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03 Apr 22. Pakistan Dissolution Of Parliament. On word from Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan on 3 April, the President of Pakistan dissolved the National Assembly (NA). The move comes just a few hours after after the Deputy Speaker of the NA dismissed a no-confidence motion against Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, supporting its claim that there was an “international conspiracy” to remove it from power.
- Imran Khan has called for early elections, which the Constitution mandates must be held within 90 days on dissolution of the Parliament. Khan’s popularity was increasingly wavering due to an ongoing economic crisis. However, social media channels and popular support at rallies for Khan highlight that a large portion of Pakistan’s electorate nevertheless support his allegations that he is the victim of an attempted regime change orchestrated by the US. Therefore, while today’s events likely confirm that Imran Khan’s government would have mostly likely not have survived the no confidence motion, he stands a good chance to retain his position as Prime Minister by winning snap elections. Whether his popularity alone will help his party secure a majority by itself remains to be seen, however, he will likely emerge in a strong position to negotiate with other political parties to form an alliance.
- The Opposition has moved the Supreme Court (SC) against the dismissal of the no-confidence motion and the SC has said it will hear the case on 4 April. It is highly likely that protests will take place across the country either called for by the opposition or by PTI supporters after the SC’s verdict. Indeed, in anticipation of domestic unrest, Islamabad police blocked main roads leading to the “red-zone” (see map below) using shipping containers and has officially banned the gathering of individuals there.
- The army, which is a highly significant party in Pakistan’s domestic politics, has said it was not involved in today’s political events. However, there is growing evidence of a rift between the military establishment and Imran Khan which dates back to October 2021 over a rift in the appointment of the new chief of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Furthermore, significantly, in contrast to Khan’s anti-America posture, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on 2 April stated that Pakistan and the US have “a long and excellent strategic relationship” and that he hoped for the expansion of bilateral ties. The army had a big role to play in bringing Khan to power in 2018 and it will be difficult for Khan to win snap elections without their support.
The risk of domestic unrest will be notably elevated in upcoming days, raising physical security risks for bystanders. Roadblocks and greater patrolling in the red zone area (see map below), particularly around Parliament, will cause transport disruptions in Islamabad, subsequently impacting supply chains. The possibility of domestic unrest spreading to other parts of the country also remains likely.
In the scenario where PM Khan loses elections or the SC reverts the dismissal of the no-confidence motion which goes through leading Khan to lose his majority, the Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif remains to be the most likely candidate from the opposition to become Prime Minister. However, the PTI will mostly likely reject such an outcome and hold mass protests to challenge it.
The ongoing political turmoil will impact the already weakening Pakistan rupee that on 29 March fell to a historic record low against the dollar. Furthermore, uncertainty regarding the next government, which will likely remain in place for the next 90 days until elections take place, will weaken investor confidence impacting Pakistan’s overall socio-economic health. This is reflected Pakistan’s socio-economic health ASTRA score of 7/10 with a rising trend. Further, Pakistan’s relations with the United States and indeed its other western partners will remain dented as a result of Khan’s vehement claims of an international conspiracy. This will likely isolate Pakistan further, pushing it to align more closely with China moving forward, which will likely become a cause of concern for New Delhi. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Apr 22. UN-brokered truce in Yemen: FCDO statement. The UK welcomes the United Nation’s two-month truce announcement on Yemen. A Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office spokesperson said: “The United Kingdom welcomes the announcement by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, of a two-month truce in Yemen. This follows positive steps by all parties, including separate ceasefire initiatives by the Saudi-led Coalition and the Houthis. After seven long years of conflict, this truce represents the best chance to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of Yemenis and improve regional stability.”
The UK also welcomes the recent political consultations led by the UN Special Envoy, and the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative for intra-Yemeni dialogue. There is no military solution to the war in Yemen. An inclusive political dialogue is the only route to a sustainable resolution. Attention should now focus on building further confidence through measures including the re-opening of the Taiz road, and the regular flow of fuel deliveries, goods and flights. All parties must now seize this opportunity and work with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg to make progress towards a political deal. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
01 Apr 22. Costa Rica Risks Persist. On 3 April, Costa Rica will hold a second-round presidential run-off election between Rodrigo Chaves of the centrist Partido Progreso Social Democrático (PPSD) and former president José María Figueres (1994-1998) of the centre-left Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN).
- The most recent poll published on 30 March by Costa Rica’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies (CIEP) gives Chaves the lead with 41.4 percent of voting intentions to 38 percent for Figueres. However, support for Chaves has fallen as in a previous 1 March poll he was on 46.4 percent. Support for Figueres is up from 35.9 percent on 1 March. The number of undecided voters has increased over the past month from 15.3 percent on 1 March to 18 percent on 30 March.
- The crisis produced by the Covid-19 pandemic severely weakened Costa Rica’s economy and accentuated the precariousness of its public finances marked by a chronic fiscal deficit and a high public debt. The challenging economic situation contributed to the governing centre-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) winning less than 1 percent of the vote in the 6 February general elections, losing all its legislative seats. The PAC’s debacle also reflects public fatigue with the pandemic restrictions along with discontent surrounding the fiscal austerity measures agreed under a USD 1.8bn Extended Fund Facility (EFE) agreement that the government reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March 2021.
