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Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood host Hold Your Fire! CRISISGROUP
Podcast

Hold Your Fire!

Join Crisis Group Interim President Richard Atwood and Board Member Naz Modirzadeh, a Harvard professor of international law and armed conflict, as they dive deep into the conflicts that rage around the globe, along with Crisis Group field analysts and special guests. This new podcast brings a unique, on-the-ground perspective to understanding both why those conflicts persist — and what could bring them to an end. 

Season 2

S2 Episode 8: U.S.-China Tensions and Beijing’s Show of Strength in the Taiwan Strait 

In recent weeks, record numbers of Chinese fighter jets have entered Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone in what appears to be a deliberate show of strength by Beijing. This comes at a time when tensions between Beijing and the U.S. are particularly fraught. A core part of Washington’s China policy seeks to deter China’s assertiveness in its neighbourhood, as Beijing expands its military presence within the first island chain, which stretches from Japan past Taiwan to the Philippines and Borneo in the South China Sea. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Amanda Hsiao, Crisis Group’s Senior China Analyst. They talk about what Beijing hopes to achieve with the flights and how they’re perceived in Taiwan. They also discuss the military build-up in the region and how U.S. and Chinese militaries are more frequently coming into contact with one another. Amanda also talks through how Beijing views its relations with Washington and, with a virtual summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping scheduled for some time this year, prospects for dialling back tensions.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our China page. Make sure to check out Amanda’s recent Q&A

Episode 7: Cameroon's Forgotten Anglophone Conflict 

For almost five years, Cameroon’s western provinces have been wracked by a deadly separatist insurgency. In 2016, Anglophone protesters took to the streets angry at the increasing use of French in courtrooms and schools. The government’s crackdown fuelled support for separatism and the emergence of several separatist militias calling for a  new state: Ambazonia. Separatist forces attacked security forces and for years also enforced a school boycott, depriving hundreds of thousands of children of their education. For the most part, Paul Biya’s government has refused to talk directly to separatist leaders and has waged a brutal military campaign. Violence has killed thousands of people and displaced some 700,000 more. For now, no end is in sight. 

In the latest episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Arrey Elvis Ntui, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Cameroon, about the war, its toll and prospects for a settlement. They discuss the origins of Anglophone grievances and the motives of separatists and Biya’s government in Yaoundé. They also talk about the role women play in both the insurgency and peacemaking efforts. They ask what a peaceful settlement would look like, and the role Cameroon’s foreign partners could play in getting the parties to the table.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Cameroon page. Make sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming report. 

Episode 6: Lebanon is Falling Apart 

Lebanon is in the midst of what the World Bank describes as what could be one of the worst economic crises of the past 150 years. Over three-quarters of the population have been plunged into poverty, often struggling to obtain food, medicine and basic necessities amid rampant inflation, currency collapse and widespread shortages. State institutions, including the security forces and police, are increasingly strained. Unrest has mounted as political elites defer necessary reform. The newly appointed government has promised to break the deadlock but it is difficult to see the path out of the crisis, especially with elections only months away. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Naz and Richard are joined by Heiko Wimmen, director of Crisis Group’s Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon Project to discuss the country’s plight. They discuss the origins of the crisis, its everyday consequences for Lebanese citizens, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the role played by competing political factions, including Hezbollah. Three decades after the end of the devastating civil war, they ask what Lebanon’s economic implosion means for relations among the country’s sects and assess risks of violence.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Lebanon page. Make sure to look out for our upcoming report on the political and social ramifications of the crisis. 

 Episode 5: Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

The war in the Sahel appears to have reached a stalemate. In Mali, fighting pits the Malian security forces, backed by regional militaries and French special forces and airpower, against an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition, JNIM (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). Since Mali’s crisis in 2012-2013, efforts to defeat jihadist militants have only seen their influence expand. Violence has spread across the Sahel at terrible human cost. Two successive coups in Bamako, Mali’s capital, have fuelled political instability. French officials appear exasperated by the lack of progress. Yet militants themselves are also under pressure, with several leaders killed over recent years. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, to ask whether it is time for a new approach. They take stock of the insurgency’s current state, its aims and JNIM’s relationship with al-Qaeda. They discuss the future of the French presence and the consequences of the recent coups. They also speak at length about prospects for talks between the government and JNIM leaders, what such talks might entail and the challenges such a path would pose. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel and Mali regional pages as well as our work on Jihad in Modern Conflict. Be sure to keep an eye out for Ibrahim’s upcoming report.

