Explainer: why is the South China Sea such a hotly contested region?



Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erica Bechard/US Navy/AP

Greg Austin, UNSW

In the past week, both the US and Australia rejected large parts of China’s extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea, as well as territorial claims by any state to undersea reefs.

More worryingly, the US is also pressuring Australia to join its freedom of navigation exercises in the sea — a move likely to further anger China.

As tensions in the South China Sea mount, it’s important to understand how this dispute began and what international law says about freedom of navigation and competing maritime claims in the waters.




Read more:
Payne and Reynolds need to tread carefully in Washington as US turns up the heat on China


Creeping militarisation of the sea

In 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted and signed, formalising extended maritime resource claims in international law. At this time, no fewer than six governments had laid claim to the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

Since then, there has been a creeping militarisation of the waters by nations seeking to secure extended maritime resource zones.

In 2009, Vietnam began reclaiming land around some of the 48 small islands it had occupied since the 1970s. In response, China began its much larger reclamations on submerged features it first began to occupy in the 1980s.

Bu 2016, these reclamations had resulted in three military-grade, mid-ocean airfields that sent shockwaves around the world, provoked in part by China breaking its own pledge not to militarise the islands.

An aerial view of the Subi reef, one of the tiny islands being claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea.
FRANCIS R. MALASIG/EPA

What is China’s claim based on

The South China Sea is a vast area measuring 3.6 million square kilometres, more than double the size of the Gulf of Mexico. It takes a modern warship just over three days to sail at top speed of 30 knots from its northern edge at Taiwan to the southern edge at the Strait of Malacca.

China’s claim to the sea is based both on the Law of the Sea Convention and its so-called “nine-dash” line. This line extends for 2,000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland, encompassing over half of the sea.

In a historic decision in 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled against part of China’s claims to the sea in a case brought by the Philippines. China rejected the authority of the tribunal and its finding in the case.

In its ruling, the tribunal considered the South China Sea to be a “semi-enclosed sea” as defined by the Law of the Sea Convention — a body of water tightly or largely contained by land features.

This status carries with it the expectation that coastal states should cooperate on everything from conservation issues to commercial exploitation. This concept is important: it means that by definition, the South China Sea is a shared maritime space.

How does international law factor in?

Under the Law of the Sea Convention, all states have a right to 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” to exploit the resources of the sea and seabed, as measured from their land territories. Where these zones overlap, countries are obliged to negotiate with other claimants.

This has yet to happen in the South China Sea, which is the source of many of the current tensions. There are three great challenges to this.

The first is the countries claiming parts of the South China Sea cannot agree who owns the Paracel and Spratly islands.

China asserts its sovereignty based on highly disputable evidence from ancient times, as well as more recent claims from 1902-39. Japan occupied the islands during the second world war and later recognised the claim of the Republic of China (now Taiwan) in a 1952 peace treaty.

Rival claimants to the islands deny the validity of this evidence. Vietnam has equally credible evidence from the period before and during the second world war.

Then there is the broader question of China’s larger claim to the waters within the u-shaped “nine-dash” line. This line, which skirts the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam, was first drawn by the Nationalist government of China in 1947. The claim had no basis in international law — then, or now.




Read more:
Exposing US hypocrisy on South China Sea island reclamation


A second challenge is one of the actors in this conflict is Taiwan, which has been in dispute with China over sovereignty issues since 1949.

This dispute has meant Taiwan is not formally recognised as a state by most countries and is therefore not a signatory to the Law of the Sea Convention, nor legally entitled to claim territory. But Taiwan occupies one of the islands.

Third, there is a debate in international law about the type of land territory that can generate rights to an exclusive economic zone. The Law of the Sea Convention mandates the land must be able to sustain human habitation. And in 2016, the international tribunal in The Hague found no islands in the Spratly group met this criterion.

This was a major blow to China’s claims to resource jurisdiction all the way to the southern limits of the South China Sea.

Competing views on freedom of navigation

While the convention settled most international laws governing the sea, it left unresolved some issues related to military activities, especially “innocent passage” by warships in territorial seas.

Under the Law of the Sea Convention, a foreign warship can pass within the 12 nautical miles of another state as long as it takes a direct route and doesn’t conduct military operations.

But states disagree on what constitutes innocent passage. Maritime powers like the US, UK and Australia routinely conduct freedom of navigation operations (or FONOPs) to challenge what Washington calls

attempts by coastal states to unlawfully restrict access to the
seas.

The US has angered China by carrying out FONOPs within 12 nautical miles of the islands it claims in the South China Sea. These operations are not designed to challenge China’s claims to islands or resource zones. Rather, the purpose is to assert US rights to freedom of navigation.

China opposes the transits for several reasons, including its assertion that naval ships should not “operate” in other countries’ exclusive economic zones.




Read more:
Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea


Beijing, however, ignores the contradiction between this position and its own activities in the sea, where its naval ships regularly operate in the claimed EEZs of other states.

For their part, the smaller states of the South China Sea are ambivalent about the dispute. They are certainly opposed to what they see as bullying from China on excessive maritime claims and would like to deny all its island claims.

But they are also not keen on seeing the US go too far in its policy of intensifying military confrontation with China.

The Philippines has been among the more vocal countries against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.
Bullit Marquez/AP

Will Australia draw closer to the US position?

Australia’s statement on the South China Sea last week was its strongest rejection yet of China’s claims to the waters.

It did not represent a new position on the legal issues, but marked a fresh determination to confront China over its unreasonable claims and its bullying behaviour in the maritime disputes.

Australia has not been keen on following the high-profile freedom of navigation operations of the US — concerned it might provoke a response from China — but that position may be about to change.The Conversation

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Naval exercises in South China Sea add to growing fractiousness between US and China



AAP/EPA/US Navy handout

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The deployment of three US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to the South China Sea have further tested strained relations between China and the United States.

The US naval exercises represent an enormous aggregation of firepower. Adding to tensions, the US deployment coincides with Chinese war games in the same vicinity.

These waters are becoming congested naval space.

This is the first time since 2017 that America has deployed three carrier battle groups into contested waters of the South China Sea and its environs. You would have to go back a further ten years for another such display of raw American naval power in the Asia-Pacific.




Read more:
Coronavirus shines a light on fractured global politics at a time when cohesion and leadership are vital


In 2017, the US sent a three-carrier force into the region to exert pressure on nuclear-armed North Korea to cease provocative missile tests and the further development of its nuclear capability.

On this occasion, it is China that is being reminded of American capacity to assert itself in what has become known as the Indo-Pacific. This describes a vast swathe that laps at China’s borders from India in the west to Japan in the north-east.

Washington seems bent on conveying a message. However, it is not clear that China is in a mood to heed such messages in an atmosphere of escalating rhetoric.

In a response to the American naval exercises, Beijing’s official English-language mouthpiece, The Global Times, accused Washington of “attempting to show off its military capability, threaten China and enforce its hegemonic policies”.

