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.




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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.




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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.




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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.

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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.

The shaky case for prosecuting Witness K and his lawyer in the Timor-Leste spying scandal


John Braithwaite, Australian National University

Much of the media commentary on the government prosecution of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery has focused on government duplicity in suppressing the trial until it had its oil and gas treaty signed with Timor-Leste.

But this focus on government hypocrisy has neglected the accountability of the director of public prosecutions, Sarah McNaughton. The prosecution policy of the Commonwealth says:

The decision to prosecute must not be influenced by any political advantage or disadvantage to the government.

McNaughton’s job is to be the key politically independent actor in the process. She must be a check on state political revenge.

This is why the case should of course be in open court, so the public can see how the DPP justifies its independence in the case.




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The reason people are worried about the case is that it has the appearance of state revenge against Witness K, who complained through proper channels about the illegality of the bugging he was asked to do, but a decade on served the public interest by blowing the whistle.

Alexander Downer was foreign minister when our international intelligence services were moved away from their counter-terrorism work to focus on commercial espionage on behalf of oil magnates who later offered him a lucrative consultancy. Witness K went public after Downer started working for the consultancy.

So, let the public see in open court whether this is, or is not, a coin-for-the-crown-case that rightly provoked a whistleblower, and not a political revenge case.

Public confidence has been shaken

An even greater concern is that K’s lawyer, Collaery, has been swept up in the government’s prosecution.

From assault to complex commercial crimes, it is common for both sides to make allegations of criminality against the other. We expect the DPP to show independence in assessing who is the greatest victim of crime in complex cases like this. That person will be the least likely to be prosecuted.

The prosecution policy of the Commonwealth also requires the DPP to take into account the views of crime victims in deciding how to manage its deliberations, not only about whether to prosecute. In this case, the public needs to see what kind of victim support services are being provided to Collaery.

For example, the DPP should be asking the government as one of the alleged offenders to make one very public announcement. This is that Australia will continue to abide by the spirit of the International Court of Justice order that the government keep sealed the documents it seized from Collaery’s office in 2013.

The Commonwealth should also assure the public that it will continue to desist from spying on Collaery’s legal work and any bugging or invasion of Collaery’s office.




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Further, the prosecution policy says the government should avoid cases that “undermine the confidence of the community in the criminal justice system”.

That confidence has already been shaken by this case. It will be further shaken if much of it were heard in secret. “Openness” and “accountability” are specified in the policy, binding the DPP to “maintain the confidence of the public it serves”.

Citizen confidence that counter-terrorism laws would not be used against civilians is a public issue. It seems these laws are now hanging over Witness K and Collaery, who most Australians view as patriots rather than terrorists.

Question of resources and timeliness

Lastly, the prosecution policy emphasises that prosecutorial resources are limited. Only those cases most worthy of prosecution should go forward.

Banking and insurance crimes are a real threat to the security of our financial system. These are the kinds of cases where the “public interest” test demands more focused resources, not cases against public-spirited civil servants.

Another element of the prosecution policy is that the passage of time since the alleged offence occurred should also be taken into account.

In this prosecution, the passage of time has been taken into account in the wrong way, delaying prosecution until a political interest of the government has been realised.

The ConversationRarely have the courts in our country faced such a moment of truth for our justice values.

John Braithwaite, Professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, Australian National University

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

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


Adam Ni, Australian National University

At a top regional security forum on Saturday, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said China’s recent militarisation efforts in the disputed South China Sea were intended to intimidate and coerce regional countries.

Mattis told the Shangri-La Dialogue that China’s actions stood in “stark contrast with the openness of [the US] strategy,” and warned of “much larger consequences” if China continued its current approach.

As an “initial response”, China’s navy has been disinvited by the US from the upcoming 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world’s largest international naval exercise.

It is important to understand the context of the current tensions, and the strategic stakes for both China and the US.




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In recent years, China has sought to bolster its control over the South China Sea, where a number of claimants have overlapping territorial claims with China, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.

China’s efforts have continued unabated, despite rising tensions and international protests. Just recently, China landed a long-range heavy bomber for the first time on an island in the disputed Paracels, and deployed anti-ship and anti-air missile systems to its outposts in the Spratly Islands.

China’s air force has also stepped up its drills and patrols in the skies over the South China Sea.

While China is not the only claimant militarising the disputed region, no one else comes remotely close to the ambition, scale and speed of China’s efforts.

