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ACLED Regional Overview – Asia (12 March 2019)

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Across Asia last week, organized violence remained static while demonstration events decreased. In South Asia, militants continued to launch attacks on security forces in Pakistan while several incidents of militant violence were reported across India. In Southeast Asia, clashes between the Indonesian military and the West Papua National Liberation Army led to 14 reported fatalities while an attack by the Arakan Army on a police post in Myanmar led to the reported deaths of nine police recruits.

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 Nangarhar, Ghazni, Urozgan, and Helmand. In the latter, Afghan military forces conducted several operations focused on the Nad Ali and Nahri Saraj districts — two adjacent regions contested by the Taliban (Long War Journal, March 2019). Helmand province is a known stronghold for the Taliban, and is economically important as a center of opium production. A large scale US-led campaign to eliminate drug production facilities made only limited gains over a one-year period and was recently cancelled (Time, 21 February 2019).

Meanwhile, a mortar attack targeting a Shiite gathering in the predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi, Kabul city, reportedly killed 11 people, and injured 95 more last Thursday. The gathering was called to commemorate the late Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed by the Taliban in 1995. Afghan officials initially asserted that the Taliban was responsible; however, the local Islamic State (IS) affiliate claimed the attack via their Amaq news outlet (Al Jazeera, 8 March 2019). IS is known to regularly target Shiite Muslims, and have made several attacks on civilians in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood over the past few years (for more on that, see this ACLED analysis).

In Pakistan, attacks on security forces were recorded in several provinces last week. In Sindh, unidentified armed groups fatally shot two policemen in separate incidents. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistani border security forces retaliated with heavy artillery fire after suspected Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JUA) militants opened fire at a border post from the Rainai area of Afghanistan. In addition, five people including two children were reportedly injured when explosives mounted on a motorbike went off in Balochistan. In a second incident, an IED exploded on a railway track near Dera Murad Jamali town, derailing five bogies of the Jaffar Express.

In other developments, the whistleblower who exposed the suspected honor killings of five women in Pakistan’s rural Kohistan district in 2012 was shot dead. This is the latest death in an ongoing feud between the family of the whistleblower and the family of the suspected women victims (BBC, 7 March 2019). Also, in an apparent bid to crack down on banned organizations under the National Action Plan (NAP), government agencies assumed control of several seminaries, mosques, and other facilities of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), Falah-i-Insaniyat (FID), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Several members of these organizations, including JeM chief Masood Azhar’s brother and son, were taken into “preventive detention” (Dawn, 5 March 2019). Protests and rallies expressing solidarity with the Pakistani army in the aftermath of the previous week’s cross-border skirmishes with the Indian Air Force continued through last week across several provinces.

In the contested Kashmir region, cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani forces continued along the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary (WB), without any reported fatalities.

In India, two Pakistani military drones were shot down by Indian military forces in Rajasthan state. This comes one week after Indian and Pakistani fighter planes entered each other’s airspace resulting in the reported downing of two planes on 27 February. In addition, militant activity left several people dead across the country. In Jammu & Kashmir, two civilians were reportedly killed and approximately 30 injured when a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) militant launched a grenade attack at a bus station in Jammu city. In addition, five militants were reportedly killed in Cordon and Search Operations in Kupwara and Pulwama districts. In Jharkhand, clashes between the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) and security personnel resulted in the reported death of three rebels. One more rebel was reportedly killed in fighting between the Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP) and Maoist rebels in Gumla district. In Kerala, Maoist rebels and security forces engaged in a running fire fight after rebels allegedly tried to extort money from a resort in Wayanad district, leaving one rebel reportedly dead. The families of the slain rebel, however, alleged that it was a fake encounter and that the Maoists were arrested and killed by policemen (The Hindu, 8 March 2019).

In other developments, over 1,400 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists were arrested following clashes with the police in several places of West Bengal on 3 March. BJP activists had been staging bike rallies as part of the party’s outreach program ahead the general elections.

