Civil wars escalated during COVID-19 pandemic in Asia-Pacific region: University Of Melbourne

According to a new research conducted by the University of Melbourne in Australia reported that, armed conflict activities have increased in five countries during the first wave of COVID 19.

India, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and the Philippines all saw an escalation of civil wars because conflict parties exploited either state weakness or a lack of international attention due to the pandemic.


The research was conducted by researcher Dr Tobias Ide, a Discovery Early Career Researcher Fellow from the School of Geography, said, “I looked at the countries that had the most palpable records of conflict.”

“What I found was that rebel groups try to exploit situations in which governments are busy with containing the pandemic and its economic fallout. Increased activities of the Islamic State in Iran are just one example. At the same time, there is little international protest or support as each country is focused on its own struggle with the virus,” he added.

The study was published in ‘World development’ journal. The research was focused on examining armed conflicts in nine countries within the first six months of 2020 that had reliable data on both the pandemic and on-going conflicts.

Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Yemen, all these countries were considered due to their similar Coronavirus metrics over the same study period.

Armed conflict intensity in four countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Thailand and Yemen) decreased between March and June, the study revealed as a result of both state and rebel forces failing to get traction under the pandemic.

“However, there are few reasons to be enthusiastic about this development,” said Dr Ide. “The Taliban in Afghanistan and the ELN rebels in Colombia, for instance, reduced their attacks during the first months of the pandemic. But they also used the COVID-19 crisis to recruit new fighters among impoverished groups, and to gain public support from their own pandemic response,” the Dr added.

The study revealed that Taliban exploited the pandemic to set themselves up in contrast to the government they painted as “incompetent” in order to extend their influence and garner support for their cause in communities.

There has been consistent insurgent attacks in southern Thailand since 17 years between the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and Thai security forces.

The research pointed out that the severe travel restrictions enforced by the Thai government in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 severely affected the BRN’s operation, who normally travel extensively to recruit new members especially in Malaysia.

India saw a rise in armed conflict during the study period, with violent clashes in the Kashmir region between Kashmiri separatists facing off against the Indian military, as well as conflicts between Pakistan and India.

“So what mostly drove the increase in conflict intensity…were basically due to two factors,” Ide said.

“The first being that there is some evidence that Pakistan sponsors or supports these insurgents in Kashmir, to encourage them to increase their attacks [on Indian forces] because they perceived them to be weak and struggling with the pandemic.”

The second factor, Ide explained, was that while Indian government enacted a “pretty comprehensive lockdown in Kashmir, and sealing it way from international media attention…launched more intense counter insurgency efforts and…cracked down on any pro Pakistani sympathy expressions.”

The civil war in Libya between the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) forces and the Libyan National Army escalated during the study period, after a ceasefire in January was broken

The ongoing conflict with India saw a rise in armed conflict in Pakistan during the study period which were unrelated to the pandemic, but also a rise in Taliban affiliated groups and anti government sentiments due to pandemic restrictions.

“There were a lot of anti government grievances, Dr Ide said, “There were restrictions on religious gatherings, which religious groups did not like, and there were some negative economic impacts which affected the local people.”

With the pandemic currently raging in the northern hemisphere and several key states in the Asia-Pacific (e.g. India and Indonesia) and international attention preoccupied with the pandemic that has so far infected some 71,581,532 according to the World Health Organisation, the findings provide important insights.

“Escalating armed conflicts pose significant obstacles when dealing with the pandemic as health infrastructure is destroyed and the government losses resources to respond to the virus,” said Dr Ide.