China’s strategy

The South China Sea has long been coveted by China (and others) due to its strategic importance for trade and military power, as well as its abundant resources. According to one estimate, US$3.4 trillion in trade passed through the South China Sea in 2016, representing 21% of the global total.

China’s goal in the South China Sea can be summarised with one word: control.

In order to achieve this, China is undertaking a coordinated, long-term effort to assert its dominance in the region, including the building of artificial islands, civil and military infrastructure, and the deployment of military ships and aircraft to the region.




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While politicians of other countries such as the US, Philippines and Australia espouse fiery rhetoric to protest China’s actions, Beijing is focusing on actively transforming the physical and power geography of the South China Sea.

In fact, according to the new commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, China’s efforts have been so successful that it “is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the US”.

America’s declining relevance

China’s efforts are hard to counter because it has employed an incremental approach to cementing its control in the South China Sea. None of its actions would individually justify a US military response that could escalate to war. In any case, the human and economic cost of such a conflict would be immense.

The inability of the US to respond effectively to China’s moves has eroded its credibility in the region. It has also fed a narrative that the US is not “here to stay” in Asia. If the US is serious about countering China, then Mattis’ rhetoric must be followed by action.

First, the US should clearly articulate its red lines to China and others on the kinds of activities that are unacceptable in the South China Sea. Then it must be willing to enforce such red lines, while being mindful of the risks.

Second, the US needs to renew its efforts to cooperate with allies in the region to build capacity and demonstrate a coordinated commitment to stand in the face of China’s challenge.

Third, the US needs to deploy military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region, such as advanced missile systems, which would reduce the military advantages gained by China through the militarisation of the South China Sea features.

Long-term consequences

China’s tightening control over the South China Sea is worrying for a number of regional countries. For many, the shipping routes that run through the South China Sea are the bloodlines of their economies.

Moreover, the shifting balance of power will enable Beijing to settle its territorial disputes in the region for good. Without a doubt, China is willing to use its new-found power to change the status quo in its favour, even at the expense of its weaker neighbours.

Control of the South China Sea also allows Beijing to better project its military power across South-East Asia, the western Pacific and parts of Oceania. This would make it more costly for the US and its allies to take action against China, for example, in scenarios involving Taiwan.

On a higher level, China’s assertive approach to the South China Sea demonstrates Beijing’s increasing confidence and its willingness to flaunt international norms that it considers inconvenient or contrary to its interests.

There is little doubt China is becoming the new dominant power in Asia. Its rise has benefited millions in the region and should be welcomed. But we should also be wary of Beijing’s approach to territorial disputes and grievances if it employs military and economic intimidation and coercion.




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If we want to live in a “world where big fish neither eat nor intimidate the small”, then there must be consequences for countries, including China, when they flaunt international norms and seek to settle disagreements with force.

It may be too late to turn the tide in the South China Sea and reverse China’s gains. No one would run such a risk. But it is not too late to impose penalties on China for further destabilising the region through its actions in the South China Sea.

The ConversationThe challenge is to figure out how to do that, and what we would be willing to risk to achieve it.

Adam Ni, Researcher, Strategic and Defense Studies Centre, Australian National University

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

Australia’s deal with Timor-Leste in peril again over oil and gas



File 20180523 51102 1dz1y7g.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The central element of the Timor Sea dispute seems far from resolved.
AAP/Caroline Berdon

Rebecca Strating, La Trobe University and Clive Schofield, University of Wollongong

In April, Australia and Timor-Leste reached agreement on their maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. This resolved a longstanding source of contention between them.

The potential benefits of this historic breakthrough are now in peril, because the critical issue of how the shared oil and gas of the Timor Sea are to be developed remains in dispute.

Breakthrough on maritime boundaries

Australia and Timor-Leste’s boundary agreement was achieved thanks to a unique dispute resolution process: the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation Commission. The commission was initiated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Because both Australia and Timor are parties to UNCLOS, Timor was able to invoke a compulsory conciliation process. It was the first time this has occurred.

Australia was at first reluctant to engage in the UNCC process. It lost its argument that the commission did not have the competence to negotiate the dispute. Australia did then engage with the process in good faith.

Indeed, the success of the UNCC was in large part due to the willingness of both parties to participate in good faith. A series of “confidence building” measures in 2016 helped build trust between the states.

By January 2017, Australia had agreed to terminate the existing Certain Maritime Agreement on the Timor Sea (CMATS). In return, Timor-Leste dropped two international legal cases it had initiated against Australia.

