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Security situation in J&K to remain volatile for foreseeable future over change in region’s status – India & Pakistan Analysis

Executive Summary

Following the Indian government’s decision to change the status of Jammu & Kashmir, violent protests were recorded in Srinagar and other parts of the region while Pakistan undertook a set of diplomatic measures to protest the developments.

Militant propaganda on the issue will likely see an uptick in the coming days, with an associated risk of sporadic, low-intensity plots. Levels of civil unrest in Kashmir Valley are also expected to rise in tandem.

The situation along the Line of Control and the International Border separating the two countries is likely to remain tense over the coming weeks amid increased ceasefire violations and militant intrusions into Indian territory.

We advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir State, with the exception of Jammu and Srinagar cities. Avoid nonessential travel to Jammu and Srinagar at present due to the high tensions over the change in J&K’s status.

Current Situation

On August 5, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government initiated a legislation to change the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), while a Presidential Order was signed that effectively nullified Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution which provided the basis for these status privileges. Communication conduits, including internet access, were restricted over the next few days, resulting in an information blackout in the area.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill was passed in both Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament between August 5-6. Pakistan protested the perceived “illegal move” and downgraded diplomatic ties with India on August 7, while suspending all bilateral trade. It further vowed to seek the intervention of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and take the matter to the International Court of Justice. It also expelled the Indian High Commissioner from Islamabad and closed one corridor of its airspace near its eastern border with India.

Key Constitutional & Legilative Issues in J&K Status Change

Bolstered security protocols have been reported since August 5 in J&K, particularly in Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley region. Violent protests over the changed status of the region have been intermittently recorded, most notably in Srinagar’s Soura area on August 9, when tear gas and pellet guns were allegedly used against approximately 10,000 protesters. Similar violent protests were also reported on August 23.

On August 27, Pakistani security forces reportedly targeted Indian positions in J&K’s Poonch sector, representing the most recent set of ceasefire violations which saw an overall uptick since the end of July.

Assessments & Forecast

Political Aspects of Change in Status of J&K

The BJP-led government’s introduction of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, as well as its cancelation of the applicability of Article 370, is a culmination of longstanding calls for the measure within the party as well as other political groups with similar right-wing nationalist leanings. Its smooth facilitation points to the BJP’s strong floor management in the Upper House of Parliament, where the party is in the minority. The passage of similar legislations prior to the J&K bill, such as the RTI Amendment Bill, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Amendment Bill, served to improve the party’s harmonization with likeminded allies outside of its National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Parties such as the YSR Congress from Andhra Pradesh and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) appear to be increasingly in step with the BJP’s recent moves, thus bolstering the party’s legislative sway.

The palpable but limited response from opposition parties is likely to due to multiple factors. To begin with, there is a seeming lack of unity among vocally anti-BJP opposition parties on the issue, and this has resulted in multiple, contradicting voices. Examples of this include the Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Telugu Desam Party, which supported the change in J&K’s status, while others such as the Indian National Congress (INC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and All India Trinamool Congress criticized the move. An effective response has been diminished by post-electoral disarray within some of the major opposition parties, such as the INC. The party has opposed the nature of security measures in the state, with former party president Rahul Gandhi and his colleagues in the opposition being turned back from Srinagar when attempting to visit the state. However, the party’s opposition to the manner in which the status changed occurred, and not against the change itself, will be viewed as politically-motivated and is unlikely to elicit significant support. A similar anti-incumbent stance from the Janata Dal United (JDU) is liable to strain relations between the party and its occasional ally, the BJP, ahead of the 2020 Bihar elections.

FORECAST: Over the coming weeks and months, activist groups and political parties will increasingly seek to challenge the change in the status of J&K through legal means, especially by seeking court orders against bans on their travel to the state. Protests in major cities are liable to continue at their current sporadic levels, largely carried out by left-wing parties such as the Communist Party of India – Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) as well as Kashmir solidarity campaign lobbies. There continues to be an elevated risk of counter-protests by right-wing nationalist groups and an associated risk of violence. Law enforcement is also liable to be less accommodative of mass protests over the issue, especially if taking place near major government buildings or sensitive installations of this nature. General activism over the issue can be expected to rise closer to the Supreme Court hearing in October on pending petitions regarding Kashmir.

