Ceasefires and pandemic peace . . .
As the COVID-19 pandemic hits populations across Asia, it is transforming some of the region’s oldest and deadliest conflicts. In some cases, COVID-19 appears to present opportunities for peace: just last week, the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a ceasefire with government forces “to ensure and facilitate necessary, unhampered and immediate medical, health and economic assistance.” Over 100,000 combatants and civilians have died in the conflict since 1969, with multiple efforts at peace failing. In India, security agencies are mulling the option of a ceasefire in operations against armed Maoists. Government figures in India say that in the last 20 years, more than 12,000 people have died in this half-century-old conflict.
While elsewhere, violence flares . . .
But where some parties see opportunities for peace, others see war. In Pakistan, the leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front has voiced concerns that “the Pakistan Army would use the COVID-19 outbreak to expand its occupation” of the separatist region. Some 20,000 to 22,000 have died in the conflict since 1948, and longstanding distrust of Islamabad has already challenged quarantine camp operations in the region. Similarly, last month separatist insurgents in Thailand detonated a bomb in front of a government centre during a meeting on the COVID-19 outbreak, while rebel forces in West Papua caught Indonesian forces off guard in a deadly attack on a gold mine, as the latter focused on pandemic response.
Raising awareness . . .
With lockdowns and access to health care now global concerns, other parties have used the pandemic to raise international awareness about their conflicts. Citizens and activists in Kashmir have drawn parallels between worldwide health lockdowns and their own, ongoing lockdowns and internet restrictions. Meanwhile, political leaders of the West Papua independence movement have linked local Indigenous health challenges to the broader threat of COVID-19. Given last month’s rapid shifts in these longstanding conflicts at the very start of local outbreaks, expect more changes to come. Whether they lead to paths for peace, or renewed violence, remains to be seen.
- ABS-CBN: Reds declare truce amid COVID-19 pandemic
- Asia Times: Covid-19 opens world’s biggest gold mine to attack
- Human Rights Watch: Thailand: Insurgents bomb government agency in south