Conflict update: November 23

South Asia

If it seemed like I was being a little glib yesterday about the escalating India-Pakistan violence in Kashmir, well, that’s how I cope with things that could end in actual nuclear war. But let me be clear, this is starting to get very serious:

Pakistan said Indian troops fired on a bus in the Neelam Valley on Pakistan’s side of the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region, killing the nine passengers and seriously wounding nine others. The Indian military also fired on rescue workers in an ambulance trying to reach the wounded, Pakistan said.

In other violence reported on Wednesday, the Indian military also killed three Pakistani soldiers, including a captain, Pakistan said, and Pakistani forces retaliated, killing seven Indian soldiers.

A high-level Pakistani diplomat, Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah, called the violence “a serious escalation of the situation” and a “grave breach of international and humanitarian law.”

I also feel like, by focusing on the possible eventual outcome of this continued cross-border sniping, I’m downplaying the actual violence and death that’s happening right now, and that’s bad. Whatever else may happen, or not happen, the Indian army killed at least nine civilians today and then tried to kill emergency workers responding to the initial attack. Among other things, this certainly seems to fit the definition of a double-tap strike, which is a war crime, even if, as reported, India’s director general of military operations is feeling “grief” about the whole thing.


The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have reportedly severed the road between Tal Afar and Mosul, which means the last major supply line between Mosul and Syria is no more. Now it’s on to Tal Afar itself, where the PMUs’ arrival is not only probably going to cause an international incident, it’s already causing a humanitarian problem:

At least 3,000 families have fled the Turkmen city of Tal Afar west of Mosul as the Shiite paramilitary group known as Hashd al-Shaabi are moving in and encircling the city.

Provincial officials told Reuters they are concerned by the fact that many of these families are fleeing deeper into territory held by ISIS, making it harder to provide them with aid.

Nuraldin Qablan, a representative for the city on the Nineveh provincial council and deputy head of that council, estimates that half of those families have fled towards Syria and the other half toward territory controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga.

“We ask Kurdish authorities to open a safe passage for them,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.

“People are fleeing due to Hashd’s advance, there are great fears among the civilians,” he added.

After blowing up the third of five bridges that span the Tigris River and connect the two halves of Mosul together yesterday, another US airstrike destroyed the fourth bridge today. Attacking Iraqi forces are undoubtedly planning to use pontoon bridges to cross into western Mosul if and when the time comes, but it will be interesting to see if a decision is made to destroy the final bridge, which could leave civilians stranded along with ISIS personnel. An estimated 68,000 civilians have fled Mosul since the operation started, and about 2000 people a day have been fleeing the city this week.


The Iranian government is admitting that 1000 of its soldiers have been killed in Syria, which means the real figure is likely higher than that. Iran was sticking to a figure of 400 soldiers a few months ago, and it seems likely that if 600 Iranian soldiers had been killed in Syria in the span of three or four months, that would’ve been pretty big news. Iran, even more so than Russia, is in it to win it, but even their level of commitment has to have its limits. Which is not to say they’re anywhere near their limit yet.

Yesterday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is no pro-government outfit to say the least, reported that “dozens” of civilians attempting to flee eastern Aleppo were being forcibly kept there by the rebels. Then overnight, this happened:

Several families attempted to smuggle themselves out of the besieged section of the city overnight on Tuesday, paying smugglers to take them from the Bustan al-Pasha neighbourhood into the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsoud area, before heading into the rebel-held Aleppo countryside.

“Two or three families paid smugglers and were attempting to cross when clashes and gunfire broke out and forced them back,” Aleppo-based journalist Zouhir al-Shimale told Al Jazeera.

Could just be a coincidence, I guess. In happier news, the Syrian government has offered rebels in Aleppo the chance to eat from a bowl of delicious bird seed, set precariously underneath what appears to be an anvil suspended from a rope for some reason…

No, wait, sorry; Assad’s people are apparently inviting the rebels to join them in a friendly football match, I’m sure in the best of faith. Good luck with that.


A Saudi airstrike on the northwestern Yemeni town of Hiran killed 12 people who threatened Saudi security by trying to go to the market. Way to go, everybody. Meanwhile, in the embattled city of Taiz, Amnesty International has accused Yemeni militias loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi of threatening and otherwise intimidating medical workers in the city. Additionally, they seem to be deliberately stationing men and materiel near medical facilities, which then puts those facilities at risk. This is the sort of thing that the United States, to name just one example, routinely chastises Hamas for doing in Gaza, so let’s see if we have anything to say in this case. The Houthis don’t come out any better in Taiz; they’re preventing humanitarian aid from getting into the city.


Want to do something nice but also get something nice for your trouble? Buy Afghan saffron:

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, selling for as much as $1,200-$1,800 a kilogram, and has long been seen as an alternative crop to opium poppies for poor farmers in a country struggling with the legacy of decades of war and lawlessness.

So far, it has had little impact on the opium trade which the United Nations estimates is worth some $3 billion a year in Afghanistan, source of most of the world’s opium, from which heroin is produced.

Even so, the Afghan saffron industry has grown and is establishing a reputation for quality in a market still dominated by neighboring Iran, which accounts for almost 90 percent of global production.

“There is a huge demand for Afghan saffron,” said Bashir Ahmad Rashidi, head of the Ariana Saffron Company, which exports to countries from France to Turkey, India and the United States.

Just as importantly, it offers work for women whose employment opportunities are otherwise limited.

I think there’s a brand available on Amazon, even.



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