1. Analysing the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan conflict
What are the reasons behind the current clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan? What led to the flare-up between both nations? How can the dispute be resolved? How can the international community help?
The two landlocked countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, share a 1,000-km long border, a large part of which is disputed. There have been flare-ups in the past as well over sharing water and land resources.
The issue of the delimitation of the border is a relic of the Soviet era. While regular talks have tried to resolve the issue, one of the crucial points of disagreement remains over the map which should be used for demarcation purposes.
The path to resolution of the conflict will require warring groups to agree upon a common map. The international community too will have to make greater efforts to solve the dispute by involving elders in the communities.
The story so far: Nearly 100 people have been killed and scores injured in violent border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the last week. A ceasefire, brokered by Russia, was agreed on Friday. The two landlocked countries share a 1,000-km long border, a large part of which is disputed. There have been flare-ups in the past as well over sharing water and land resources.
What is happening at the border?
The last few weeks have seen constant shelling, violent confrontations by local communities, and active engagement by security forces on either side. The Batken region of Kyrgyzstan is seeing families being moved out and getting relocated. According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Kyrgyzstan, close to 1,50,000 people out of the 5,50,000 odd population of the Batken region have either fled the area or have been relocated by the state. The situation in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, is no different. The highly militarised borders also add to tensions.
The clashes are replaying old pre- and post-Soviet era legacies. The borders of the two republics were demarcated under Joseph Stalin’s leadership. Historically, the Kyrgyz and Tajik populations enjoyed common rights over natural resources. The issue of the delimitation of the border is a relic of the Soviet era. While regular talks have tried to resolve the issue, one of the crucial points of disagreement remains over the map which should be used for demarcation purposes. Almost half of its close to a 1000 km border is disputed.
The creation of the Soviet Union saw the large-scale redistribution of livestock to collective and state farms, which upset the existing status quo. Unfortunately, there was only so much land to go around. The Tajik territory saw their livestock increase, and with scarce grazing land, agreements were signed between the two populations over the utilisation of Kyrgyz territory by the Tajiks’ livestock.
What led to the current flare-up?
The ideological basis of the current set of clashes is reinforced by developmental issues, thus providing a fertile ground for the entire geopolitical space to become a hotbed of multiple minor conflicts and clashes. The environmental trajectory of the conflict can be further highlighted by incidents which saw groups from either side planting trees in disputed areas and engaging in a physical confrontation using agricultural equipment as weapons.
Ferghana valley continues to be a site of struggle and frequent violent outbursts, with the location consisting primarily of Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks, who have historically shared common sociological specificities, economic activities, and religious practices.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent dissolution of the then-existing water and land agreements saw the creation of multiple smaller independent farms, which led to a marked increase in water consumption patterns among the farmers. Both countries share multiple water channels with undulating trajectories and flow, which upset equitable access to water on both sides. As a result, small-scale conflicts occur practically every year during the crucial irrigation period.
Both countries, while sharing a closely intertwined historical past, have had differing internal dynamics since coming into statehood. One can trace their instability to transnational challenges and internal ethnic strife. Leaders of both countries have contributed in one way or the other to the continuation of the conflict through the imagination of a particular type of development project, hoping to stabilise the internal dynamics of their respective countries and legitimise their power. This ‘development project’ is similar to how the Soviet Union looked at modernisation — which resulted in the large-scale displacement of nomadic communities, eventually contributing to the ‘environment driver’ of the current conflict.
What is the road ahead?
The path to resolution of the conflict will require groups to agree upon a common map. The international community will have to make efforts to solve the dispute by involving elders in the communities, as historically, elders have been used to resolve conflicts. The informal small-scale governance mechanisms would also have to be further strengthened through a concerted effort by the respective countries to stabilise the geopolitical dynamics.
2. The case of nikah halala in India, and a long court battle
What is it and why are women seeking an annulment of halala marriage? How does it affect Muslim women of the country? When is the court going to hear it?
Sameena Begum, a Delhi-based victim of instant triple talaq and fraud marriage, approached the Supreme Court in 2018 seeking a ban on nikah halala. The five-judge Bench headed by Justice Indira Banerjee shall hear the case this October.
The Koran allows a man to divorce his wife a maximum of two times. On both the occasions, separated by at least one menstrual cycle — instant triple talaq is not mentioned anywhere in the Koran — he is allowed to cancel the divorce.