Episode 4: Avoiding Another Afghanistan: Could Al-Shabaab Seize Power in Somalia? 

Many people in the Somali capital Mogadishu watched with apprehension as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. Could Somalia, struggling against its own Islamist insurgency – Al-Shabaab  – face a similar fate? In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Somalia, to discuss the resurgence of Al-Shabaab as political instability wracks the country and the withdrawal of African Union troops potentially looms. They discuss the state of the insurgency, the capability of Somali defence forces, the troubled relationship between the central government and Somalia’s regions, and the role of East African and other foreign powers. They also talk about whether there is any hope of a political settlement with Al-Shabaab.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Somalia and Horn of Africa pages. 

Episode 3: License to Kill: Lawyering in the War on Terror

Only days after the 9/11 attacks, Congress ushered in extraordinarily broad legislation that authorised President Bush to use military force in order to eliminate terrorist threats to the U.S. In this episode of Hold Your Fire! – the second in a podcast series looking at the legacy of the 9/11 attacks – Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Stephen Pomper, Crisis Group's Interim Chief of Policy, to discuss the lasting legacy of this Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). They discuss the forthcoming Crisis Group report on the topic, “Overkill: Reforming the Legal Basis for the War on Terror”, reflecting on how the AUMF became the legal basis for increasingly wide-ranging military actions embraced by successive administrations, from Bush to Biden, as the fighting against Islamist militants expanded in scope. They also discuss the role of law and lawyers in establishing the boundaries of presidential authority and the consequences of diminished congressional oversight.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our United States page. This episode also features as part of our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the "War on Terror”.

Episode 2: Al-Qaeda and ISIS twenty years after 9/11

On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a new episode of Hold Your Fire! looks at the shadow cast by the “global war on terror” across South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh discuss how Islamist militants – groups like al-Qaeda and later ISIS – have fared in twenty years marked by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the 2011 Arab revolutions, the war in Syria and U.S. counter-terrorism operations in many other corners of the world. They talk about al-Qaeda’s recovery after losing its safe havens in Afghanistan, its vicious local branch in Iraq and its expansion through affiliates elsewhere. They also discuss how al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch exploited the Syrian war and evolved into ISIS, and the later struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda. They take stock of where Islamist militancy stands today, with groups fighting in an increasing number of warzones across Africa and in light of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. They examine what efforts against militants look like today and some of the flaws of existing counter-terrorism policy.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

This episode is the first in a series on this podcast looking at the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the impact of the “global war on terror”. For Crisis Group's other publications on this topic, see our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the "War on Terror”.

Episode 1: Afghanistan: the Islamic State, still no Taliban government and a looming humanitarian catastrophe

After days of chaos at Kabul airport, including an attack by the Islamic State’s local chapter, the last American plane has left, ending the Americans’ twenty-year war against the Taliban. As yet, the Taliban have not announced a new government, and what its rule will look like remains unclear. Afghanistan’s neighbours, other regional powers and Western governments are still working out what engagement with the new government will entail. 

This week Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh welcome back Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss, who is joined by Graeme Smith, a long-time Crisis Group consultant on Afghanistan, to discuss where things stand. They talk about the Islamic State in Afghanistan, its battles with the Taliban and the Taliban’s relations with other transnational militants, including al-Qaeda. They also discuss the emerging resistance in the Panjshir valley, why the Taliban are taking time to form a government, the increasingly desperate humanitarian crisis and what the world can do to address it. They talk about how regional governments appear to be positioning themselves regarding Taliban rule, some of the dilemmas this poses for Western powers and how much the Taliban might be prepared to compromise in return for recognition, sanctions relief and aid. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page.

Special Episode: What Will the Taliban Do Next?

The Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan. A few days ago, insurgents entered the Afghan capital Kabul, topping off a week in which they had swept through cities and towns across the country. Back from a summer hiatus for this special episode, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss about some of the decisions the group will have to make. What will a Taliban government look like? Will the movement share power? What will its rule look like? Will it roll back some of the freedoms Afghans – women in particular – have enjoyed over the past two decades? How will it pay for the costs of running a state? What will its foreign relations look like? They unpack these key questions and what the days ahead could hold for Afghanistan. 
 


 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page.