The newspaper quoted Beijing “analysts” as saying:

The South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the People’s Liberation Army, and any US aircraft carrier movements in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA.

This is not true, of course. But the fact such sentiments are emanating from Beijing’s security establishment is confronting, to say the least. When it comes to big-power rivalry, talk might be cheap, but words matter.

In China’s armoury, propaganda is a weapon of influence.

Perhaps the most interesting component of the Global Times assault on US regional “hegemonistic” ambitions is its characterisation of American meddling as that of a “non-regional country that lies tens of thousands of miles away”.

Leaving aside the usual propaganda from Beijing, these sorts of observations represent a continuing escalation in Chinese rhetoric and cannot simply be dismissed as more of the same.

China’s own characterisation of the South China Sea as a “Chinese lake”, in defiance of multiple territorial claims and counter-claims from its neighbours, represents a noose around the region’s neck.

This begs the question whether a regional arms race is under way and likely to intensify. Australia’s own announcement of increased defence expenditures on such items as long-range anti-ship missiles attests to concerns about China’s growing assertiveness.

Canberra’s commitment to lift defence spending above the 2% of GDP benchmark and equip itself with greater offensive capabilities represents a direct response to a perceived China threat.

In that regard, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update, in which he described the Indo-Pacific as the “epicentre of rising strategic competition”, crosses a red line in Australian strategic thinking.

Morrison added “the risk of miscalculation and even conflict is heightening”.

This is indisputable.

The prime minister’s recent comments crossed a red line in strategic thinking.
AAP/Lukas Coch

As a snapshot of the region, the 11-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) increased military spending between 2009 and 2018 by 33% in real terms, according to the authoritative Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI).

This was significantly more than growth in spending in other regions. It’s directly attributable to concerns about a deteriorating security environment. Australia’s planned acquisition of long-range anti-ship missiles is part of a wider regional trend.

More weapons with greater range increase the risk of an incident. This may come about by accident but be built up into something much bigger – a shooting war or, more likely, a nasty memory that will haunt international relations for many years and lead to yet more militarisation.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates China’s defence budget in 2020 stands at US$261 billion. This compares with the US defence budget in 2019 of US$717 billion.

In percentage terms, increases in China’s spending outstripped that of its significant neighbours. This includes India, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

A lot more spending is on the way. By 2035, half the world’s submarine fleet will be deployed in the Indo-Pacific, according to Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper.

At the same time, China is pressing ahead with its own aircraft carrier fleet. It has two: one purchased off the shelf from Ukraine; the other built in China. The keel has been laid for a third at a Shanghai shipyard.

This is serious stuff. China is a nuclear state.

All this needs to be kept in mind as ill-tempered exchanges between Washington and Beijing over China’s responsibility for a global health pandemic, trade tensions, human rights abuses, bullying of Hong Kong, border skirmishes with India and increased pressure on Taiwan weigh on an increasingly strained relationship.

Arguably, tensions between the US and China are worse now than in 1989, when a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters ruptured relations. The difference between then and now is that China has a vastly larger economy and is an emerging superpower with a military to match its ambitions.

In 1989, China’s economy on a purchasing power parity basis was a fraction of the size it is today. Its contribution to world trade had not yet become supercharged.

China-US relations are at their lowest ebb since the pro-democracy uprising of 1989.
AAP/Reuters/Siu Chiu

What also is noteworthy is that, unlike 1989, China’s armed forces are no longer almost exclusively land-based. Chinese naval capabilities have progressed in leaps and bounds, along with its electronic warfare capabilities.

Hanging over a potentially worsening security environment, certainly an ill-tempered relationship between Beijing and the West, is widespread uneasiness over a deterioration in American global leadership.

In a presidential election year in which a wounded president is fighting for his political survival, risks of a miscalculation are real.

In other words, the security and political environment is treacherous at a moment when China itself feels under siege. As a consequence, China is lashing out at its perceived detractors, real or imagined.

This includes Australia, which has found itself under an almost daily barrage of Chinese invective following Morrison’s clumsy attempts to spearhead an independent inquiry into China’s responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic.




Read more:
Australia has dug itself into a hole in its relationship with China. It’s time to find a way out


Typical of this sort of invective is the following, courtesy of the Global Times:

Australia is only a follower of the US, and its capability in the South China Sea will be limited.

The bloody Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 on pro-democracy protesters might be regarded as the low point in Beijing’s post-Mao Zedong relationship with the West, but it could be argued there is now a more worrying set of circumstances.

No country in the Indo-Pacific, with the possible exception of North Korea, can feel comfortable about China’s growing assertiveness. So it is tempting to say something will most likely give.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I love Australia’: 3 things international students want Australians to know



Shutterstock

Angela Lehmann, Australian National University

A recent statement from China’s education bureau warned Chinese students about studying in Australia due to “racist incidents” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such statements, and further moves from China’s education agents threatening to redirect students towards international competitors such as the United Kingdom, can negatively affect Australia as a study destination. Australia’s universities are already reeling from the loss of international students due to COVID-19.

There have been reports some international students from China have defended Australia as a study destination. I have been conducting in-depth interviews with ten international students in Australia about their experiences and concerns throughout COVID-19.

They too have, mostly, positive things to say.

Here are three things they believe Australia should know as we plan our recovery.

1. Australians must be more welcoming

Negative experiences of international students are more dangerous to long-term recovery than border closures and flight restrictions. At a time of increased unemployment and pessimistic economic forecasts, we risk anti-foreigner sentiment growing.

Students I spoke with reported this was already happening. One student from Peru said he had “had quite racist comments like ‘go back to your country’”. Another, from India, spoke at length about part-time jobs now being “offered only to Australian citizens. I was told not to even bring in a CV”.




Read more:
COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up


On April 4, the prime minister called for temporary visa holders to “go home” if they couldn’t support themselves.

Each student I spoke with said this was the point in time when they went from feeling a part of their community, to feeling unwelcome.

One Indian student told me:

I have seen a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Asian sentiment. I have seen my Japanese flatmate have abuse yelled at her on the street. Calling her a “filthy Asian” and things like this.

Another student spoke about Labor Senator Kristina Kenneally’s call to “reset” Australia’s temporary migration intake and give Australians a “fair go”.

She said:

Definitely, there is a growing anti-immigrant sentiment here. The talk from people in the Australian government that we should be “getting our jobs back for Australians” is constructed in a way to inherently disadvantage people like me, or immigrants. Because it is government policy it will infiltrate across the country and it’s hard to tackle that on an individual level.

Each student suggested Australia’s reputation as a welcoming, safe and diverse place was what was going to shape how parents and prospective students made decisions about where to study after the crisis.

2. International students are integrated in Australian society

The students I spoke with are looking to integrate in local communities as a central part of their overseas experience. They felt they contributed to various parts of Australian society – as tourists and volunteers.