Civil Unrest in J&K

FORECAST: In the immediate term, there is a high threat of civil unrest in the Kashmir Valley, particularly in Srinagar. As restrictions on internet and telecommunications are gradually being rolled back, the capability for mobilization both among separatist parties as well as disaffected locals has increased. As indicated by protests on August 23, security force responses will include stringent dispersals, with a greater likelihood of mass rallies after Friday prayers. At-risk areas in Srinagar include Jamia Masjid and the general Nowhatta area, Rainawari, Bemina, Batamaloo, and particularly Soura, where residents have intermittently mobilized in large numbers in recent weeks.

Jammu also remains a hotspot for inter-religious tensions, as was witnessed earlier this year during riots in February over the suicide vehicle-borne IED attack against a security convoy in Pulwama area of south Kashmir. Areas in the old city such as Gujjar Nagar, Kharika Talav, Jewel Chowk, Bathindi, and Shaheedi Chowk are particularly sensitive, with a propensity for clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities, as well as attacks on Kashmiri-owned businesses. Meanwhile, Ladakh has seen far fewer tensions over the bifurcation, largely due to agreement with the move among its Buddhist-majority demographic. That said, Shiite organizations in Kargil have caused shutdown protests in recent weeks, with the lack of a state legislature in the newly-formed Ladakh to be an added point of contention. While the situation is not as volatile as the unrest in Kashmir Valley, rallies can be expected to continue in Kargil, Drass, and Sankoo, with a risk of forcible police dispersals and clashes.

Potential Hopspots of Unrest in Srinagar

Militancy in Kashmir Valley

Overall, militant activity has been limited in scope since the imposition of high-security measures and restrictions on communications in the state.  FORECAST: However, statements by militant leaders such as Riyaz Naikoo of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and Masood Azhar of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) presage a growing long-term operational focus on stepping up plots in Kashmir Valley. Such plots will likely be constrained in the immediate term due to the additional troop deployments and generally enhanced security vigilance, but isolated shootings and grenade-lobbing incidents against security forces and government functionaries remain likely over the coming weeks and months.

A more pronounced propaganda push can be expected by the United Jihad Council (UJC), the umbrella group of separatist militant outfits in Kashmir, in order to increase recruitment on the back of widespread local disaffection. This is particularly expected in south Kashmir hotspots such as Pulwama, Anantnag, and Shopian. Transnational jihadist interests such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH) will also seek to tap into discontent among youth sections at this critical juncture. These groups will likely paint the bifurcation of J&K as a result of the Kashmiri political movement’s failure and will present mobilization on sectarian and Islamist lines as an alternative. Given that the government’s decision has polarized the narrative surrounding Kashmir, this tactic is liable to bear fruit for more radical entities like Islamic State Hind Province (ISHP), with recruitment numbers likely to go up. This is likely given that many see jihadist ideals and the separatist militancy as related constituents of broader resistance movements against Delhi’s perceived encroachment.

Inter-State Armed Conflict & Ceasefire Violations

FORECAST: Over the coming weeks, localized escalations will continue along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB), as has been witnessed in recent weeks. From Pakistan, shallow raids into Indian territory by members of Border Action Teams (BATs), comprising special operations forces and mujahideen, are foreseeable. This was witnessed in a foiled attack by a BAT team in Keran sector of India’s Kupwara District in early August. This is likely driven by a strategy of depleting the morale of Indian security forces by targeting isolated posts, despite the broader positional advantage held by Indian forces in areas north of the Pir Panjal Range like Keran, Tithwal, and Tangdhar.

Such efforts may also aid infiltration attempts into Indian territory by groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), especially in areas such as Gurez sector inBandipora, Machil sector in Kupwara, and Uri sector in Baramulla. As of writing, sources indicate that the Pakistan Army has deployed over 100 Special Services Group (SSG) commandos along the LoC. Considering BAT teams are generally led by SSG elements, this speaks to the threat of skirmishes in the forward areas over the coming days.

FORECAST: The current pace of ceasefire violations is also likely to be sustained, particularly in areas south of the Pir Panjal range, including the Krishna Ghati sector in Poonch. This will likely be motivated by a desire to inflict casualties on Indian forces through small-sized tactical escalations, while also providing cover fire for infiltrating sub-groups of militants, although infiltrations south of the Pir Panjal remain a rare occurrence. Similar violations are also likely at locations situated north of the Pir Panjal including Baramulla. Escalations will likely be defined by small-arms and mortar fire, as well as the occasional use of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and artillery guns. These altercations may spike closer to October 31, when J&K will be officially bifurcated into two distinct territories.

