Regional Overview – Asia 6 November 2018

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In South and Southeast Asia, last week was marked by attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan, a wave of blasphemy protests in Pakistan, an ongoing government crisis in Sri Lanka, and continued conflict in Myanmar’s Shan state. Overall, levels of organized violence remained static across the region while overall demonstration levels continued to rise, with last week reaching the third highest levels of demonstrations this year.

In Afghanistan last week, an insider attack in Kabul killed an American soldier, and injured another. Brent Taylor, a member of the Utah National Guard serving as an advisor to Afghan commandos, was killed when one of the commandos opened fire. It is not clear whether the attacker had pledged allegiance to any particular group, although the Taliban praised the attack (Washington Post, 4 November 2018). Another insider attack in Kandahar in late October also wounded US military personnel; however, the provincial police chief, Abdul Raziq Achakzai, was the main target.

Also in Kabul, two suicide attacks reportedly killed seven people on 29 and 31 October. The first of these attacks, later claimed by the Islamic State (IS), hit Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials and police outside the IEC head office – showing that despite voting being complete, election officials are still being targeted. In the second attack, an unidentified bomber detonated themself near a bus carrying workers to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison, reportedly killing seven people (RFERL, 31 October 2018).

In Pakistan, several incidents of politically motivated and militant violence were reported last week. Most notably, unidentified assailants killed Maulana Samiul Haq, a cleric known as the “Father of the Taliban,” in his home in the northern city of Rawalpindi (BBC, 2 November 2018).

Last week in Pakistan was also marked by an eruption of demonstrations following a controversial Supreme Court ruling that acquitted a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, of blasphemy charges. Over 200 demonstration events were staged between 31 October and 2 November; almost half of them were reported in Punjab province. Right-wing religious parties – especially far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and its offshoot Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) – organized and led much of the unrest. Hundreds of people were arrested during protests and riots, especially in Rawalpindi, and two fatalities were reported during a religiously-motivated shootout in Karachi. The government also imposed Section 144, banning gatherings of more than four people and pillion riding in Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan provinces until 10 November. TLP called off the protests after it reached a deal with the government which gave in to many of its demands including the concession to place Asia Bibi’s name on the exit control list (ECL), effectively barring her from leaving the country. The government further agreed to release activists arrested during the blasphemy protests (Dawn, 2 November 2018).

In India, the levels of organized violence remained high in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Seven militants were reportedly killed in clashes with state forces. In addition, multiple incidents of targeted attacks on politicians and political activists were reported, resulting in the reported deaths of affiliates of the Peoples Democratic Party (JKPDP), the National Panthers Party (JKNPP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The killing of the state secretary of the BJP and his brother in Kishtwar town led to widespread protests and shutdowns across the Jammu Division.

Militant violence was also reported from other parts of India. Three policemen and a journalist were killed in an ambush by Maoist rebels while en route to the inauguration of a new polling booth. Meanwhile, in Assam’s Tinsukia district, suspected militants from United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) reportedly shot dead five people from the Bengali community.  Authorities believe the killings are linked to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, both of which created tensions between the Assamese and the Bengali-speaking communities (Hindustan Times, 2 November 2018). Several demonstrations were reported in Assam and West Bengal on the following days after the incident.

In Bangladesh, while the number of reported incidents of targeted killings decreased, demonstration levels increased. Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) activists took to the streets to protest the sentencing of party chairman Khaleda Zia to yet another seven years in jail by a court in a corruption case.

In Nepal, protest movements over various issues – including the rape and murder of Nirmala Panta – resumed following a couple of weeks of low protest levels during the celebrations of the Hindu Dashain festival. In addition, cadres of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) attacked a ward chairman and member of Nepali Congress (NC), triggering a clash between the two political parties and reportedly killing one person.

In Sri Lanka, the current government crises continued last week with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gaining support from Parliament members and new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse trying to consolidated his power (The New York Times, 2 November 2018). The week started with one reported fatality during a riot and was followed by a peaceful protest of about 10,000 Sri Lankans calling for democracy to be upheld.

With the National League for Democracy (NLD) winning only 7 out of 13 seats in the by-elections held in Myanmar on 3 November, ethnic political parties have gained ground in their respective constituencies (The Irrawaddy, 5 November 2018). While the elections were peaceful, political violence in Shan state continued last week. In Lashio and Hsipaw township, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) continued to clash. At the same time, the Myanmar military clashed with the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) in Kutkai township, Shan state. The Myanmar military also fought against a joint force of the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Kutkai township, resulting in the reported deaths of three Myanmar military soldiers.

After marching to and protesting outside the Yangon regional government offices, workers from the Fu Yuen garment factory met with the Yangon Chief Minister who mediated their dispute with the factory, leading the Chinese-owned factory to rehire the previously sacked workers (The Myanmar Times, 31 October 2018). The workers, whose protest lasted over two months, subsequently dismantled their protest camp in front of the factory. Further, last week, activists from the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF) protested in front of Yangon City Hall calling for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest the top Myanmar military generals. The MDCF has been vocal against the 2008 constitution and in support of the UN and ICC efforts to end impunity for the Myanmar military after the violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

Following the prior week’s protests, several thousand conservative Muslims again protested last week in Indonesia against the burning of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) flag which contains an Islamic tenet. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) burned the flag last month. Protests were held in Jakarta and West Java condemning the flag burning.

In Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh city, over one thousand students from Economy University demonstrated against the use of cell phones while driving.

Last week, drug-related killings continued in the Philippines. The majority of the violence occurred in Calabarzon, with six drug suspects reportedly killed in police raids in the region. Around 14,000 police were deployed to Calabarzon and Mimorapa in the days prior to All Saints’ and Souls’ Day (The Philippine Star, 31 October 2018), which perhaps led to increased violence in the Calabarzon region.

In Thailand, at a rubber plantation in Songkhla province, a man and his wife were injured in a gun attack by suspected southern Muslim separatists. On 2 November, two volunteer rangers were reportedly killed by suspected separatists in Pattani province, marking an uptick in separatist violence in the South. Meanwhile, as the Thai public awaits elections next year, the group Rap Against Dictatorship released a song entitled “Prathet Ku Mee” (Which is My Country), airing a list of widely shared grievances with the military regime that has been in power for the past four years (CNN, 5 November 2018).

There were no reported events from Cambodia or Laos recorded last week.

Daniela Pollmann
Daniela Pollmann
Daniela Pollmann is the Asia Research Manager at ACLED. In this role she oversees the coding of political violence and protests in South and Southeast Asian countries. Ms Pollmann holds a MA in Conflict, Security and Development from the University of Sussex with focus on peace processes. She has previous work experience in the social sector in Uganda and India where her work focused on women empowerment, child protection and anti-human trafficking. She is currently stationed in New Delhi, India.
Tom Hart
Tom Hart is a Middle East Research Manager with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), and a part-time brewer and genealogist. He received his BA in International History from Carleton University in Ottawa, where he focused on colonial relationships, intercultural interaction, and geocultural perspectives. Mr. Hart is currently based out of Ottawa, Canada, and is fluent in English and French.
Elliott Bynum
Elliott Bynum
Elliott Bynum is an Asia Research Manager with ACLED. She manages the coding of political violence and protest events in Southeast Asia. She is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at American University.

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