- The discontent over proposed spending cuts will push the incoming government to renegotiate the terms of the IMF agreement. Both Figueres and Chaves agree on the need for fiscal consolidation but have said that the IMF agreement reached by the outgoing government is unworkable. Chaves wants a “totally new agreement” negotiated from scratch. Whilst Figueres initially also called for a total renegotiation, he softened this message later in the campaign. Figueres says his prospective administration will adopt measures to reduce the fiscal deficit such as increasing taxes on luxury homes but that it will not implement a fiscal adjustment programme that falls on middle- and low-income sectors, as it could produce unrest.
- Both candidates support a Public Employment Law that caps public sector salaries, a key condition for the IMF agreement that has not yet been implemented. But both have mentioned the possibility of altering the revenue raising proposals included in the agreement.
- The new president will have to contend with a fragmented Legislative Assembly with its 57 seats divided among six parties. The PLN secured 18 seats making it the largest congressional bench, followed by the PPSD with nine. But neither party secured a majority, increasing government stability risks. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Apr 22. Israel – Palestinian Attacks.
- The recent spate of deadly attacks in Israel threatens to increase the likelihood of additional copycat-style incidents targeting Israeli or Jewish-majority urban and suburban areas amid elevated inter-communal tensions ahead of Islamic Ramadan and Jewish Passover in April.
- The use of firearms in the Hadera and Bnei Brak attacks indicates a growing sophistication in planning capabilities, resulting in an increased lethality of incidents. A surge in the circulation of unlicensed firearms over the past year may heighten the likelihood of their use by terrorist actors in additional incidents in future.
- Israel’s strengthened national security posture in the coming days and weeks is likely to result in confrontations within flashpoint areas and sustain Israeli settler violence. In particular, the intensification of Israeli security force raids and detentions across the West Bank will trigger violent confrontations.
Ahead of and after the Negev Summit, which exemplified Israel’s bid for regional and security leadership, a series of attacks marked one of the deadliest escalations in Israel since the mid-2010s, outside of a full-scale war context. Late on 29 March, a gunman shot five people in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb located approximately 14 km (9 miles) east of Tel Aviv. The incident marked the third deadly assault in Israel since 22 March and one of the deadliest since 2014. It follows an attack in Hadera in northern Israel on 27 March and the stabbing of four people in Be’er Sheva in the south. The spike prompted the Israeli Police to elevate the overall threat level to its highest point since the cross-border conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas last May. Amid these developments, the rare visits by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and President Isaac Herzog to Jordan this week, underscore Israel’s sustained security concerns regarding the month of Ramadan and week of Passover in a bid to have Amman, custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites, facilitate the easing of tensions.
Attacks highlight growing sophistication and likelihood of additional attacks
Three attacks within an eight-day period represents a frequency not seen for several years in Israel, since the so-called “knife intifada” between 2015 and 2016. Three of the four attackers had served sentences in Israeli prisons and held prior ties with terrorist organisations. However, while this highlights a domestic security failure, the Be’er Sheva and Hadera perpetrators were Israeli citizens. This has likely made detection more complicated for authorities like the Shin Bet and Israeli Police. Also concerning, is the growing lethality of the incidents, indicating increasing capabilities and organisational sophistication of the attacks. Both the incidents in Hadera and Bnei Brak involved automatic firearms, implying a level of planning usually absent from recent terror-related attacks in Israel, which have been mostly carried out with knives.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Palestinian militant organisations and pro-Palestinian Lebanon-based Hizballah described the actions as a form of Palestinian resistance, congratulating the perpetrators. However, while the Bnei Brak attack was reportedly claimed by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades on social media channels, each of the attacks seems to have organically inspired the next, rather than being part of a directed campaign by a terrorist organisation. Indeed, only the 29 March attack appears to have leveraged a more elaborate form of support due to the weapon used, an M-16 assault rifle, and the provenance of the perpetrator from a town near Jenin in the West Bank.
Notably, the first two attacks have suspected Islamic State (IS)-links, with the attack in Hadera on 27 March being the first claimed by IS in Israel since 2017. Beyond the possibility of these exemplifying growing pockets of IS support among Palestinians, they could highlight a more concerning hard-line jihadist radicalisation in the West Bank, which may well expose a different targeting pattern closer to an IS playbook in future attacks.
