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ACLED Regional Overview – Asia (30 October 2018)

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Last week in South and Southeast Asia was marked by a constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka as the President unseated the Prime Minister, increased levels of violence and demonstrations in the Jammu and Kashmir valley, targeted killings of political activists in Bangladesh, and renewed clashes between the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South and Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Myanmar.

In Afghanistan, voting for the parliamentary election took place in Kandahar province on 27 October after previously being delayed due to the killing of the provincial police chief by a Taliban infiltrator (for more on this, see this past ACLED piece). While there were several Taliban IED attacks reported by the group itself in Kandahar city, the process was largely peaceful due to security measures. Turnout figures have yet to be released (CNN, 27 October 2018).

Meanwhile, in Nangarhar province, at least 14 civilians were reportedly killed during an overnight Afghan military raid on their village. Following the event, locals staged a demonstration with the bodies on the Jalalabad-Torkham highway, blocking it to traffic (RFERL, 25 October 2018).

In Pakistan, two more off-duty policemen were reportedly killed in targeted attacks in Quetta, Balochistan and Der Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the former attack. Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers from the Punjab Assembly continued to boycott legislative sessions and staged protests on the stairs of the Assembly building in Lahore city. They are demanding a lift on the ban of six of their peers from the Assembly for raucous behavior, stemming from a 16 October disagreement.

Political violence and demonstrations rocked the Jammu and Kashmir valley last week. Locals on both sides of the international border between India and Pakistan took to the streets on 22 and 27 October. These dates commemorate the initial entry of Pakistani and Indian forces, respectively, into the Kashmir region (Times Now News, 22 October 2018). Pro-Kashmiri separatist protests were also held on 22 October in other parts of Pakistan, including Rawalpindi in Punjab and Gilgit in Gilgit-Baltistan. In addition, last week led to a significant spike in organized violence as well as the number of reported fatalities in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. During clashes with militants and government forces, 24 people, including seven civilians, were reportedly killed. This triggered a significant number of demonstrations amid Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL)-led shutdowns in the valley. Several acts of cross-border violence were also reported, including a clash along the Line of Control (LoC) that left three Indian soldiers and two unidentified Pakistani gunmen reportedly dead.

Meanwhile, Maoist violence continued in India last week including the reported assassination of a suspected police informant in Odisha and the killing of four Central Reserve Police Force troopers by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district.

Protest levels in India picked up again following several weeks of dropping event numbers. Several labour-related demonstrations were reported from North India, with teachers and other government employees demanding regularization of their services at full salary. The Indian National Congress (INC) as well as other political parties staged nationwide protests against the central government’s suspension of the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) who was overseeing an investigation into the controversial Rafale deal related to allegations of corruption in the billion-dollar purchase of fighter jets from France (The Economic Times, 25 October 2018). In Assam state, 46 organizations called for a state-wide shutdown to protest against the Central government’s attempt to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 in Parliament. There were several reports of protests and violent demonstrations, as locals fear that the bill – which aims to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who fled religious persecution – could marginalize the Assamese people and encourage migration from Bangladesh (The Assam Tribune, 24 October 2018).

In Bangladesh, with elections only two months away, the number of reported attacks on members of political parties – especially the ruling Awami League (AL) and its front organizations – increased last week. Five killings were recorded last week which are suspected to be politically motivated.

In Nepal, spontaneous clashes were reported in some parts of the country during the celebrations of the Hindu religious festival Dashain.

In Sri Lanka, on 26 October, in a sudden turn of events, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and appointed former president Mahinda Rajapakse to the position, despite questions of constitutionality over the decision (The New York Times, 26 October 2018). Rajapakse immediately suspended the Parliament until 16 November to forestall an emergency parliament session called by Wickremesinghe; his supporters from the Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPP) immediately took over editorial control of major publications such as Daily News, Dinamina, and Silumina Editorials.

In the Philippines, 23 October marked the one-year anniversary of the end of the Marawi crisis in which the Philippine armed forces and two jihadist groups, Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf, waged a five-month long urban battle in Marawi, Lanao del Sur. With the leaders of the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf killed during the crisis, both groups have been significantly weakened. However, after a bombing in Basilan province in July, which reportedly killed eleven people, Abu Sayyaf’s potential strength and ability to disrupt the Duterte-led peace process in the region is a growing concern (Asia Conflict Watch, 13 September 2018). Last week, in Sulu province, Abu Sayyaf and the Philippine armed forces clashed, resulting in the reported deaths of three marines and one Abu Sayyaf rebel.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, after the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) burned a flag bearing an Islamic tenet, one thousand Muslims rallied in Jakarta to protest the flag burning. The NU, a moderate organization, burned the flag in West Java after disapproving of a man carrying the flag of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) (Reuters, 26 October 2018). Conservative groups led the rally against the flag burning by the NU and called on protesters to defend Islam. The demonstration comes as Indonesia prepares for elections in April 2019 and politicians have been appealing to Muslim groups for support.

While the number of protests in Myanmar declined significantly last week, fighting between ethnic armed organizations increased. The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) and the joint forces of the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) clashed throughout last week in Namtu and Lashio township, Shan state. Fighting in Namtu township has increased in 2018 and the ongoing territorial disputes between the RCSS/SSA-S and PSLF/TNLA continue to spur conflict in northern Shan state (for more on this, see this past ACLED piece).

In Thailand, two men on a motorcycle threw a homemade pipe bomb at a tire shop in Yala province, reflecting the ongoing instability in the south. The men are believed to be southern Muslim separatists. No political violence or protest events were recorded last week for Cambodia, Vietnam, or Laos.