In the context of the reported repopulation of militant launchpads and deployment of SSG commandos, there is also a latent possibility of more assertive actions from the Indian military in the near future, especially in order to check the movement of militants across the LoC and IB. This may take the form of cross-border raids on suspected militant launchpads in known hotspots like Leepa Valley. However, such engagements will be limited in scope and carefully calibrated to avoid a major escalation of armed conflict as was witnessed in late February after the airstrikes in Balakot, Pakistan. Specifically, cross-border actions may include raids on launchpads by Ghatak commandos, or crack teams representing each infantry battalion. This is given that these units have a better sense of the terrain and loopholes in Pakistani defenses due to their extended deployment in their respective operational areas. These elements, alongside special forces teams, are also expected to undertake counter-actions against BAT teams in mined areas along the LoC.

Locations of Reported Border Security Incidents Along LOC

Outlook for Diplomatic Actions & Geopolitical Impact of Move

Pakistan’s response is largely representative of its attempts to control the narrative surrounding J&K while showing solidarity with disaffected sections of Kashmiri society. The cutting of diplomatic ties is particularly significant given that the last expulsion of envoys from either nation was in 2002 after a militant attack on the Indian Parliament by Pakistan-based groups. Islamabad has attempted to keep the Kashmir issue alive in multilateral forums like the UN, including by calling for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on August 16 and by petitioning the UN Human Rights Council on August 27.

This is likely an attempt to turn international opinion against India on matters such as alleged abuses by the security forces in Kashmir. This appears to be informed by concerns that its claim on disputed parts of the territory will be even less credible in the event that Delhi’s control on Kashmir is made permanent and separatist voices are rejected. Despite its attempts to draw multilateral diplomatic intervention in the issue, Pakistan’s campaign is unlikely to develop the requisite support within the international community to force India to roll back its current moves on J&K.

Islamabad likely sees the US as a trusted neutral party, especially following Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US in July and President Donald Trump’s offer to intercede in the conflict with India. However, Washington will be wary of overextending itself in this currently tense scenario, as it seeks to balance its relations with both countries. This is particularly given the US’ broader geopolitical considerations, including growing economic engagement with India. Meanwhile, Russia’s August 28 declaration affirming Kashmir to be India’s internal matter may be seen as another blow to Pakistan’s prospects.

FORECAST: Failure to achieve concrete results on the international front may spur greater frustration domestically with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, prompting protest campaigns from hardliner religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Opposition groups such as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) may also stage protests to undermine Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ability to manage the current conflict. Local perceptions that the UN or the US have failed to intervene substantially may also result in a slightly elevated anti-Western sentiment during such protests.

On the other hand, China is likely to continue backing Pakistan’s claim regarding the perceived illegality of the change in the status of J&K, as suggested by its lobbying in diplomatic circles. This is driven by the fact that 6,000 square km of the broader Kashmir region lies in its territory, with pending disputes existing over several other areas in parts like Ladakh. Beijing’s focus on Kashmir was recently illustrated by joint air force exercises with Pakistan at a location 300 km north of Leh in the Ladakh region. That said, the on-ground impact of China’s support for Pakistan on Kashmir will likely be minimal and is unlikely to affect the security situation. While the UK seemed to back China’s request for meetings on the issue, this does not necessarily reflect its definitive stance on Kashmir and may be viewed as an attempt to placate its sizable domestic constituency of individuals of Pakistani descent. This may also have been a bid to bridge prevailing differences between China and the UK on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

Recommendations:

Travel to Delhi and other major Indian cities can continue, while travelers are advised to maintain vigilance for security risks associated with frequent, large demonstrations as well as potential militant threats targeting government buildings, security installations, large crowded public places, or religious sites.

We advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir, with the exception of Jammu and Srinagar cities. Avoid all travel to border areas along the LoC due to the risk of conflict and armed exchanges.

Avoid nonessential travel to Jammu and Srinagar at present due to the high tensions over the change in J&K’s status. Travel to Ladakh can continue, while maintaining heightened vigilance in Kargil and reconfirming authorities’ updates on travel conditions.

Avoid the vicinity of all protests over the J&K issue in major cities across India due to the latent risk of police action or counter-protests.

 

BJP, PM Modi elected back to power after May 23 vote count; no imminent threat to political stability – India Analysis

Executive Summary

The National Democratic Alliance returned to power for a second consecutive term after the Bharatiya Janata Party secured the single-party majority.

The conflicting opposition strategies on political alliances appear to have weakened the challenge posed to the BJP-led NDA.