International students want to be ingrained in Australian society.
Shutterstock

And many played an active role in promoting Australia and their city internationally.

Daniel, from Peru, is based at a regional Queensland university. He volunteers with a local men’s mental health organisation. He’s taken over the weekly Spanish language program on the local radio station and, until the shutdown, worked part time at a bar and volunteered with a research program measuring local water quality.

He said:

Something I have learned here is about a sense of community, about being kind to others. I love Australia and the people I have met so far. Once all this is over, I will go back to my home country and teach them about what I have learned here.

3. The government needs to signal its support through clear policy

International students want clear policy responses and acknowledgement of the valuable role they play in Australia.

Australia’s flattened curve undoubtably works in our favour, giving us an advantage over the United States and the UK.

However, the government’s support and welfare may shape how parents and prospective students make future decisions.

Clear policy responses matter now. They offer a signal to students – current and future – that Australia recognises the importance of international students, and they are a welcome and supported part of our communities.

An example is Australia’s reluctance to guarantee international students will not be penalised from being eligible for a Temporary Graduate Visa if studying online. This visa allows graduates of Australian universities to stay on and work, and is essential to attracting students. Currently students are restricted around the amount of offshore study they can do to be eligible.




Read more:
90,000 foreign graduates are stuck in Australia without financial support: it’s a humanitarian and economic crisis in the making


Canada made such an adjustment early on, announcing international students could complete 50% of their study online without it impacting their eligibility to eventually apply for a post-study work permit.

One Indian student told me:

I don’t think Indian students will be deterred from their goal to study abroad and to better their lives. But a lot of where they decide to do this depends on how the government reacts and responds. A lot of students are probably going to start looking at Europe and Canada as a better destination because of the policies they have. Canada has been doing a really great job at protecting its international student community.

International students value human connection and their expectations and contributions extend beyond the lecture hall. They are looking for responses and a recovery strategy that acknowledges this.The Conversation

Angela Lehmann, Honorary Lecturer, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What COVID-19 means for the people making your clothes



Shutterstock

Sarah Kaine, University of Technology Sydney; Alice Payne, Queensland University of Technology, and Justine Coneybeer, Queensland University of Technology

Workers everywhere are feeling the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions necessitated by COVID-19.

In Australia, retail and hospitality workers have been particularly hard hit. In other countries, it’s manufacturing workers, hit by disruptions to value and supply chains.

A value chain is the process by which businesses start with raw materials and add value to them through manufacturing and other processes to create a finished product.

A supply chain is the steps taken to get a product to a consumer.

Most of the time we don’t think about them at all.

Cotton is complex

Our research project with the Cotton Research Development Corporation is investigating strategies for improving labour conditions in the value chain for Australian cotton.

This is the chain in which our cotton is spun into yarn, woven or knitted into fabric, and turned into garments and other items which are sold to consumers.

When we began our project in mid-2019 the world was a very different place.

The changes brought by COVID-19 have had a significant impact on those working throughout the chain – particularly in garment production, but with flow on effects to other tiers.




Read more:
The real economic victims of coronavirus are those we can’t see


The tiers in the diagram are numbered backwards.

The first is Tier 4, where Australian cotton is grown and harvested. The next is Tier 3 where it is turned into yarn, usually overseas.

Tier 2 is the production of fabric, Tier 1 is the production of garments and other products, and Tier 0 is retailing and selling to retailers.


Alice Payne

Tier 0 (brands and retailers) has been hit by delays in shipments due to factory closures at Tiers 1 and 2.

However this has been matched by a decline in demand as social distancing and lock-down arrangements discourage or prevent consumers from shopping in person.

In Australia retailers such as Country Road, Cotton On and RM William temporarily closed, taking short-term retail job losses to 50,000 or more.

Globally, many multinationals have closed their doors.

Shocks along the chain…

Nike is expecting sales to drop by US$3.5 billion. While seemingly immune from some of the social distancing provisions, online retail is also likely to take a hit due to a drop in demand.

Tier 1 (garment manufacturing) has been hit by falling demand as retailers cancel orders or ask for delays in payment. It has also faced disruptions in the supply of fabric, especially from China.




Read more:
Human trafficking and slavery still happen in Australia. This comic explains how


Fabric producers in Tier 2 and cotton spinners in Tier 3 have had to contend with a decreased supply of raw materials and demands to retool to produce medical equipment.

For cotton growers in Tier 4, the fall in demand has pushed prices down from US 70 cents at the start of the year to US 50 cents, the lowest price in a decade, before a partial recovery to US 58 cents.

…with human costs

Reports of losses of tens of thousands of jobs in Myanmar and Cambodia paint a bleak picture.

In Bangladesh estimates have 1.92 million workers at risk of losing their jobs as factories receive notice of US$2.58 billion worth of export orders cancelled or on-hold.

Making things worse, many workers in Tiers 1-3 were receiving less than a living wage defined as the minimum needed to provide adequate shelter, food and necessities. This has made it hard for them to plan or save for emergencies.

Many are migrant workers without funds to return home.

Even the workers who manage to hang on to their jobs aren’t in the clear. Programs set up to improve their working conditions have been disrupted.




Read more:
Three years on from Rana Plaza disaster and little improvement in transparency or worker conditions


The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is a legally-binding agreement between brands and unions set up in the wake of the collapse of the the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 which killed 1,133 people and critically injuring thousands more.

Inspections under the program have been suspended, as have audits due to the closure of borders.

The problems are cumulative – delays in orders due to interruptions in supplies will need to be addressed when factories scale back up, creating demands from buyers that might result in pressure for workers to work unpaid and involuntary overtime, or even worse, subcontract to the informal market where there is a high risk of human rights violations.

Shoots of hope

Amid the havoc are some shoots of hope.

Companies along the value chain have been asked to produce and supply medical equipment such as surgical gowns, face masks and materials and elastics.

Dozens of brands and retailers have donated funds and activated their logistics networks to support the effort.

As orders slowly start returning, cotton and textile associations have joined forces in calling for greater collaboration throughout the value chain. Governments have announced aid packages for their workers, and the European Union has provided an emergency fund to support the most vulnerable garment workers in Myanmar.

Longer term, the supply risks highlighted by the disruption might cause companies along the value chain to diversify their suppliers and even produce locally.




Read more:
It would cost you 20 cents more per T-shirt to pay an Indian worker a living wage


The crisis has demonstrated forcefully the importance for manufacturers and retailers to be agile. Yet this can best be done when workers have been well trained and have access to the best technology and equipment.

For now, we watch and see. Cotton is as good an indicator as any other of the brittleness of supply chains and the ways in which what we produce and consume affects the livelihoods of those further down the chain.

