ACLED Regional Overview – Asia (19 March 2019)
Last week, levels of organized violence declined while demonstration events too continued to decrease across the South and Southeast Asian regions. In South Asia, following the announcement of the dates for the general elections by the Election Commission of India, a surge in election-related events as well as organized violence by Maoist rebels was recorded. In Southeast Asia, as Thailand readies for elections next week, separatist violence continued in the south in Narathiwat province while a series of battles in the Philippines between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led to 21 reported fatalities.
In **Afghanistan **last week, fighting continued between multiple armed groups and Afghan/NATO forces throughout the country. The heaviest concentration of clashes occurred in the provinces of Ghazni, Helmand, Urozgan, and Badghis. In the latter, heavy fighting was focused in the district of Murghab, which borders Turkmenistan as well as two other districts with significant Taliban presence, Muqur and Ghormach (Long War Journal, March 2019). On 10 March 2019, over 20 Afghan security personnel were captured during a Taliban assault, with a half dozen more prisoners being taken by the group the day before. This past weekend, 150 more soldiers were reportedly captured, 100 of which were captured after fleeing across the Turkmen border and being forced back by local security personnel (NY Times, 18 March 2019). On the other hand, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense reported heavy casualties to Taliban fighters as a result of military operations in the region.
Meanwhile, relations between the Afghan and US governments continued to sour as a result of the former being left out of ongoing peace talks between American and Taliban diplomats. Last week Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamidullah Mohib, visited Washington and made comments against the US’ lead negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, stating that he was acting out of “personal ambition”, and that his reports to the Afghan government were incredibly brief (Washington Post, 14 March 2019). So far, Taliban diplomats have agreed only to talk with foreign and Afghan opposition officials, claiming that the ruling government is a so-called American ‘puppet’. With the upcoming presidential elections set for 20 July 2019, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani faces pressure to legitimize his administration.
In Pakistan, several battles between the security forces and suspected militants were recorded last week. In three such incidents, a police personnel and a militant were reportedly killed, while four were arrested in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In Balochistan province, Levies officials arrested three suspected militants and their alleged facilitators after an exchange of gunfire. In addition, two people were killed and several others injured when a motorbike mounted with explosive materials went off in Panjgur, while four police personnel were reportedly injured in a similar attack in Quetta.
In other developments, unidentified men fatally shot a Brohi folk singer in Balochistan and a famous ophthalmologist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Sindh, the crackdown on banned organizations continued with government agencies taking control of 18 seminaries of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) along with several Deobandi madrasas and mosques alleged to have links with these groups.
In the contested Kashmir region, Indian and Pakistani forces continued with regular exchanges of small arms fire and shelling along the Line of Control (LoC), resulting in the reported deaths of two Pakistani civilians, as well as injuries to four Pakistani civilians, four Indian civilians and an Indian army porter.
In India, security forces in Jammu & Kashmir continued to be on high alert in the aftermath of the deadly Pulwama attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants on 14 February (for more on this, see this past ACLED piece). Last week, between two to three JeM militants were reportedly killed by state forces during a Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) in Pulwama district. Suspected militants staged several targeted attacks on civilians at their homes, resulting in injuries to a National Conference activist (JKNC) and the reported deaths of three people, including a former soldier and an off-duty special police officer.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of India announced the dates for general elections and some state Assembly elections which will be held in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. Following the Election Commission’s announcement on 10 March, the number of election-related violence events surged across India. In West Bengal, several clashes between political parties and attacks against party members were recorded, reportedly leaving one supporter of the Indian National Congress (INC) dead. Based on West Bengal’s history of violent elections (for more on this, see this past ACLED piece), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) urged the Election Commission to declare West Bengal a ‘super sensitive state’ and demanded the deployment of central forces at every polling booth to ensure fair elections (Times of India, 13 March 2019). Incidents of election-related clashes between political parties were also reported from Tamil Nadu and Andrah Pradesh. In North India, political parties started launching protest campaigns against their rivals, such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) who held demonstrations both against BJP and INC and renewed their demand for full statehood for Delhi.