The largely personality-driven political campaigning by the ruling alliance also appears to have played a significant role in shaping voting patterns.

The election results are reflective of a consolidation of the national mandate when compared to the 2014 elections, and is unlikely to result in a significant, negative shift as far as the business and security environments are concerned in the immediate term.

Travel to Delhi and other major Indian cities can continue, while travelers are advised to maintain vigilance for security risks associated with frequent, large demonstrations as well as potential militant threats targeting government buildings, security installations, large crowded public places, or religious sites.

Current Situation

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was voted back into power for a second consecutive five-year term following the announcement of the 2019 general assembly elections held across 543 constituencies across 29 states. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), the BJP won 303 seats while the NDA secured a total of 353 seats.

The NDA won all seats it contested in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, while also securing the majority of seats in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. The BJP also secured a landslide win in the southern state of Karnataka where it secured 25 out of a total of 28 seats. The center-ruling party also made considerable inroads into West Bengal and Odisha, while nevertheless ending up in second place in both states.

The Mahagathbandhan (MGB), or Grand Alliance, formed by the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), failed to defeat the BJP in the electorally significant state of Uttar Pradesh. The BJP appears to have won in 62 constituencies out of a total of 80 in the state.

The Indian National Congress (INC)-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won a total of 90 seats.

Assessments

Conflicting opposition strategies on political alliances weakened challenge to BJP-led NDA

As previously assessed, the BJP victory was a result of a lack of cohesion among the opposition parties, thus splitting anti-government votes in key states. The INC’s failure to unequivocally take on the leadership of an opposition front, such as the Mahagathbandhan, was due to prevailing considerations within the party leadership that it could capitalize on short-term anti-BJP sentiment to take the elections on its own merit. However, the final results indicate that the INC-led UPA has only gained 24 seats in comparison with 2014, which is a less-than-expected tally. Further, it continued to work with traditional regional allies, many of whom did not necessarily have adequate momentum going into these elections.

This is in contrast with the BJP – the party retained key allies in states where disaffection against them was building, such as in Maharashtra, where it restored ties with the Shiv Sena. Similar overtures were made to parties such as the Janata Dal-United (JDU), and coordination of strategy in terms of candidate allocation and seat sharing was also observed. On the other hand, the party retained strategic allies in states where it has not been conventionally strong. This includes the northeastern states, where the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) weathered unrest over the Citizenship Amendment Bill to lead in states like Assam.

Policy issues overtaken by personality-driven campaigns, focus placed on national narratives

Despite the initial traction that policy issues such as demonetization, unemployment, and security gained during the pre-election discourse, the focus of campaigns by both the ruling and opposition sides have been personality-driven. This is not necessarily a novel concept, given that regional politics has long been dominated by strong figures, around whom campaigns are structured. However, the BJP’s utilization of this strategy at the national level, combining social media and targeted campaigns with demographics-rooted nuance, is highly notable and builds on early versions of such an approach from 2014. Given the large numbers of first-time voters, pegged at close to 15 million in the 18-19 age group, the use of candidates with targeted appeal and closely-managed social media campaigns likely factored in voting trends. In many cases, the families of career-politicians were passed over in favor of newer candidates. This was witnessed in Bangalore, where 28-year-old Tejaswi Surya was chosen instead of five-time MP Ananth Kumar’s wife, while actor Sunny Deol was favored over the wife of actor Rajesh Khanna.

Another notable trend that has strengthened since 2014 is the distinction that the electorate had made between national politics and state parties with regard to policy. While the BJP was voted out in legislative elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh in late 2018, the party won with a resounding margin in these states during the current parliamentary elections. Voters increasingly isolated factors such as unemployment and agrarian discontent to the perceived incompetence of state BJP governments, while preferring that the party nevertheless hold power at the center. Public sentiment surrounding PM Modi’s administration in these states appears to have concluded that poorly performing BJP state governments did not detract from the ruling party’s broader intent.

Platforms such as national security, which have emerged as a key factor since the Pulwama attack and skirmishes with Pakistan in February, have likely buttressed this trend. Further, opposition parties including the INC were positioned to the electorate as primarily anti-incumbent, but not necessarily presenting a clear policy platform of their own. INC tactics focussed on recent scandals such as the Rafale deal were seen as an extension of this campaign orientation. In contrast, INC policy platforms such as the Nyunatam Aay Yojana (Nyay) scheme, a minimum income guarantee scheme, were late inclusions in the campaigns and thus, did not pay significant electoral dividends.