In the short-term, a best-case scenario would see a revaluing of garment work as “essential” in order to produce protective/medical equipment that we need in a way that benefits the people who help make them.The Conversation

Sarah Kaine, Associate Professor UTS Centre for Business and Social Innovation, University of Technology Sydney; Alice Payne, Associate Professor in Fashion, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland University of Technology, and Justine Coneybeer, Research Assistant – Supply Chain, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lasting peace in Afghanistan now relies on the Taliban standing by its word. This has many Afghans concerned



Stringer/EPA

Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Deakin University

The US has signed an historic agreement with the Taliban that sets Washington and its NATO allies on a path to withdraw their military forces from Afghanistan after more than 18 years of unceasing conflict.

It is now hoped the deal will lead to a more complicated process of negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government – starting as early as next week – to work toward a complete ceasefire and new political roadmap for the country.

This is critically important because until now, the government has been absent from the peace process at the insistence of the Taliban.

The opening of this window to end one of the world’s most debilitating and protracted conflicts has been welcomed by many US allies, including Australia.




Read more:
After US and Taliban sign accord, Afghanistan must prepare for peace


However, many seasoned observers, including prominent American politicians and former diplomats and military leaders, are concerned the agreement concedes too much to the Taliban without requiring it to make any substantive commitments to ensure a genuine peace process.

The deal has completely sidelined the Afghan government and civil society and does not provide any explicit references, much less guarantees, for the protection of human rights in Afghanistan, especially for women and minority groups who were suppressed and persecuted by the Taliban.

Indeed, cracks have already begun to emerge in the deal. On Monday, the Taliban refused to take part in the intra-Afghan talks until the government released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do.

As a result, many Afghans are worried that rather than being the start of a comprehensive peace process for the country, the deal is merely a cheap withdrawal troop agreement intended to serve US President Donald Trump’s political interests during an election year.

Will the Taliban sever ties with terror groups?

The agreement is to be implemented in two separate processes. The first commits the Taliban to take measures to prevent al-Qaeda and other terror groups from using Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to threaten the US and its allies.

In return, the US and NATO have agreed to a complete withdrawal of all forces from the country within 14 months. It is scheduled to begin with the departure of over 5,000 troops and the closure of five military bases within 135 days of the signing of the agreement.

The Taliban has said it will resume attacks against Afghan forces shortly after signing the deal.
JALIL REZAYEE/EPA

In the short term, the Taliban will likely tactically reduce its relations with certain elements of the local al-Qaeda network to demonstrate its commitments under the deal. But its relationship with these international terror groups is far more complicated and nuanced than the agreement recognises.

Research has shown the Taliban sees foreign militant groups as valuable allies due to their shared ideologies and longstanding material support for one another. This is provided these groups don’t directly challenge their power in the country.

This explains why the Taliban’s ties with al-Qaeda are so enduring, despite the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan aimed at dismantling the terror group. In particular, the Haqqani Network, a semi-autonomous component of the Taliban movement, has a long history of working closely with al-Qaeda and other groups.




Read more:
Afghanistan’s suffering has reached unprecedented levels. Can a presidential election make things better?


On the other hand, the Taliban has fiercely resisted groups such as the Islamic State when it has threatened to seize Taliban territory.

As a result, the Taliban is likely to intensify its attacks on already weakened Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, rather than going after more dispersed elements of al-Qaeda under the agreement with the US.

But verifying the group has followed through on its commitment to completely sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terror groups may prove to be extremely difficult in the long run. Especially after the withdrawal of the US military and intelligence assets from the region.

Many challenges lie ahead in peace talks

For negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government to succeed, both sides will need to find a compromise on the future of the country’s political system. This would require the Taliban to abandon its goal of restoring its ultra-conservative Islamic Emirate, which it sought to establish from 1996-2001.

The Taliban will also need to make robust guarantees for basic civil and political rights and to shut down its safe havens for militants across the border in Pakistan.

The Taliban has so far steadfastly refused to directly negotiate with officials of the Afghan government, which it describes as an illegitimate imposition of western powers.




Read more:
How to end Afghanistan war as longest conflict moves towards fragile peace


The divisions that have intensified within the government since September’s presidential election will only serve to strengthen the Taliban’s position. And the implementation of the first stage of the US military withdrawal is likely to further weaken the government and embolden the Taliban.

Consequently, it is highly doubtful a complete and durable political settlement will be achieved within the 14 months of the complete foreign troop withdrawals.

Yet, despite the failings of the government, the public has not shifted its support to the Taliban. Last year, a national survey by the Asia Foundation found 85% of Afghans had no sympathy for the Taliban.

A protest against the Taliban delegation negotiating a peace deal with the US last year.
WATAN YAR/EPA

Taliban negotiators have said they are not seeking to monopolise power and are willing to recognise the rights of women and freedom of expression according to Islam. But given the group’s draconian interpretation of Islam, it is far from certain it is ready to recognise the vibrant role Afghan women now play in the public sector and civil society.

The rights of ethnic and religious minorities also remain a concern. The Hazaras, for one, have been relentlessly persecuted by the Taliban since the 1990s.

Finally, the Taliban’s sanctuaries and power bases in Pakistan will undoubtedly remain a sticking point in any peace talks on the future of Afghanistan. A durable peace is unlikely to materialise when an insurgent group can wage wars from across the border with impunity and backed by elements of a powerful neighbouring state.

Despite these challenges, the fact a peaceful resolution to the war is on the agenda of regional and global powers is a positive development. A genuine peace is likely to be the outcome of trials and errors, a long process that requires patience and sustained international commitment.The Conversation

Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Associate Research Fellow, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Afghanistan’s suffering has reached unprecedented levels. Can a presidential election make things better?



A supporter of Ashraf Ghani takes part in an election rally in Kabul last month.
Jawad Jalali/EPA

Safiullah Taye, Deakin University and Dr. Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Deakin University

After months of delays and uncertainty, Afghanistan is set to hold its presidential election on Saturday. This election, the fourth since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, has critical implications for the political stability and security of the country.

Most importantly, it will test the resilience of the country’s fragile democratic process and shape the conditions under which the now-defunct negotiations between the United States and the Taliban can be resumed with more meaningful participation from Kabul.

And if the vote produces a broadly acceptable and functioning government – which is not a guarantee after the last presidential election in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2018 – it will have profound repercussions for the Afghan people.




Read more:
How to end Afghanistan war as longest conflict moves towards fragile peace


Nearly two decades after the US-led coalition invaded the country and ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan is still in a downward spiral. In June, the country replaced Syria as the world’s least peaceful country in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index report. The BBC tracked the violence in the country in August and found that on average, 74 Afghan men, women and children died each day across the country.

Further, the number of Afghans below the poverty line increased from 33.5% in 2011 to nearly 55% in 2017.

And in another bleak assessment of where things are at the moment, Afghan respondents in a recent Gallup survey rated their lives worse than anyone else on the planet. A record-high 85% of respondents categorised their lives as “suffering”, while the number of people who said they were “thriving” was zero.



