Theaters of conflict around the world
Modern Afghanistan dates from 1747, when Ahmad Shah Durrani freed the country from Persian domination. Afghanistan gained independence from Britain in 1919 after the Third Afghan War.
In 1973 the government of Zahir Shah was overthrown in a military coup led by Daoud Khan and the PDPA (Afghan Communist Party). Khan abolishes the monarchy, declares himself President, and the Republic of Afghanistan is established. In 1978, when Khan ousts suspected opponents from his government it leads to a bloody Communist coup in which Khan is killed. Taraki is named President and signs a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. The Afghan Islamic guerrilla movement (Mujahideen) is formed in 1979. Mass killings follows, Taraki is killed and Hafizullah Amin takes the Presidency, is also executed, and replaced with Babrak Karmal. The Soviet Union invades in December 1979. In 1986 Karmal is replaced by Dr. Najibullah who proposes a ceasefire with the Soviet Union but the Mujahideen disagree. The Mujahideen make great gains and force the Soviets into a humiliating withdrawal in 1989. The Mujahideen continue to fight against Najibullah’s regime. In May 1989 Afghan guerrillas elect Sibhhatullah Mojadidi as head of their government-in-exile. In 1992 they take Kabul and form an Islamic State (with Burhannudin Rabbani as president). In 1994, the Sunni Islamic Taliban militia is formed and advance rapidly against the government that was represented by various Islamic groups, including Shi’ite and Ismaili Muslims. At the same time Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of the Hezbi-Islami, and Dostum continued to clash with Rabbani’s government. Kabul is reduced to rubble. The Taliban make massive gains in 1995. By June 1996 Hekmatyar signs a peace pact with Rabbani and returns to Kabul to rule as prime minister. In September the Taliban force Rabbani and his government out of Kabul and execute Najibullah. By 1998 the Taliban had made dramatic advances to the north, now controlling 90% of the country. The war in Afghanistan is ongoing. Since Soviet troops withdrew, various Afghan groups have tried to eliminate their rivals. Although the Taliban strengthened their position in 1998 they have not achieved their final objective. Afghanistan harbors Osama bin Ladin, a wealthy Saudi Arabia dissident responsible for terrorist acts around the world. On 11 September 2001 members from bin Ladin’s el Qaeda group hijacked 4 passenger jets in the USA, crashing one into the Pentagon and 2 into the World Trade Center, killing more than 3,000 citizens. The USA and its allies declared war on terrorism and counter-attacked, removing the Taliban from power. The war on terrorism and the el Qaeda continues.
Algeria fought a war of independence, led by the FLN (National Liberation Front), against France since 1954. In 1962, Algeria gained independence but by the mid-1980s a weakened economy was causing widespread unrest. The collapse of oil and gas prices worldwide in 1986 worsened the situation. Street riots in 1988 resulted in a bloody crackdown by the armed forces and a state of emergency. The urban poor looked to the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) to provide a sense of social justice with the introduction of Sharia law. When the first round of elections were held in 1991, the FIS won 188 of the 231 seats, with the FLN winning only 15. The Assembly and president Chadli resigned under pressure from the army which would not accept his willingness to share power with the FIS. A second round of the elections were due in January 1992 but canceled when the army took control of key installations in the capital. Violent clashes between police and FIS protesters erupted throughout Algeria in early February 1992 and a state of emergency was again declared. The FIS was dissolved and split into different groups. Armed Islamic groups formed and since 1992 have carried out attacks on key economic points, security forces, officials and foreigners. In 1995 Algeria’s first multiparty presidential elections were held and the incumbent president Liamine Zeroual won 60% of the votes in a poll with a 75% turnout. The first multiparty legislative elections were held in June 1997 which were won by the National Democratic Rally, which holds the majority of seats along with the FLN. Although the armed wing of the FIS declared a ceasefire in October 1997, an extremist splinter group, the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), continued attacks. There is also evidence that many attacks are carried out by militias backed by the Algerian security forces. After years of civil strife, Amnesty International estimates that around 80,000 people have died. Lately, Algeria is thought to be harbouring Al-Qaeda’s far-reaching new partner, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a group that had fought the Algerian government in a barbaric civil war for almost a decade. Also see Algeria Watch International
Recommended DVD : The Battle of Algiers
When Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, Africa’s longest civil war continued with an armed conflict between the ruling MPLA government and Joseph Savimbi’s UNITA rebels, leaving almost a million of the 10-million population displaced and thousands killed. The Angola government had 100,000 soldiers, the largest standing army in Africa, and UNITA 70,000. In February 2002, Savimbi was shot by government troops. In April, UNITA signed a peace agreement. But one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest wars continues sporadically as rebel groups fight for control over the oil-rich Cabinda province. Payment for military assistance and supplies is made in diamonds and oil concessions… on all sides. Fraud is rife. Yet, while Angola’s politicians live the high life, their citizens still live on less than $1 a day.
