[Dehai-WN] Foreignpolicy.com: Next Year's Wars

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 2011 00:47:16 +0100

 <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/27/next_years_wars> Next
Year's Wars

Ten conflicts to watch in 2012.



What conflict situations are most at risk of deteriorating further in 2012?
When Foreign Policy asked the International Crisis Group to evaluate which
manmade disasters could explode in the coming year, we put our heads
together and came up with 10 crisis areas that warrant particular concern.

Admittedly, there is always a certain arbitrariness to lists. This one is no
different. But, in part, that serves a purpose: It will, hopefully, get
people talking. Why no room for Sudan -- surely a crisis of terrifying
proportions? Or for Europe's forgotten conflicts -- in the North Caucasus,
for example, or in Nagorno-Karabakh? You'll see also that we have not
included some that are deeply troubling yet strangely under-reported, like
Mexico or northern Nigeria. No room, too, for the hardy perennial standoff
on the Korean Peninsula, despite the uncertainty surrounding the death of
Kim Jong Il.

No reader should interpret their omission as meaning those situations are
improving. They are not. But we did feel it is useful to highlight a few
places that, to our mind, deserve no less attention. What follows is our top
10. At the end -- and just to remind ourselves that progress is possible --
we've included two countries for which we, cautiously, feel 2012 could augur


Many in Syria and abroad are now banking on the regime's imminent collapse
and assuming everything will get better from that point on. The reality
could turn out to be quite different. As dynamics in both Syria and the
broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, many hope that
the bloody stalemate finally might end. But however much it now seems
inevitable that President Bashar al-Assad will leave the stage after his
regime's terrifying brutality over recent months, the initial post-Assad
stages carry enormous risks.

On the one hand, the emotionally charged communal polarization, particularly
around the Alawite community, has made regime supporters dig in their heels,
believing it is "kill or be killed," and their fears of large-scale
retribution when Assad falls are very real. On the other, the rising
strategic stakes have heightened the regional and wider international
competition among all players, who now view the crisis as an historic
opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power. In that
explosive mix, the first cross-border concern is surely Lebanon: The more
Assad's ouster appears imminent, the more Hezbollah -- and its backers in
Tehran -- will view the Syrian crisis as an existential struggle designed to
deal them a decisive blow, and the greater the risk that they would choose
to go for broke and draw to launch attacks against Israel in an attempt to
radically alter the focus of attention. "Powder keg" doesn't begin to
describe it. The danger is real that any one of these issues could derail or
even foreclose the possibility of a successful transition.


Even if Iran and Israel somehow manage to sail safely past the rocks of the
Syrian crisis, the enmity between them over the nuclear issue could blow
them very dangerously off course. Though sanctions against Iran and
saber-rattling all around intensified at the end of 2011, some may see this
as merely the continuation of a long-term trend in the epically poor
relations between Iran and Israel.

Two factors make 2012 a possible turning point for the worse, however.
First, the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report is
particularly unambiguous: It may not have turned up significantly new
evidence of Teheran's intention to build a nuclear weapon, but it did
highlight more clearly than ever before Iran's obfuscation and unwillingness
to cooperate with the international body. Second, the U.S. elections will
force support for Israel onto the U.S. domestic agenda even more than usual,
and generally create a favorable environment for Israel to act, with any
number of unexpected, unintended -- and potentially disastrous --


A decade of major security, development, and humanitarian assistance from
the international community has failed to create a stable Afghanistan, a
fact highlighted by deteriorating security and a growing insurgent presence
in previously stable provinces over the past year. In 2011, the capital
alone saw a barrage of suicide bombings, including the deadliest attack in
the city since 2001; multiple strikes on foreign missions in Kabul, the
British Council, and U.S. Embassy; and the assassination of former president
and chief peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani. The prospects for next year
are no brighter, with many key provinces scheduled for transfer to the
ill-equipped Afghan security forces by early 2012.

