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Month: January 2016

Europe wades into debate over Poland’s constitutional crisis

Written by Fernando Casal Bértoa and Simona Guerra.

Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydło recently found herself summoned to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to defend her government over accusations that its commitment to democratic values is on the slide.

This was an unprecedented meeting. The parliament had called a debate under the auspices of a law introduced in March 2014, giving it the right to question a national government if it thinks a systemic threat to democracy is about to take place in a European country.

In Poland’s case, concerns were raised over government plans to limit the power of the national constitutional court, and change the way the media is governed and civil servants hired.

The two Talibans and how they operate

Written by Michael Semple.

The attack on students of the Bacha Khan university in Charsadda, northern Pakistan, played out according to what has become a disturbingly familiar pattern in the region.

It was what is described by armed Islamist groups there as a “fidayeen attack”. Fighters of the Pakistani Taliban, TTP, were equipped to blow themselves up, but first shot all those they encountered until they were cornered and shot by security forces.

In the run-up to the attack, TTP recruits had received commando-style training and been designated fidayeen, or fighters who are prepared to give up their lives for God. An experienced TTP commander, referred to as an “ustad”, or professor, directed covert surveillance of the university. The ustad then devised an operational plan, including delivering the men and weapons to Charsadda without detection. It is now standard practice for the TTP commander to direct the operation by phone, staying across the border beyond the reach of Pakistani security forces.

The Enduring Lessons of the 1991 Gulf War

Written by Louise Kettle.

Twenty five years ago saw the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; an intervention in the Middle East to remove Iraqi occupying forces from annexed Kuwait. The operation was a US-led coalition of the largest international deployment of troops since the Second World War.

Unlike the US-led coalition twelve years later into Iraq, the operation was completed with permission and political and economic support from Arab countries. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Syria also contributed militarily to the effort.

Five years on, the spirit of Tahrir Square has been all but crushed

Written by Lucia Ardovini.

Five years ago, the chant “El‑sha’ab, yureed, isqat el‑musheer!” (“the people want the fall of the regime!“) resounded through the streets of Cairo, marking the start of a popular uprising that saw one of the region’s longest-standing dictators deposed in just 18 days.

The so-called Egyptian revolution of 2011, part of the wider trend of the Arab Springs or Arab Awakening, was seen by many as being as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall because of its potential implications for both the country and the region. However, five years on, it seems as if little has changed in Egypt – and the country’s proud revolutionary spirit has been almost completely wiped out.

Litvinenko inquiry: 25 years on from the Cold War, espionage endures

Written by Rory Cormac.

Claims made by former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko as he lay dying of radioactive poisoning in a London hospital bed have been backed by public inquiry. Litvinenko accused Russian agents of putting him there and went to his grave pointing the finger at the Kremlin.

Litvinenko had become a critic of president Vladimir Putin and had fled to Britain, where he worked for MI6.

The inquiry into his death, conducted by British judge Robert Owen, found that the murder was executed under the “probable” direction of the FSB – Russia’s intelligence and security service. Going further than many had expected, he also said the killing was “probably approved” by president Vladimir Putin himself.

What can Pakistan do to counter violent campaign against educators?

Written by Katharine Adeney.

The latest attack on a university in Pakistan – this one, in a bitter twist of irony, named after a champion of peace, secularism and non-violence, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who was known as “Frontier Gandhi” – is both symbolic as well as indicative of the continuing struggle within the power structures of Pakistan.

Just after 9am Pakistani time (4.14am GMT) on January 20, four men wearing suicide vests attacked the university in Charsadda, about 40km from Peshawar in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly known as North-West Frontier Province). The death toll has topped 30 people but is expected to rise, perhaps to as high as 70. Scores were also injured. Soldiers were quickly deployed to the scene. The army formally announced that the attack was over five-and-a-half hours later at 10.38 GMT – and also announced the deaths of the four attackers.

Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

Written by Jon Moran.

Building an army in a short space of time is a very difficult task. To be sure, there are some impressive examples. Cromwell’s republican New Model Army was put together while the English Civil War was already underway; Washington’s army of US Independence quickly wore down and beat the British in the 18th century; Napoleon’s revolutionary army was born from the French Revolution and swept all Europe before it; the Red Army of the Soviet Union was forged from the chaos of its defeat in World War I.

But the list of failures is just as spectacular. The South Vietnamese Army boasted billions of dollars, up-to-date equipment and state-of-the-art training, but couldn’t control even South Vietnam itself. It ultimately surprised observers only by holding on as long as it did after the Americans left.

A New World Order: The importance of the 1991 Gulf War

Written by Louise Kettle.

Twenty five years ago, on 17th January 1991, the offensive operations of the Gulf War began. A coalition of 39 countries launched a campaign to roll back the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The war saw the deployment of around 45,000 British forces, the largest since the Second World War.

Throughout the previous year, tensions between Kuwait and Iraq had escalated. The bitter Iran-Iraq war had left Iraq in severe economic difficulties with its per capita income halved and an estimated $67 billion worth of damage to infrastructure. In addition, Baghdad had borrowed around $80 billion from other countries and, following the war, foreign debt servicing and defence costs consumed seven-eighths of Iraq’s oil export revenue.

President Nkurunziza of Burundi still has a choice: war criminal or peace bringer?

Written by Catherine Gegout.

A leaked UN memo to the Security Council has warned that a peacekeeping force in the African nation of Burundi would be unable to stop large-scale violence should it erupt in an ongoing crisis caused by president Nkurunziza’s election for a third term.

However it is not too late for Nkurunziza to choose his legacy: either be remembered as a war criminal facing prison or death, or renowned for solving a dangerous political situation. A new round of peace talks is due to take place this month but Burundi’s government recently announced there had been “no consensus” on a date.

Jakarta attacks: is Islamic State’s presence in South-East Asia overstated?

Written by Scott Edwards.

A series of deadly suicide bombings and shootings in Jakarta have killed at least seven people, and been claimed by Islamic State (IS).

At first glance, this seems to confirm that long-held worries of a full-blown IS campaign in South-East Asia were well-founded – but viewed in context, the picture looks rather different.

IS is undeniably active to some extent in Indonesia and South-East Asia more broadly, and it is known to have recruited fighters from the region. It was recently reported that two suicide bombers who mounted attacks in Syria and Iraq were from Malaysia. South-East Asia has an enormous Muslim population, and its states have long had trouble with separatist or terrorist Islamist organisations such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf. That makes the prospect of a domestic struggle with IS in Indonesia all the more alarming.