01 Apr 22. Burkina Faso: Rejection of request to reduce transition time frame increases threat of ECOWAS sanctions. On 31 March, the military junto reiterated that its previously proposed 36-month transition to democracy is realistic as its priority is to ensure security in country. The announcement represents a rejection of pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the junta to recue the proposed transition to a more acceptable time frame. This may prompt ECOWAS to adjust its position, having previously decided not to impose sanctions as they claimed Burkina Faso was cooperating on a return to democracy. If sanctions are announced it is likely that the first tranche will be targeted at individuals within the military government, limiting impacts on the wider business community. With European partners also likely to pressure the junta to rapidly return to democracy, this may encourage the Burkinabe military to improve ties with Russia, whose military contract firm Wagner, active in neighbouring Mali, is seeking a contract in Burkina Faso. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Apr 22. Kenya: Court ruling likely to drive tensions around polls over fears of electoral fraud. On 31 March, the Supreme Court sided with an earlier ruling by the High Court, finding that constitutional changes proposed within the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his chosen successor, Raila Odinga, were unconstitutional. The two have argued that changes would reduce the threat of violence around future polls by creating additional posts in government, thereby allowing greater power sharing among Kenya’s ethnic groups. However, it was very unlikely that the court would find in their favour as the constitution forbids the president from launching constitutional changes through a popular initiative, as was the case with BBI. The ruling is likely to vindicate supporters of Deputy President William Ruto who claim that Kenyatta and Odinga threaten constitutional order and will likely attempt to manipulate the election. This trend will elevate the threat of intercommunal conflict around polls in August, particularly in the Rift Valley, elevating threats to local staff. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Apr 22. Sri Lanka: Curfew lifted in capital after demonstrations but risk of violent clashes remains elevated. Hundreds of protesters tried to storm the residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo’s Mirihana district in the early hours of 1 April. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, enraging crowds that eventually spread across the city. At least five policeman and 50 demonstrators, including journalists were reportedly injured while 45 others arrested. Protesters burnt buses and blocked a pivotal highway between Colombo and Kandy using burning logs. The police later termed them as “organised extremists” trying to “create anarchy in the country”. Violent clashes in future protests that are eminent as the country reels under an energy crises (See Sibylline Alert – 31 March 2022) are likely raising risks for bystanders. The government may deploy the army across Colombo to maintain law and order in anticipation of future demonstrations which will disrupt transport due to increased checks. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Apr 22. Solomon Islands-China: Solomon Islands will not allow Chinese military base, but regional and domestic risks expected to rise. On 1 April, the office of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, stated that Beijing will not be allowed to build a military base as part of a bilateral security agreement. Under the deal, Chinese armed and police forces, and warships, could be deployed to help “maintain social order”. The announcement of the deal was met with regional backlash, with Micronesia expressing “grave security concerns”. Sogavare office’s statement is unlikely to quell security concerns from close US allies and regional countries Australia and New Zealand, especially as the former shares a similar agreement with the Solomon Islands. The deal, which is currently unsigned, would likely worsen China-Australia relations by exacerbating Canberra’s perceptions of Chinese regional militarisation efforts, ultimately elevating the risk of military provocations and confrontations. Moreover, the deal is expected to be met with protests and associated disruption in the Solomon Islands, with Chinese-associated businesses and personnel as likely to be targeted. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Mar 22. Mexico: New report on 2014 mass kidnapping triggers unrest in Acapulco and Mexico City. On 30 March, protesters blocked Mexico’s Highway 95D and stole four commercial buses after a report from the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) implicated the Army and Navy in the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping case and suggested that they had obstructed investigations. The case involved the kidnapping and presumed killing and 43 trainee teachers (normalistas) part of a left-wing student movement from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, after they attempted to stage a protest march to Mexico City. The GIEI report says that the Army and Navy were monitoring both suspected criminal groups operating in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state, and the students, but failed to prevent the student’s kidnapping. Moreover, CCTV footage suggests that Navy officers manipulated evidence related to the case. The scale of the revelations will likely trigger more protests in Acapulco and Mexico City, with violence possible and robbery or damages of private property also likely. A strong response by security forces would likely increase unrest. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Mar 22. Honduras: Authorities suspend foreign miner’s activities, reflecting continued regulatory risks. On 30 March, Honduran authorities ordered a subsidiary of Canadian-owned Aura Minerals Inc, Minerales de Occidente Sociedad Anonima (Minosa), to halt operations at its San Andrés open-pit gold mine in the country’s western Cortés department. The suspension comes as local residents accused Minosa of illegally exhuming bodies from a nearby cemetery of the Maya Chorti indigenous community to continue their mining operations. Locals have blocked roads connecting the mine in protest on several occasions. The Honduran authorities requested that Minosa proves that it has legal authorisation to exhume bodies before it can resume activities. With gold mining generating USD 163.8m a year for Honduras, the country’s economy will likely be impacted by a prolonged suspension. Moreover, the suspension highlights the continuing regulatory risks for companies that do not comply with prior consultation of local communities and informed consent. The case will also likely increase local hostility to foreign mining investment. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Mar 22. El Salvador: State Of Emergency Will Elevate Prosecution Risks To Staff.
- The state of emergency moderately raises physical risks for private firms’ staff and severely elevates the risk for NGO staff. Arbitrary detentions and assaults by security forces will very likely increase. The use of arrest numbers as a gauge of policy efficiency will likely create incentives for security force commanders to detain innocent citizens and falsely claim that these were involved with gangs.
- Since extortion remains one of the primary sources of income for the gangs, increased use of violence to demand extortion payments is very likely to increase if the government fails to reach a deal with the gangs to restore peace, weakening the security outlook for private firms in El Salvador.
