The overall levels of both organized violence and demonstrations significantly decreased across the South and Southeast Asian regions. The key developments last week included militant violence during the Afghan general elections, cross-border violence between Pakistan and most of it neighbours, deadly clashes between state forces and militants in India, and the reported killing of nine farmers occupying company-owned farmland in the Philippines.
In Afghanistan, the long-delayed parliamentary elections finally took place on 20 October, despite technical difficulties and violent opposition by the Taliban and other armed groups. Close to nine million people registered to vote, and approximately 2,500 candidates were vying for seats (Al Jazeera, 21 October 2018). Originally scheduled for 15 October 2016, attacks on candidates, voters, and election officials by members of the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) pushed the date of the election forward on two separate occasions. Significantly, despite a strong IS presence during the 7 July 2018 election attempt, only one attack has been attributed to the group during this cycle – a suicide bombing at an election rally in Kama district, Nangarhar province. Meanwhile, Taliban attacks have been steady throughout and increased significantly on election day itself.
In Kandahar province, the voting has been delayed by a week due to a major attack on senior officials by a Taliban infiltrator posing as a guard. The attack occurred at the governor’s compound after a high security meeting on October 18, and reportedly resulted in the death of both the provincial police chief and intelligence head. Top US General Jeffrey Smiley was among those wounded in the attack, as confirmed by the Pentagon days later (RFERL, 22 October 2018).
Last week, violence was reported from almost all international borders in Pakistan. Pakistani and Indian security forces exchanged fire four times across the contested border in Jammu & Kashmir. Iranian security forces also fired missiles into the border areas of Chagai district, Balochistan Province. These strikes were reported on 19 October, three days after the reported kidnapping of ten Iranian security personnel from near the Iran-Pakistan border (Reuters, 16 October 2018). Pakistan’s border police also clashed with Afghan forces while the former was building a fence near the Chaman border crossing in Killa Abdullah district, Balochistan province on 14 October.
Furthermore, by-election voting began on 14 October in a number of constituencies across the country. Most of the reported poll violence occurred in Punjab province, particularly in Lahore, Toba Tek Singh, and Rawalpindi districts on 14 October. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers scuffled and sometimes drew weapons at polling sites. There were no fatalities reported in election-related violence last week.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-N activists both dealt with major blows to their reputations. PML-N lawmakers were physically barred from entering the Punjab Assembly on 19 October; they staged a protest on the stairs instead. The arrest of a former PPP senator on 21 September for terrorism charges from speaking harshly with a Chief Justice continued to inspire protests in parts of Karachi city, Sindh Province.
In India’s state of Jammu & Kashmir, 11 people were reportedly killed – including two civilians – during a spike in clashes between government forces and militants. Government forces were also responsible for a series of assaults on civilians, including two separate attacks on journalists covering rioting in Srinagar city, and three violent raids on villages that resulted in injuries to local villagers and damages to property.
In India’s “Red Belt area”, the Indian state forces continued to invest in anti-Maoist operations to tackle the presence of the Communist Party of India-Maoist. Four Maoist cadres were reportedly killed in separate encounters with security forces in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh states. Also, in Chhattisgarh, three Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) troopers were injured in an IED blast triggered by militants in Rajnandgaon district while the team was leading a search operation. Maoists also targeted security forces in Jharkhand and Odisha states with remote explosives.
Moreover, the celebrations of religious Hindu festivals of Navaratri and Durga Puja led to violent events in some areas across India as well as the tragic death of at least 62 civilians in a train accident during a Dussehra festival in Amritsar, Punjab (NDTV, 22 October 2018). Hindu activists and Hindu-affiliated political parties also continued to stage sometimes violent demonstrations against the Supreme Court allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Previously, women pilgrims of “menstruating age” (between 10 and 50 years) were not legally allowed to enter the temple (BBC, 19 October 2018). Like every year, farmers in the states surrounding the national capital, New Delhi, took to the streets in opposition to the government’s ban on burning paddy stubble in an attempt to improve the air quality in the capital region.
In Bangladesh, two militants from an offshoot of the banned group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh were killed in an armed clash with the police in Narsingdi district. Activists continued to stage protest demonstrations in small pockets across Bangladesh, demanding the restoration of quotas reserved in government jobs.
In Sri Lanka, students and parents protested against the suspension of studentship and classes of 25 students in the South Eastern University (SEUSL) with protesters taking over the administration building of the university in Oluvil. The police violently dispersed another student protest about the same issue in Colombo city.
On 14 October in Myanmar, nationalist forces including supporters of the military, supporters of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, and nationalist Buddhist monks marched through Yangon. Holding portraits of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the marchers rallied against international interference in Myanmar. While talks between the military, the government, and ten signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) were held in Nay Pyi Taw, the Myanmar military and non-signatories continued to clash. The Arakan Army (AA), a non-signatory, and the Myanmar military clashed twice in Paletwa township, Chin state. Later in the week, the Karenni National Progressive Party/Karenni Army (KNPP/KA), also a non-signatory, fought with the Myanmar military for the first time in over six years (Radio Free Asia, 22 October 2018). Notably, two NCA signatory groups, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) and the Pa-Oh National Liberation Organization/Pa-Oh National Liberation Army (PNLO/PNLA), also clashed with each other last week.