Season 1

Episode 46: Iraq: Protests, Iran’s Role and an End to U.S. Combat Operations

After a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi earlier this week, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that American forces would end their combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021. Biden’s announcement comes after a turbulent few years for Iraq. Mass protests saw young people camp out in city and town squares across much of the country despite harsh crackdowns by security forces and Iran-backed paramilitaries. Although demonstrations forced one government to step down and have largely dissipated this year, few of the protesters’ grievances have been addressed, and it is far from clear whether elections in October this year offer a chance for political renewal. In this week’s episode, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Lahib Higel, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Iraq, to talk about Iraqi politics, Iran’s role, how much of a threat ISIS poses, and what an end to U.S. combat operations likely means for the country. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Iraq page.

This is the last episode of the first season of Hold Your Fire!. Please do get in touch with any feedback for the hosts or ideas for the next season at podcasts@crisisgroup.org.

Episode 45: The Taliban’s Advance in Afghanistan

The past few weeks have seen sweeping gains by Taliban insurgents across parts of Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdraw. This week, Richard Atwood is joined by Laurel Miller, Crisis Group’s Asia director, and Andrew Watkins, Crisis Group’s senior Afghanistan analyst, to discuss what is arguably the most dramatic shift in the Afghan war since the U.S. intervention 20 years ago ousted the then Taliban government. Andrew describes the Taliban’s steady expansion into many of Afghanistan’s districts and what it means for the government’s control in bigger cities and other provincial capitals. They discuss the Taliban’s political and military strategy as foreign forces pull out. Laurel looks at how the evolving battlefield dynamics are viewed in Washington and the broader debates around the future of U.S. policy in South Asia. They discuss what the Taliban’s advance means for peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government and other factions. They talk about how Afghanistan’s neighbours and other regional powers view what is happening and what their policies might entail. They also look at what foreign powers would ideally do in the months ahead and what people should watch for a sense of the conflict’s trajectory.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page.

Episode 44: #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar 

Six months after the military seized power in Myanmar, mass strikes and a brutal crackdown by the regime continue to paralyse the country – as the economy and public services, including the health system, have collapsed and new forms of armed resistance are emerging. Joining Richard Atwood and guest co-host Comfort Ero this week to discuss what’s happening in the country is Richard Horsey, Crisis Group’s senior adviser for Myanmar. Richard describes new forms of armed resistance emerging against the regime and the military’s heavy-handed retaliation that has displaced tens of thousands of people. He explains how these locally organised civilian militias have altered what was already a complex conflict landscape. They discuss the relationship among these new militias, underground resistance cells in cities like Yangon and Mandalay, the opposition National Unity Government and the ethnic armed groups that have long operated in parts of the country. They look at whether there is any hope of the regime changing course. They also examine what options exist for outside powers to ease humanitarian suffering and try to find a way out of the crisis. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Myanmar page.

Episode 43: Ten Years of South Sudanese Statehood

This week marks the tenth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, much-celebrated at the time but now eclipsed by the brutal civil war that followed. The conflict, which saw the army split along ethnic lines, killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced a third of the country’s population. A 2018 peace deal signed by the war’s two main protagonists, President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar, ended much of the fighting. But millions still suffer from chronic hunger and unchecked militia violence. This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Alan Boswell, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for South Sudan, for an in-depth look at the past decade of statehood, the problems still blighting the world’s newest country and prospects for turning the page on the brutal civil war. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our South Sudan page.

Episode 42: A Dramatic Turn in Ethiopia’s Tigray War

Earlier this week, fighters loyal to the ousted leaders of Ethiopia’s Tigray region recaptured Mekelle, the regional capital, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed withdrew federal forces and announced a unilateral ceasefire after eight months of brutal war. This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to William Davison, senior analyst for Ethiopia, about this dramatic turnaround, its immediate fallout and what may come next. William explains how Tigrayan forces managed to consolidate control in rural areas, build up forces thanks in large part to popular support and launch attacks on Tigrayan cities and towns. They look at the balance of power in Tigray today and the likelihood of further fighting between Tigrayan forces and those of Eritrea, who were fighting alongside the Ethiopian army. They also examine prospects for a Tigrayan offensive to capture back disputed territory currently held by the Amhara, another of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups. William explains how Abiy has portrayed the withdrawal of government troops and the potential implications of their retreat for his popularity in the rest of Ethiopia. They also discuss the importance of getting aid in and what international actors should focus on in the days ahead. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ethiopia page.

