Shining a spotlight on some of the key security stories from across the Commonwealth.
1. Hope of stability as Adama Barrow wins Gambian presidential election.
Following political uncertainty in Gambia since longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh - who refused to accept his defeat in the 2016 - went into exile, Adama Barrow has been declared the winner of this year’s presidential election, having obtained 53% of the vote. The poll was deemed free and fair by independent observers. Speaking after the election on Saturday, Barrow, whose Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) party was set up in 2017 largely to address human rights violations committed by his predecessor, stated ‘there will be justice and reconciliation, reparation - it will all happen but we have to be patient’. ‘I call on all Gambians, irrespective of your political divide, to… come together as one people to work towards the development of our country’.
Some citizens took to the streets in protest as two opposition candidates issued a joint declaration rejecting the election results, though the protests have since been dispersed and Essa Mybe Faal, who issued the declaration alongside Ousainou Darboe, has now acceded to Barrow’s victory. Since Saturday, Barrow has revealed plans to draft a new constitution in which presidential term limits and alterations to the polling process would be included.
The vote should be seen as a vindication of the democratic process in Gambia as well as signs that the country's security and political institutions are healthy and robust.
2. India’s Chief of Defence Staff among at least 13 killed in military helicopter crash.
General Bipin Rawat, India’s Chief of Defence Staff, alongside his wife and 11 others were killed when a military helicopter, which was heading to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington town, crashed on Wednesday afternoon. The Indian Air Force was first to break the news on Twitter, stating “An IAF Mi-175 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu”. Soon after, it confirmed the death of Mr Bawat, describing the ‘tragic accident’ that occured in India’s southernmost state. A cabinet security committee emergency session was held later that day, with an investigation also being opened. Reacting to the news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated ‘His passing away has saddened me deeply’, ‘India will never forget his exceptional service’.
General Rawat was India’s first ever Chief of Defence Staff, a position only created in 2019. Holding the highest ranking position in the Indian military, his role was to serve as joint chief of the army, navy and airforce in an attempt to bind India’s separate divisions closer together. Before this position, he served as chief of India’s army, which has over one million active personnel. Tributes were paid within the Commonwealth community and beyond; General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, offered his condolences over the ‘tragic death’, while Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell expressed his sympathies with both Rawat and the other victims. The crash is widely regarded to have been accidental, with Ajai Shukla, a defence analyst, stating ‘very often a crash can happen within full compliance’.
* The Commonwealth Security Group extends its condolences to Gen Rawat's surviving family and to all the people of India.
3. Leaders of Brunei and UK recognise strong relationship based on defence cooperation.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei visited the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday, with defence cooperation keenly discussed between the two leaders. Brunei’s support for the UK was mentioned with respect to the latter’s success in becoming a Dialogue Partner of the ASEAN group earlier this year, during which Brunei held the chairmanship.
The British Prime Minister restated the ‘increased commitment to the Indo-Pacific’ as part of this undertaking. Moreover, the Carrier Strike Group’s recent visit to Brunei in October was noted as reflecting the strength of the relationship. In 2015, a defence agreement was signed that ensured the stationing of British troops - including a battalion of Gurkhas - in Brunei for at least five years.
4. The New Zealand Defence Force issues China threat warning in new Defence Assessment.
The New Zealand Defence Force published its Defence Assessment report on Wednesday, in which China was identified as the major driver of growing strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, something that could eventually instigate conflict. Of particular concern for the Defence Force was the prospect of a military base being developed in the Pacific by a state that did not share New Zealand’s values and security interests. Emerging digital and cyber-space environments, rather than traditional notions of conflict, were also noted as being stages of competition in the region. In order to address this rising competition, Secretary of Defence Andrew Bridgman emphasised New Zealand’s need to ‘shift from risk management to a more deliberate, proactive strategy with clear priorities’.
Such a strategy seems to have already begun to take shape, with New Zealand deploying a navy ship to the Solomon Islands on Monday in the wake of recent protests in the country’s capital, Honiara.