- The decree suspends constitutional guarantees including the right to public meetings and protest, association, private communications, aspects of due process, and significantly extends the maximum term for administrative detention. The government has deployed military personnel alongside the police to undertake these enforcement operations.
On 27 March, El Salvador’s Parliamentary Assembly approved a request by President Nayib Bukele to declare a 30-day state of emergency in response to a surge in murders attributed to the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18 Revolucionarios, and Barrio 18 Sureños gangs. The administration pushed the emergency declaration after 87 people were murdered between 26 and 27 March. The government argues that the state of emergency will provide security forces with the capabilities to stop the spike in violence and push back against the powerful gangs.
Gangs in El Salvador have significant capabilities and are the main drivers of violence, together with “transportistas”, which mainly operate as narcotics logistics operators from Panama to the Mexican border. While clans used to have a dominant role in the Salvadorian criminal environment and major cities generally, constant splintering and in-fighting has reduced their influence. MS-13 and Barrio 18 are now the principal remaining criminal actors and profit from extortion, corruption, and drug trafficking. While gangs do not regularly operate large-scale drug trafficking operations, taxing other criminal groups operating in their territory is common, as well as taxing or directly operating micro-trafficking networks.
Violence remains an underlying problem for El Salvador and the rest of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) as clashes between organised crime groups have historically created extreme spikes of violent crime, affecting economic development and the quality of life. This dynamic led El Salvador to become the most violent country in the world in 2015 with 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, with Honduras registering 60. The structure of the gangs, regularly organised by “clicas” lends itself to constant violent confrontations as these small sub-structures fight to obtain control over certain territories. Group leaders provide minimal strategic direction, limiting themselves to internal disciplinary issues.
For these reasons, government efforts to curb violence tend to have extensive support from the population, resulting in ever greater militancy in those leaders promoting such efforts. President Nayib Bukele currently holds the highest approval rating in the entire continent with 85%, according to CID Gallup. This approval rating is likely a result of the drop in homicides that has occurred during his administration, taking the homicide rate to 18 per 100,000.
Fragile Gang Truce
The drop in homicides is linked to a deal that President Bukele made with MS-13, Barrio 18 Revolucionarios, and Barrio 18 Sureños. The negotiations were undertaken by the National Director of Prisons, Osiris Luna, and the Director of Social Fabric, Carlos Marroquín. The United States Treasury sanctioned both individuals on December 2021 for negotiating a deal with organised criminal organisations. The agreement reportedly consisted of greater benefits and liberties for some incarcerated gang members and other financial incentives for the group, in exchange for electoral support in the early 2021 parliamentary election and a significant drop in visible violence.
Security forces report that the number of homicides has dropped significantly, from 103 to 18 per 100,000. However, several human rights organisations argue that disappearances have increased, signalling that the drop in homicide numbers has been manipulated as part of a political effort to improve perceived security, not necessarily to reduce the number of victims. Thus, public homicides carried out by gangs have a political value, and regularly send a message to either society or the government.
The spike in homicides over the weekend is therefore likely to be a message to the central government to renegotiate the terms of the agreement and not allow it to collapse, causing a return to 2015-levels of violence.
The state of emergency is therefore a reaction to this message and an attempt to deter the gangs. It is possible that the mutual escalation will lead to sustained levels of increased violence, with neither side gaining the upper hand in the short-to-medium term.
MS-13 and Barrio 18 have mounted similar campaigns of extreme violence twice. Once in April 2020 and later in November 2021. Both outbreaks were met with a strong governmental response, but a state of emergency was not imposed in either one. Yet, the scale of the current intensification could lead to a different outcome, largely depending on the demands of the gangs.
State of Emergency
The decree suspends constitutional freedoms that guarantee the right to public meetings and protest, association, private communications and also aspects of due process while significantly extending the maximum term for an administrative detention. According to the Constitution, administrative detentions can only last 72 hours. The decree extends the length of the detention to 15 days. The government has deployed military personnel alongside the police to enforce this decree.
The government’s strategy is largely based on repressing the incarcerated population, of which around 16,000 are reportedly gang members, to leverage the negotiation procedure. Meanwhile, the suspension of due process and the extension of the maximum length of administrative arrest have reduced the threshold necessary to arrest individuals. To date, since the decree came into effect, the government has detained at least 2,163 individuals, representing a massive crackdown on gangs.
President Bukele has issued public threats to prisoners that he will ration food, limit outdoor recreation and severely worsen conditions in prisons overall, raising significant human rights concerns. Similarly, the administration responded to criticism from human rights’ and multilateral organisations by accusing them of being allied to gangs and actively financing criminals. While the administration’s pushback is not unexpected, it increases the threat that NGOs and other organisations considered to be in opposition to the administration, including private firms, will be directly targeted. In this case, the state of emergency would reduce the threshold for the state to prohibit associations, detain individuals, or intercept communications.