In India, the Muslim Women’s Protection of Rights on Marriage, passed after invalidation of triple talaq by the Supreme Court, is silent on nikah halala.
Ziya Us Salam
The story so far: Sameena Begum, a Delhi-based victim of instant triple talaq and a fraud marriage approached the Supreme Court in 2018 seeking a ban on nikah halala. Following her petition, the Court issued notices to the Government of India, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Women and the National Minorities Commission. The five-judge Bench headed by Justice Indira Banerjee shall hear the case this October.
Why did Sameena Begum approach the Supreme Court?
Sameena Begum filed a PIL seeking the annulment of halala marriage and polygamy. She requested the court that Section 2 of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, be declared arbitrary and in violation of Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25 of the Constitution. She has also requested the court to ensure that provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, apply to all Indian citizens. She contended that nikah halala is rape under IPC Section 375.
She was not alone in seeking annulment of nikah halala. With her was Farzana Parveen who used to live in Noida with her husband Abdul Qadir. Qadir pronounced triple talaq but later put a condition to accept her back: she should undergo halala marriage. Parveen refused to marry another man for the sake of getting back to Qadir. Instead, she sought judicial redress, seeking a ban on nikah halala.
The Koran allows a man to divorce his wife a maximum of two times. On both the occasions, separated by at least one menstrual cycle — instant triple talaq is not mentioned anywhere in the Koran — he is allowed to cancel the divorce. If the spouses fail to resume cohabitation during this period, they are allowed to remarry without any third-party intervention. This can be done only twice. If the man takes his wife back after the second pronouncement of divorce and then divorces her for the third time, he is not allowed to marry her again. The woman becomes an independent being with full choice over her life.
Halala, the way the Koran speaks of it, empowers women to take independent decisions. It saves women from temperamental husbands who divorce in a fit of anger, then cancel it, then divorce again, unleashing an endless cycle of marriage and divorce.
The Indian reality is way removed from the scriptural injunctions. Often a man pronounces triple talaq in a fit of anger. A little later, he realises his mistake and approaches a maulana who often tells him that he has exhausted all three chances at divorce; his erstwhile wife is now prohibited to him for reconciliation unless she marries another man, and he either divorces her or dies. For the purpose of going back to the erstwhile husband, sham marriages are enacted wherein a woman marries another man with a pre-decided date and time of divorce. The nikah is conducted with the understanding that the divorce shall take place the next day after consummation of marriage. Usually, nikah halala stems from instant triple talaq and ends with it.
Is nikah halala prevalent across the globe?
In Saudi Arabia, where divorces are on the rise, no cases of halala have been reported. No case has been reported from the UAE, Kuwait and Yemen either. In India, the Muslim Women’s Protection of Rights on Marriage, passed after invalidation of triple talaq by the Supreme Court, is silent on nikah halala. The Act made instant triple talaq a criminal offence but steered clear of halala which takes place as a consequence of triple talaq. If the first husband is punished for giving her instant triple talaq, the second for doing likewise to facilitate her return to her former husband, where does that leave the woman?
3. Lancet panel criticises WHO for acting ‘too slowly’ during pandemic
The Lancet Commission on lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic published in the journal on September 14, has issued a set of recommendations for future plans and has also castigated the World Health Organization (WHO) for acting “too cautiously and too slowly” on several important matters.
The report is bluntly critical of not just the WHO, but also the role of governments across the world: “As of May 31, 2022, there were 6.9 million reported deaths and 17.2 million estimated deaths from COVID-19, as reported by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. This staggering death toll is both a profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels.”
The WHO comes in for criticism for acting slowly on multiple issues — including in warning about the human transmissibility of the virus, declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, supporting international travel protocols designed to slow the spread of the virus, endorsing the public use of face masks as protection and recognising airborne transmission of the virus. The commissioners recorded that it was the countries in the WHO’s western Pacific region which had a rich experience of dealing with SARS that reacted with urgency to the outbreak and pursued a suppression strategy conducive to low mortality.
The report further talks of inadequate coordination among governments to contain the pandemic, including travel protocols, testing strategies, public health and social measures, commodity supply chains, data standards and reporting systems, and advice to the public, despite the very high interdependence among countries.
They did record that epidemic control was indeed seriously hindered by public opposition to routine public health and social measures, masking and getting vaccinated, indicating low confidence in the government and low health literacy.
The report makes a strong case for sustaining high rates of vaccination coverage, indicating that economic recovery depends on this, and low rates of new, clinically significant COVID infections.