Tests of democracy in Afghanistan

Despite the major challenges posed by insecurity and risks of electoral fraud, Afghanistan’s recent elections have been serious contests between the country’s various political elites.

Ordinary voters take extraordinary risks to participate in the polls. Thanks to a dynamic media sector, these contests involve spirited debates about policy-making and the visions of the candidates. This is particularly true when it comes to presidential elections, as the country’s 2004 Constitution concentrated much of the political and executive power in the office of the president.

There have been serious tests of Afghanistan’s nascent democracy before, however.
The 2014 election was tainted by allegations of widespread fraud, pushing the country to the brink of a civil war.

The political crisis was averted by the formation of the national unity government, in which Ashraf Ghani became president and his main challenger in the election, Abdullah Abdullah, took the position of chief executive officer, with powers similar to a prime minister.

Abdullah Abdullah is again the main challenger for President Ashraf Ghani, similar to the 2014 vote.
Jalil Rezayee/EPA

Negotiations with the Taliban

Since the withdrawal of most of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban has considerably expanded the areas under its influence. Nonetheless, the insurgent group has been unable to score any strategic military victories by gaining control of provincial or population centres.

In 2016, President Donald Trump came to the White House with the promise of ending the war in Afghanistan. However, after a meticulous assessment of the risks associated with a complete troop withdrawal, he backed away from that pledge.

Trump instead called the 2014 departure of most US troops a “hasty withdrawal” and declared a new strategy that included an increase in the number of US forces in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (centre) has adopted a populist style in his re-election campaign to connect better with voters.
Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA

The deployment of additional troops significantly escalated the military campaign against the Taliban but failed to decisively change the security dynamics in the country.

Then, in 2018, the Trump administration formally began engaging the Taliban in a series of direct negotiations in Qatar. The process was called off by Trump earlier this month when it was reportedly at the threshold of an agreement.




Read more:
A peace agreement in Afghanistan won’t last if there are no women at the table


Critics noted, however, the many flaws of this approach and the haste with which the negotiations were conducted by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation.

Ironically, at the insistence of the Taliban, the process excluded the government of Afghanistan, which the Taliban refuses to recognise as the legitimate authority in the country. This led to phased negotiations, whereby a deal between the US and the Taliban was expected to be followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue and eventually a ceasefire.

A successful presidential election that produces a broadly acceptable outcome can significantly strengthen the position of the new government in negotiating and implementing a peace process with the Taliban. This is one reason why Ghani does not want to be sidelined from the negotiations.

Challenges for the upcoming vote

The election involves a significant number of political players and coalitions, but is essentially a replay of the 2014 poll between Ghani and Abdullah. While none of the other 13 candidates have a realistic chance of winning, they can split the votes to prevent one of the leaders from claiming victory in the first round. A run-off was required in the last two presidential elections in 2009 and 2014.

Another factor is the threat of violence from the Taliban. The group has already vowed to violently disrupt the election. In recent weeks, it has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on election rallies, including a devastating attack on the campaign office of Amrullah Saleh, the first vice-president on Ghani’s ticket.

Supporters of incumbent President Ashraf Ghani at a rally in Jalalabad this month.
Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA

Insecurity will also likely prevent significant numbers of people from participating in the process. The number of polling stations has significantly dropped to less than 5,000 this year compared to 7,000 in 2014, highlighting the deteriorating security conditions.

There are also fears that more polling stations will be closed on election day, both for security reasons and political reasons (the latter in areas that are likely to vote for opposition candidates).




Read more:
Afghanistan election: with Kabul in lockdown, we watch and wait


This election is unlikely to be a game changer in the face of the magnitude and complexity of the challenges facing Afghanistan and its people.

Nonetheless, the election presents a rare opportunity for the country’s people to exercise their rights to choose who governs the country.

And if the supporters of the leading candidates stay committed to a transparent process, even a reasonably credible outcome can go a long way in restoring confidence in the country’s shaky institutions and strengthening the position of the government in any future peace negotiations with the Taliban.


This article was corrected on September 27, 2019. The forthcoming election is the fourth since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, not the third as originally stated.The Conversation

Safiullah Taye, Phd. Candidate and Research Assistan, Deakin University and Dr. Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Associate Research Fellow, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After a border dispute and spying scandal, can Australia and Timor-Leste be good neighbours?



Protesters outside the Australian embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste, in 2016, demanding a settlement of the border dispute between the nations.
Antonio Dasiparu/EPA

Michael Leach, Swinburne University of Technology

On August 30, Timor-Leste will celebrate the referendum that gave it independence from Indonesia. For the people of this small island, it has been a long battle – and one that continues today. You can read our companion story on the island nation’s struggle for independence here.


This Friday marks the 20-year anniversary of the day the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia after a 24-year occupation.

Another significant anniversary comes next month, on September 20. That was the day of the arrival of the INTERFET mission, the Australian-led multinational force that brought an end to the violence that wracked Timor-Leste after the independence vote.

In the intervening three weeks, 1,500 Timorese were killed in the violence, which had been orchestrated by the Indonesian military and its proxy militias. Over 250,000 were forcibly displaced to West Timor and some 80% of the infrastructure was destroyed.

Many Australians are rightly proud of their contribution to Timor-Leste’s independence, which served as a historical corrective to Australia’s longstanding support for Indonesian’s invasion and forced integration of East Timor in 1975-76. The more than 5,000 Australian soldiers in the INTERFET mission marked the nation’s largest military deployment since the Vietnam War.

Yet despite the goodwill the mission engendered in Timor-Leste for the Australian people, relations between the two nations have repeatedly been undermined by contentious negotiations over control of the lucrative oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea.




Read more:
Australia and Timor Leste settle maritime boundary after 45 years of bickering


A treaty signed last March created a maritime boundary between the states for the first time. The border is expected to come into force this week following its ratification by both parliaments – another momentous milestone in Timor-Leste’s history.

But other thorny issues remain. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives in Dili for the anniversary on Friday, he will likely face calls for Australia to drop its prosecution of a whistleblower who revealed an Australian spying operation against Timor-Leste.

As former Timor-Leste leader Jose Ramos Horta said,

If Australia doesn’t show political leadership, moral leadership on this issue, every time we talk to Australian leaders I will wonder if they have a tape recorder in their pocket [or] if my office has been bugged.

Australian soldiers conducting an operation to flush out militia fighters in Timor-Leste in September, 1999.
Jon Hargest/AAP

Conflict over oil and gas

Since its independence, Timor-Leste’s relations with Australia have been overshadowed by one major factor: the oil and gas fields on its contested maritime border.

Relations hit rocky waters in 2012 when Timor-Leste challenged the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), which had been signed by the two countries in 2006. This treaty had established a 50-year moratorium on maritime boundary negotiations, or five years after exploitation of the Greater Sunrise gas field ended, whichever occurred first.