The litany of obstacles to peace, or at least stability, in Afghanistan is
by now familiar. President Hamid Karzai rules by fiat, employing a
combination of patronage and executive abuse of power. State institutions
and services are weak or nonexistent in much of the country, or else so
riddled with corruption that Afghans want nothing to do with them.
Dari-speaking ethnic minorities remain skeptical about the prospects for
reconciliation with the predominately Pashtun Taliban insurgency, which
enjoys the backing of Pakistan's military and intelligence services. The
Taliban leadership in Quetta seem to reason that victory is within reach and
that they have simply to bide their time until the planned U.S. withdrawal
in 2014.


Throughout 2011, Pakistan's relations with the United States were sliding
from bad to worse, and NATO's deadly yet apparently accidental bombing of
Pakistani soldiers in November turned a miserable relationship into an all
but openly hostile one. Partially as a result, but also due to the Pakistani
military's support of militants operating in Afghanistan, ties between
Islamabad and Kabul are fraying. The elected government has made some
progress in its rapprochement with India, moving to normalize trade
relations. Yet the process remains hostage to the military's continued
support for militant groups such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the renamed
Lashkar-Tayyeba, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Another terror
attack could result in all-out war between the two nuclear-armed

The biggest dangers for Pakistan, however, come not from external sources
but rather from within. The transition from dictatorship to democracy is not
at all consolidated, and the military still control crucial areas of foreign
and security policy. Radical Islamism is destabilizing and even dominating
the country at times, with violent attacks on leading liberal political
figures shaking what little confidence anyone may have had that Pakistan can
escape disaster. Yet there is still some hope, because radical Islamists
lack popular support, and the two political parties that are likely to win
the next general election in 2013 (provided the democratic transition is not
disrupted by the military) -- the ruling PPP and the opposition PML-N --
have the capacity and the political will to take the country back to its
moderate moorings.


Yemen stands between violent collapse and a thin hope of a peaceful transfer
of power. Under increasing pressure from international and regional actors,
President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally signed a transition agreement on Nov.
23. Under the agreement, he immediately transferred significant authorities
to his vice president and is scheduled to officially leave office after
early elections that are scheduled for Feb. 21. This was an important first
step, but one that fell far short of solving Yemen's problems.

Many challenges remain, including holding signatories responsible for
implementing the transitional agreement, adequately addressing unresolved
issues of political inclusion and justice, and improving dire economic and
humanitarian conditions. Moreover, tensions between Yemen's competing armed
power centers, particularly Saleh's family on one hand versus defected
general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and the (unrelated) powerful al-Ahmar clan on
the other, remain unresolved and are a potential flashpoint for further
violence. One of the most challenging tasks during the first phase of the
transition will be securing a durable ceasefire, removing all military and
armed tribesmen from urban centers, and beginning meaningful reform of the
military and security forces.

It's a tall order, and international actors have a part to play. Threats of
targeted sanctions against Saleh and his family from members of the U.N.
Security Council played a part in bringing some regime hard-liners to the
negotiating table. Now, with an agreement signed, implementation requires
that pressure must be applied to all sides: Saleh and his supporters on one
hand and the opposition parties and their affiliates on the other. For now,
support has coalesced around Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who,
according to the agreement, will be the consensus candidate in the February
elections. As a relatively neutral figure, Hadi may encourage some measure
of compromise and security.

Adding to the uncertainty over Yemen's future are southern activists whose
demands may yet range from immediate independence to a federation of North
and South Yemen, and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen who seek greater rights
for their community and a degree of local autonomy. And, while politicians
negotiate in Sanaa, government forces and local tribesmen are in an ongoing
fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Abyan governorate. The
one certainty is that the struggle for Yemen will last long into 2012.


Several states in the region are surviving on luck: their infrastructure
near collapse, their political systems eaten away by corruption, their
public services almost nonexistent. On top of all this, Tajikistan, for
example, now faces a growing security threat from both local and external
insurgencies, something it has almost zero capacity to contain. Adding to
the country's woes, relations with neighboring Uzbekistan are at an all-time
low, with their long-running water dispute no closer to resolution and
occasionally deadly border incidents threatening to spark deeper violence.

