukrainians. There are innumerable families of mixed origins, with parents and grandparents who moved around the former Soviet Union. Most of them would rather not have to choose. In a poll conducted in the first half of February, just 15 per cent of those asked in the Kharkiv region and 33 per cent around Donetsk wanted Ukraine to unite with Russia.

In the same poll, the figure for Crimea was 41 per cent. But then take a month of radicalizing politics and Russian takeover, with Ukrainian-language channels yanked off television. Add relentless reporting on the Russian-language media of a “fascist coup” in Kiev, exacerbated by some foolish words and gestures from victorious revolutionaries in Kiev. Subtract Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians living in Crimea, who largely boycotted the referendum. Season with a large pinch of electoral fraud. Presto, 41 per cent becomes 97 per cent.

It is not just Russian “political technology” that changes numbers and loyalties. What happens in such traumatic moments is that identities switch and crystallize quite suddenly, like an unstable chemical compound to which you add one drop of catalyst. Yesterday, you were a Yugoslav; today, a furious Serb or Croat.

So everything done in and for Ukraine in the coming weeks and months must be calculated to keep that identity compound from changing state. Shortly before Mr. Putin’s amazing imperial rant in the Kremlin on Tuesday, another speech was broadcast on a Ukrainian TV channel. Speaking in Russian, interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said that “for the sake of preserving Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty,” the Kiev government is prepared to grant “the broadest range of powers” to the mainly Russian-speaking regions in the east. This would include giving cities the right to run their own police forces and make decisions about education and culture.

That was exactly the right thing to do. Now he and his colleagues should go there and say it again and again – in Russian. They should support Russian as an official second language. They should not dismiss talk of federalization simply because Moscow also favours it. They should actively want to see a pro-Russian candidate in the presidential election. And they should do everything they can to ensure the vote is free and fair, including diversified media coverage in both Russian and Ukrainian – unlike the vote in Crimea.

Europe and the West can support this in numerous ways. International organizations should flood the place with election monitors. Western governments must make sure Ukraine’s authorities have the money to pay the bills. Political parties and NGOs can send advisers. The West can also up the ante. It can make the medium- to long-term economic offer of relations with the EU more attractive. It can threaten Moscow with far worse sanctions – not just if Mr. Putin takes his marked or unmarked forces anywhere else in eastern Ukraine, but if he keeps on trying to destabilize it by proxy.

The time has also come to talk turkey with Ukrainian oligarchs such as Rinat Akhmetov, who is as powerful as any state institution in eastern Ukraine. Quietly but firmly they must be shown carrot and stick: a rosy future in the world economy if you help Ukraine survive as an independent, self-governing state; financial strangulation and endless court proceedings if you don’t. If Mr. Putin’s Olympic sport is hard-core wrestling, we cannot confine ourselves to badminton.

None of this is to suggest that what has happened in Crimea does not matter in itself. In his Kremlin speech, Mr. Putin scored a few telling hits on U.S. unilateralism and Western double standards, but what he has done threatens the foundations of international order. He thanked China for its support, but does Beijing want the Tibetans to secede following a referendum? He recalled Soviet acceptance of German unification and appealed to Germans to back the unification of “the Russian world,” which apparently includes all Russian speakers. With rhetoric more reminiscent of 1914 than 2014, his country is now a revanchist power in plain view.

Without the consent of all parts of the existing state, without due constitutional process and a free, fair vote, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, guaranteed 20 years ago by Russia, the United States and Britain, has been destroyed. In practical terms, that cannot be undone. What can still be rescued, however, is the political integrity of what remains.

Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European studies at Oxford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Published on 19 March in http://www.theglobeandmail.com

6
Mar

Henry A. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.

Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.

Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.

Russia must accept that to try to force Ukraine into a satellite status, and thereby move Russia’s borders again, would doom Moscow to repeat its history of self-fulfilling cycles of reciprocal pressures with Europe and the United States.
The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709 , were fought on Ukrainian soil. The Black Sea Fleet — Russia’s means of projecting power in the Mediterranean — is based by long-term lease in Sevastopol, in Crimea. Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, of Russia.The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities.

The Ukrainians are the decisive element. They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939, when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian, became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or breakup. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West — especially Russia and Europe — into a cooperative international system. Read more…

As published in the Washington Post on March 5, 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com