The Caucasus and Russia
The Central Asian republics have a long history of conflicts. Fighting breaks out regularly between warlords and religious groups calling for the establishment of Islamic states outside the Russian Federation. Russia is trying to hold on to the federation because the Caucasus is a vital supply route for the oil riches of the Caspian and Black Sea. With the break-up of the Soviet Union various groups fought for control in the republics. Conflicts from one republic spills over to the other and they continually blame each other for attacks. Chechnya, still part of Russia, was flung in an almost full-scale war in 1994-96 and, after a disastrous campaign, Russia was forced to re-evaluate its involvement in the area. In August 1999 Russia stepped up security in the Caucasus region as rebels from within Dagestan – a small republic where more than 100 languages are spoken – went on the attack in support of Chechnyan Muslim groups who claim independence from Russia. In September 1999 Russia launched a ground invasion into the area to cut rebels off from Central Asian supply routes. By January 2000 Russia was once again involved in a full scale conflict in Chechnya. The Caucasus issue is complicated by the more than 50 different ethnic groups each insisting to proclaim their religious convictions on the area. The situation holds serious danger for neighboring countries, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Russia itself. BBC files on Chechnya
Colombia‘s civil war, one of the world’s longest-running, has gone unchecked for almost 40 years, with thousands of people killed every year. Some 15,000 guerrillas from 5 different groups control as much as 60% of the countryside. Aligned against the rebels are Colombia’s security forces and bands of right-wing irregulars known as paramilitaries. Colombia’s political and economic power remains in the hands of the elite that has always run the country, but the conflict stretches beyond political motives. Control of drug trafficking and corruption is at the center of complex issues. Follow the Columbia conflict at International Crisis Group
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO previously named ZAIRE
The revolt that brought Laurent Kabila to power in the country he has renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted when Zairian Tutsis took up arms over a government plan to strip them of their land and force them to leave the country. Rwandan troops helped Laurent Kabila overthrow the corrupt regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Kabila also enjoyed the support of Uganda and Angola. At the end of July 1997 Kabila ordered Rwandan troops to leave the Congo. The move triggered a revolt that led to become what is know as “Africa’s first world war,” with conglomerates of unorganized groups from different countries (including Namibia, Tsjad and Zimbabwe) stumbling over each other, leaving more than 3 million casualties. As with most conflicts in Africa, there was no clear victor. A peace treaty was signed in 1999. The UN Security Council sent in a peacekeeping force in 2000. Laurent Kabila assassinated January 2001 and replaced by son Joseph Kabila. Peace negotiations continued and with the help of the world’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation, MONUC, the country had an attempt at its first free and fair elections in 40 years in July 2006. The outcome was contested and the conflicts continues, mostly for control of the mineral and new-found oil wealth.
The relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea seemed perfect. The Eritreans helped the Ethiopians overthrow the Mengistu regime, and in 1993 gained their own long-fought independence. Until 1997 Eritrea had kept the Ethiopian currency. But when it introduced its own, citing economic reasons, the relationship started to look shaky. Their long border has never been properly delineated and until 1998 it didn’t seem to matter. Ethiopians seeking work crossed easily into Eritrea. Tens of thousands of Eritreans live in Ethiopia. Suddenly the border became the focus of a crisis. Fighting broke out in May 1998 in an area known as the Badme triangle, a 400 square km triangle of land. The Ethiopians, who administered it, said the Eritreans had invaded and they demanded their withdrawal. Eritrea admitted that its forces had entered the area but claimed that they were taking back land which belonged to Eritrea, based on Italian maps created during 1907 to 1935. The Ethiopians claim the area according to maps of the Treaty of 1902. By April 2000, the sporadic fighting had turned into a full-scale conflict. The conflict had displaced thousands and claimed the deaths of about 70,000 people. The issue was taken to the Permanent Court of Arbitrations at The Hague which in 2002 gave Eritrea significant territorial awards in the western sectors of the border and handed Ehtiopia some gains in the center, including important towns such as Zalambessa. Both countries claimed victory and remained extremely bitter. Sporadic conflicts continue.
At the end of 2006 Ethiopia sent between 5,000 and 10,000 troops into Somalia to support forces of the weak transitional government there and helped to oust the Islamists who had controlled southern Somalia for six months. Thus by the BBC. They also provide excellent coverage of Somalia
Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world and has the world’s largest Muslim population. It consists of more than 13,000 islands, some 300 ethnic groups, and 365 languages. Separatist sentiment flared in Aceh in North Sumatra, in Irian Jaya once it was finally wrested from the Dutch in 1949, in East Timor where troops moved in after Portugal abandoned its former colony in 1975, and in Borneo and Ambon. After East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence in August 1999, anti-separatists, backed by Jakarta, went on the attack, prompting the UN to send in troops to ensure East Timor’s transfer to independence.
For 32 years President Suharto ruled Indonesia with armies of civil servants sent out from Jakarta and battalions of soldiers despatched to quell separatist revolts. Under Indonesia’s constitution, all land is owned by the state, ignoring traditional land rights. The regions yielded up the lion’s share of their revenue in taxes to the Government. Suharto resigned under pressure in 1998, followed up by BJ Habibie, who promised a democratic revolution but was voted out in 1999.
The struggle on the Indonesia islands is complicated by leaders of pro- and anti-independence movements and by religious conflicts. More than 500 churches have been burned down or damaged by Militant Islamic groups over the past few years. Both the Christians and Muslims blame each other for the violence and attempts at reconciliation made little progress. After a bloody struggle East Timor gained independence in 1999. The hostilities on other islands continue to claim dozens of lives, to such an extent that the break-up of Indonesia seem imminent. See the country profile
The Philippines armed forces, with assistance of US troops, are fighting Moslem rebels – they have been linked to Osama bin Laden’s el Qaeda terrorist group – on the southern islands of the country.
KASHMIR, originally an independent state, is made up of many regions but is called “Jammu & Kashmir”, being the two most populous regions in the state, other regions being Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan and Skardu. Pakistan grabbed many of these regions in 1947 (some parts were taken by China) prompting Kashmir to join India as a state. The largest portion of the original state of Jammu & Kashmir remains within India. Muslim separatists in the Indian section declared a holy war against the mostly-Hindu India and started attacks in 1989, mainly from Pakistan-occupied section of Kashmir, and from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The conflict continues, with Pakistan also crushing rebellions with brute force in their section. More about Kashmir
Before the war Gulf War of 1991, in which more than 100,000 Iraqi troops died in a mere 100 hours of fierce battle in clashes with Allied forces, Iraq had the world’s fourth largest army. The Iraq war also has become the world’s biggest media circus with newspaper columns, blogs and amateur video footage propagating the (many) differing sides. Various culture and religious groups within Iraq continue to clash, amongst themselves and with American and other troops. BBC chronology of key events
Israel: Within its own borders, Israel continues to battle various Muslim organizations that seek independence for a Palestine state, areas made up of the Gaza strip, West.Bank, and part of Jerusalem. There is heavy international pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state.
The area of what today is Palestine was settled by Semitic tribes at a very early date. It was then called Canaan, and controlled by Canaanite tribes for more than 1,000 years. In about 1500 BC Hebrew, or Jewish, tribes began to enter the area. They later came into conflict with a people of Greek origin known as the Philistines. It is from them that the term Palestine is derived. People from Arab descent populated the area much later.