Episode 41: Biden in Europe

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Michael Hanna, Crisis Group’s U.S. Program director, to talk about U.S. President Joe Biden’s first overseas trip since taking office. Biden embarked on a tour of European capitals last week, with a first leg at the G7 summit in the UK, followed by meetings with EU and NATO officials in Brussels and finally a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Michael explains that while Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump’s legacy still looms large, his presence among European allies signals a return to more traditional U.S. diplomacy, even if their collective pledge on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable countries was underwhelming. They discuss prospects for the alliance of democracies Biden had talked up before the trip, the tone and conclusions of the Brussels meetings, and U.S.-Turkey relations after Biden’s first face-to-face encounter with Turkish President Recip Tayyep Erdogan. Michael also unpacks what Biden’s meeting with President Putin means for the future of U.S.-Russia relations. They then discuss the Biden administration’s deepening rivalry with China and the potential dangers in such an approach. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, browse Crisis Group’s analysis on our U.S. page.

Episode 40: Iran: the Vote and the Bomb

As Iranians go to the polls on Friday to elect a new president, Iranian diplomats are meeting their Western counterparts in Vienna in their latest efforts to get back to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Ali Vaez, Crisis Group’s senior adviser to the president and Iran project director, for an in-depth look at the elections, the nuclear talks and Iran’s role in the region. Ali explains that while elections in the Islamic Republic are never free or fair, this vote is likely to be even less competitive than usual, with the playing field narrowed to favour current front runner, the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi. They talk about how this could relate to Supreme Leader Ali Khameini’s succession plans. They also talk about where things stand in the talks over Iran’s nuclear program, with U.S. and other diplomats locked in a sixth round of talks with their Iranian counterparts aimed at reviving the nuclear deal. They discuss what would happen if the parties fail to reach an agreement. They also talk about the deal’s significance for regional politics and whether recent talks between Iranian and Saudi officials in the Iraqi capital Baghdad offer some hope of calming the bitter Iran-Saudi rivalry that has overshadowed the region for decades. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Iran page.

Episode 39: COVID-19, Inequality and Protests in Colombia 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Renata Segura, deputy program director for Latin America and the Carribean, and Beth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia, about the anti-government protests across Colombia. They discuss what the deadly unrest looks like, a controversial tax reform proposed in April that triggered protests and the blockades that have sprung up across the country’s cities, towns and villages. They unpack protesters’ demands, notably the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in aggravating already rife inequality, and how police crackdowns have further fuelled people’s anger. They also talk about how Colombian society views the protests, whether protesters’ demands are widely shared and how likely it is that President Ivan Duque’s government will take measures to address their grievances. They discuss the likelihood of similar protests elsewhere in Latin America, given that many other countries in the region suffer the same inequality, worsened by COVID, that has taken people to the streets in Colombia. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Colombia page.

Episode 38: The Insurrection in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest co-host Comfort Ero, our Interim Vice President and Africa Program Director, talk to Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Director Dino Mahtani about the insurrection unfolding in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region. The militants - known locally as al-Shabab, and now labelled by the U.S. as a branch of the Islamic State - have been terrorising the population for years now without clearly stating their demands. Dino talks about who they really are and what their interests might be. He also discusses the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Maputo coming up in two weeks’ time, when the bloc plans to lobby for the deployment of a regional force, amid growing fears that the conflict could spread beyond the borders of Mozambique. Dino unpacks the government’s response to al-Shabab, its turn to Rwanda for military support as it attempts to diversify its security partners, and what the next steps should be.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 37: What Does Hamas Want?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Tareq Baconi, Crisis Group’s senior Israel/Palestine analyst, about Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that governs Gaza. They talk about how Hamas views the latest bout of violence which saw the group fire more than 4,000 rockets at Israel, provoking Israel’s bombardment of the strip. Tareq looks at how Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere view the movement, its relations with its main Palestinian rival Fatah and its efforts to navigate geopolitical changes in the Middle East. They also discuss the conditions imposed by the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, the UN and U.S.) on Hamas after it won elections in 2006: that the group recognise Israel, as well as previous agreements with Israel, and renounce violence. They discuss debates within Hamas about those conditions and about its use of tactics that target civilians. They talk about whether, after this latest bout of fighting, there is any prospect of moving beyond an uneasy ceasefire punctuated by outbreaks of Hamas rocket fire and Israeli bombardments that perpetuate suffering in Gaza.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, check out Tareq Baconi's work “Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance” and explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Israel/Palestine page.