The suspension of the right to private communications represents a key threat to firms in El Salvador, as security forces will require no evidence or judicial authorisation to intercept phone lines or potentially use cyber attacks to obtain private information. While such measures particularly expose journalists and their sources as well as NGOs and financial contributors, elevated corruption also raises the risk of corporate espionage or the robbery of proprietary information.
Impact and Risks
The state of emergency moderately raises physical threats to the staff of private firms’, and severely elevates the threat to NGO staff. Arbitrary detentions and assaults by security forces will very likely increase. Meanwhile, the use of arrest numbers as a gauge of policy efficiency will create incentives for security forces’ commanders to detain innocent citizens and falsely claim these were involved with gangs.
The gangs’ demands are a key indicator of the outcome. If lower-level members are demanding better conditions outside of prison, the risk of a violent escalation is higher as the criminals’ demands are unlikely to be met by the government. On the contrary, if high-level gang members are demanding better conditions in jail and some concessions from the government, a deal is more likely to be reached.
Although the government reported an immediate drop in homicides, an overextension of Bukele’s pushback could ultimately trigger a very aggressive campaign from the gangs. While the latter would most likely follow the same patterns of the weekend homicide spike, the targeting of state institutions and security forces is also possible. Since extortion remains one of the primary sources of income for the gangs, increased use of violence to demand extortion payments is very likely to increase if the government fails to reach a deal, weakening the security outlook for private firms in El Salvador.
Social media platforms could face elevated policy risks if the administration tightens regulations to increase their capabilities to suspend accounts, disseminate information, or limit violent content. While the control of all branches of power by Bukele-aligned officials would likely lead to a single demand from all the branches of the state – in contrast to the case of Brazil and Telegram – reputational risks and human rights concerns could increase the cost of applying the demanded policy by the platforms.
The state of emergency will last for 30 days and can be extended for another 30 days if the legislative assembly votes to extend it. As Bukele currently holds a supermajority in congress, the extension of the state of emergency is likely. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Mar 22. Israel-Palestinian Territories: PM statements drive tensions sustaining significant bystander risk. In a video statement on 30 March, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet urged vigilance and responsibility asking gunowners to carry firearms with them, after an unprecedent spate of attacks targeting Israelis over the past week. His remarks follow the imposition of a heightened Israeli security posture which has resulted in the deployment of a dozen additional battalions along areas bordering Gaza and the West Bank, as well as bolstering police presence in sensitive areas. These measures are likely to compound the heightened inter-communal tensions spiked after the Bnei Brak attack late on 29 March which triggered instances of violence by Israeli settlers in Hebron and Israeli raids in Jenin. In light of another violent incident, today, 31 March, with a stabbing on a bus near the West Bank settlement of Efrat, the coming days and weeks will entail an elevated bystander risk in proximity to flashpoint areas such as mixed Arab-Israeli communities, Israeli settlements and religious sites. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Mar 22. Tunisia: Dissolution of parliament exacerbates political divisions, driving large-scale. Unrest. On 30 March, Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved the Assembly of Representatives hours after cabinet sessions resumed for the first time since he suspended parliament in July 2021. During the online session, attended by members of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the Heart of Tunisia and Karama parties, President Saied accused ministers of conspiring to organise a coup after voting against decrees to extend presidential power. Recent developments, coupled with President Saied’s further extension of executive authority, will push Tunisia further into a political deadlock, threatening the provision of third-party financial support or socio-economic improvement. Therefore, an uptick in protest activity is likely in the coming days and weeks, with a heavy-handed security response heightening the likelihood of clashes prompting greater bystander risks and travel disruptions. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Mar 22. Sri Lanka: Business Disruptions As Energy Crisis Continues.
- The energy crisis has been compounded by the fact that more than 40 percent of the country’s electricity supply comes from hydro-power generation, but output have dwindled due to inadequate rainfall. To conserve electricity, the government has decided to turn off streetlights across the country, while the Colombo stock exchange will cut daily trading from four to two hours for the rest of the week.
- Depleted foreign exchange reserves have also led to severe fuel shortages crippling public transport. As of today (31 March), diesel is altogether unavailable or in extremely short supply at filling stations across the country. Many owners of private buses are running out of fuel, which will result in service suspensions and reductions in services in the coming days.
- The country’s unravelling economic crisis is also driving domestic unrest as tens of thousands demonstrated outside the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office on 15 March demanding his resignation (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 16 March 2022). Quarrels and exhaustion among motorists queuing at filling stations have led to five deaths to date, prompting the government to deploy security forces at fuel pumps (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 22 March 2022).
- In addition to frequent power outages, hospitals have also faced an acute shortage in medical supplies forcing many to suspend surgeries as well as diagnostic centres due to the economic crisis. Sri Lanka relies heavily on external credit lines from countries such as India, as well as possibly the International Monitory Fund (IMF) in the future. As countries across the globe open their borders, Sri Lanka has seen an uptick in foreign tourist arrivals in March. However, the gradual recovery of tourism means the sector’s income will not be enough to ease the economic crisis in the near term.
