The key trends in South and Southeast Asia last week include: continued territorial gains and urban violence by militant groups in Afghanistan; fighting between state forces and domestic armed groups in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar; electoral violence in Pakistan and India; and a surge in mob lynchings over child trafficking rumors in India and Bangladesh.
In Afghanistan, the violent trends that have defined the summer fighting season continued last week. For the sixth consecutive week, the Taliban reported significant territorial gains. The militant group seized territory from Afghan forces in northeastern Badakhshan, Baghlan, and Balkh provinces as well as in southern Khost province. Some of this territory — such as areas of Raghistan district in Badakhshan and Jaji Maydan district in Khost — is significant for providing access to Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Pakistan, respectively. In Keran Wa Menjan district, one of Badakhshan’s largest districts by area, dozens of public uprising fighters and policemen surrendered to the Taliban, while many others fled on foot to neighboring Nuristan province after nine days of fighting and unanswered calls for reinforcement (TOLO News, 26 July 2019). The Islamic State (IS) also overtook some of the Taliban’s military positions in the former’s stronghold of Nangarhar province, marking the first time since late May that IS has gained any territory in the country. This occurs as Afghan officials recently reported that they have closed or are considering closing hundreds of police posts across the country (Reuters, 24 July 2019). The effort is being undertaken to reduce police casualties, but a minimal security presence in remote districts may facilitate the transfer of territory to and among non-state actors.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, was hit by three suicide bombings within two days, bringing the total to four attacks in less than a week. A Taliban bomber killed a Croatian North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) soldier; the group also claimed a suicide bombing in the city on the following day which killed American soldiers, although NATO denied having troops in the area. Lastly, a suicide bomber claimed by IS targeted a bus carrying workers of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, reportedly killing 15 civilians.
In the ancient city of Ghazni further southwest of Kabul, Taliban militants attacked and killed a member of the National Assembly who is also a member of the Hazara ethnic group. The Taliban has historically targeted ethnic and religious minorities, including the Hazara who speak their own language and are mostly Shiite Muslims (Al Jazeera, 27 June 2016). These attacks are in line with the Taliban’s recent claim that its forces will be more active in cities as a direct challenge to the central government (New York Times, 19 July 2019).
In Pakistan, violence perpetrated by domestic armed groups — including Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Baloch separatist group Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) — picked up again last week, following a lull in the number of reported attacks the week prior. In the first recorded attack on NATO supply lines since 2014, unidentified gunmen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province attacked a truck carrying supplies for US-allied forces in Afghanistan. Supplies including oil tankers destined for NATO troops travelling through Pakistan were frequently attacked by militants until the Pakistan military launched a major offensive against militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal districts in late 2013 and early 2014 (Dawn, 26 July 2019). Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies continued their crackdown on proscribed groups, killing a high-profile militant associated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) group along with two of his accomplices in Balochistan province.
In India, security forces stepped up cordon and search operations (CASOs) in several districts in Jammu & Kashmir, leading to the reported killing of the top commander of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Munna Lahori, in Shopian district. The deaths of high profile militants have previously led to wide-spread violence and demonstrations in the Kashmir valley. Meanwhile, in central India, Maoist rebels continued to be highly active, including engagement in clashes with security forces and targeted attacks against civilians. In the latest attack on political leaders in insurgency-affected areas, a group of suspected Maoist rebels reportedly killed a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and two others in an attack on the victim’s family home in Jharkhand’s Khunti district.
In Myanmar, the Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military continued to clash in northern Rakhine state last week as the internet blackout in the region passed the one-month mark. Aside from the fighting in Rakhine state, the Myanmar military clashed with both the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in northern Shan state, despite the reported continuation of the military’s unilateral ceasefire covering the area.
Reported separatist violence in Thailand increased last week. Notably, there were four reported fatalities from a battle between separatists and the military in Pattani province that led to an increase in military troops deployed across the deep south. In Indonesia, the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) clashed with the Indonesian military for the second week in a row in Papua province.
Meanwhile, state forces in the region were involved in violence against civilians — as seen in Myanmar, where a man was shot and killed by the Myanmar military in Mrauk-U township in Rakhine state. As well, Thai police reportedly shot and killed an ethnic Lahu man which led to demonstrations in Chiang Mai province in Thailand.
Electoral violence continues to be reported from parts of Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, violence between supporters of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)-backed independent candidate was reported during the by-poll election for the National Assembly seat in Ghotki district of Sindh province. In India, while post-election violence between supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress Party (TMC) continued unabated in West Bengal state, clashes between BJP and Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) supporters were reported during polling for the three-tier panchayat (village council) elections in Tripura state.
Mob lynchings remain a major issue in South Asia. Last week, a wave of mob lynching incidents over suspicions about child trafficking was reported in India and Bangladesh. Rumors over so-called “child lifters” are frequently spread via social media, especially via WhatsApp; these rumors explain the sudden, recent surge in attacks.
Land disputes also led to disorder in the region last week. Two protest events were held in Cambodia over disputed land. Disagreements over land ownership also led to deadly clashes between two groups of villagers in the Magway region in Myanmar.
Finally, in the Philippines, 17 protest events were reported across the country on the day of President Duterte’s State of the Nation speech. Protesters included students, farmers, laborers and other groups dissatisfied with the Duterte administration’s policies. They mark growing opposition to the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Philippine government (Washington Post, 28 July 2019).
© 2019 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.