The process set up a neutral commission to run facilitated negotiations over a year, although sessions ultimately ran from July 2016 to February 2018. While participation in the conciliation was compulsory for the parties, it differed from an arbitration process, such as an international court, because the commission’s recommendations could only be non-binding. A crucial aspect of these facilitated negotiations were the discussion papers that allowed both states to think creatively about solving the dispute.

Ultimately, the process succeeded in its primary aim of helping Australia and Timor-Leste to resolve their long-running dispute in the Timor Sea. The breakthrough came in July 2017, when the countries outlined to the commission the points on which they were willing to compromise.

On August 30, an agreement on maritime boundaries, revenue split and an action plan for their engagement in the joint venture was reached. The maritime boundary treaty was signed on April 6 2018.

Deadlock over downstream developments

On May 9 2018, the commission, to little media fanfare, released its report and recommendations on the conciliation.

The report provides valuable insights into the ongoing disputes over development of the Greater Sunrise complex of gas fields located in the Timor Sea – a critical issue for Timor-Leste’s future economic security and development.

Australia and Timor-Leste asked the UNCC to extend its mandate to include the development concept for Greater Sunrise. This extended the sessions beyond the initial one-year period.

Despite its significant success in helping the states agree on maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, the report indicates little progress was made on the question of how Greater Sunrise gas would be processed.

Crucially, Timor-Leste’s lead negotiator and newly re-installed prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, has consistently advocated a pipeline to the south coast of Timor-Leste to support the development of a Timorese oil and gas processing hub.

The Sunrise Venture Partners (SVP), led by Woodside, have preferred either a floating platform or, more recently, back-filling an existing processing plant in Darwin. Australia, for its part, describes itself as “pipeline neutral”, but supports the decision of the commercial venture partners.

To address this issue, the SVP was invited to participate in the commission process. The report suggests very little progress has been made between the three parties – Australia, Timor-Leste and the SVP – on this dispute.

The commission considered two development concepts, based in Darwin and Timor Leste respectively. According to Gusmao, the pipeline to Timor-Leste is “non-negotiable”. Yet, there is little impartial evidence that this concept would be commercially viable.

In an effort to find a way out of the impasse, the commission employed an independent consultant from a London-based firm, Gaffney, Cline & Associates, to comparatively analyse the two development concepts. The specialist’s assessment, provided in Annexe 27 of the report, said that for a Timorese processing hub to achieve an acceptable return, the Timorese government or another funder would have to subsidise the project to the tune of US$5.6 billion. This is about four times Timor-Leste’s annual GDP, or more than one-third of its Petroleum Wealth Fund.

A letter from Gusmao leaked to the commission in February 2018 – after the last round of UNCC meetings – accused the commission of lacking impartiality, preferring the Darwin concept to the Timor-Leste concept.




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The letter also rejected the comparative analysis provided by the independent expert. It accused the technical expert of not having the “appropriate experience or understanding from working in Timor-Leste” and of having failed to consider the socioeconomic development benefits of the Timorese proposal.

In contrast, the commission’s report noted that Gaffney, Cline & Associates had previously worked for Timor-Leste, but that Australia had not objected to the appointment.

The report suggests that the three parties – Australia, Timor-Leste and the SVP – are no closer to agreement on how to process Greater Sunrise gas.

A looming threat to Timor-Leste’s development

The need to resolve the development issue is increasingly urgent. Timor-Leste is rapidly running out of revenue and development options. Over 90% of its annual budget comes from revenues from oil fields that are expected to be depleted within the next five years. Economically, Timor-Leste does not appear to have a plan B if its strategy for bringing gas to the southern shores of Timor-Leste fails.

Given its precarious situation, one might wonder why Timor-Leste is taking what appears to be a risky approach to this issue, and about what kind of agreements it has sought with other actors or states. In any case, the central element of the Timor Sea dispute seems far from resolved.

The Conversation

Rebecca Strating, Lecturer in Politics, La Trobe University and Clive Schofield, Professor and Challenge Lead, Sustaining Coastal and Marine Zones, University of Wollongong

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

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


Jerry Courvisanos, Federation University Australia

For the last year, the people of Timor-Leste have expected – and received – little from their government except deadlock.

From a political standpoint, there’s been gridlock for nearly a year after the Fretilin party eked out a victory in parliamentary elections last July, kicking independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party out of power for the first time in a decade.

