Blasphemy case in Pakistan causes protests, diplomatic stir
On 31 October, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was acquitted of blasphemy against Islam and released from prison. This decision sparked massive protests of radical Islamists across Pakistan, demanding Bibi to be publicly executed and the judges who made the ruling to be killed. In an attempt to calm the public, the Pakistani government banned Bibi from leaving the country and denied rumours that she did so.
Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after she had been accused of blasphemy by her co-workers. A year later, she was sentenced to death and spent 8 years in a death row. Her case brought worldwide attention to the Pakistani blasphemy laws. Multiple public figures who spoke on her defence in Pakistan were assassinated and her family fled the country. Multiple Western countries are negotiating with Pakistan to arrange an asylum for Bibi. The UK refused to grant Bibi asylum citing fears of unrests in Britain and safety of its consular staff in Pakistan. Critics accuse UK foreign policy to be dictated by a ‘Pakistani mob’. Other countries, such as Italy and Canada, are allegedly negotiating the asylum option.
Since 1987, around 1300 of people in Pakistan were imprisoned on the basis of the blasphemy laws, dozens of them were executed or murdered by Islamic fanatics even before their trials took place. In 2018, the government published a list of “apostates” (people who left Islam) with their personal data. Persecution by the state as well as huge segments of the society continues to intensify and as a result, religious minorities in Pakistan fear for their existence. The recent wave of protests points to the growing influence of radical Islamist groups. If this trend continues, the Pakistani government may face a serious threat of public unrest and a possible Islamist insurgency.
#NATO: Crisis with Russia over INF again?
In the second half of October, President Trump announced an intention to pull the U.S. out of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, blaming Russia for violating the Treaty. On 31 October, ambassadors of the NATO-Russia Council gathered in Brussels to discuss several substantial issues like the situation in Afghanistan, Ukraine, hybrid challenges but also the INF Treaty.
At the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the problem is in new Russian missiles, stressing that “allies have repeatedly expressed serious concerns about the new Russian missile system … SSC-8”, but Russia has not yet addressed these concerns. Stoltenberg then asked Russia “to ensure full compliance with the INF Treaty without delay”. Stoltenberg and Putin negotiated about the treaty in Paris during the World War I. commemorations.
It is not necessarily the end of the INF Treaty. Stoltenberg directly put the ball to the Moscow´s court, saying that “the deployment of new Russian missiles is putting this historic treaty in jeopardy”. Former USSR leader, who signed the INF Treaty, Mikhail Gorbachev, warned that “there will be no winner in a war of all against all”. Similarly, Vladimir Putin warned it could lead to new “arms race” and vowed to respond if the U.S. deployed any new missiles in Europe. The threat to withdraw from the Treaty came amid rising tension between NATO and Russia, partly caused by NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise. One of the reasons Trump wants to withdraw from the Treaty is China. The Treaty is only concerning the U.S. and Russia, China has no such a restriction in the Pacific and is allowed to develop new missiles. First debates about INF violations arose already during the Obama presidency. Russia was criticised for several of its ballistic missiles, the RS-26, Topol-M or the R-500, while Moscow criticised the U.S. its missile defence system Aegis in Europe.
Glad to deliver #NATOTalk18 in Berlin. I stressed the importance of the transatlantic bond at a time of unprecedented security challenges. The deployment of new Russian missiles puts INF Treaty in jeopardy & I call on #Russia to ensure full compliance. https://t.co/jrJ0Ddc0eO pic.twitter.com/SFGBNKkGxj
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) November 12, 2018
Rising tension in Balkans as Kosovo introduces tariffs
Kosovo has imposed a 10 percent tax on products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a move said to be a retaliation for the two countries’ hostile behavior towards Kosovo. Officials in Serbia and Bosnia condemned Kosovo’s move. Bosnia’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Mirko Sarovic called the decision “intolerable”, stating that Bosnia will reevaluate its presence in the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).
The newly announced tariffs prompted anger in Serbia. A meeting between Serbian President Vucic, EU Foreign Policy Chief Mogherini and Kosovo President Hashim took place in Brussels a day after the tariffs were unexpectedly announced. The two Balkan leaders were expected to confirm their readiness to intensify the work towards normalization of relations. However, the meeting carried in a tense atmosphere. Vucic stated that talks with Pristina will continue only after it withdraws its “illegal decisions”. Furthermore, Kosovo Serbs have threatened to protest in the streets if the government did not revoke its decision.
The European Commission has called on Kosovo to revoke the measures as the tariffs violate the CEFTA agreement and undermine regional cooperation. Both Serbia and Kosovo are under pressure from the EU to solve their bilateral disputes if they want to move closer to joining the EU. However, these events are a major setback in any attempts by Pristina and Belgrade to normalize relations.
Although Serbia understood the move as a political revenge for not recognizing the independence of Kosovo, Astrit Panxha, the head of the Kosovo Manufacturing Club, defended the decision explaining that Serbia and Bosnia were practicing “dumping” prices for their goods to take over the Kosovo market adding that “There are hundreds more other economical reasons”.
Children in Cameroon freed, political situation remains problematic
The final Cameroon Boarding school students and staff members kidnapped on the beginning of November have been freed on 12 November.
Circumstances around the case remain vague. Cameroon officials blame Anglophone separatists from the abduction. In the response, an Anglophone group – the Ambazonia International Policy Commission – has officially rejected the accusations, claiming there is no evidence proving the involvement of its members.
Regardless of who is responsible for the kidnapping, situation in Cameroon remains precarious. Anglophone separatists seek the establishment of an independent state (Abmazonia) in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. They blame the Francophone government and president Biya from discriminating the English speaking minority, political and economic unfairness, unbalanced job opportunities and publishing of official documents in French, even when English is also an approved language. The crisis began in 2017 when the government violently stopped protests of the Anglophone population over alleged insufficient recognition of the English legal and educational systems in the western parts of Cameroon.
The current situation does not seem to reach a solution. Francophone president Biya denies negotiating with separatists. He prefers to send highly trained security forces to tackle the resistance, leaving burned villages and dead civilians in the country´s Anglophone Southwest and Northwest areas.
Some experts, including the International Crisis Group, suggest returning to the federal system of one English and one French-speaking state. Decentralization might be a way to ease the tense relations. In that case, President Biya would lose some level of sovereignty over the Anglophone regions. However, such a step could assure English-speaking minority in autonomy over the educational and legal system and bring a required level of stability into the state.
Image: Facebook / “Federal Republic of Ambazonia Ministry of Defense”
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
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