Last week in South Asia, non-state militants launched targeted attacks against civilians and security forces in Pakistan and India. Unidentified militants attacked tribal elders in Pakistan, killing at least seven civilians. Baloch separatists targeted the Frontier Corps in a remote-controlled explosion in Balochistan province of Pakistan. In India, violence involving Naxal-Maoist rebels was recorded in Chhattisgarh state. Notable demonstration activity in the region included prison riots in Sri Lanka and farmer demonstrations in India. A riot broke out in an overcrowded prison in Sri Lanka due to a coronavirus outbreak, resulting in authorities using lethal force against prisoners. Lastly, ongoing demonstrations against the new farm laws have increased and extended beyond Northern India.
Non-state militants launched targeted attacks against civilians and security forces in multiple countries in the region. In Pakistan, armed groups launched targeted attacks on the tribal population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Unidentified groups shot dead at least seven tribal elders in three incidents in KP last week. According to local residents, targeted killings have increased over the past year in the northwestern tribal areas (Gandhara, 2 December 2020). Although the Pakistani army has reportedly cleared Taliban and other militants from these areas, there are concerns that militant groups may have resurfaced. Last week, two Islamic State militants and four unidentified militants were killed during intelligence-based operations in the province.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, at least four security officers from the Frontier Corps were killed in an explosion triggered by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) in Kohlu town in Balochistan province. The BLA issued a statement against the army convoy regarding their blocking of Kohlu-Kahan road for civilians, calling it “a violation of international principles of war” (The Real Kashmir, 7 December 2020). The group reiterated that similar attacks would continue, until the Pakistani army withdraws from Balochistan. There has been an uptick in Baloch separatist activity during 2020 following regroupings and the formation of new alliances amongst separatist groups (for more on Baloch separatism, see this recent ACLED report).
In India, Naxal-Maoist rebels have remained active in Central India, mostly in Chhattisgarh state. Remote explosives planted in two locations in Chhattisgarh killed a police officer, and injured at least nine other officers and two civilians. Militants associated with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) killed a civilian in Chhattisgarh last week on the suspicion of being a police informer. Additionally, two Maoists were killed during an exchange of fire in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Additional battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will be deployed in the Sukma-Bijapur forest areas of Chhattisgarh, considered to be Naxal-Maoist strongholds. The deployment is part of a plan by Indian authorities to bring around 1,500 square kilometers of Maoist-stronghold territory under its control (The Print, 1 December 2020).
Notable demonstration activity also took place across the region. In Sri Lanka, prison inmates demonstrated against the transfer of coronavirus-infected prisoners from other facilities into their prison in the Western Province. At least nine prisoners were killed, and more than 109 others injured, as guards tried to control the riot. Sri Lanka has registered an upsurge in coronavirus infections in the past month. Prisons, frequently criticized for being over-congested, have reported thousands of cases (CNN, 30 November 2020; Associated Press, 30 November 2020). Last week, the President pardoned over 600 prisoners, yet prison occupancy across the country remains nearly three times over capacity (The Hindu, 1 December 2020).
Throughout the pandemic, prison inmates around the world, including across Sri Lanka have staged demonstrations, demanding access to coronavirus testing and to be released early (for more on prison unrest during the coronavirus pandemic, see this ACLED CDT spotlight). Last week’s incident is the third recorded event in Sri Lanka since the COVID-19 outbreak involving prison authorities using lethal force against inmates. In March, two prisoners, demanding an early release, were killed and six others were injured by authorities, following a demonstration related to the coronavirus. In November, a prisoner tried to escape from a facility in Central Province, where more than 100 inmates had tested positive for the virus, and was shot dead (Amnesty International, 30 November 2020).
Lastly, in India, farmer demonstrations against the central government’s new farm laws have spread from North India to the Southern and Central region of the country. Demonstrators have denounced the new provisions, fearing that the abolition of the minimum guaranteed price for grains would lead to exploitation by corporations. Mass demonstrations were held in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu states. Representatives of farmer organizations clashed with police in Odisha state, who blocked their march to the State Assembly. Police forces also prevented demonstrations in several states and used force against demonstrators in Maharashtra and Punjab states. The Indian government and farmer representatives were unable to reach a solution even after the former offered to amend some contentious provisions on price deregulation. As a result of the deadlock in talks, farmers announced they would start a nationwide strike and threatened to intensify their demonstrations (Al Jazeera, 5 December 2020).
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