Key trends in South Asia over the last five weeks include: targeted attacks by militants on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, armed clashes between security forces and militant groups, and religious violence in India; targeted attacks against security forces in Pakistan; and election-related violence in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
In India, three targeted attacks perpetrated by militants against BJP leaders were reported in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), resulting in two fatalities early in August. Since July, several attacks have been reported against BJP leaders in the region. While no group has claimed responsibility for the three most recent attacks, a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander released an audio recording threatening BJP leaders in the region (Hindu, 15 July 2020). The threats were issued in response to alleged Indian army activity against civilians and families of militants in J&K (Asian News Hub, 15 July 2020). The threats have led to the resignation of a few BJP activists (Hindu, 15 July 2020). Twenty-one armed clashes between domestic militant groups and security forces were also recorded in J&K, resulting in 31 reported fatalities. Militant groups involved in clashes with security forces include Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), LeT, and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
Earlier in the year, it was reported that Indian security forces have used the coronavirus lockdown to commit resources towards fighting militancy in J&K (New India Express, 7 May 2020). In the third week of August, security forces claimed that the commander responsible for the series of attacks on BJP leaders had been killed in an armed clash with security personnel (Times Now News, 19 August 2020). Additionally, cross-border violence between security forces of India and Pakistan escalated in the Kashmir region. Over the past 5 weeks, 80 clashes and 11 fatalities have been reported between Indian and Pakistani forces, keeping 2020 on pace to become the most violent year recorded between India and Pakistan since the beginning of ACLED coverage in 2016.
Elsewhere in India, violence broke out over religious issues across several states. In Karnataka, at least three demonstrators were killed when police fired live ammunition at demonstrators who attacked an Indian National Congress (INC) leader’s house.The demonstrators were angered over an offensive social media post by the INC leader’s relative about the Muslim faith. The state’s ruling BJP government blamed the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) for inciting the violence during the demonstration (Print, 12 August 2020). The SDPI, regarded as a political front for the Islamist fundamentalist group the Popular Front of India (PFI), claims that larger political forces, including the BJP, are responsible for the violence (Indian Express, 26 August 2020). This is not the first instance of such accusations being made against the BJP. Earlier this year, BJP leaders were accused of using anti-Muslim rhetoric to incite violence against Muslims, leading to religious violence in Delhi and West Bengal (National Herald, 9 February, 2020; BBC, 29 January 2020; Indian Express, 18 May 2020).
In Assam, members of Hindu and Muslim communities clashed and hurled stones at each other after pamphlets prohibiting cow slaughter were distributed amid Eid celebrations. In J&K, a Muslim man was assaulted by a Hindu mob for allegedly injuring cows while driving them away from his fields. Cows are regarded by Hindus to be holy and cow slaughter is banned in several states, including Assam. However, since the inception of the Hindu right-wing BJP government, the ban on cow slaughter has taken on a higher priority and political significance within the government, including harsher punishments and numerous new schemes to protect cows (Irish Times, 1 December 2019). Furthermore, since the BJP government came to power, cow vigilante groups have regularly targeted members of minority communities, especially Muslims and Dalits, over allegations of trading and theft of cows (Human Rights Watch, 18 February 2019). A report by an independent Delhi-based organization, the People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR), finds that these vigilante groups are often armed and operate within organized networks (People’s Union of Democratic Rights, March 2018).
On 5 August, BJP leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a Hindu temple in Ayodhya city (BBC, 5 August 2020). The day coincided with the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, ending the semi-autonomous status of J&K and bifurcating the state into two union territories. The foundation stone was laid on the grounds where a medieval mosque was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992. Hindus believe that the mosque was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. In November 2019, the Supreme Court of India, citing a report by the Archaeological Survey of India, handed over the disputed land to Hindus for the construction of the temple, and directed the government to allocate separate land for the construction of a mosque (BBC, 9 November 2019). Violent demonstrations and clashes were reported in several states, including Assam, West Bengal, and Uttarakhand, following the ceremony in Ayodhya.
In Pakistan, targeted attacks by domestic militant groups were recorded in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh provinces. Baloch militant groups continued targeting security personnel in Balochistan (for more, see ACLED’s report on rising organized political violence in Balochistan). Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) militants fatally shot two security personnel at a security check post in Awaran district, and targeted security forces in Nushki and Turbat districts with explosives. Six civilians were killed and at least 21 others were injured when a bomb targeting anti-narcotics personnel exploded in Chaman town, which borders Afghanistan. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) claimed responsibility for the attack (Gandhara, 10 August 2020).
A week after the attack, the TTP announced a reunion with JuA and another splinter group, Hizbul Ahrar (Al Jazeera, 18 August 2020). A recent UN report identified the TTP, along with its various splinter groups, as a major threat to internal security in Pakistan (UN Security Council Report, 23 July 2020). In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, TTP militants fired rockets at a police check post, injuring three police personnel in Lower Dir district. A TTP suicide bomber detonated himself near a military vehicle in South Waziristan district, injuring three security personnel. Three soldiers were also killed during another encounter with TTP militants in South Waziristan, while an explosion targeting a military vehicle killed three more soldiers in North Waziristan district.
In Sindh province, Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA) militants launched grenade attacks at two headquarters of the Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary law enforcement organization. The SRA also exploded a grenade at a rally in Karachi city, killing one person and injuring at least 38 others. The rally was organized by the Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), to express solidarity with the people of Indian-administered Kashmir on the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which ended the semi-autonomous status of the state of J&K. The SRA is a Sindh-based militant outfit aiming to establish an independent homeland for the Sindhis, the native ethnic group of Sindh province. Since the beginning of the year, the SRA has conducted several attacks on security personnel and has recently announced a formal alliance with Baloch separatist groups.
In Sri Lanka, violence was reported surrounding the parliamentary election that was held on 5 August. On election day, a Sri Lanka People’s Front [Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna] (SLPP) election candidate’s vehicle was attacked by a mob, injuring one person traveling with the candidate. Members of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) clashed outside an election counting center in Jaffna district. The Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance (SLPFA), which includes President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party, SLPP, won a two-thirds majority in the election, which gives the party enough votes to amend the constitution to extend presidential powers (BBC, 7 August 2020). The President’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was sworn in as the Prime Minister. On the opening day of the new parliament, the President announced his government’s priority will be to abolish the 19th amendment of the constitution (Al Jazeera, 20 August 2020). The amendment, enacted in 2015, curtailed the power of the president by introducing more checks and balances and distributed the executive power to the prime minister and other institutions (BBC, 7 August 2020). The abolishment of the amendment would provide the president executive powers to appoint and dismiss ministers, heads of security forces and judiciary, and to dissolve parliament at any time after one year (Al Jazeera, 20 August 2020).
Finally, in Bangladesh, a man was killed, and five others were injured, when supporters of two candidates for the upcoming union parishad elections clashed in Narayanganj district. Supporters of a candidate from the volunteer wing of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL), the Bangladesh Awami Swechchasebak League (ASL), clashed with supporters of another candidate. Violence during elections, including local union parishad elections, is common in Bangladesh. In particular, ruling party activists have been accused of using fear and intimidation against opposition candidates in past elections (Diplomat, 24 December 2018).
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