Kurdistan has fallen to the Arayan, Roman, Persian, Safavid and Ottoman empires. (Salah al-Din or Saladin, known for conquering the crusaders, is known as the greatest Kurd in history.) From the 16th to 18th centuries, vast portions of Kurdistan were devastated and large numbers of Kurds deported across the Ottoman empire. The historian Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi wrote the first pan-Kurdish history, the Sharafnama, in 1597, Ahmad Khani composed the national epic of Mem-o-Zin in 1695, which called for a Kurdish state, and Kurdish nationalism was born. A large Kurdish kingdom, Zand, was established in 1750, but by 1867 it fell to Ottoman and Persian governments. The Kurdish situation deteriorated after WWI: the 1921 Treaty of Sevres anticipated an independent Kurdish state, but unimpressed by the Kurds’ many bloody uprisings for independence, France and Britain divided Ottoman Kurdistan between Turkey, Syria and Iraq. A Kurdish Autonomous Province (Red Kurdistan) was set up in Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s, but it was disbanded in 1929 (the entire Kurdish community was wiped out in 1992-1994 when Armenia annexed the land that forms the bridge between the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper – a move that brought it into conflict with Azerbaijan). In 1945, Kurds set up a republic at Mahabad in the Soviet-occupied zone in Iran. It lasted one year, until it was reoccupied by the Iranian army. In the 1970s, the Kurds in Iraq enjoyed some autonomy, but it also was short-lived. Prompted by Iraqi suspicions that the Kurdish residents had collaborated with Iranian forces who had just captured the area, Baghdad attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja with poison gas in 1988. Five thousand Kurds died in the attack. In Turkey, the Kurds formed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the 1980s, led by Abdullah Ocalan, and started the armed struggle against Ankara. Ocalan was captured in Italy in 1999. 10 million Kurds reside in Turkey. Turkish troops continue a heavy presence in the area, and has threatened sanctions on Syria for its support of the PKK. The 20 million Kurds of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria speak of their homeland as “Kurdistan”, even though it is divided by international borders. But in fact they are notoriously divided, often by completely different political agendas.
In an effort to gain improved living conditions and rights for indigenous Indian peasants in the southern Chiapas region of Mexico, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, led by a man known only as “Subcommandante Marcos” declared war on the central government on New Year’s Day in 1994. Chiapas is the most resource-rich state in Mexico, and has some of the richest oil reserves in the region. Government forces retaliated and hundreds of people have been killed in the skirmishes. The conflict is further complicated by pro-government paramilitaries, hired by powerful landowners, responding to the action. In December 1997, Tzotzil Indian refugees, mostly women and children, were massacred by the paramilitaries resulting in mass protests in many Mexican cities. The incident was internationally condemned, and a number of government ministers left office. The Internet also played part in the struggle with the discovery of a report, now referred to as the Chase Manhattan memo, written for Chase Emerging Markets clients by Riordan Roett. Originally leaked to Ken Silverstein and Alexander Cockburn’s newsletter Counterpunch, Roett’s report called for the Mexican government to “eliminate” the Zapatistas in order to demonstrate its command over the internal situation in Mexico. When their story about the report, and then the report itself, was uploaded to the Net it reached a huge audience, and caught the attention of Republican and Perot opponents of the Clinton Administration’s financial bailout of Mexico. Mexicans were furious about what they saw as a Wall Street hand behind President Zedillo’s February 1995 military offensive against the Zapatistas. The result was much agitation and mobilization against both Chase and the Mexican government – mobilization which led Chase to fire Roett and which helped force the Mexican government to halt its offensive in two Chiapas regions. However, the conflict continues with strong local support to thousands of armed Zapatistas.