Episode 36: Another War: Views from Israel/Palestine

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group experts Azmi Keshawi, Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszein, respectively based in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, about the latest war – the fourth between Hamas and Israel in the past fifteen years. Azmi talks about his experiences in Gaza under intense Israeli bombardment, what Hamas hopes to achieve with its rocket fire into Israel and whether anything will change for Gaza after a ceasefire. Tahani and Mairav discuss how the war and the events that led to it have looked from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and from Israel. They discuss how Israeli and Palestinian leaders have responded and what Israel hopes to achieve with the bombardment of Gaza. They describe the violence between Palestinians and Israeli Jews in Israel and the West Bank and how much that is a game changer for Israel. They also talk about the shifting terms of the debate in the U.S. within the Democratic party and what that might mean for American policy. They reflect on how much a ceasefire would change the conditions that led to the fighting and what the longer-term implications of this latest war are for Israelis and Palestinians.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information read our recent Q&A: The Israel-Palestine Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Portents and check out Hold Your Fire! E34: Delayed Palestinian Polls, Israeli Politics and U.S. Middle East Policy.

Episode 35: UN Security Council Crankiness and Antonio Guterres' Re-election

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s UN Director Richard Gowan. They reflect back on Antonio Guterres’ first term as UN Secretary-General now that he is seeking a second. They discuss his approach to crisis diplomacy, some of the challenges and some of the successes over the past five years. They also talk about Security Council dynamics, particularly the fraught relations among its most powerful members, and what those mean for its role and that of the Secretary-General in peacemaking. They look ahead to the big challenges Guterres is likely to face in the next five years.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Multilateral Diplomacy page.

Episode 34: Delayed Palestinian Polls, Israeli Politics and U.S. Middle East Policy

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Daniel Levy, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, which works in partnership with Crisis Group on Israel/Palestine. They talk about why President Mahmoud Abbas indefinitely postponed Palestinian elections, and why not holding the vote is a wasted opportunity and a disappointment to many Palestinians. They discuss recent Israeli elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s struggles to form a government and whether those make any difference to Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians. They also talk about what the Biden administration’s Israel/Palestine policy might entail, prospects for a “rights-based” approach and the recent Human Rights Watch report that labels Israeli policies toward the Palestinians as “apartheid”.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Israel/Palestine page.

Episode 33: What Déby’s Death Means for Chad and the Region

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Project Director for Central Africa Richard Moncrieff and Crisis Group’s Libya expert Claudia Gazzini about what the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby means for the country and for the Sahel region, and the connection between Chadian rebel groups and Libya. They unpack possible scenarios now that Déby’s son, Mahamat Déby, has assumed power and formed a transitional military council, provoking popular protests in response. They look at what drove the Front for Change and Concord’s (FACT) recent rebel incursion from Libya into Chad that led to Déby’s death. They also discuss Chad’s military engagement against jihadist groups in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel, and what the future might hold for those operations.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Chad page.

Episode 32: Rising Russia-Ukraine Tensions and the West 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s program director for Europe and Central Asia, Olga Oliker, about rising tensions between Russia, on one hand, and Ukraine and Western capitals on the other, over Moscow’s recent military build-up at the Ukrainian border. They talk about the motives behind Russia’s deployments, how they are perceived in Kyiv, the situation in separatist-held parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and why the peace process has stalled. Olga describes the broader standoff between Russia and the West, of which disagreements over Ukraine are an important – but far from the only – factor. They also look at how U.S. and European leaders should respond and what might help reverse the dangerous escalation in Donbas, with a view to returning to the 2020 ceasefire agreement and peace talks.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ukraine page.

Episode 31: Is the Gulf Dispute Actually Over?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser for the Middle East and North Africa, Dina Esfandiary, about what drove Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other Gulf states, to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, why the Gulf Arab countries announced an end to the crisis in January 2021 and whether the rift is truly over. They reflect on what this means for the foreign policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and how their leaders see their priorities and challenges in the region. They also discuss what the spat has meant for crises across the region where the GCC countries are involved.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Gulf and Arabian Peninsula page.

Episode 30: How Afghanistan Views the U.S. Troop Drawdown 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Afghanistan, Andrew Watkins, about the fast-approaching 1 May deadline for U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, the stalled peace process and ongoing violence across the country. In February 2020, the U.S. struck a deal with Taliban leaders. It entailed the U.S. pledging to withdraw its forces and the Taliban agreeing not to allow Afghanistan to be used for international terrorism and to enter talks with the Afghan government. Those Afghan peace talks have made little progress, even as the deadline for the U.S. drawdown looms. Andrew talks about how Afghan factions view the U.S. withdrawal, what neighbours and other regional powers think and dangers for the country in the months ahead.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page.