Sri Lanka will continue to rely on its international partners to meet its immediate energy demands. India has already extended a USD 1.5bn credit line for fuel an medical purchases, however, Colombo has requested an additional USD 1 bn that New Delhi may not be able to provide as its own national coal inventories dwindle (See Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 31 March 2022). Without significant precipitation to boost its own capacity in hydro-power generation, Sri Lanka’s energy crises will likely be sustained for the next month until rainfall is expected to increase. As a result, the country’s socio-economic health will remain precarious as indicated by Sibylline’s relevant ASTRA Risk scores and trends below.
Blackouts, widespread transport disruptions, and weakened medical infrastructure will also hinder the important tourism recovery, as foreign travellers will be reluctant to visit the country during the crisis. Moreover, severe fuel shortages will continue to impact industrial and trading activities, with Colombo port terminals already experiencing container build-ups due to lack of available trucks.
Likely future domestic unrest will compound social and political instability as well as human rights risks, with the Sri Lankan military having a history of cracking down on protestors, raising the physical security threat to bystanders. If sustained, such actions may lead to the EU – Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner that has already scrutinised Sri Lanka’s human rights record – to revoke Sri Lanka’s preferential trading status, aggravating the alarming economic conditions further still. (Source: Sibylline)
30 Mar 22. On 29 March, a gunman shot five people in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb located approximately 14km (9 miles) east of Tel Aviv in Israel. The victims were reportedly shot on different streets in the area, before local security services fatally shot the assailant. The perpetrator was an Arab-Israeli resident, previously convicted in 2015 for firearms dealing and was reportedly known to have been affiliated with a terrorist organisation.
The incident marks the third deadly assault in Israel in the past week, following an attack in Hadera in northern Israel on 27 March and the stabbing of four people in Be’er Sheva city on 22 March, both claimed by Islamic State-linked (IS) militants. This has prompted the Israeli Police to elevate the overall threat level to the highest level since violence between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas in May 2021.
Claims by IS-affiliated militants for two of the recent attacks suggest the group is trying to re-assert influence and gain public attention following the appointment of the new leader, Juma Awad al-Badri. This is particularly notable as Israel had been considered a somewhat unlikely target for the group due to the lack of IS presence and Israel’s extensive security capabilities. That said, IS sympathisers will likely be inspired to conduct further attacks across the country, exploiting currently heightened ethno-religious tensions.
The spate of attacks comes ahead of a number of religious festivals, including the Palestinian celebration of Land Day on 30 March. In addition, the holy month of Ramadan will begin on 2 April as well as Jewish Passover from 15-23 April. There is often a spike in violence around such events, the result of greater inter-communal tensions. This is likely to be compounded in the coming weeks by ongoing issues such as the expansion of Israel’s settlement construction.
Moreover, the attacks have taken place against the backdrop of the Negev Summit on 28 March, where foreign ministers from the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt met with Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, consolidating the normalisation of ties beyond the initial Abraham Accords of 2020.
Local authorities will continue to tighten Israel’s security posture in the coming days and weeks, with the greatest visible presence being in urban areas and disputed territories which have formerly represented key hot spots for violent attacks. In particular, ahead of Ramadan, religious centres and Arab landmarks in East Jerusalem and the Old City will remain primary flashpoints for inter-communal violence between Israelis, Arab Israelis and Palestinians, especially during Friday prayers. The geographical spread of the three incidents suggests major cities across Israel will remain targets for militant attacks. Moreover, the increased presence of Israeli security forces and police elevates the likelihood of possible violent clashes driven by rising ethno-religious tensions. Such sentiments will be compounded by an increase in arrests made by Israeli police, including those in the past 48 hours targeting primarily Arab neighbourhoods in the West Bank, including the Balata refugee camp, Ramallah, Nablus and Marda. Whilst Israeli security forces have typically been the target of attacks by Palestinian actors, recent incidents and the deteriorating security environment point to a greater bystander and physical threat to civilians in public spaces in towns and cities across Israel. (Source: Sibylline)
29 Mar 22. On the night of 28 March, armed groups, known locally as bandits, attacked a passenger train on the line connecting Kaduna city and Abuja, between Katari and Rijana, also detonating an improvised explosive device (IED) damaging the line. Initial reports stated that the train was bullet proof and that no passengers were harmed in the attack. However, subsequent reports from unidentified security personnel claimed that at least two train workers and five security personnel were killed.
The incident is the second attack on major transport infrastructure in Kaduna state within three days, after dozens of bandits attacked a navigations site on the runway of Kaduna International Airport on 26 March (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 28 March). This comes amidst a broader rise in attacks in Kaduna state over the past week, with at least 65 people killed in attacks across 10 villages in the Yakawada Local Government Area between 25-28 March.
Conflict between the Nigerian military and bandit groups, which operate both as criminal groups and representatives of herders in systemic intercommunal conflict with sedentary communities (see Sibylline Situation Update Brief – 5 March 2021), has been ongoing across north-western and central states for several years. However, since renewed offensives were launched in September 2021, making greater use of US-supplied A-29 Super Tucanos air support, the government has made some progress against bandit groups. At the beginning of March, the military claimed to have killed over 200 armed bandits in four days of operations in neighbouring Niger state.