In addition, a rise in Maoist violence was reported last week with battles between rebels and security forces as well as attacks on civilians being recorded in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra states. Maoist rebels have a history of boycotting elections and ramping up their military campaign in the run up to elections (for more on this, see this past ACLED infographic). A few days after the announcement of the election results, Maoist rebels left posters asking people to boycott the upcoming general and state elections in Odisha (Odisha Sun Times, 17 March 2019).
In other developments, people from all walks of life, often led by women’s organizations, took to the streets across South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, to protest the sexual harassment and extortion of more than 50 women across Tamil Nadu by a four-member gang from Pollachi. This latest rape case, which caught national media attention, also has taken a political turn with the alleged involvement of a senior leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party (The Indian Express, 13 March 2019).
In Bangladesh, mill workers took to the streets last week to demand the reopening of factories, and students carried out protest demonstrations demanding fresh polls for the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) over allegations of rigging and irregularities (Independent, 14 March 2019).
In Nepal, the government branded the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal as a criminal group, signaling a crackdown on the party’s activities. The government’s declaration came in the backdrop of several bombings and other violent activities by members of the outfit. The government has also called on members of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party to submit all illegal weapons to the authorities within 35 days (My Republica, 15 March 2019).
In Sri Lanka, police forces fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse a student demonstration near the Parliament in Colombo city. Students had been protesting against the proposed Counter Terrorism Act (CTA)that is supposed to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Opponents claim that a repressive government can use these anti-terror laws to suppress peaceful dissenting voices from journalists, rights activists, opposition politicians, and others (Euroasia Review, 2 Mach 2019).
In the Philippines, there were 12 reported fatalities of drug suspects in police raids. The deaths come as Duterte recently released the third drug list of his administration (The Manila Times, 14 March 2019). Released two months before the May 2019 midterm elections, the list includes the names of politicians allegedly linked to the drug trade. Last week, there was a rise in reported fatalities from the ongoing fighting between the Philippine military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). In Maguindanao province, 20 BIFF fighters and one Philippine soldier died in a series of battles.
Clashes in Myanmar between the Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military intensified last week in Rakhine state. As well, the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) and Myanmar military clashed in Kutkai township in northern Shan state. Notably, the Myanmar military also clashed with the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) in northern Shan state over several days. Despite the Myanmar military’s announcement of a four-month unilateral ceasefire in December 2018 which covers Kachin and Shan states, it appears the temporary ceasefire is beginning to unravel earlier than the given deadline.
A number of protests were also held by various ethnic, environmental and activist groups across the country on the International Day of Action for Rivers. Demonstrations were held in Kachin and Kayin states as well as in the Mandalay and Sagaing regions. Protesters were calling for an end to the construction of several dams across the country. The protests come as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recently made comments that were interpreted as indicating that she was reconsidering allowing China to restart construction on the Myitsone dam (Radio Free Asia, 14 March 2019). Such a decision would be deeply unpopular (The Diplomat, 11 March 2019) as the dam would be constructed on the Irrawaddy river, a river considered to be the life source of the country and a point of national pride. It is likely that a decision to restart construction on the dam would lead to more demonstrations.
Last week, there were a number of bombings and attacks in Thailand in Narathiwat province by suspected separatists. Such violence occurred in Cho-Airang, Tak Bai, Yi Ngo, Bacho and Rueso districts. The violence comes in the run-up to the general election scheduled for 24 March with many doubting that the elections will resolve the many political conflicts in the country, particularly as the Thai military has engineered the constitution to weaken political parties and give the military power over both the executive and legislative branches of government (The Diplomat, 13 December 2018).
In Bangkok, students demonstrated as part of the global Youth Strike for Climate. Similar protests were also held in Penang in Malaysia. Also, in Malaysia, a six-day protest by several families over their forced eviction to make way for a development project in Penang concluded after an agreement was reached.
In Indonesia, the wife of a suspected member of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) detonated explosives as police surrounded her home in North Sumatra, resulting in four reported fatalities (Time, 13 March 2019). The explosion occurred as police arrested several suspected JAD members in both North Sumatra and West Kalimantan provinces.