Episode 29: Tshisekedi Consolidates Power in DR Congo

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and guest co-host Comfort Ero, our Interim Vice President and Africa Program Director, talk to Nelleke van de Walle, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Deputy Project Director, about the challenges preventing the Democratic Republic of Congo from moving forward. They discuss President Tshisekedi’s consolidation of power and the still strong influence of former President Joseph Kabila. Nelleke says that President Tshisekedi needs to step up and make sure he doesn’t become what he replaced. She also warns about the fraught security landscape in eastern DR Congo, where the recent U.S. designation of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as a foreign terrorist organisation could have unintended consequences for peacemaking and humanitarian efforts.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our DR Congo page.

Episode 28: Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis and Horn of Africa Politics 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood, Crisis Group’s interim president, and guest host Comfort Ero, our interim vice president and Africa Program director, talk to Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa director, about the fighting in Tigray and its implications for regional politics. Murithi sheds light on the calculations of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, rebel Tigray leaders and Eritrea, which has also sent forces into Tigray. He also talks through the Horn of Africa’s evolving geopolitics, growing friction between Ethiopia and its neighbours, and the state of play of both Ethiopia’s and Sudan’s transitions. He looks at what continental and world leaders need to do to end the Tigray crisis and calm escalating regional tensions. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ethiopia page.

Episode 27: Good News in Libya?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Libya expert, Claudia Gazzini, about the historic turn of events resulting in a new unity government in Libya. After years of chaos, division and war, often fuelled by foreign powers, the past six months saw Libyan leaders engage in UN-led peace talks and agree to an interim cabinet headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. Claudia talks through events that led the warring parties and their external backers to agree to the unity government, the benefits of the UN’s inclusive, multitrack process, the significance of a peaceful handover of power and the challenges that lie ahead for Dbeibeh’s government.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 26: The War on Drugs in Colombia’s Countryside

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh speak with Beth Dickinson, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Colombia, about the Colombian government’s new war on drugs and the escalation of violence in rural areas. Beth unpacks the complex dynamics between vulnerable farming communities, criminal groups vying for control over illicit markets, and security forces failing to contain the bloodshed. She explains how the downward spiral undermines the 2016 peace process. They discuss Crisis Group’s recent reports on the subject, including how women’s involvement in coca cultivation means they are at a particular risk of violence, why armed groups have emerged as winners of the post-FARC peace deal, and the social activists and leaders caught in the crossfire. They also look at what an alternative to Bogota’s current heavy handed approach would look like.

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For more information, read Crisis Group’s reports: Deeply Rooted: Coca Eradication and Violence in Colombia and Leaders under Fire: Defending Colombia’s Front Line of Peace.

Special Episode: Gender and Conflict

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood talk to Azadeh Moaveni, Crisis Group’s Gender Project Director, in honour of International Women’s Day. They look at the challenges in implementing the goals of UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security twenty years after its adoption. Azadeh also talks about Crisis Group’s work on gender and conflict. She details recent research on the dangers for local women’s groups of getting involved in counter-terrorism. She also talks about her well-reviewed book on young women joining ISIS, Guest House for Young Widows, about women’s involvement with other militant groups, including Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, and about the controversy over repatriating ISIS-affiliated women and children from Syria and Iraq.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Gender & Conflict page.

Episode 25: A Dangerous New Turn in Yemen’s War

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood speak with Peter Salisbury, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Yemen, about Yemen’s multilayered conflict, now in its seventh year. They look at the state of play in Marib, where an offensive by Huthi forces could worsen what the UN already calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Peter unpacks the complex alliances and rivalries among the conflict parties. They also discuss how Yemen fits into U.S. President Joe Biden’s still evolving Gulf policy, including U.S. relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

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For more information, see Crisis Group's latest statement on Yemen: Crisis in Marib: Averting a Chain Reaction in Yemen and our latest report on Yemen: Rethinking Peace in Yemen.

Episode 24: The War in the Sahel

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood are joined by Jean-Hervé Jezequel, Crisis Group’s Sahel Project Director, for a frank look at why French-led efforts to weaken the jihadist grip on the Sahel and restore regional stability have foundered. He describes the lay of the land today, how jihadist groups have exploited the void left by states, and why emphasis should be shifted to local-level dialogue and governance to effectively reverse the spiral of violence.

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For more information, see our latest report: A Course Correction for the Sahel Stabilisation Strategy.

Episode 23: The Coup in Myanmar

Why did the generals seize power on 1 February in Myanmar? With protests gathering steam, what does the future hold? How should outside actors respond? 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood, Crisis Group’s Interim President, and guest host Comfort Ero, our Interim Vice President and Africa Program Director, speak with Richard Horsey, Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser on Myanmar.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, read our latest briefing: Responding to the Myanmar Coup.