However, Fretilin’s minority government found itself blocked at every turn by CNRT and its allies. It finally collapsed in December, forcing the beleaguered president to call for new elections, to be held on Saturday.

At the same time, there’s been economic deadlock, as well. The vast riches of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea have been locked away due to Timor-Leste’s seemingly intractable negotiations with the Australian government over a disputed maritime boundary.




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In March, a boundary treaty was finally signed between the countries, which could lead to billions in royalties for Timor-Leste. But disagreements remain on how to develop the untapped Greater Sunrise basin that lies across this boundary.

In the past, Timor-Leste governments have focused on a “big development” economic strategy to exploit the country’s limited fossil fuels, which José Ramos Horta, the Noble Peace Prize laureate and former president and prime minister, has called “an absolute necessity for the future well-being of this country”.

The recent political impasse has put serious discussions about the future of the country on hold. For starters, the tenor in the run-up to the election has been acrimonious and personal, with the leaders of each party trading insults and playing up their contributions to the war of independence against Indonesia instead of debating policy.

Candidates have focused their campaigns on voting for the best “fatherly” figure of the revolution, with little regard for the country’s youth, who suffer from high unemployment rates and have largely been marginalised from the political process.

The economic development of the country, meanwhile, has been left out of the debate. The candidates all stress the need for “big resource development” and the need to build massively expensive gas processing infrastructure on the south coast of the country. But what’s lacking is any indication of whether gas can (or will) be developed in the long term by any multinational gas producer.

Also lacking is any real discussion about the future of the economy and how best to wean the country off its reliance on fossil fuels to drive economic growth. This has long been seen as a risky and unsustainable strategy.

Based on my own research in the country, as well as the work of other academics and development experts, the new Timor-Leste government will need to take a different strategy more in line with the [United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals], encouraging private investment and developing non-oil exports in agriculture, community forestry and coffee exports. Timor-Leste has committed itself to these SDGs, even if it is struggling to meet them.




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According to tradition, a sacred house in Timor-Leste is formed by four pillars. If two of those pillars are in a sloping position or broken, it will impact the house as a whole. When that happens, the elders will ask the young people to find new pillars to replace the ones that are damaged.

Timor-Leste now finds itself with two broken pillars – the leadership of the country and the dysfunctional parliament. The situation requires the attention of all Timorese to help fix the broken pillars and right the country.

The big question is whether the politicians who are elected on Saturday will listen to the people and bring an end to the deadlock holding the country back.

The ConversationI would like to acknowledge the contribution made to my article by Victor Soares, Lecturer in Public Policy, Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL), Dili

Jerry Courvisanos, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Federation University Australia

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

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



File 20180307 146661 yiatqo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
After nearly two years of a facilitated conciliation process, Australia and Timor Leste have finally reached agreement on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.
Shutterstock

Donald R. Rothwell, Australian National University

After nearly two years of a facilitated conciliation process initiated under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Australia and Timor Leste have finally reached agreement on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

The treaty, signed at the UN in New York by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Agio Pereira for Timor, will enter into force once all relevant domestic processes have been completed in Canberra and Dili.

This is the latest development in the saga of the Timor Sea, which has been contested for more than 45 years by Australia, Portugal, Indonesia and Timor Leste.

Ownership and control of significant oil and gas reserves, some of which remain undeveloped, are at the centre of the dispute. This partly explains why, despite previous treaties, there has never been a conclusive settlement of the maritime boundary.




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The 2018 treaty seeks to permanently settle the Australia/Timor Leste maritime boundary, albeit with the potential for future adjustments subject to negotiations between Timor and Indonesia.

A long time coming

Since the 1970s, Australia has been engaged in negotiations first with Portugal, then Indonesia, and finally Timor Leste over the maritime boundary. Portugal rebuffed Australian approaches in the early 1970s, mindful of developments in maritime law that promised them a better deal.

Indonesia, which occupied Timor from 1975, was more willing to negotiate. A joint development zone was agreed on that broadly shared oil and gas revenue on a 50/50 basis, but set aside a permanent maritime boundary for future settlement.

That arrangement collapsed following Indonesia’s 1999 withdrawal from Timor, and was replaced in 2002 by the Timor Sea Treaty between Australia and the newly independent Timor Leste.

However, the Timor Sea Treaty was again based on a joint development regime –though with a 90/10 revenue split in favour of Timor – and negotiations on a permanent maritime boundary were set aside for up to 40 years.