Allegations then emerged in 2013 from a former ASIS agent (now known as Witness K) that Australia had spied on Timorese officials during the negotiations over the CMATS treaty. This led Timor-Leste to launch a case in The Hague challenging the treaty for want of good faith.

Australia was embarrassed by the exposure, but determined to maintain the countries’ ongoing treaty arrangements and focus instead on revenue-sharing agreements. However, Timor-Leste argued that the bulk of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea would lie on their side of a median line and pushed for a permanent boundary to be drawn between the countries.




Read more:
Australia and Timor Leste reach a deal on the Timor Sea – but much remains unknown


As relations deteriorated, ministerial visits ceased for almost five years.

Because Australia had abandoned the international courts as a means of resolving the maritime boundary in 2002, Timor-Leste had only one option left. In 2016, it pioneered the use of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) compulsory conciliation process: a non-binding but mandatory mediation between nations on maritime disputes.

The conciliation panel of five judges found the CMATS treaty’s moratorium on defining a maritime boundary was invalid. This dealt a fatal blow to decades of Australian foreign policy focused on maintaining its continental shelf claim in the Timor Gap in line with the 1972 Australia-Indonesia border treaty.

Australia could have attempted to tough it out since the tribunal’s finding was non-binding. But by this point, the Labor opposition was arguing the maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be renegotiated in line with international law, putting additional pressure on the government to resolve the dispute.

A separate dispute over China’s claims in the South China Sea, also settled in 2016, made Australia’s position increasingly untenable, as well. The world was urging China to respect an international tribunal’s maritime ruling, so it would be difficult for Australia not to do the same.

A new boundary finally set in the sea

Once the UNCLOS opening decision came down, the two sides began negotiating a border in good faith. Timor-Leste dropped its espionage case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and later terminated the CMATS treaty, without Australian objection.

Announcement of the new maritime border treaty followed in March 2018. It was a major diplomatic breakthrough and soon led to the resumption of ministerial visits.

The new maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The treaty created a median-line boundary in the former Timor Gap, placing the wells in the former Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) in Timor-Leste’s sovereign waters.

The Timorese believe there is another A$1.5 billion of oil reserves in this area, but as these fields near the end of their life, the greater game lies in the as-yet-untapped Greater Sunrise field. This field straddles the eastern side of the new boundary and is believed to be worth in excess of US$40 billion.

Timor-Leste also achieved a major increase in royalties from the future development of this field, up from 50% under the CMATS treaty to 70-80%, depending on whether the pipeline eventually goes to Timor or Darwin.




Read more:
For Timor-Leste, another election and hopes for an end to crippling deadlock


China’s potential role in development

Since then, Timor-Leste’s focus has shifted to negotiations with its commercial partners over its ambitious plans for the Tasi Mane oil and gas megaproject on its southern coast.

This project could bring additional challenges for the relationship with Australia. The East Timorese government estimates that external financing will provide some 80% of the estimated US$10.5-12 billion funding for the project. And Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia has already stated that if funding partners cannot be found among Timor-Leste’s friends in Australia, the United States, Japan or South Korea, then Chinese capital would be a clear alternative.

Timor-Leste has rejected reports that China’s Exim bank offered a A$16 billion loan to finance the megaproject, though it acknowledges both countries have expressed willingness to cooperate over the separate development of Timor-Leste’s petrochemical industry.

It is also notable that China this month donated some US$3-5 million in defence materiel requested by the Timorese government.

Even though China might be seen as a logical partner for developing Timor-Leste’s oil and gas processing capabilities, Beijing’s involvement would certainly complicate relations with Australia.

Timor-Leste has generally sought to balance its relationships with key regional powers, in part to prevent the dominant influence of any single nation. The country’s foreign minister recently emphasised that discussions on the Tasi Mane project are ongoing with potential partners in Australia, the US, Europe and Asia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with her Timor-Leste counterpart, Dionisio Soares, in Dili in 2018. She was the first Australian government minister to visit Timor-Leste in five years.
Greg Roberts/AAP

Remaining obstacles to closer ties

Despite the major improvement in bilateral ties between the two countries, there are some remaining points of contention.

The prosecutions of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery in the espionage whistleblower case have been criticised by Horta and another former Timor-Leste leader, Xanana Gusmão. This week, Gusmão indicated he would appear as a witness to give evidence on behalf of the two, raising the potential for further embarrassment for Australia.

Some political activists in both Australia and Timor-Leste have also called for Canberra to pay back oil and gas revenues it has received from the JPDA since the border treaty was signed in 2018, and accused Australia of delays in ratification.

While these accusations have made headlines, Timor-Leste’s parliament had not ratified the treaty either until last month. In any case, Timorese NGOs point to the far larger question of up to US$5 billion in revenues that Australia has received dating back to 2002, when revenue-sharing agreements began.

But it appears there is no appetite in either country to consider repayment of historical royalties.

As Australia and Timor-Leste prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the independence referendum – as well as the recent restoration of good bilateral relations – it’s worth keeping in mind that new hurdles potentially lie ahead, with implications for the wider region.The Conversation

Michael Leach, Professor, Politics & International Relations, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Twenty years after independence, Timor-Leste continues its epic struggle



original.
AAP/Antonio Dasiparu

Sara Niner, Monash University

On August 30, Timor-Leste will celebrate the referendum that gave it independence from Indonesia. For the people of this small island, it has been a long battle – one that continues today. You can read our companion story on the island nation’s vexed relationship with Australia here.


Indigenous myth attributes the high mountain chain that runs like a spine down the centre of the crocodile-shaped island of Timor to Mother Earth’s dying movements when she retreated underground. This mountain chain is more pronounced in the east, in the territory of Timor-Leste, and often protrudes directly down into the sea along the rugged northern coast.

The island is also surrounded by significant waters. To the south are the vast and disputed oil reserves. To the north is a deep exchange pathway for warm water moving from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, creating conditions for a major “cetacean migration” highway for 24 different species of whale and dolphin.




Read more:
For Timor-Leste, another election and hopes for an end to crippling deadlock


In 1944, the anthropologist Mendes Correa described the Portuguese colony of Timor as a “Babel … a melting pot”, and a diverse mix of traditions is still strongly felt today.

The island is a bridge between the Malay and Melanesian world and has as much in common with Pacific Island cultures as Indonesia. The diverse indigenous societies cross the spectrum of matriarchal and patriarchal organisation.

Women are accorded a sacred status within Timorese cosmology and the divine female element is prominent in much indigenous belief. Female spirits dominate the sacred world, while men dominate the secular world. So, while women may hold power in a ritual context, they generally do not have a strong public or political voice. But they are fighting to change this and now make up a third of members in the national parliament.

By the early 16th century, Portuguese colonisers arrived in the Spice Islands of which Timor was part. This was the beginning of a colonial relationship now 500 years old.