However, this has not been effective in eliminating the threat of bandit groups, which are attempting to degrade military capabilities. This was likely why Kaduna Airport (which is used by the Nigerian Airforce) was targeted, also increasing pressure on the Nigerian government to pursue peace agreements, in which they may hope to secure direct financing, promises of greater economic support for their communities or protections for grazing rights. This would function similar to peace agreements reached with Niger Delta Militants in 2016. The same is also likely to have been the motive for targeting the train line between Kaduna and Abuja. The line is one of Nigeria’s few modern standard gauge lines, considered prohibitively expensive for most Nigerians, providing a broadly safe form of overland transport between Kaduna and Abuja, bypassing roads around Rijana where bandit groups operating kidnap for ransom operations.
The IED used in the attack has damaged the line between Nigeria and Kaduna, disrupting freight and passenger movement through the coming weeks. This may increase demand for overland trucking services for goods moving between Kaduna and Abuja and the broader movement of goods between northern Nigeria and southern ports, particularly perishables such as agricultural products. Combined with enduring fuel shortages and elevated diesel prices, which this month reached NGN 800 per litre from NGN 312 in February, this will significantly increase costs for the movement of goods, impacting supply chains, particularly those connected to Kaduna based textile, steel and automobile manufacturers.
Through the coming weeks bandit groups are likely to continue to seek to pressure the government into pursuing some form of peace agreement, targeting dual use facilities and key transport infrastructure through rural areas in order to reduce capabilities and undermine confidence in the state’s ability to provide security. However, given recent military gains, it is unlikely that the government will feel compelled to launch talks and will likely instead attempt to resolve the threat through increased military deployment. This is unlikely to completely mitigate the threat of bandit attacks, driving sporadic assaults on transit infrastructure and a high threat of banditry on overland routes, threatening the movement of staff through north-western and central regions. (Source: Sibylline)
28 Mar 22. Malaysian military modernisation poised to pick up pace. The modernisation of the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) seems certain to remain on hold for the near future due to constrained defence spending and political indecision. These restraints have prompted a renewed push to maximise local involvement in procurements and ensure that bidding for imports, when they do occur, is highly competitive. This emphasis, which has been highlighted at the Defence Services Asia 2022 (DSA 2022) exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, is linked to achieving cost efficiencies and the country’s diversification strategy, the latter of which has also received an impetus from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Malaysia’s defence budget for 2022 is set at MYR16.14bn (USD3.8bn), a nominal 1.8% increase over the original allocation a year earlier.
The 2022 allocation comprises MYR11.10bn for operations expenses and MYR5.04bn for development expenses. These represent a year-on-year decline of 2% and an increase of 12%, respectively. (Source: Janes)
29 Mar 22. Australian Budget 2022-23 released, Defence strategy unveiled. A multi-billion-dollar investment in new national cyber and intelligence capabilities are among a range of measures outlined in the Commonwealth government’s pre-election Budget.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has handed down the 2022-23 Budget, announcing Project REDSPICE (Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber, and Enablers) — a $9.9bn investment over the next decade in the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
The project aims to bolster the ASD’s offensive cyber capabilities and strengthen its detection and response network.
This is tipped to almost double the size of the ASD, generating over 1,900 jobs.
“This investment in ASD recognises the deteriorating strategic circumstances in our region, characterised by rapid military expansion, growing coercive behaviour and increased cyber-attacks,” Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said.
“It acknowledges the nature of conflict has changed, with cyber-attacks now commonly preceding other forms of military intervention – most recently demonstrated by offensive cyber activity against Ukraine.
“REDSPICE ensures Australia keeps pace with the rapid growth of cyber capabilities of potential adversaries. It provides new intelligence capabilities, new cyber defences to protect our most critical systems, and is a real increase in the potency of ASD’s ability to strike back in cyberspace.”
Further, an additional $74.7m has been invested in Operation RESOLUTE, which aims to protect Australia’s maritime interests by supporting ongoing operations and activities in the Middle East with an additional investment of $104.2m in 2022-23 for Operation ACCORDION.
The Budget also outlines a raft of recently announced investments in defence capability, including:
- investing $38bn in the expansion of the permanent ADF and Defence civilian workforce, up 18,500 by 2039-40;
- a $10bn investment in a new submarine base to be built on the east-coast;
- a $4.3bn commitment to develop Western Australia’s first large-vessel dry berth precinct at Henderson Shipyard;
- a plan to more than triple the size of Osborne Shipyard for the future SSN program;
- investment in new uncrewed aerial surveillance systems, Ch-47F Chinook helicopters, Abrams tanks, and combat vehicles for the Australian Army;
- extending in-service support for the Hawk 127 Lead-In Fighter Training System (Source: Defence Connect)
28 Mar 22. 28 March, Peru’s Congress held an impeachment trial against President Pedro Castillo based on 20 separate alleged offences related to his ‘permanent moral incapacity’ to govern. In order to trigger the impeachment motion, 87 out of 130 deputies in the unicameral Congress must vote in favour.