In Bangladesh, journalists took to the streets to protest against the arrest of fellow journalist Abu Zafar under the Digital Security Act (DSA) earlier this year on 19 February. The charges filed against Zafar and four others include the spreading of false information against a local leader of an Awami League’s front organisation (Daily Star, 21 February 2019). The Digital Security Act (DSA) was passed by the ruling Awami League government in October 2018 and raised criticism for curtailing freedom of speech in the country.

In Nepal, the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) called for a shutdown in several district to protest the arrest of its cadres by the police while the former were attending a program to honor martyrs in Rolpa. It is unclear why the cadres were arrested but the party was allegedly involved in the bombing of Ncell towers and the headquarters of the privately-owned mobile network operator earlier this month (My Republica, 7 March 2019).

In Sri Lanka, farmers held demonstrations across the country in support of several demands including increased rates for their paddy produce. Paddy prices are determined by the Sri Lankan authorities taking into account farmers’ and consumers’ needs (News First, 6 March 2019). In addition, members of the Tamil community staged a protest demanding the removal of the Murakkoddansenai army camp in Batticaloa. The army has been stationed in the local school building and the lands of several residents since 1990 (Tamil Guardian, 9 March 2019).

In Myanmar, fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) intensified last week in both northern Rakhine and southern Chin states. There were at least fifteen clashes between the two groups. Late Saturday, the AA attacked a police outpost in northern Rakhine state, reportedly killing at least nine police recruits.

In northern Shan state, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) fought against the joint forces of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) and Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA). Notably, there were also two clashes in northern Shan state last week between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA). The fighting occurred despite the unilateral ceasefire called by the Myanmar military in December 2018.

Civilians were wounded when four landmines exploded last week, resulting in one reported fatality. Meanwhile, protests in support of amendments to the 2008 constitution occurred in the Yangon, Mandalay, and Ayeyarwady regions. The National League for Democracy (NLD) has recently been rallying public support for proposed amendments to the 2008 constitution which they are currently pursuing in parliament.

In Indonesia, the Indonesian military and West Papua National Liberation Army clashed in Nduga regency, leading to 14 reported fatalities. The clashes come as 600 soldiers were sent to the Nduga regency to guard construction of the Trans-Papua Highway, a contested development project which has led to increased violence in the region since last December (Benar News, 6 March 2019). The military also fought with the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), resulting in one reported death.

Late Saturday night, a series of bombs exploded in Satun province in Thailand. Early Sunday morning, a similar series of explosions occurred in Phatthalung province. The explosions appear to be timed to cause instability in the lead up to the general elections scheduled for March 24. As well, last week, the Thai Raksa Chart party, a pro-Thaksin party that recently nominated Princess Ubolratana Mahidol as its candidate, was dissolved (Associated Press, 7 March 2019).

In the Philippines, 19 drug suspects were reportedly killed in police raids. There were also a notable number of protests last week in the Philippines. In Subic, protests were held against Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction-Philippines, a Korean-owned company, by workers who declined to sign a voluntary retrenchment program in favor of keeping their jobs. Further, a protest was held in Manila against China’s actions in the contested areas of the South China Sea. There were likewise two anti-mining protests: one against the Mining Act of 1995 and the other by Lumad from Mindanao against mining in their communities.

Tenants from Taman Manggis housing project in Malaysia demonstrated a number of times last week against their forced eviction to make way for a development project. As well, Penan and Berawan people from northern Sarawak staged a demonstration in Mirir to protest against the clearing of a forest near Mulu National Park by a palm oil company. Further, two protests were organized by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) against the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Secretary-General over comments that they viewed as anti-Malay Muslim.

Across the region, several protests were held in commemoration of International Women’s Day. Women in Cambodia were prevented from marching by the police in Phnom Penh. Hundreds of women marched in Jakarta and Banda Aceh in Indonesia. In Malaysia, women in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu likewise marched.

A protest took place in Vietnam in front of the Malaysian embassy over the delay of a rice shipment heading to the Philippines. As well, in Quang Ninh province, a dispute between an Indonesian and Vietnamese mining company led to rioting between workers for two days, injuring one Indonesian staff.

No political violence or protest events were recorded in Laos last week.