The treaty also did not satisfactorily deal with the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the north east quadrant. While a subsequent 2003 unitisation agreement sought to provide some commercial certainty for the multinationals wanting to develop the field, Dili remained firmly of the view that it was getting a bad deal.

In particular, the generation of Timor’s leaders who led its independence movement placed great importance on the new country having settled land and maritime borders. That the Timor Sea boundary with Australia was not settled remained contentious in Dili. The situation was exacerbated by allegations of Australian spying during treaty negotiations and a Greater Sunrise revenue split that favoured Australia.

Key features

The 2018 treaty contains six prominent features. First, it provides for a southern boundary between Timor Leste and Australia that approximates a mid-way between relevant coastal features. This is consistent with the modern law of the sea.

Second, there is a straight line western lateral boundary that runs from the western terminus of the 1972 Australian Indonesian Seabed Boundary south to the median line.

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

Third, the eastern lateral boundary comprises a number of segments that extend much further to the east and north east than the 2002 treaty, ultimately giving Timor Leste much greater entitlements over the Greater Sunrise field.

Fourth, a Greater Sunrise Special Regime is created in which the two countries agree to share the upstream revenue either on a 80/20 basis in favour of Timor, if processing occurs by way of a pipeline to an Australian LNG processing plant, or 70/30 in favour of Timor if a pipeline runs to Timor.

Fifth, Timor gains 100% access to the future upstream revenue of the existing oil and gas fields that were previously part of the 2002 Joint Petroleum Development Area.




Read more:
What’s behind Timor-Leste terminating its maritime treaty with Australia


Finally, taking into account these new arrangements will ultimately need to accommodate any maritime boundaries that Timor may negotiate with Indonesia, there is some capacity for adjustment of the eastern and western lateral boundary lines, though only after the commercial depletion of seabed resources in the area.

Unique, but still unresolved

The conciliation process has yielded a unique treaty. It is the first of its type that not only involved the two states, but also the Greater Sunrise Joint Venture partners, including Woodside, Conoco Phillips, Shell, and Osaka Gas.

Timor initiated the conciliation, engaging an independent third party in an effort to break the maritime boundary impasse. It succeeded in getting Australia to abandon its long held opposition to a permanent Timor Sea maritime boundary, and has been able to substantially modify the development regime for Greater Sunrise.

The ConversationNotwithstanding these achievements, some matters remain unresolved, including the location of the LNG processing plant. Whether the plant is located in Australia or Timor is ultimately a commercial decision, but could become the source of ongoing bickering given the significant downstream benefits at stake and implications for Timor’s economic future.

Donald R. Rothwell, Professor, ANU College of Law, Australian National University

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

Here’s what happens to aid projects when the money dries up and the spotlight fades



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Aid projects in Iraq had more money than ideas.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

Denis Dragovic, University of Melbourne

As a former aid worker, I often wondered about what happened to the projects I worked on years later. Did the anti-corruption commission we founded itself become corrupt? Having given grants to women to start businesses, did the men allow them to work? And what about the community trained in maintaining the water pumps – did they see through their part of the bargain?

Evaluations, lauded by donors, report on a moment of time when the gloss is still shining. We don’t care, or possibly dare, to look back five or ten years later to see what happened.

I did. I wanted to know what happened to the projects and the people from a decade of aid work spanning East Timor, Iraq and South Sudan. I bought airline tickets, wrangled visas, and set off on a journey that changed my view of the aid industry.

Government problems hobble South Sudan

These trips weren’t about measuring the impact of certain projects, as too much time had passed. They were more about understanding. My colleagues and I had started along a journey without knowing how the story would end.




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Development aid works over time, but must adapt to 21st-century needs


My first return visit was to South Sudan. It came nearly a decade after I had worked supporting a refugee camp in Wau, which was established in the late 1990s following a civil war and famine.

The camp had established itself organically, so there was a spaghetti logic to its layout. By the time I had arrived in the early 2000s, international attention had moved on, so there were limited resources available. My job was to wind down and close out activities.

A decade later, the camp had become a small town struggling to survive. Water pumps and wash points were mostly broken. We’d trained people on how to maintain them, but the government that had agreed to provide the spare parts appeared to have had a change of heart.

It took some time before I learned that the state officials refused to give the former refugees property rights. As a result, families didn’t invest in their homes for fear of making them even more attractive for appropriation.

State officials in South Sudan refused to give former refugees property rights.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

Did aid make a difference in Iraq?