As for Uzbekistan itself, Washington increasingly relies on Tashkent for
logistics in Afghanistan, but the brutal nature of the regime means it is
not only an embarrassing partner but also, ultimately, a very unreliable
one. Already there has been at least one attack on the rail line transiting
U.S. material through the country. Given how U.S.-Pakistan relations seem to
hit a new low every week, Washington may feel it has little choice, but it
certainly seems to be "out of the fire and into the frying pan" at best.

Then there is volatile Kyrgyzstan. Without prompt, genuine and exhaustive
measures to address the damage done by the 2010 ethnic pogroms in the south,
the country risks another round of mass violence. The ultranationalist mayor
of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, who has in the past claimed that Bishkek's writ
does not extend to the southern city and now muses out loud about creating a
municipal police force independent of the Ministry of Interior, will no
doubt continue to fire shots across the bows of the central government in


Reassuring declarations from the government in Bujumbura sound hollow, as
the end of the Arusha consensus, which concluded the civil war in 2000,
combined with the deteriorating political climate that followed the boycott
of the 2010 elections, have contributed directly to an escalation of
violence and insecurity. The elements of the peace deal are being dismantled
one by one. The not-so-hidden struggle between the opposition and the ruling
party, combined with the government's intensifying repression, is leaving
ever more victims since the 2010 polls. Independent media are harassed by
the authorities, who are allegedly commissioning targeted assassinations. At
the same time, state corruption is on the rise, governance indicators are in
the red, and social tension is mounting as living conditions deteriorate due
to rising prices of basic commodities. Unless the government takes measures
to reverse these trends, Burundi could edge toward renewed civil war in


Joseph Kabila has been re-elected president and officially sworn in, but
that's unlikely to satisfy his political opponents, particularly supporters
of opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi. The vote was badly flawed, with
reports of pre-marked ballots, voter intimidation, localized violence,
widespread mismanagement and fiddled results. The election commission and
Supreme Court were also stuffed with Kabila loyalists, rendering their
arbitration worthless in the eyes of an angry opposition that may be
marginalized for the next five years if legislative election results are
also mishandled.

The election standoff is a symptom of larger trends. In his five years in
power, Kabila has stacked many national institutions in his favor, leaving
his opponents with few avenues to pursue grievances peacefully.
International players have also quietly disengaged from Congolese affairs.
Despite the sizable U.N. presence in Congo, and the involvement of donor
countries like the United States and Britain, together with the European
Union, little has been done to check Kabila's consolidation of power.

As calls for international arbitration fall on deaf ears in Kinshasa and
most Western capitals, Congo's electoral authorities appear unable to
salvage any sense of credibility from results. Kabila's illegitimate mandate
threatens not only Congo's peace and stability. The muffled international
response to the flawed polls, and the silent acquiescence of regional
leaders, bode ill for democracy across the continent. If only the African
Union reacted to stolen elections with the outrage it reserves for coups --
both are, after all, equally unconstitutional changes of government --
politicians might at least think twice before rigging.


It is too soon to tell whether Kenya's recently launched military campaign
in southern Somalia will succeed in defeating al-Shabaab -- the militant
Islamist group that formed during the fragmentation of the Islamic Courts
Union, which controlled most of southern Somalia for part of the last decade
-- or end up a protracted and messy conflict. Now that Kenya will become
part of the African Union's mission in Somalia, however, it looks like it is
there for the duration. Its prolonged presence in southern Somalia could be
very unpopular, and the risks for Kenya's internal stability are very real.
Following the launch of the campaign in mid-October, al-Shabaab immediately
threatened retaliatory attacks. The possibility of an al-Shabaab terror
campaign has to be taken very seriously and there is a palpable sense of
unease in Nairobi. In late October, the organization carried out two grenade
attacks in the capital on Kenyan, not Western, targets. A Kenyan al-Shabaab
member was jailed for the attacks. Since then there have been a number of
incidents near the border with Somalia.