Episode 22: Latin America’s Tough Year Ahead

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood speak with Ivan Briscoe, Crisis Group’s Program Director for Latin America and the Carribean, and discuss the current situation in the region following a tumultuous year. Ivan examines the impact of COVID-19 in Latin America, from stifling public protests to reducing homicide rates, and whether we are likely to see these trends continue. He explains how Venezuela has affected the region as a whole, and touches on solutions going forward. Due to the complex history of international intervention in Latin America, finding an answer won’t be easy.

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Episode 21: Africa in 2021

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood look at trends on the African continent in 2021 with Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director and interim Vice President Comfort Ero, from the rising violent jihadist threat to political transitions and the impact of COVID-19. 

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Episode 20: Syria’s Frozen Conflict  

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood host Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Syria, Dareen Khalifa, for a wide-ranging discussion of how the war in that country, until lately one of the world’s hottest, has cooled down over the past year. Dareen unpacks the de facto division of Syria into four parts, each controlled by a different faction with different outside allies, and explains what the future likely holds for each part.

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Episode 19: U.S. Sanctions: An Overused Foreign Policy Tool?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood host Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director, Ali Vaez, and Senior Analyst for Venezuela, Phil Gunson, to assess Washington’s unilateral sanctions on Tehran and Caracas. They argue that the Trump administration’s "maximum pressure" policy had none of the intended effects on the Iranian and Venezuelan governments but had dramatic ill effects on civilians. The unintended consequences highlight the responsibility that comes with the power to impose these penalties, as does the difficulty of reversing them.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 18: Social Media and the U.S. Capitol Events

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and Naz Modirzadeh host Sheera Frenkel, New York Times cybersecurity reporter and author of An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination, to discuss the role that social media platforms played in the mob assault on the U.S. Capitol and the response, or lack thereof, to online disinformation by Big Tech companies. They also talk to Peter Salisbury, Crisis Group’s Yemen Senior Analyst, who warns of dire consequences for Yemen if the U.S. does not quickly overturn its recent designation of the Huthis as a terrorist group. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information check out An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel; The U.S. Should Reverse Its Huthi Terror Designation and Thirteen Days of Peril: Managing the Chaotic End of the Trump Presidency

Episode 17: 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and Naz Modirzadeh host Crisis Group’s Chief of Policy Richard Atwood in a special episode on Crisis Group’s flagship publication “10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021”,  discussing the hot-spots we chose to feature, the opportunities for conflict resolution and the legacy of Donald Trump’s foreign’s policy, as well as debating the conventional wisdom that there is no military solution to political conflict.

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For more information:

Episode 16: Trump’s Morocco-Israel Transaction

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood unpack the normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco with Century Foundation Fellow Dahlia Scheindlin and talk with Crisis Group’s North Africa Project Director Riccardo Fabiani about how U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara could affect the conflict over this territory. They also address the elections in Venezuela and what the rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccine could mean for conflict prevention as well as Richard’s 100-year-old grandmother.

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Episode 15: Michael Kovrig: Two Years in Arbitrary Detention in China

This week marks two years of detention in China for our colleague Michael Kovrig, for no reason other than being a Canadian in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rob Malley and guest host Brittany Brown dedicate this episode of Hold Your Fire! to Michael’s case and talk with his wife Vina Nadjibulla about Michael’s resilience in prison, the conditions there, the letters they have exchanged, the geopolitical intricacies of his case and her relentless fight at the highest levels of government to get him out and safely home.    

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Episode 14: Regime Change Re-examined

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood take on the U.S. “forever wars” with Phil Gordon, a former adviser to President Barack Obama and author of the acclaimed book Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (St. Martin's Press, October 2020). Rob also addresses one of the most pressing foreign policy decisions the incoming Biden administration will face: should the U.S. simply go back to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal or should it aim for a more ambitious agreement with Tehran? 

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Episode 13: Afghanistan's Peace Process

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood unpack the state of talks among the U.S., and Afghan governments and the Taliban about a peace deal, along with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller, who served as acting U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also address the expulsion of Crisis Group Senior Analyst Will Davison from Ethiopia and reflect on how the organisation does its work in wartime.

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Episode 12: Ethnicity and Conflict in Myanmar

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood talk about the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh with Crisis Group Europe Program Director Olga Oliker. Then they speak with Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey about Myanmar’s identity crisis as it emerges from the second democratic elections in its history.

