Last week in South Asia, Baloch separatists targeted security forces in Pakistan. In India, security forces continued operations against militants in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the Red Corridor. In the Northeast, leaders of a disbanded separatist outfit fighting for a sovereign Bodoland formed a new militant group prior to the Assam legislative assembly elections. Pre-election violence involving the ruling and main opposition parties was reported in West Bengal state. Meanwhile, anti-government demonstrations against the new farm legislation and other economic issues continued across India. Lastly, labor groups in Pakistan organized demonstrations against the renewed coronavirus lockdown.
In Pakistan, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) militants killed one security personnel and injured ten others in Karachi, Sindh in an explosion targeting a Pakistani Rangers’ vehicle. Baloch separatist groups like the BLA rarely target security forces outside Balochistan province, where they conduct small-scale attacks on security check posts, civilians, and construction workers (for more on political violence in Balochistan, see this ACLED piece). Attacks beyond Balochistan have traditionally been aimed at weakening state forces and opposing foreign investments in Balochistan (The Diplomat, 26 November 2018).
In J&K union territory, Indian military and police forces continued security operations against militants last week. A Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) commander and militant were killed in a three-day-long cordon and search operation in South Kashmir. According to security forces, the commander was involved in attacks on security establishments and civilians (Daily Excelsior, 16 March 2021). Local youths threw stones and clashed with state forces during the encounter, which damaged houses in the area. Two dozen rioters were injured. In the recent absence of cross-border tensions with Pakistani state forces, Indian forces have intensified their efforts to prevent violence by militant groups in the Kashmir region (Times of India, 11 March 2021).
In the Red Corridor, security forces ramped up anti-Maoist operations, with nine armed clashes and weapon disruption events, compared to two during the week prior. Four suspected Maoist commanders were killed in Bihar state during an operation. At least two other encounters were reported between the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and security forces in Chhattisgarh and Odisha states during police patrolling and search operations. Additionally, police teams recovered and diffused tens of IEDs and landmines planted in multiple villages and remote areas. The explosives may have been planted as part of the rebels’ annual tactical counter-offensive campaign, which reportedly began on 1 March (The Indian Express, 5 March 2021). According to state officials, Maoists primarily rely on planting explosives to target security forces instead of directly confronting them (News 18, 5 March 2021; for more on the Naxal-Maoist insurgency, see this ACLED piece).
Elsewhere in India, some leaders of the disbanded militant group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) have formed the National Liberation Front of Bodoland (NLFB). The new group will aim to revive the armed movement against the government to establish a separate Bodo state (The Hindu, 16 March 2021). The move comes days before the start of the assembly elections in Assam state, as the new militant group has denounced “government indifference to the Bodo issue” (The Hindu, 16 March 2021). Last January, the Central Government and the NDFB signed a peace agreement to reaffirm the territorial integrity of Assam and to provide respite from five decades of separatist militancy (India Today, 27 January 2020).
Meanwhile, violent demonstrations increased in India prior to the legislative assembly elections set to begin on 27 March in West Bengal state (Indian Express, 5 March 2021). Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assaulted colleagues, vandalized party offices, and clashed with police in multiple locations, opposing the nominations for the elections and the party’s alleged favoritism to newcomers (Firstpost, 15 March 2021). Clashes between the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress Party (TMC) took place during political campaigns in Kolkata, Purba Medinipur, and Bankura districts. While the BJP is the ruling party nationally, the TMC governs the state of West Bengal with BJP in opposition. Violence surrounding elections is common in West Bengal due to frequent incidents of voter intimidation and political rivalry (Times of India, 4 March 2021).
Meanwhile, anti-government demonstrations against labor and economic policies have continued in India. Farmers demonstrated in the agriculture-dependent states of Punjab, Haryana, and Maharashtra against the central agricultural laws introduced by the government to deregulate the agricultural sector. The Indian National Congress (INC) continued their demonstrations against the increase in fuel prices and essential commodities. The INC also supported bankers who, under the aegis of the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), organized a nationwide strike and demonstrations against the government’s plan to privatize two state-owned lenders. Tens of thousands of bank employees staged demonstrations, fearing that the privatization would lead to loss of employment (Times of India, 16 March 2021).
Lastly, labor groups staged peaceful protests in Punjab province in Pakistan against a two-week lockdown imposed due to a third wave of coronavirus infections in the country (Dawn, 15 March 2021). Protesters denounced the closure of markets and restaurants, citing financial loss (The News International, 23 March 2021).
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