Revolts by Timorese against Portuguese rule were frequent and bloody. Famous Timorese rebel Dom Boaventura lost an armed uprising against his Portuguese colonisers in 1911, leaving East Timor to be ruled directly from Portugal by the fascist dictatorship of Salazar for most of the 20th century.

The marginal colony remained neglected and closeted from any modern liberalising trends. But in the early 1970s the Timorese independence movement Fretilin, partly inspired by Dom Boaventura, began to oppose Portuguese colonialism, while developing a revolutionary program that included the emancipation of women.

Rosa “Muki” Bonaparte was one of the founders of the nationalist movement and the leader of its women’s organisation. While Bonaparte participated directly in the struggle against colonialism, she also stood against “the violent discrimination that Timorese women had suffered in colonial society”.




Read more:
Australia and Timor Leste settle maritime boundary after 45 years of bickering


After the colonial regime collapsed in 1974, a three-week civil war, secretly manipulated by Indonesian military agents, was the precursor to the larger war and invasion to come.

The victors of the civil war, Fretilin, reconstituted the faction of loyal Timorese soldiers serving in the Portuguese Army as resistance army Falintil. This army, and the civilian resistance, countered the massive and brutal attack of US-and-Australian-backed Indonesian military for 24 years. The horrors were kept as secret as possible, even to the point of covering up the deaths of those trying to report them, such as the “Balibo 5”.

After the Indonesian invasion of December 7 1975, much of the population of East Timor retreated to the mountains, with the resistance living in free zones for the next three years.

However, in November 1978, the Indonesian campaign of annihilation finally encircled the remaining resistance leadership and 140,000 civilians on Mount Matebian, in the east of the island. Most surrendered. They were placed in prisons and “resettlement camps” where many slowly starved to death. The violence of the 24-year Indonesian occupation affected and traumatised the whole of Timorese society.

After the collapse of the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia in 1998, President B.J. Habibie agreed to let the Timorese decide their future in a ballot. In his honour, they recently named a bridge after him.

Xanana Gusmao was the key negotiator with Indonesia after the independence ballot.
AAP/EPA/John_Feeder

Timor’s pre-eminent leader, Xanana Gusmao, was the key negotiator with UN representatives. He conducted negotiations from his prison house in Jakarta where he’d been since 1992, serving a 20-year sentence for fighting Indonesian forces in his homeland. He persevered with ballot preparations despite growing Indonesian military and militia violence.

In the August 30 1999 referendum, nearly 80% of East Timorese voted for independence by indicating the blue and green National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) flag on the ballot paper.

Extensive military and militia slayings followed the announcement of the vote. An estimated 1500 East Timorese were killed and more than 250,000 forcibly displaced into Indonesia. About 80% of infrastructure was destroyed. Survivors struggled to feed and look after their families while recovering psychologically from the mayhem.

Stories from the resistance period and 1999 are constantly remembered in Timor-Leste and are hugely significant in the new society. A hierarchy based on past service to the resistance has been established. Pensions and payments to male veterans are one of the biggest expenses for the government.

Anthropologists have described an indigenous belief that those who fought and sacrificed “purchased” the nation with their own lives and are owed a living.

Along with celebration there will be much reflection in Timor in the next weeks about the last 20 years of building a nation from “zero” and the 24 years of struggle that came before that. It will consider what they have achieved and what still needs to be done.

Hopefully, Timor-Leste can build a free and fair future for the over 1 million citizens, 60% of them under 18. They include many inspiring, educated young leaders who are ready to take up the responsibility.

As we watch and cheer from the sidelines, we hope for a less eventful and more peaceful future for all Timorese.The Conversation

Sara Niner, Lecturer and Researcher, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A peace agreement in Afghanistan won’t last if there are no women at the table


Susan Hutchinson, Australian National University

Over the past weeks, the US government has been in peace negotiations with the Taliban. It has been 17 years since US and allied troops first deployed to Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and support a democratically elected government.

The current peace negotiations have progressed further than any other attempted during the conflict. But they have two serious problems. Firstly, they have have not included the democratically elected government of Afghanistan, led by President Ashraf Ghani. Secondly, they have failed to include a single woman.

The situation so far

Peace negotiations can take many forms. At their most basic, they cover ceasefires and division of territory. But they often go further to address underlying causes of conflict and pave the way for durable solutions. They include extensive informal discussions before any formal agreement is signed.

In 1996, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. It banned women from attending school and denied them their most basic rights. The Taliban provided safe haven for those responsible for the attacks against the US on September 11, 2001.

The US is keen to withdraw its remaining troops. But they want to secure a commitment from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be home to terrorist groups planning attacks against the United States.

The most recent reports show the Afghan government controls 56% of Afghan districts, or 65% of the population. The Taliban controls 15% of the districts, with 29% remaining contested.

Peace negotiations are often fraught with tension about who is allowed at the table. So far, the Taliban has refused to allow the government of Afghanistan to participate in the current negotiations. The chief US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been briefing the Afghan government on the progress of negotiations taking place in various Gulf States.




Read more:
Afghanistan: the tensions inside the Taliban over recent US peace talks


Khalilzad is under pressure from US President Donald Trump to move the negotiations forward. But excluding the government is problematic. It could indicate the likely failure of negotiations, end up making the government look even weaker than it is and/or pave the way for a return to deeply conservative religious rule for Afghanistan.

It is often tempting for power brokers to prioritise the participation of armed groups in peace negotiations. But it’s important to ensure broader participation of civil society.

Research examining every peace agreement since the Cold War shows the participation of civil society makes a peace agreement 64% less likely to fail. The key reason is the peace process is perceived as more legitimate if civil society is included. But including civil society also ensures the concerns of the broader community are accounted for and that those who carried arms do not receive positive reinforcement by monopolising the benefits negotiated in the agreement.

What about the women?

Afghan women are angry about being excluded from the peace negotiations. The country’s leading women’s rights group, the Afghan Women’s Network, released a statement calling for “the full, equal and meaningful participation of women” in the negotiations.

Life for women in Afghanistan remains hard. The latest Reuters Poll said Afghanistan was the second most dangerous country to be a woman, down from the most dangerous five years earlier. The country still makes the top of the list for violence against women, discrimination, and lack of access to health care.

But significant progress has been made in the past 17 years.
Data from the UN Development Program show gender inequality dropped by ten percentage points between 2005 and 2017.

Women have strengthened their political, economic and social presence through efforts to advance their status and respect for their rights. Girls have been able to go to school. Women have become members of parliament, governors and police.




Read more:
Trump and Turnbull have little cause for satisfaction over progress in Afghanistan


Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution includes a hard won provision that enshrines the equality of men and women. But the Taliban is calling for a new constitution and it is highly unlikely if this was agreed, such a provision would survive.

