Key trends in South Asia last week include remote violence targeting civilians in Pakistan by unidentified militants, and a significant increase in cross-border violence between India and Pakistan. The Indian government passed amendments to allow Indian citizens the purchase of land in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region, which led to demonstrations to protect the Muslim-majority structure of the state. Additionally, three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members were killed in a targeted attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in J&K. Maoist rebels decreased their activity in most regions of the Red Corridor in India, except for in Odisha state. Lastly, demonstrations against the French President took place in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal as he defended the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad.
In Pakistan, remote attacks on civilians took place in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, leading to at least 15 casualties. An IED attached to a motorbike exploded in Balochistan province during a rally organized by the opposition coalition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Seven people were killed, and 17 others were injured. During the previous week, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had issued a security alert for public rallies of opposition parties in Quetta and Peshawar (Dawn, 28 October 2020). Another explosion took place inside a religious school during a Quran lesson in the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Peshawar. Eight civilians, including students and instructors, were killed and 136 people were injured (The Independent, 29 October 2020). No group has claimed responsibility for either of the two incidents. Peshawar city used to be the main target of militant violence linked to the Taliban insurgency in the country. In 2014, the Pakistani Taliban killed more than 150 people, the majority of them children, at an army-run school in the city. Although violence has declined due to military operations, sporadic attacks on civilians have continued (The Defense Post, 27 October 2020).
Cross-border incidents of violence between Indian and Pakistani forces in J&K and Azad Jammu and Kashmir regions significantly increased last week. There were 25 encounters compared to seven in the previous week. Two Pakistani soldiers were killed during these incidents. Pakistan lodged a formal protest against alleged Indian ceasefire violations and summoned a senior Indian diplomat (Xinhua, 30 October 2020). ACLED has recorded a significant rise in cross-border violence between Indian and Pakistani forces across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kashmir region in 2020 (for more on cross-border violence, see this ACLED COVID-19 Disorder Tracker (CDT) spotlight). The frequency in clashes could make 2020 the most violent year of cross-border exchange since ACLED coverage began in 2016.1ACLED’s India coverage extends back to 2016, while Pakistan coverage extends back to 2010.The increase is linked to growing tension between the two states about Indian constitutional changes affecting J&K, such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, among other factors.
With regards to constitutional changes in the region, the Indian government passed amendments to its laws to allow any of its citizens to purchase non-agricultural land in J&K (India Today, 28 October 2020). Until now, only permanent residents of J&K could buy land in the state. The laws are considered one of the most significant developments post abrogation of Article 370. Opposition groups and political parties subsequently initiated demonstrations, concerned that the laws are aimed at changing the demographics of the Muslim-majority region (Al Jazeera, 30 October 2020). The amendments also allow the Indian army to use and declare any area as “strategic” for operational and training purposes against rebels (Al Jazeera, 31 October 2020).
Additionally, in India, three BJP members were killed in a targeted attack in J&K, reportedly carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants. One of the victims was among the 157 BJP members designated as protected persons by security forces. He was lodged in a secure location, before the central government revoked the special status of J&K last year (Tribune India, 30 October 2020; Times of India, 30 October 2020). Several attacks against BJP leaders have been carried out since July, resulting in the death of at least six BJP members. In July, a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander released an audio recording threatening BJP leaders 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).
Elsewhere in India, Maoist activity has decreased, as 32 rebels surrendered in Chhattisgarh state under a police rehabilitation campaign. However, Maoist groups have reappeared in the remote areas of Malkangiri district of Odisha state. Last week, they exchanged fire with security forces in at least three areas in Odisha. A significant decrease in Maoist activity in Malkangiri has been observed since late January 2020, when a militant was stoned to death allegedly during a retaliation by villagers in the area. Increasing road connectivity and deployment of security forces have also contributed to the decline in incidents, according to the police (Odisha TV, 27 October 2020). Security forces have launched combing operations in the area and seized a significant amount of explosive materials and arms after last week’s encounters.
Lastly, following the murder of a teacher in France by a Muslim extremist after the teacher showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students (BBC News, 22 October 2020), French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad. In response, Muslim groups across South Asia have mobilized and have accused him of encouraging Islamophobia. Islamic activists, political parties, and teachers have staged demonstrations in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. Demonstrators clashed with police in Islamabad while marching to the French embassy in Pakistan, with several demonstrators injured. Around 50,000 people marched after Friday prayers in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka. Calls to boycott French products have spread on social media and during demonstrations in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Demonstrations have increased amidst growing tension between France and Muslim-majority countries.
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