Kenya has a sizable ethnic Somali and wider Muslim population, most of whom
are critical of the government's military campaign in Somalia, the more so
for its associations with the Western-led counterterrorism struggle. There
is significant risk that the military campaign exacerbates already worrisome
radicalization in Kenya, particularly if it goes badly and civilian deaths

In response to the threat of al-Shabaab attacks on Kenyan soil, the Kenyan
government has launched a massive sweep in ethnic-Somali majority areas,
aiming to flush out the group's supporters. Although the police and security
services have mostly shown restraint, local leaders in the northeastern
border region have already accused the military of excessive force. The real
test will come if al-Shabaab carries out a major attack in Kenya. There are
fears this would trigger a draconian crackdown on ethnic Somalis in Kenya,
with grave consequences for intercommunal relations and societal cohesion
and harmony, especially ahead of general elections this year, the first
since the 2007 polls sparked widespread ethnic violence.


Venezuela's homicide rates are among the highest in the hemisphere -- twice
those of Colombia and three times those of Mexico -- despite largely
escaping the world's attention. Rates were rising even before Hugo Chávez
assumed power. But under his 12 years they have skyrocketed, from 4,550 in
1998 to 17,600 last year. The victims are predominantly poor young men --
killed for as little as a mobile phone, caught in gunfire between gangs, or
even subject to extrajudicial killings by security forces.

Criminal violence has not yet permeated the country's politics. But signs
ahead of presidential elections next year are ominous. The regime itself has
armed local civilian militias to, in its own words, "defend the revolution."
Thus far it has failed to tackle corruption within the security forces, or
their complicity in crime. Arms are easily available -- reportedly more than
12 million weapons circulate in a country with a population of only 29
million. Impunity is a major driver of violence, with judicial independence
eroded through sustained attacks by the government. According to some
estimates, fewer than one in 10 police investigations ever leads to arrest.

It's not yet clear who will face off against Chávez for the presidency, nor
do we know the extent of political space in which candidates will be able to
contest for office. But with the president's ailing health adding
considerable uncertainty, bitter enmity between him and some opposition
leaders, and Venezuelan society polarized, militarized and lacking credible
institutional conflict-resolution mechanisms, next year could prove testing

Now for the good news. Here are two countries whose 2012 is looking
relatively bright.


The victory by the moderate Islamist An-Nahda Party in October's elections
is a victory for democracy. Of course, no one would underestimate the major
challenges the nation still confronts. There is a continuing threat of
violence, whether from agents provocateurs bent on discrediting An-Nahda,
the more radical Salafists marginalized by the An-Nahda victory, or working
class towns and cities in the country's interior, which have been largely
sidelined since the fall of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and where the
economic, social, and security situation continues to worsen. Small vestiges
of the old regime in ministries and the Constituent Assembly, while weak,
could still play a spoiler role. New business elites, meanwhile, appear only
too quick to adopt the poor practices of their predecessors. The new
government will have to move quickly away from wrangling over transitional
details -- prime ministerial powers, constitutional reform and new elections
-- and concentrate on reversing the country's economic decline and tackling
corruption and unemployment.

Still, having held the first free, competitive election to follow the onset
of the Arab Spring -- in a relatively transparent manner and in an
atmosphere of enthusiasm -- it is clear that Tunisians already have much to
be proud of. If the country's relative stability and evident progress could
be a beacon to the rest of the wider region, that would be no bad thing.


The government's pledges on reform are being fulfilled: The military has
moved out of front-line politics; top opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi was
released, is engaging with the government at top levels, and is set to run
in elections; many other political prisoners were also released; there are
livelier debates in parliament that are even broadcast on TV; and some
previously banned websites are now unblocked. There is a major opportunity
for this long-suffering country to continue in a positive direction in 2012.

The outside world, particularly the West, needs to respond by engaging
further and dropping counterproductive sanctions that have harmed civilians
without loosening the junta's grip on power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton's visit to Myanmar in early December was the right move at the right
time, but it is not enough. Key next steps to watch for from the regime
include releasing all remaining political prisoners, passing a new media law
that would curtail censorship, and signing ceasefires with armed ethnic
groups that would be a key step towards ending abuses by the military in
these border conflicts.


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