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Episode 11: “First, Do No Harm”: A New U.S. Foreign Policy under Biden?   

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Brittany Brown compare their own experience with presidential transitions to the Trump administration’s refusal thus far to pave the way for Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House. They then explore what a Biden foreign policy could look like with Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Senator Bernie Sanders, evoking the motto: “First, do no harm”.

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Episode 10: Protests against Police Brutality Shake Nigeria

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood try to make sense of a very convoluted electoral map, with no clear winner, the day after the U.S. election. They then turn to the protests against police brutality that have shaken Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, with Crisis Group Senior Adviser Nnamdi Obasi and Africa Program Director Comfort Ero. Lastly, they offer an update on the sadly predictable military escalation in Ethiopia.

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Episode 9: Can the U.S. Avoid an Election Crisis?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Steve Pomper talk about a bizarre Oval Office meeting that enraged Ethiopia and a must-watch documentary about social media. Then they take a deep dive into the risks of election-related violence in the United States with Carnegie Senior Fellow Rachel Kleinfeld. She unpacks the combination of risks that place the 2020 presidential contest in a category apart from any other in memory.

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Episode 8: What Makes Peace? Colombia’s Ex-President Santos Says It’s Harder than War

This week on Hold Your Fire!, former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos takes Rob and Naz behind the scenes of the negotiations with the FARC guerrillas that achieved a peace deal and won him the Nobel Peace Prize. Santos, also a Crisis Group Trustee, explains that making peace was much harder than leading the war effort. Beth Dickinson, Crisis Group’s analyst for Colombia, joins the conversation to give an update on how the peace agreement is working out.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 7: Turkey Flexes Its Foreign Policy Muscles

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob and Naz talk with Nigar Göksel, Crisis Group’s Turkey director, about how Turkey is flexing its muscles in its near abroad — Syria, Iraq, the eastern Mediterranean, and now Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as farther afield in Libya. Then they get an update on the Azerbaijani side of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh from Zaur Shiriyev, Crisis Group’s analyst in Baku.

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Episode 6: What’s Behind the Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Rob and Naz question the efficacy of international sanctions, as the European Union wields this overused tool against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. They are then joined by Olesya Vartanyan, Crisis Group’s senior South Caucasus analyst, for a very personal conversation about the toll the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh has taken on her friends on both sides as well as analysis of the role played by Turkey, Russia, and other external actors in the conflict. 

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Episode 5: President Trump’s Off-the-Rails Foreign Policy

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob reminisces about his recent trip to Azerbaijan, where he saw warning signs of a “frozen conflict” ready to thaw. Naz explains why the U.S. might regret trying to designate the Huthis as a terrorist organization if it cares about  helping Yemen make peace. They are joined by Aaron Miller, a veteran U.S. diplomat and Carnegie senior fellow, who examines the successes and shortcomings of President Trump’s unconventional diplomacy, and explains how the phrase “nobody ever washes a rental car” applies to conflict prevention.

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Episode 4: Libya's Proxy War

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob pays a very personal homage to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and confides about what keeps him up at night. Naz explains the convoluted legal argument laid out by the U.S. to try and justify its snapback of UN sanctions against Iran. They then turn to the complexity of the war in Libya, torn between foreign proxies and militias, with Crisis Group Senior Analyst Claudia Gazzini.

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Episode 3: Ethiopia's Political Crisis

Naz Modirzadeh and Rob Malley reflect on U.S. support for the Yemen war and the conspicuous absence of the Palestinian issue from the normalisation agreement among Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. Will Davison joins them to discuss the enormous challenges facing Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed amid rising ethnic tensions.

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Episode 2: Afghan Peace Talks: Dealing with the Taliban

Naz and Rob discuss French President Emmanuel Macron's dive into the murky waters of Lebanese politics and the Trump administration's stunning decision to impose sanctions on the staff of the International Criminal Court. They also speak with Andrew Watkins, Crisis Group's senior analyst for Afghanistan, about what to expect from the country's pending peace talks. Do the Taliban have the upper hand? 

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Episode 1: Israel, the UAE, and Normalisation

In this first episode of Hold Your Fire!, Naz and Rob talk about the role foreign policy played, or didn’t, at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and explain why the U.S. attempt to snap back UN sanctions on Iran was met with a collective shrug internationally. They welcome Crisis Group’s former Arab-Israeli project director, Nathan Thrall, to discuss the Israel-UAE agreement, what it means for Palestinians and whether he believes there can be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.