After South Sudan I returned to Iraq, travelling first to the north and then to Najaf, the centre of religious learning and home to Iraq’s powerful Shi’a Ayatollahs.

Iraq didn’t face the same shortage of resources as South Sudan: quite the opposite. There was more money than ideas.

I first arrived in Iraq a few months after the invasion in 2003; I moved straight to my posting in the conservative cities of Najaf and Karbala. We rehabilitated water treatment plants and parts of the regional hospital, provided psychosocial support to children, helped the disabled, and distributed humanitarian aid.

We were a one-stop shop for assistance, competing with the government and local religious charities.

Returning several years later and speaking with the governor, an ayatollah, and former staff who had become politicians and community leaders, the consensus was that had we not arrived, it would have only been a matter of months – or at most a year – before the same work would have been done by the authorities or the local community.

The same aid work in northern Iraq could have been undertaken by local authorities.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

East Timor didn’t lack money – just sense

From the deserts of Iraq, my final stop was the lush tropics of East Timor. This was where I started my aid career in 2000 as a shelter engineer.

A decade separated the shelter distribution and my return visit. My memories had faded, but luckily I had stayed in touch with a former colleague who undertook the journey with me.

We were on the trail of houses built from a shelter distribution program. Surprisingly, many were still standing, with extensions and improvements tacked on. The pressing issue then – and what was evident during my return visit – wasn’t a lack of money, but how it was spent.

The then sovereign authority, the United Nations, had treated its responsibility as a factory production line churning out widgets, rather than as community development. It implemented off-the-shelf projects in an accelerated timeframe.

Plans called for consultation and engagement, but the reality became a race toward inputs and outputs. The culture of the international bureaucracy had won over the culture of the people.

The culture of the international bureaucracy won out over the culture of the East Timorese people.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

The lessons learned

Through a mix of hitching rides on military convoys, slipping into Iraq on a pilgrim’s visa, or relying upon the goodwill of former colleagues, I managed to achieve what I had set out to – meet with beneficiaries, former staff and local leaders to hear what they thought about our work.

Each person had a story to tell; each place had a different lesson. But what was true in every location was the importance of the people.

The “stuff” we gave, the “things” we built: they became worn and broken. But the people we worked with, invested in and empowered continued to develop and grow. They took the skills and experience with them to new lives as business, community and political leaders who continued to transform their countries long after we had departed.

It’s a salient lesson to remember: the one and only truly sustainable activity we do is help people help themselves.


The ConversationDenis Dragovic’s new book No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis is published by Odyssey Books.

Denis Dragovic, Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

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



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What to do about Afghanistan will likely be on the agenda when Malcolm Turnbull meets with Donald Trump later this month.
Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When Malcolm Turnbull sits down in the White House later this month for the Australian prime minister’s first substantive discussion with Donald Trump on American soil, Afghanistan will almost certainly be part of the conversation.

Whatever is said – and agreed – about that conflict, neither the Americans nor the Australians have much cause for satisfaction over progress in efforts to stabilise that country.

As 2017 gave way to a new year, the news from Afghanistan for the NATO-led effort to counter the Taliban, and other militant groups, was mostly bad.

Terrorist attacks in Kabul and other cities, which killed more than 100 people and wounded dozens in the first weeks of 2018, underscored the lack of progress in establishing a stable environment. Afghanis are losing confidence in the ability of US-backed Afghan security forces to hold insurgents at bay.

This lessening certainty in an Afghan administration, propped up by America and its allies, including Australia, has serious implications for the future of the country and the conduct of what is now America’s longest war.




Read more:
Where will the global political hotspots be in 2018? (Spoiler alert: it’s not all about Donald Trump)


The Afghan conflict has cost the American taxpayer getting on for a trillion dollars – or a lot more, according to some estimates – with no end in sight. More than 2,000 Americans have been killed.

Australia has spent an estimated A$8 billion on its Afghan engagement, including civil and military assistance. Forty-one service personnel have been killed, and 261 wounded.

All this makes it notable that Trump, in his State of the Union address, devoted just 40 words to the Afghan conflict, in contrast to other foreign and security policy preoccupations, inclduing America’s campaign against Islamic State (IS).

This is what he said about a war that has outstripped by half a decade America’s previous longest war, in Vietnam:

As of a few months ago, our warriors in Afghanistan have their new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

That was it. It was as if Washington had resolved not to talk about a war that shows no sign of an endpoint, although it could be observed Taliban advances are creating what might prove to be an inflection moment.

