Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kosovo and Serbia- A never ending saga of conflict

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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Kosovo and Serbia- A never ending saga of conflict


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 4, 2020


US President George Bush with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in White House

US President George Bush with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in White House | Source: Wikimedia

Kosovo is a small landlocked country in the Western Balkans with a majority of ethnic Albanians and Muslims. The country formerly was a part of Serbia but declared independence in 2008. While Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by nearly a hundred nations including the US, countries like Russia and China along with a few European Union nations have sided with Serbia against Kosovo.

Kosovo and Serbia have been at crossroads for a long time. Kosovo used to be a Serbian province under the communist-run Yugoslavia. However, the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the move by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević to bring Kosovo directly under Belgrade’s administration fuelled war between the two regions.

The situation worsened with the violence in the Bosnian War ensuing from 1992-95 which was termed as “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims. By 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a paramilitary group had been formed in response to the campaign of Milošević. The situation remained tense with Serbian Police killing nearly 50 people of a KLA member’s family in 1998.

Violence continued to escalate from both sides as international calls for putting an end to the violence grew. "We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia," US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly said. The UN banned the sale of arms and ammunition to Serbia as NATO began to plan an intervention in 1998.

However, the situation escalated to a worse in the "Račak Massacre" of 1999, wherein Serbian special police killed 45 ethnic Albanians. The NATO then initiated a 77-day air campaign which ended with the withdrawal of the Serbian army and the paramilitary force of Kosovo. Kosovo became a self-governed territory post the NATO campaign under the United Nations.

Despite several efforts from the European Union and the UN, the two countries have failed to arrive at a common ground till date. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not acknowledge it despite having no formal control in the region.

In 2016, the countries yet again saw each other at crossroads when Kosovo sought to attain 80% shares of the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex in the northern region which is dominated by Serbs. The dispute became so pressing that it became one of the agendas for the UN Security Council.

In early 2017, Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, issued an international arrest warrant for former Kosover guerrillas including Ramush Haradinaj who served as a commander in the 1998-99 war against Serbian rule. He also briefly served as Prime Minister of Kosovo in 2004 and 2005.

As Kosovo asked the EU to press Serbia for dropping the charges, government and opposition leaders called for an end to the EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia’s move to give the nod for Haradinaj’s extradition from France where he was being detained was met by Kosovo’s move to cancel Serbian President’s visit to a mainly ethnic Serb town in Kosovo on the eve of Christmas Day.

The gunning down of Oliver Ivanović, an ethnic-Serb politician in northern Kosovo in 2018 was yet another setback for the worsening ties between the two countries. Then Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic termed it an “act of terrorism”.

Late in 2018, Serbia blocked Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol, a move that saw Kosovo raise customs duties on Serbian imports by 100%.

In May 2019, Kosovo carried out a large anti-corruption and anti-smuggling drill wherein it detained nearly 23 people including two UN personnel and fired tear gas as well as live ammunition as per a few reports. The entire drill was concentrated in a Serb-dominated region in the North.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic reacted by saying that he wants to "preserve peace and stability", but that Serbia "will be fully ready to protect its people at the shortest notice". The European Union, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR (the NATO-led international military presence) all called for the two countries to maintain peace. However, the situation remains critical.

With Serbia being under pressure from international peacekeepers, it’s highly unlikely that it will intervene through its military forces. However, its influence in the Northern region of Kosovo means that both the countries will have to work towards maintaining amicable ties with each other as Kosovo hopes to become a UN member and a fully functional state.

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February 22, 2021 11:14 PM

Iran, Turkey, Qatar Alliance: Will this mark a shift in MENA's Balance of power?

Qatar, Iran and Turkey have been forming an alliance—which impacts several countries—especially in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The move comes after Israel recently established its diplomatic relations with four Arab league countries, namely, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The article covers how this move can have an impact on the balance of power in the region.

Support for the Palestinian Cause

The three countries are critical of the Israel-Arab ties and support the Palestinian cause. Various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah as well, are shoring up ties with Turkey and other countries in the region that stand against normalization with Israel.

During his speech in the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan called out on Israel and proclaimed, “The occupation of Palestine is a bleeding wound.”

Since the Gaza attack, which killed 10 Turkish social activists aboard a ship by the Israeli commandos in international waters, the relationship between the two has only soured. After this incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel, downgrading the diplomatic status. Yet in 2016—after a few meetings—the relationship was restored. However, after another attack in Gaza in 2018, Turkey called back its ambassadors again and expelled the Israeli ambassador to Turkey. Since then they do not have full diplomatic status.

