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ISN Insights: Look Back, Week Ahead

New ISN Insights week starts today, photo: Michael Randall/flickr

Last week, ISN Insights looked at:

This week we’ll examine the following issues: Pakistan’s internal turmoil, Hungary’s deep polarization and the recent media law controversy, US long-range strike capabilities, Africa’s increasingly optimistic economic outlook, and the issue of corruption.

Make sure to tune in each day for the newest ISN Insights package. And if you’re an active Twitter or Facebook user, look us up and become a follower/fan!

UN Peace Mission Ends Amid Deadlock

Nepalese child playing with a broken gun, photo: Ben Tubby/flickr

Tomorrow, on 15 January 2011, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), established to monitor Nepal’s post-civil war transition period, will come to an end amid wide concerns about the country’s still fragile peace process. Set up in 2007 and extended several times after its initial one-year mandate expired, UNMIN will be sorely missed as it clearly played a stabilizing role during this volatile period in the country’s history.

The Nepali Civil War, a conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels, began with a Maoist-led insurgency on 13 February 1996, with the aim of overthrowing the Nepalese monarchy and establishing a “People’s Republic of Nepal”. During the conflict, more than 12,800 people were killed, and an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Nepalese were internally displaced. The bloodshed finally ended with a Comprehensive Peace Accord which was signed on 21 November 2006, and which was monitored by UNMIN during the following years.

The treaty called for the drafting of a new constitution and the integration of an estimated 19,000 Maoist combatants into state security forces – though the exact terms of how, and how many Maoists would be integrated were never defined. It was thus to nobody’s surprise that when the peace process finally came to a standstill in 2008, it was because of differences about the integration of these fighters into the army. » More

Footprints in the Water

Valuing water, photo: Steve Wall/flickr

Yes, water. This seemingly endless resource that covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. A resource that in a profound way forms the very core of who we are and how we live and yet gets little attention and even less press – perhaps precisely because of its ubiquity. Water, we tell ourselves, rains down from the sky and shoots through our kitchen taps; water is everywhere and used for everything. We can’t possibly be leaving any kind of dent in its incessant flow, let alone calculate any ‘footprint’ associated with it?

Yet this omnipresence is profoundly misleading. The water that we can easily use and consume, the fresh water of this world, only makes up about 2,6 percent of total supplies. An increasingly scarce and contested resource particularly in the poorer, more drought-prone parts of this world, fresh water, many experts believe, will become the future frontier of clashes, conflicts and even wars. Papers warning of ‘water wars’ in the Nile river basin or in the Mekong Delta are increasingly common, indicating that the political science community, not just ecologists, is beginning to take note.

Beyond expert circles, however, the issue still struggles to make it to the center of popular consciousness and debate as a key, if not the key challenge of the future. Water and water scarcity are issues that elude most people’s thoughts because in richer countries at least we are rarely faced with its limits. However, nearly half of the world’s population already suffers from some form of water-related distress, either due to lack of access to safe drinking water (an estimated 884 million people) or because of unsafe sanitation practices (for more than 2.5 billion people). An estimated 3.5 million people die every year due to illnesses related to poor water or related hygiene standards. In an important, if still primarily symbolic move, the UN recently declared clean water a human right in an attempt to bring the issue to the forefront of public discussion. » More

Yemen’s AQAP Dilemma

Counterterrorism Yemen-style, photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo/flickr

Since the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) crisis erupted in Yemen, the country has suddenly been thrown into the international spotlight. While numerous think tanks and experts have been warning for years of the critical challenges that Yemen faced (the southern secession movement, the Houthi rebellion, AQAP) most governments only really started to take note after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab set his pants on fire and tried to bring down Northwest Airlines flight 253 in what was dubbed the “Christmas Day plot” in 2009.

The international attention given to Yemen has, not surprisingly, since then focused on the terrorism threat. In President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s calculations AQAP was long seen as a nuisance, not as a substantial threat to his presidency or the unity of the country. The southern secession movement and the Houthi rebellion in the North were perceived as far more dangerous and potentially consequential, particularly for President Saleh.

After the attack on USS Cole  in 2000 and again after the incident involving Umar Abdulmutallab the US has made it abundantly clear that it expects President Saleh to reign in AQAP. Development aid flows as well as military assistance have been closely tied to Yemen’s cooperation with regards to fighting al-Qaida.

US aid flows have been varying greatly in the last decade, depending on the current threat perception. In 2000 Yemen got a relatively meager $400,000 in food aid from the US. In 2001, after the attack on the USS Cole, the US administration deliberated an aid and loan forgiveness package of around $400 million. In 2006, when the terrorism threat was thought to be over, the US cut aid again to $18.7 million. Since then US aid to Yemen has steadily increased every year, reaching $58.4 million in 2010. This is a threefold increase in only four years. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) the administration has requested a staggering $106.6 million for 2011. » More

Hacktivism Goes Global

Hacktivist, courtesy of José Goualo/flickr

Since the beginning of renewed unrest and protests in Tunisia, the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous has joined in support of the actions of Tunisians hacktivists by blocking some Tunisian websites.

As they say on one of their websites, Anonymous has entered the fight in Tunisia because “The arrests of several free speech activists and bloggers in recent days was deplorable.  The punishing of people for simply expressing themselves politically was vile.” They also claim to be a “legion” that “cannot be stopped with the arrests of a few.” Or as one of the member of the group put it: “Tunisians can fight on the streets and Anonymous can’t. Anonymous can fight online but Tunisians can’t.”

This global “cyber-solidarity” with Tunisia is not surprising. The internet is a global good that is being used the world over. Moreover, it is not dangerous or particularly risky for people outside Tunisia to block government’s website there via Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks. It also makes sense for the “legion” of Anonymous hackers to be active in Tunisia as a way to promote free speech, free information and citizen-journalism. It is a globally visible, potentially effective and cheap way for this new breed of cyberactivists to make their mark on an issue that matters.

Some say that DDoS attacks like these are simply the cyber-version of doing a sit-in in front of a bank or a governmental building to make sure no one enters it. Although I disagree with this metaphor because doing a sit-in requires more political and organizational will than just clicking on a button on your computer, the mass of foreign hacktivist involved in Tunisia through groups such as Anonymous do believe they are showing solidarity with the Tunisian people and acting in accordance.

I had the chance to quickly chat with some of the Anonymous hacktivists on their channel, and many said that they believed that they have won a victory by forcing the Tunisian government to restrict the access to their website to Tunisians only. Anonymous are now moving to disrupt the e-mail accounts of government employee in an attempt to reduce their internal communication. » More

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