Whether this will lead to a more concerted push to engage the Taliban in a regional settlement remains moot. However, it is hard to envisage an end to the Afghan nightmare without some sort of Taliban involvement, unpalatable though that may seem.

Robert Malley, newly appointed head of the International Crisis Group, sharply criticised US Afghanistan strategy in an assessment of 2018 trouble spots. He wrote:

The strategy faces serious obstacles. While hitting the Taliban harder might bring tactical gains, it is unlikely to change the war’s course or the incentives of a locally rooted and potent insurgency … Battlefield losses in the past have not impacted Taliban leaders’ willingness to negotiate.

And then this:

As the battlefield tempo increases, the Trump administration should keep lines of communication to the insurgency open and explore the contours of a settlement with Afghanistan’s neighbors and other regional powers, however slim prospects currently appear. US allies in Afghanistan should push for a greater diplomatic political component to the US strategy. As it stands, that strategy sets the stage for more violence while closing avenues for de-escalation. Afghan civilians will pay the price.

All this has been further complicated by growing IS and al-Qaeda involvement in the conflict, with those entities seeking alternative battlefields to Iraq and Syria.

Suspicions Iran and Russia are providing some level of support to the Taliban are adding to concerns. America’s estrangement from Pakistan – Trump has taken Islamabad to task for not doing more to combat the Taliban – is compounding an already fraught environment.

To say that Afghanistan in 2018 is a witch’s brew would be an understatement.

What seems clear is that the Trump administration and its allies are conducting something of a holding operation in the hope that a protracted war plays itself out. This strategy might be placed in the faint hope category, given Afghanistan’s history of resisting foreign involvement going back to the armies of Alexander the Great.

Trump might have escalated the conflict by freeing up local American commanders to fight more aggressively, but it is not clear this is paying dividends, given the level of violence that is manifesting itself.

Under this administration, America dropped three times the number of bombs – 4,361 – on insurgent targets in 2017 compared with the previous year.

American sensitivity about progress – or lack thereof – in the war was exposed recently when the its own ombudsman, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported it had been ordered not to report details of how much territory was under the control of the Afghan government or insurgents.

Information released to CNN by US forces in Afghanistan indicates that 56% of districts were under government control or influence in October. A further 30% is contested, with the balance under the influence of militant groups, including the Taliban.

These figures indicate a significant slippage since 2015, when the government controlled about 72% of the country, and insurgents 7%.

On top of territory yielded to the insurgency, more than 7,000 members of the Afghan security forces were killed last year. This is an attrition rate that would be demoralising in any circumstances.

In an assessment for Foreign Affairs, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, observed that Taliban “presence and influence are likely at their highest levels since the group lost power in 2001”.

Last August, Trump announced a revamped strategy in Afghanistan, which included a commitment of additional forces. Numbers were not specified at the time, but are in the order of 4,000, taking the American involvement to 16,000.

This compares with 100,000 at the time of Barack Obama’s “surge” in 2009, which was intended to deal a killer blow to the Taliban. This has not materialised. As noted, the Afghan government has been losing ground since the US wound back its commitment in 2011.




Read more:
Trump changes his mind on Afghanistan, but will upping the ante win the war?


In his August address, Trump said this about American strategy:

From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.

This prompted the following observation from analyst Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations:

The Trump administration has concluded that it can live with a situation that even US generals describe as a ‘stalemate’, because the cost of victory – sending hundreds of thousands of additional troops – is too high for the United States to pay and might be impossible to achieve in any case, given that the Taliban continue to enjoy outside support, not only from Pakistan but also from Iran and Russia. In short, a war that started 16 years ago will continue indefinitely with no victory in sight, because from Washington’s perspective there is simply no viable alternative.

In response to the Trump speech, including the president’s unwillingness to set a timeline for an end to America’s involvement, Malcolm Turnbull observed the “coalition commitment to Afghanistan … would be very long-term”.

The ConversationThis might be regarded as an understatement on the eve of Turnbull’s visit to Washington, where the subject of Australian troop levels in a training capacity in Afghanistan will almost certainly arise.

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

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

Asia is set for a difficult year in 2018 – much of it centred around China



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China is increasingly viewed by the United States as a full-spectrum adversary.
Shutterstock

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

In 2017 we finally realised that the four decades of geopolitical stability enjoyed by Asian countries and societies had come to an end. In 2018, the major patterns that will come to dominate the region will become increasingly clear.