Immediate-term impact on business interests, security to remain unchanged

In the immediate term, a BJP-led NDA victory will be seen as a generally positive development, given the government’s overall perceived business-friendly image.  This has been indicated by the recent rallying of stock market indices in the weeks prior to the elections, as exit polls indicated a BJP win. The rally was marked by notable but short-term gains on May 23, and the subsequent drops may be reflective of long-term structural economic concerns. However, the continuity associated with the BJP’s win will be seen as providing greater levels of stability in the immediate term. Coordination between the central and state governments, especially in the states where the BJP has significant political sway or a party-led government, can be expected on policy issues. Finally, the BJP’s majority position in the Lok Sabha will also reduce its reliance on coalition partners, granting greater stability to the incoming national government. Overall, the NDA’s return to power is unlikely to result in a significant, negative shift as far as the immediate business and security environment is concerned at the national level.

FORECAST: An examination of the overall vote share of the BJP shows a rise since 2014, as the party is pegged to gain close to 40 percent of the total vote share alone, as opposed to the 31 percent share in 2014. This may be indicative of a more consolidated national mandate when compared to the last elections. However, as witnessed after the 2014 elections, continued polarization within the electorate is liable to manifest in localized socio-political and religious tensions, especially between the BJP and minority communities. Caste and inter-religious conflict may see a rise over the long term, based on the extent to which right-wing groups affiliated with the BJP are emboldened post elections. However, these conflicts will largely be localized, and are not expected to destabilize security at the broader national level. States where the BJP has seen increased vote share gains, such as West Bengal and some constituencies of Kerala, will be particular flashpoints of conflict. The party will seek to displace volatile INC-led state coalition governments, such as in Karnataka. In the immediate term, the BJP win is liable to have an impact on local disaffection in Kashmir, ahead of state elections in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a potential for an increase in militancy and separatist unrest, in reaction to the key gains the BJP made in the state during the general elections.

Recommendations

Travel to Delhi and other major Indian cities can continue, while travelers are advised to maintain vigilance for security risks associated with frequent, large demonstrations as well as potential militant threats targeting government buildings, security installations, large crowded public places, or religious sites.

Those operating or residing in India are advised to maintain general vigilance due to the risk of localized and isolated incidents of unrest in the aftermath of the election results.

Avoid discussing controversial issues regarding the elections with unfamiliar individuals, especially topics related to caste or religion due to the risk of eliciting confrontational behavior.

Avoid the vicinity of party offices and celebratory rallies due to the latent risk of violence. Allot for temporary disruptions to travel during these rallies, especially in major cities.

Remain cognizant of local laws and post-electoral sensitivities especially when posting on social media, due to the risk of legal action or state prosecution as a response to controversial content.

Widespread unrest reflects discontent with Rouhani’s economic policies, money spent in regional conflict; protests likely to subside – Iran Analysis

Current Situation

A reported leak of President Rouhani’s proposed government budget last month has triggered a wave of nationwide unrest in Iran which erupted on December 28. The budget leak exposed parts that were generally kept secret, and Iranians discovered that billions of USD were going to the military, hardline organizations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and religious foundations. At the same time, the budget proposed an end to millions in subsidized and an increase in fuel prices.

Following the leaked budget, Iranians vented their frustration against the money going to the military and clerical establishment via a popular messaging app in Iran used by an estimated half of the country’s 80 million inhabitants.

On December 28, 2017, the hardliners, led by the prominent Ahmad Alamolhoda, started a demonstration in Mashhad, where hundreds shouted slogans against the weak economy and shouted “Death to the Dictator,” and “Death to Rouhani.” Videos of the event spread and triggered protests nationwide in the days that followed, despite attempts by authorities to block access to popular social media and messaging services used to organize and publicize the protests.

On January 2, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to the unrest stating that the blamed “outside enemies” for the week’s events, without specifying who. President Rouhani, meanwhile, appealed for calm and maintained that the protesters “had the right to be heard.”

At the time of writing, the unrest has reportedly led to at least 450 arrests and 21 deaths.