Research drawing on extensive quantitative and qualitative data has shown that the way a country treats its women is the best indicator of its peacefulness. This is a better indicator than wealth, ethnic and religious identity or democracy.

We also know that women’s participation in peace processes makes for a more effective outcome. A peace processes is 35% more likley to last at least 15 years if women are at the negotiating table, have observer status, or participate in consultations, inclusive commissions or problem-solving workshops.

Women can negotiate with the Taliban

Even so, men and people from the international community often believe the struggles faced by Afghan women mean they are not in a position to negotiate with the patriarchal Taliban.

But Afghan women like Palwasha Hassan have been working for years to pursue peace with the Taliban. Hassan sits on the country’s High Peace Council and has seen how women across the country have already negotiated with local Taliban leaders. She says “the international community is failing to value what we have achieved together and the progress we have made so far.”

She conducted a workshop in 2010 with women across local communities. Stories included one woman who had negotiated to keep a local girls’ school open by arguing that educated girls could do better in Islamic studies, including learning to read the Quran. She also guaranteed to her Taliban interlocutors that a prayer space in the school would be reserved strictly for women and girls only.

Another woman explained how she and others negotiated the release of hostages being held by the local Taliban commander. She appealed to Islamic values of life and justice, and persuaded the captors that the hostage was being held unjustly.

International agreements

The importance of women’s participation in international peace and security was codified by UN Security Council resolution 1325 nearly 20 years ago.




Read more:
As Australia takes the world stage, it’s time to fulfil promises to Afghan and Syrian women


Seventy-nine countries, including Afghanistan, have National Action Plans to guide the resolution’s implementation and the subsequent seven Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

In October 2017, the US became the first country in the world to pass a Women, Peace and Security Act, signed off by President Trump himself. It was passed explicitly to

ensure that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict” across the world.

Democratic Senators have urged the Trump administration to ensure Afghan women’s involvement in the peace negotiations. But so far no one has invoked the new law.

There are few who wouldn’t hope for peace for Afghanistan, but as Palwasha Hassan says, the negotiations “have to include women, both to protect our rights and also to ensure the durability of the peace that follows.”The Conversation

Susan Hutchinson, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Australia should face civil lawsuits over soldier misdeeds in Afghanistan


Tim Matthews, University of Sydney and John Eldridge, University of Sydney

For the past two years, Paul Brereton, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge and Army Reserve major general, has been conducting an investigation into the conduct of members of the SAS in Afghanistan. While the findings are not yet known, leaks from within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have suggested that as many as five cases involving unlawful killings have been uncovered.

Much of the media commentary surrounding the allegations has centred on the potential criminal prosecution of these alleged offences. But a further legal issue can arise from investigations of this kind – the alleged victims (or their families) might bring civil claims against Australia’s armed forces, seeking compensation for their suffering.




Read more:
Explainer: how Australia’s military justice system works


Cases of this kind have occurred in other countries. In the United States, a number of high-profile habeas corpus petitions have been filed against the government by people who claim they were unlawfully detained by US armed forces on suspicion of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Claims for damages have also been successfully brought by former Iraqi detainees against private military contractors over their alleged torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

British courts are also currently considering a number of civil suits arising out of British involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those claimants, Yunus Rahmatullah, was arrested by British forces in Iraq in 2004 on suspicion of being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organisation with links to al-Qaeda. He was “rendered” by British forces to the custody of the US army in Afghanistan, where he was detained for over ten years without charge or trial and, he alleges, tortured.

Rahmatullah denies ever being a member of a terrorist organisation. He has made a well-publicised claim for compensation from the UK government, under the country’s Human Rights Act.

Why are civil claims against soldiers controversial?

We are all exposed to potential civil liability in our day-to-day lives. If we drive negligently and cause an accident, for instance, we may find ourselves liable to pay compensation to those we have harmed. The same is true of public institutions and authorities, such as hospitals and the police. Few would suggest this is unfair or unreasonable.




Read more:
Inconsistency bedevils Australia’s prosecution of war criminals


However, the extension of civil liability to the armed forces is controversial. Former Army officer Bill O’Chee, for instance, recently argued forcefully against such liability:

Service personnel who commit crimes are already subject to military criminal proceedings, and this is rightly so. However, exposing them to claims for personal injury claims would be perverse and entirely unjust.

The very idea that highly paid lawyers in comfortable courts in Australia can understand, let alone litigate these cases, is fanciful at best.

How absurd it would be for our servicemen and women to be subjected to damages claims in these circumstances, let alone be asked to find the money for legal costs and a possible damages order against them.

Should these civil claims be permitted?

Such civil liability claims have never been brought against individual ADF personnel in Australia before. This would be new legal territory. And nobody is seriously suggesting these soldiers should personally bear the burden of defending civil claims arising from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Rather, any potential claims are likely to be defended by the Commonwealth.

This is the way civil claims against police officers in Australia are typically resolved. In such cases, individual officers will often be required to give evidence as to their version of events. Yet the costs of defending the case, and the compensation (if any) paid to the plaintiff, are borne not by the individual officers, but by the relevant public authority.

Despite the controversy surrounding them, there are still good reasons to allow civil claims of this kind to proceed.




Read more:
Friday essay: war crimes and the many threats to cultural heritage


First, criminal and civil claims serve different purposes. A successful criminal prosecution may leave a victim with a feeling of vindication, but it typically does not result in monetary compensation. As a result, it may matter little to victims or their families if the soldiers responsible are professionally disciplined, since they may receive no compensation for their loss.

Secondly, the notion that civilian courts are not competent to adjudicate on military matters is seriously problematic.

Nobody could deny that military personnel are forced to carry out their duties in extremely difficult conditions. It is also true that many lawyers and judges have difficulty appreciating the fraught circumstances in which military decision-making occurs.

But the answer to these difficulties is not the abandonment of such claims altogether. Judges are often faced with the task of making difficult decisions about matters on which they are not experts. Civil justice would simply not work if courts threw up their hands whenever they were faced with such challenges.

Greater accountability for the military

Finally, if the Commonwealth were somehow able to avoid liability for potential civil damages in these types of cases, the ADF may have less incentive to conduct military operations in ways that safeguard the rights of civilians caught in conflict zones.

Given the limited accountability for military decision-making in the public sphere, the possibility of accountability in a civil court would promote stricter adherence to international conventions on war.

Many of the victims who may bring claims of this kind are unlikely to excite public sympathy. For example, one of the claimants in the UK cases, Serdar Mohammed, was arrested while leaving a ten-hour firefight with British troops, discarding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and ammunition on his way.

The ConversationBut we shouldn’t allow our moral judgement of claimants like Mohammed to erode our commitment to the rule of law. Public authorities, and especially our armed forces, should be held accountable for their actions to the limits imposed by law.

Tim Matthews, Sessional Academic, Law School, University of Sydney and John Eldridge, Lecturer, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.