Recommended reading : Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006
Sierra Leone Ivory Coast Liberia
Sierra Leone‘s civil war, which broke out in 1991and lasted until 2002, was a complex and brutal conflict that has its roots in years of misrule and the civil war in neighboring Liberia. It is fueled by diamond wealth – the infamous “blood diamonds” – and a long-standing resentment among the people of the poor rural interior against the richer ruling class in the coastal capital, Freetown. It was, in large part, fought by children and teenagers. President Tejan Kabbah was elected in 1996, but his time in office was short-lived. In May 1997, he was overthrown by a combined force of junior soldiers and fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RUF was set up in 1991 by former army corporal Foday Sankoh who formed an alliance with a Liberian militia, the National Patriotic Front for Liberia, led by Charles Taylor, then President of Liberia. For years, the RUF fought against successive Sierra Leone armies. In 1997, it joined ranks with the military junta which called itself the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council or AFRC. The junta was ousted by the West African Intervention Force, Ecomog, in February 1998 and President Kabbah returned from exile in Guinea. (South African and British mercenaries assisted the Nigerian-led West African intervention force.)
Some AFRC soldiers surrendered, but thousands of others retreated, along with the RUF, into the bush. The rebels regrouped with assistance from Liberia and Burkina Faso and intensified attacks. In May 2000, they captured UN Ecomog soldiers, including an Indian battalion. In 2002, Britain sent in troops to protect British citizens and to assist the Siera Leone army. Kabbah won a five-year term which ends in 2007. However, conflict over blood diamonds continues. Just as Sierra Leone came out of years of conflict, an armed rebellions threw the rest of the region further back into one. Peace talks in Liberia and Ivory Coast are yet to be reached while thousands die, not only in the civil strife, but in the trade of blood diamonds.
Recommended reading : Blood Diamonds by Greg Cambell
Sri Lanka claims the world’s second oldest continuous written history, recording tension in the area as far back as 237 BC. The 20th century saw a revival of nationalism: the Sinhalese (74% of the population) see the unity of the island as intertwined with the Buddhist faith and oppose any attempt to divide it or give the Tamil (12%, Hindu) areas greater autonomy. In 1931, the British granted Ceylon (Sri Lanka) self-rule, leading to independence in 1948. In 1956, the victory of SWRD Bandaranaike on a platform of Sinhalese nationalism led to him declaring Sinhala to be the country’s official language among other anti-Tamil measures. Communal tension and violence increased from 1956 onwards. By the mid-70s, Tamils were calling for a separate state in the north and east of the country. In the 1977 elections, the separatist TULF won all the seats in Tamil areas, while groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began to use violence for the same ends. In 1983, the country erupted into full scale communal violence. Attempts have continued intermittently for the last few years to try to resolve the conflict but all have proved unsuccessful.
In 1995, the government launched an all-out offensive against the Tamil Tigers, in which important territory was taken including, in April 1996, the Jaffna peninsula. But the Tigers continue to attack military bases and use suicide bombers. By May 2000, the Jaffna peninsula was under virtual surrender to the Tigers, prompting Sri Lanka to call on India to assist in the evacuation of thousands of soldiers. The fierce conflict continues at a relentless pace. An estimated 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict. For indepth info, see the country profile
Sudan, the largest country in Africa, has been plagued by a succession of unstable civilian and military governments since it gained independence in 1956 from an Anglo-Egyptian condominium. The long-running conflict continues between the Arab Muslim northerners of Sudan, (the base of the government), and the African Christians of the south. Following the imposition of Shari’a law in 1983 under President Nimeri, the conflict escalated. The Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) increased its attacks on the north to the level of full-scale civil war in the mid-1980s. Negotiations between the government and the political wing of the SPLA took place in 1988/9 but were overtaken by events when General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir took power in the military coup in June 1989. In the 1990s government forces launched aerial bombardments on civilian targets in southern Sudan. In the mid-90s Sudan was home to Osama bin Ladin, the international terrorist responsible for the World Trade Center attack. It is estimated that more than a million people have been killed in the Sudan war and more than 2,5 million displaced in the Darfur conflict. More info on the Sudan crisis.
Update: South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 but ethnic violence and conflict continues within the country and across borders.
United States: at war with terrorism
South Africa: When the nation held its first democratic elections in 1994 and the African National Congress’s Nelson Mandela became president it was considered a model for peaceful transition of power to the people. Alas, not all is well. Although there is no declaration of war between or among religious or (the 14) cultural groups, the crime rate in the country, the highest in the world, resembles war.
Also see Major Land Disputes