Widespread unrest reflects discontent with Rouhani’s economic policies, money spent in regional conflict; protests likely to subside - Iran Analysis | MAX Security

 Widespread unrest reflects discontent with Rouhani’s economic policies, money spent in regional conflict; protests likely to subside - Iran Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

The unrest recorded over the past week comes amidst small-scale protests witnessed across Iran over the past months surrounding topics of economy and employment. These include demonstrations of hundreds of oil workers and truck drivers protesting late payment of wages, workers at a large sugar cane plantation and mill complex, bus drivers, teachers, tractor workers in Tabriz against their factory’s closure, Tehran tyre workers at bonuses being delayed, and victims of failed financial institutions across the country. In this context, the leaked budget served as a catalyst for these latest protests, and underscores the frustration and anger among large segments of the population over social-economic problems among the disaffected young people in peripheral, rural areas who have largely driven the demonstrations, in stark contrast to the protests witnessed in 2009 during the so-called “Green Revolution”, which were largely led by the urban middle class.

While the unrest began over economic grievances, it has since taken on a political dimension as demonstrators have voiced anger over corruption and the perceived authoritarian political system as a whole. This is reflected particularly in the anger over Iran’s regional policies and how it spends billions of USD to extend its influence abroad, including in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, despite the high unemployment and economic woes at home, as highlighted by the slogans of “Let go of Syria, think about us” and “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon”. Moreover, what makes these protests exceptionally notable is the extent of the radical and sometimes slogans used, as some have called for the death of the president and even unprecedented calls of “Death to Khamenei” and calling for the Supreme Leader to step down and demanding the exit of clerics from politics.

FORECAST: We assess that it’s unlikely that the protest movement will survive in the long-term and lead to a collapse of the system for several reasons. First, the fact that it has taken on a political dimension and the use of political slogans has been exploited by the authorities as a justification to crack down on protesters as “anti-social” and violent elements. Moreover, this government approach has been aided by the support protesters have received from abroad, particularly from the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The Iranian authorities already perceive, or at the very least vocalize the perception that the unrest has been manufactured and manipulated by foreign governments. That these foreign governments are openly and publicly supporting the protests will thus only further serve to strengthen this perception and allow the government to increase its crackdowns under the guise of protecting Iran’s sovereignty from the interference of foreign states. With this in mind, should the Iranian authorities decide to implement their forces fully, including the IRGC and the Basij, in repressing the protests, it’s highly likely the demonstrations will be swiftly minimized.

Second, unlike the “Green Revolution” in 2009, these latest protests lack leadership, alternative, and a shared vision. Protesters are united in what they don’t want, rather than what they want, as indicated by the often contradictory slogans. Some want democracy, yet more nostalgic ones praise the former monarchy and the Shah. Demonstrators have called for the death of moderate Rouhani, yet also called for an end to the clerical establishment. Others still are invoking nationalistic ideals and racial slogans, such as “We are Aryans, we don’t worship Arabs.” Overall, given this lack of leadership and organization, the protests are likely to either peter out over time, particularly if the government shows a willingness to make concessions and reforms or will be quelled by an increased crackdown.

That said, we assess that the heightened unrest will continue for longer in the country’s peripheral regions where both civil unrest and militancy stemming from sectarian tensions have long been an issue. These include the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, a predominantly Arab-populated southwestern Iran, including primarily Khuzestan Province, and the majority-Kurdish-populated northwestern Iranian provinces of Kordestan, West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, and Ilam. Over the past week, we have already witnessed a higher level of unrest and arrests in these areas, as local activists and militant groups are likely seeking to exploit the nationwide discontent to further their own separatist ambitions. Furthermore, the authorities have a history of severely cracking down on these regions, thus making it more likely for escalations between security forces and locals. Over the coming weeks and months, such escalation will likely lock these regions in a vicious cycle of arrests, which subsequently provoke the locals to further unrest and militant attacks, prompting a security crackdown in return.

Recommendations

Business travel to Tehran, Esfahan and other major cities may continue at this time while remaining cognizant of ongoing protests and avoiding the vicinity of such events.

Western nationals are advised to remain cognizant to prevailing negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European countries.

We advise against all travel to outlying border areas with Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Armenia due to ongoing militant activity.

Those traveling to Iran should anticipate prolonged questioning by customs officials. Refrain from traveling with sophisticated cameras or other features affiliated with journalists. Cooperate with all security officials and respond to questioning in a respectable and calm manner.

Refrain from discussing the current political situation, Iran’s nuclear program, or tensions with the United States and Israel with local residents as a basic precaution. Be advised that authorities may monitor communications from hotels and other facilities frequented by foreigners, while internet access may be limited.

In the event that embassy services are required, it is advised to check the operational status of pertinent embassies and consulates. Consular services for US citizens are provided through the auspices of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.