- The opposition-controlled Congress approved the motion to launch impeachment proceedings with 76 votes in favour to 41 against. This came after a previous motion tabled in December 2021 was defeated by 76 against to 46 in favour, underlining the significant fall in congressional support for Castillo in recent months. Whilst deputies from centrist political parties played a crucial role in preventing impeachment in December, deputies from Acción Popular (AP), the largest centrist party that has provided continued support to Castillo, voted unanimously in favour of subjecting him to an impeachment trial.
- The impeachment is being promoted by the far-right opposition Renovación Popular (RP) party. The 20 separate charges levelled against Castillo include the appointment of ‘questionable’ cabinet ministers, alleged influence peddling in the promotion of officers and the ‘illegal’ appointment of an inexperienced and unqualified head of the state-owned oil company Petroperú. Additionally, Castillo was accused of involvement in a corruption ring linked to the awarding of state contracts in the leaked testimony of lobbyist, Karelim López Arredondo, who is being prosecuted for alleged corruption. López’s testimony appears to have shifted congressional majority support against Castillo leading to the approval of the impeachment motion on 14 March.
- The impeachment trial comes as public support for Castillo is also falling. According to an Ipsos poll published on 13 March, Castillo’s approval rating fell to 26 percent, down from 33 percent in January, and 53 percent of respondents want him to resign. (Source: Sibylline)
28 Mar 22. Lack of funding could see SANDF lose ability to execute constitutional mandate. Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) heard a litany of woes – all pertaining to the parsimonious manner the Department of Defence (DoD) is treated by National Treasury – will impact negatively on SA National Defence Force (SANDF) training, combat readiness, and operations.
The committee, one of two permanent Parliamentary ones tasked specifically with defence oversight, was given examples of likely scenarios given the continued decrease in funding for defence.
These include, on the operational side, a reduction in the number of soldiers (currently 15 companies) deployed to protect South Africa’s over 4 400 km of land border; a withdrawal from external operations (currently Operation Mistral in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Operation Vikela in Mozambique); and either a reduction or complete cut of the current four coastal patrols a year the SA Navy (SAN) executes.
Another possible casualty on the list of tasking entrusted to the SANDF is search and rescue, in both the land and maritime environments.
“The SANDF is engaged in internal and external operations which, if the situation is not addressed, will require government to direct what this Department must do both medium and long term. With current situation in the region, the country risk losing its credibility, respect, economic influence and security along the borders and internally (sic),” the presentation to the PCDMV reads in part.
Combat readiness across the three sharp point services – SA Air Force, SA Army and SA Navy – is “exacerbated by reduced training and unavailability of ammunition, unserviceable combat vehicles, aircraft, vessels and related equipment”.
Parliamentarians were warned reductions in training, with additional training reduced and possibly not taking place, could see “unskilled personnel resulting in a risk that may lead to loss of lives”.
“Training,” the presenter told the PCDMV, “is at the core of defence and without funding nothing can be done” to the extent it “will pose a risk in executing the constitutional mandate”.
The SANDF has generally reduced formal courses across the board due to budget cuts. “This resulting in the cutting of formal courses and joint interdepartmental, agency and multi-national exercises will impact the safety of troops during deployments,” the presentation said.
The SANDF is “inadequately sustained particularly for training,” the Department of Defence (DoD) said, warning that sustainment and logistics are thinly stretched and the SANDF would be hard pressed to “go to war tomorrow” as it does not have all of the ammunition, spares, rations and other supplies needed.
The declining budget is seeing negative consequences, with the South African pledge to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force revised downward to reflect “current resource levels availability.”
Another concern raised was defence infrastructure, which is old and not being maintained due to lack of funding “and this has adverse impact on the morale and image of the SANDF giving rise to a significant maintenance backlog which impacts directly on the operational readiness of the SANDF and its ability to prepare and deploy forces.”
The maintenance backlog is another area of concern, as it affects “all major systems,” most pertinently prime mission equipment. “The maintenance backlog is composed of airframe, vessels, engine, equipment, infrastructure, facilities, components and facility services and repairs continuously deferred due to lack of funds.”
The current budget cut implies some SANDF prime mission equipment may have to be mothballed/preserved – the Gripen fleet is already grounded, for example and was in rotational storage.
The most affected sub-programmes will include helicopter, air combat, air transport capabilities, frigate, submarines and the Naval Dockyard. “As a result, these capabilities may be limited or unavailable to support force training and force employment. Support to UN missions, Operations Copper and Corona will be affected,” the DoD said.
Regaining lost capabilities will take time. “Due to the lifespan of some capabilities, they face technology obsolescence. Over a period of time the impact will not be visible to government and citizens and the decline may not receive due attention as is the case right now. However, all capabilities are systematically being paralysed and the downward spiral continues unabated.”
Summing up, the DoD stated the current limited budget meant non-implementation of the 2015 Defence Review; non-compliance with the National Security Strategy (NSS) border safeguarding requirement for 22 sub-units (companies) and the establishment of a Cyber Warfare Capability; inability to modernise and sustain prime mission equipment; deterioration of facilities; reduction of training; and inability to maintain set stock levels, resulting in high cost outsourcing. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
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