Following the attacks Erdogan—the president of Turkey—even called Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu “a terrorist.” The country has been openly supportive of the Palestinian cause, and has also sent aid for humanitarian relief to the Palestinians. Several Hamas leaders have been visiting, taking refuge, and even meeting with Erdogan.

On August 22, 2020, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Erdogan in Istanbul. Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee, as well arrived in Turkey on September 21, 2020 to meet with Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh al-Arouri and discuss ways to end the internal Palestinian division.

On the same day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Erdogan and thanked him for his support for the Palestinian cause. The two have shared several calls since—discussing political developments and US pressure on the region to normalize ties with Israel and ways to face such pressure.

Turkey has tried to balance its relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, who happen to be arch rivals. But after the recent growing closeness with two of Saudi Arabia’s rival countries, Iran and Qatar, Turkey might end up straining its relations with Saudi Arabia.

Qatar-Saudi Arabia conflict

This diplomatic conflict is also known as the Second Arab Cold War (the first one being the Iran-Saudi Arabia Cold War). There is an ongoing struggle between the two countries to gain influence in the Gulf. Their relations strained especially after the emergence of Arab Spring. During that time, Qatar became in favour of the revolutionary wave, whereas Saudi Arabia was against it. Both the States are allies of the United States, but have a tussle in their ideologies. Both have avoided direct conflict with each other.

There are other issues between them which leads to further tussle-

1. Qatar broadcasts a news channel, Al Jazeera, which favours the Arab Spring.

2. Qatar has good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia's rival.

3. Qatar also allegedly supported Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Which it denies.

The Qatar diplomatic crisis became worse in 2017. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations and trade ties with Doha, and imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Qatar, claiming it supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya's eastern-based government also followed later. Qatar rejected the claims and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of the relations.

How does this new alliance affect the other countries in the region?

The new alliance seems to lead into formations of two alliance groups or blocs in the region, with some countries siding with Iran, Qatar and Turkey and others with the Saudis and their allies. Another point to keep in mind is that Saudi Arabia is supported by the US, while two countries from the former alliance—Turkey and Iran—are supported by Russia. This will lead to further division among the Middle Eastern countries.

President Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, Israeli Prime Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the UAE Signing the Abraham Accords | Source: Trump White House Archives

This alliance can also affect the trade among these countries, and can severe the ties of many Middle Eastern countries. The biggest beneficiary is going to be Israel, which doesn’t have good relations with most of the Muslim world, except the ones which established diplomatic ties recently by signing the Abraham Accords.

In North Africa countries like Egypt and Morocco recognise Israel. However, most of the North African countries also supported the Arab Springs, which is against the ideas of Saudi Arabia. The Islamic holy land seriously seems to have less Arab allies when it comes to opposing the Arab Springs.

In fact, there can be impacts on trade and diplomatic ties with other countries outside the Middle East and North African region as well. Countries will have to balance their relations with both these groups.

How does it affect the Balance of power in the region?

In international relations, balance of power refers to the posture and policy of a nation or group of nations protecting itself against another nation or group of nations by matching its power with the power of the other side.

There has been a Cold War situation between Iran and Saudi Arabia as they are very (perhaps most) influential powers in the region. But Saudi Arabia is still more influential as a business as well as a soft power—it has a richer economy, oil exports, and most importantly, being the holy land where every Muslim comes for Hajj pilgrimage—it has Mecca and Medina. It is the land where the Prophet Muhammad first delivered his messages and teachings. Iran may try to compete in the economic part, but isn't equally as challenging in the religious part—although it is an important country for the Shia Muslims.

There have been arms embargo on Iran by the UN for arms race. Russia and China have been eager to supply Iran with advanced jets, tanks and missiles, which is quite alarming for its Gulf Arab neighbours, especially its primary adversaries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On 14 September 2019, drones were used to attack the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Houthi movement in Yemen claimed responsibility, joining it to events surrounding the Saudi Arabian intervention in the Yemeni Civil War and stating that they used ten drones in the attack from Yemen. Saudi Arabian officials said that many more drones and cruise missiles were used for the attack and these originated from the north and east, and that they were of Iranian manufacture. The United States and Saudi Arabia have stated that Iran was behind the attack while France, Germany, and the United Kingdom jointly stated Iran bears responsibility for it. Iran has denied any involvement. The situation has only exacerbated the Persian Gulf crisis.

By forming this new alliance, supporting the Palestinian cause—with Qatar—even supporting the idea of Arab Springs; the Iran-Turkey-Qatar alliance has a new power with them. What remains to be seen is the other Middle Eastern country’s decision—whether they support this new alliance and the Palestinian cause or go for yet another fragile “peace-building” initiative in the already disturbed region.

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