Last week in South Asia, continuing anti-militant operations resulted in the killing of three separatist and Islamist militants in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region of India. Cross-border violence between India and Pakistan has also remained at high intensity. Separatist militancy is on the rise in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, while Taliban fighters reportedly launched an attack on security forces. Meanwhile, Maoist rebels have surfaced in two states of the Red Corridor in India. Lastly, in Muslim-majority states Bangladesh and Pakistan, communities have continued demonstrations, denouncing France and its President over his defense of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Indian security forces have continued anti-militancy operations in J&K, leading to the killing of three militants last week. The chief operational commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Saif-ul Islam Mir, was killed in an encounter with security forces in Srinagar district. He had been involved in the killing of three police officers and two truck drivers, who were attacked after the abrogation of Article 370. Additionally, he was reportedly behind the killing of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members in J&K the week before last. Mir’s death could undermine morale among HM’s ranks and could weaken its presence in South Kashmir (The Diplomat, 3 November 2020). Security forces also killed two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants during a two-day long cordon and search operation in the Pulwama district of J&K, while another militant surrendered. Besides security operations, the Indian army has focused on encouraging local militants to surrender (Indian Express, 27 October 2020). In a video recording, the surrendered LeT youth militant asked other armed recruits to follow his example and to return to their families.
Cross-border incidents of violence between Indian and Pakistani forces in J&K and Azad Jammu and Kashmir regions have remained at a steady and high level. There were 26 encounters last week and 25 in the week prior. A significant number of ceasefire violations took place across the International Border in Hiranagar district of J&K, the legally recognized border, compared to the Line of Control (LoC); this highlights how violations took place beyond the LoC, which is where such violations are often limited to. One Pakistani soldier was killed, and a Pakistani civilian was injured during these incidents.
In Balochistan province of Pakistan, there was an uptick in clashes between separatist and Taliban militants and security forces last week. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) killed two Pakistani intelligence officers in a targeted attack and fired rockets at a security check post. In October, BLA and other separatist militant groups attacked an Oil and Gas Development Company convoy, killing at least 14 people. There has been an increase in Baloch separatist activity during 2020 and a resurgence of armed Baloch separatism as a result of reorganization and new alliances (for more on Baloch separatism, see this recent ACLED report). In Panjgur district, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for attacking Frontier Corps officers across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, leading to the death of one officer. In August, TTP reunited with two splinter groups: Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA). Following the merger, TTP was expected to expand its campaigns to districts of Balochistan where JuA and HuA have already developed active networks. According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, despite the reunion, the groups have remained weak and no such plans have yet materialized (The National News, 29 August 2020).
Elsewhere in India, Maoist rebels have reappeared in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh states. A Maoist militant was killed in an encounter with security forces in a forest of Wayanad district of Kerala. Maoists have usually used Wayanad as a corridor for inter-state movements between Kerala and the bordering states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Rebels had reportedly showed up in the area about two months ago to collect dry rations from locals (The Telegraph, 4 November 2020). Security forces also killed a Naxal rebel during an operation in Madhya Pradesh, after a group of rebels were collecting rations from villagers. In Jharkhand state, Maoists killed a civilian and attacked construction workers after their company reportedly refused to pay extortion money. As Naxal-Maoist rebels have suffered significant losses due to intelligence-based operations amidst the coronavirus lockdown, their resource dependency on the local population has increased.
Lastly, Muslim groups in Bangladesh and Pakistan have continued demonstrations against the French President Emmanuel Macron over his defense of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The demonstrations were particularly large and persistent in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka. Although the Bangladeshi government has allowed the demonstrations, it has not issued a comment on the caricature controversy (Al Jazeera, 5 November 2020). Demonstrations were called by Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, one of the most influential and radical pressure groups in the country, advocating for the enactment of a blasphemy law (BBC News, 6 May 2013; Anadolu Agency, 2 November 2020). In two rural areas, Muslim groups set fire to and vandalized homes of Hindu communities, who had defended the right to caricature the Prophet. Social, political, and religious activists across Pakistan have called for severing diplomatic ties with France and for boycotting French products.
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