China and the United States worked out a way to live with one another in the 1970s, and that paved the way for the region’s remarkable economic growth. The US actively sought to engage China in the belief that Chinese economic integration with the world would eventually lead to the liberalisation of China’s political system.

But as Xi Jinping’s first five years in office have made clear, that optimism was misplaced. A more affluent China has become more authoritarian, more nationalistic, and increasingly intent on changing the international environment to one it perceives better reflects its interests.

In his first year in office, US President Donald Trump surprisingly played a gentle hand with China. In contrast to this campaign rhetoric, his administration approached China with moderation, focusing principally on establishing a good personal relationship with Xi and trying to garner Chinese help to manage North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.




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At APEC, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping revealed different ideas of Asia’s economic future


That is likely to change in 2018. As signalled in the National Security Strategy and the National Defence Strategy, the US sees strategic competition among major powers as the most important feature of the country’s security environment.

The active engagement of China by the US, even one tempered by a degree of containment, is coming to an end. China is viewed now as a country that seeks to mould the international environment in its own image. Expect the US to increasingly contest China’s power and influence, both in the region and globally.

This is likely to take both military and economic forms, as China is increasingly viewed by the US as a full-spectrum adversary. This will mean some kind of action on what the US perceives as China’s predatory trade policy, as well as a ratcheting up of military steps to push back on Chinese activities, particularly at sea.

China will not respond to the likely increase in American pressure with equanimity. Indeed, one real risk in 2018 is that China will overplay its hand. Its lesson from 2017 is that Trump is a paper tiger. Trump is perceived as being neither able nor willing to match his bombastic words with deeds. China could be emboldened to act provocatively because it miscalculates how the US might respond.

Much attention this year will focus on the power struggle between the US and China.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

The disputed islands in the East China Sea are probably the most likely place for this to happen. The South China Sea disputes have a slightly lower risk in 2018, as China has largely achieved its objectives in that area, and while the US would prefer that this hadn’t occurred, it can live with the consequences for the time being.

While Sino-American competition will increase the regional temperature, it is by no means the only way in which great power rivalry will shape the region.

Last year’s Doklam crisis reminds us that the extensive border between China and India is highly contested. Expect India’s ambitions and China’s confidence to lead to further tensions in the Himalayas.

China was slightly surprised by India’s response in Doklam, and will have learned from that occasion. When, and not if, China next tests India, it will probably involve a higher level of military risk.

In late 2017, senior officials from the US, Japan, India and Australia met, reviving the “quadrilateral initiative” of a decade ago.

The move is publicly framed as efforts to coordinate policies of countries that value an open and free Indo-Pacific. In substance, it is about collaborating to limit Chinese influence and sustain the liberal order. The “new quad” will take further steps in 2018 and China will respond in ways that will further heighten regional tensions.

This year will also see a further decline in the stock of liberalism in Asia. For a period in the early 2000s, liberalism seemed ascendant. China joined the World Trade Organisation, democracy was on the march in Southeast Asia, and economic globalisation was seen as an unalloyed good thing.




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China’s ambition burns bright – with Xi Jinping firmly in charge


No longer. There are no democracies in continental Southeast Asia. Rodrigo Duterte is undermining liberalism in the Philippines, shutting down a vibrant news website, and some fear that the martial law he imposed in the restive south may be expanded across the country in 2018.

Cambodia has stripped away its thin democratic veneer, while Myanmar’s democratisation process remains highly limited. Even in Japan and India, liberal ideas are under challenge from thin-skinned nationalists.

In 2018, liberal ideas in Asia will face an increasingly difficult environment, particularly as the geopolitical competition will encourage erstwhile champions of liberal ideas to put interests ahead of values in order to manage that contest.

This year will sadly see the Rohingya crisis linger on, with insufficient political incentives for international actors to help end the crisis. The alignment of interests between the military and the government in Naypidaw will mean the region’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades will continue.

There is also a good chance that in 2018 we will work out how to live with a nuclear North Korea. The US will ultimately realise that it has no options for managing the crisis – or at least none that carry acceptable costs – and that a nuclear north can be managed. Indeed, a North Korea that feels secure may finally undertake the kind of economic reforms that its populace needs, and which could integrate the isolated country into the regional economy.

The ConversationContested Asia has become a geopolitical and geo-economic reality. In 2018 we will see just how sharp the contests will become. The wounded nationalism of China, the erratic and unpredictable US, and the weak political leadership in many regional powers mean the coming year in Asia is going to be even more challenging than 2017.

Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

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