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ACLED Regional Overview: South Asia and Afghanistan (30 July - 5 August 2022)

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Last week in South Asia and Afghanistan, the United States (US) killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri in a drone strike in Afghanistan, as the Islamic State (IS) and anti-Taliban groups continued to clash with the Taliban. IS also attacked Shiite civilians in Kabul during a holy period for the community. In Pakistan, Baloch separatists increased attacks against state forces and civilians in Balochistan province, as unidentified armed groups continued to engage in armed clashes and civilian targeting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Sri Lanka, state forces continued their crackdown on anti-government protesters. In India, Naxal-Maoist rebels clashed with state forces in the Red Corridor last week, while incidents of mob vigilantism were reported in Odisha state. Meanwhile, opposition Indian National Congress (INC) supporters and National Democratic Party (RPP) supporters led nationwide anti-government demonstrations in India and Nepal, respectively. In Bangladesh, clashes broke out between rival factions of the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and its student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), in Khulna and Barisal divisions, while rival armed groups of Rohingya refugees clashed in Chittagong division.

In Afghanistan, the US killed Al Qaeda leader Al-Zawahri in a drone strike on 31 July. The strike hit a house owned by Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani in Kabul city, where Al-Zawahri was allegedly hiding (AP, 2 August 2022). The attack resulted in an exchange of accusations between the US and the Taliban of violating the Doha Agreement signed in 2020 (VOA, 2 August 2022). The agreement requires the Taliban to prevent Al Qaeda from operating on Afghan soil, while the US commits to avoid the use of force against Afghanistan’s territorial integrity (US Department of State, 29 February 2020). The incident also triggered protests across the country, with demonstrators condemning the US for disrespecting Afghanistan’s sovereignty. ACLED records protests across at least 19 provinces, some of which were attended by thousands of people (Pajhwok Afghan News, 5 August 2022). A week after the attack, Interior Minister Haqqani said the Taliban is still committed to the agreement (Afghan Islamic Press, 6 August 2022), while Taliban officials claim they did not know that Al-Zawahri was in Kabul (Washington Post, 4 August 2022).

Meanwhile, the Taliban continued to target IS in Balkh and Kabul provinces last week, claiming to have foiled a planned attack against Shiite civilians (Bakhtar News Agency, 4 August 2022). Despite this, an IS-planted bomb killed at least eight Shiite civilians and wounded over a dozen in Kabul city following Taliban operations. The attack took place during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram, a holy period for Shiites (RFE/RL, 5 August 2022). IS also claims two attacks against Taliban members in Kunar province. These trends contribute to the 100% increase in violence in both Kabul and Kunar provinces over the past week relative to the past month, as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker; the Tracker had warned of increased violence to come in Balkh in the past month.

Anti-Taliban forces also remained active last week, with the National Resistance Front (NRF) and the Taliban clashing in Panjshir, Kapisa, and Nangarhar provinces. Additionally, the National Liberation Front of Afghanistan claims an attack against the Taliban in Ghazni province, while the Watandost Front group claims to have killed a Taliban government official in Kabul city.

In Pakistan, Baloch separatists and unidentified armed groups engaged in armed clashes and civilian targeting in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, respectively, last week. This violence contributed to the 35% increase in violence in Pakistan in the past month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month. Violence in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is both common and highly volatile; they are both considered areas of ‘extreme risk’ by ACLED’s Volatility and Risk Predictability Index.

In Balochistan, Baloch separatists increased remote explosive, grenade, and direct attacks against security forces and civilians last week compared to the week prior. Multiple fatalities were reported across separate attacks involving Baloch separatist groups, including the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), and the Baloch Raaji Ajoi e Sangar (BRAS) in a number of districts.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, unidentified armed groups clashed with state forces and targeted civilians last week, resulting in multiple fatalities.ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the past month.

In Sri Lanka, the government continued its crackdown on anti-government protesters last week, arresting a prominent protest leader and issuing orders to dismantle remaining protest camps (Al Jazeera, 4 August 2022; New York Times, 3 August 2022). Anti-government demonstrators continued their protest at the Galle Face protest site in Colombo, defying a police order to remove unauthorized tents and camps by 5 August (Hindustan Times, 4 August 2022). A Sri Lankan court subsequently extended the deadline on 5 August, allowing the protesters to carry out demonstrations for another week until 10 August (The Print, 5 August 2022). Demonstration activity in Sri Lanka has spiked since March as the country faces one of its worst economic crises in recent decades (for more, see ACLED’s infographic Sri Lanka: Increasing Debt, Increasing Demonstrations).

In India, Naxal-Maoist rebels clashed with state forces in the Red Corridor last week, contributing to the 27% increase in violence in India last week relative to the past month flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month. In Jharkhand state, Communist Party of India (Maoist) rebels clashed with state forces, while Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC) cadres targeted a stone mining compound, vandalizing equipment and disrupting the mining work in Latehar district. Naxal-Maoist activity contributed to the 129% increase in violence in Jharkhand last week relative to the past month flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker. The Subnational Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in the state in the past month.

Elsewhere, multiple incidents of mob vigilantism were reported in Odisha state last week over allegations of theft and witchcraft, leaving one person dead and multiple injured. These acts of mob violence led to the 414% increase in violence in Odisha last week relative to the past month flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker. The Subnational Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Odisha in the past month.

Meanwhile, farmers under the aegis of the United Farmers Front (SKM) held nationwide demonstrations on 31 July over a range of issues, including demands for a legal guarantee on minimum support prices (MSP) and justice in the Lakhimpur Kheri case. The protesters demand action against a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) federal minister linked to the October 2021 incident, in which his son ran over a group of demonstrating farmers. INC members also held nationwide demonstrations last week against inflation and unemployment.

In Bangladesh, multiple people were injured last week after clashes broke out between rival factions of the AL and its student wing, the BCL, in Khulna and Barisal divisions, respectively. The clashes were linked to ongoing factionalism and the establishment of political supremacy.

Meanwhile, in Chittagong division, two groups of Rohingya refugees engaged in an armed clash for unknown reasons in Cox’s Bazar district last week. One police personnel was injured during the crossfire. Unidentified assailants also shot and killed a member of the Rohingya community in Ukhia upazila in Cox’s Bazar for unknown reasons. Refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar have been the sites of multiple violent incidents this year, including a recent attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), over the control and dominance of the camps.

In Nepal, RPP members held anti-government nationwide protests on 30 July and 3 August. Demonstrators raise a number of demands, including improved availability of chemical fertilizers for farmers, price controls for cooking gas and petroleum products, the restoration of the monarchy and Hindu nation in Nepal, the abolition of federalism, and greater controls on corruption.