South Asia Theater

Hatred of Ahmadis behind Pakistan protests

Islamist leaders in Pakistan agreed Nov. 27 to call a halt to protests that had for nearly two weeks paralyzed Islamabad and other cities in return for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Along with the deal, although seemingly not a part of it, a judicial panel ordered the release of 2008 Mumbai terror suspect Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, sparking angry protests from New Delhi. The protests were led by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, linked to the Barelvi sect of Islam and fronted by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The protests were launched over Hamid's proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, omitting the language recognizing Muhammad as God's final prophet. Rizvi called the proposed change "blasphemy," which is a capital offense in Pakistan. Hamid quickly backtracked, calling the omission of the text a clerical error, and had it reinserted. Rizvi's followers still demanded his resignation, and protests reached by point of deadly violence before the deal was struck. In recent days, Islamabad considered calling in the army to clear the streets—raising fears about whether the army would respond, and the prospect of a face-off between the armed forces and civil authorities. (BBC News, NYT, Nov. 25; NYT, Nov. 27)

South Asia: millions more 'climate refugees'

With stateside media focused on the unprecedented flooding and cascading industrial disasters from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the far great deluges that have struck three countries in South Asia are going largely unreported. The death toll is estimated at 1,200 after weeks of unusually strong monsoon rains affecting India, Bangladesh and Nepal. According to the Red Cross, 14 million people have been affected by flooding in India; more than seven million in Bangladesh, and 1.5 million in Nepal. The United Nations puts the total number of those impacted by floods and landslides at a total nearly double that, of 41 million.

India: Islamic 'instant divorce' law unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of India ruled (PDF) Aug. 22 that Islam's "instant divorce" law, which allowed Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying the word "talaq" three times, was unconstitutional. The case was heard by five judges of the court and resulted in a vote of 3-2. The court found that the practice is gender-discriminatory and noted that several countries with sizable Muslim populations do not allow the talaq instant divorce. The court has given a six-month period for the talaq divorce to be redefined or simply done away with altogether. No husband is allowed to use the talaq divorce during this period. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) filed an affidavit stating that they will recommend that husbands not utilize the talaq divorce. However, the AIMPLB also stated that they will contest the ruling. The ruling was supported by India's prime minister Narendra Modi.

Bhutan squeezed in India-China standoff

A stand-off opened this week in the Himalayas as Indian troops confronted Chinese military forces building a road through the disputed Doklam plateau, with each side accusing the other of crossing into its territory. The Doklam (Chinese: Donglang) plateau lies where the borders of India's Sikkim sector and China's Tibet Autonomous Region converge with that of the small independent kingdom of Bhutan—which is being drawn into the conflict between the nuclear-armed Asian giants. Bhutan issued its own complaint over the enroachment of Chinese troops on its territory. But having no direct relations with Beijing, Bhutan lodged the complaint via India's diplomatic corps. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by implying that India has a "hidden agenda" in the matter and is manipulating Bhutan.

Linguistic struggle heats up in Pakistan

A bill is advancing in Pakistan's Senate that would amend the coonstitution to give Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi the status of "national languages" along with Urdu. The bill this week cleared the Senate's Standing Committee on Law and Justice. Under Article 251 of the 1973 constitution, Urdu is recognized as the only "national language," with text calling for it to become the "official" language within 15 years. The text states that English can be used provisionally for official purposes until the transition to Urdu is complete. Other tongues may be promoted as "provincial languages," but this is a clearly subsidiary position. Urdu is actually a minority language itself, as Punjabi has the most speakers of any language in Pakistan. Urdu, long used as a lingua franca by various peoples, was chosen above Punjabi as the "national language" so as not to unduly favor Punjab province, the country's most populous. But English is still used for most administrative functions, and the transition to an "offically" Urdu state was never completed. The proposed amendment would make the other languages equal to Urdu, and "establish a fund for the development and promotion of national languages." It would also allow the provinces to promote other local languages, forseeing their eventual adoption as "national languages."

Pakistan: 'blasphemy' lynching sparks protests

Hundreds have protested in Pakistani cities to denounce the mob slaying of a leftist university student who was accused of "blasphemy" after an argument with fellow students in the northern city of Mardan. The April 14 incident at Mardan's Abdul Wali Khan University attracted a crowd of hundreds. Journalism student Mashal Khan was dragged into a public area on the campus and beaten to death after a mob kicked in the door of his dormitory room. Witnesses said Khan was forced to recite verses from the Koran before his death. The incident apparently followed a heated argument over religion with other students. Images of his dorm room after the attack showed posters of Che Guevara and Karl Marx, as well as the phrase painted on the wall: "Be curious, crazy and mad."

India: rivers recognized as 'living entities'

The high court in India's Uttarakhand state issued a ruling March 20 recognizing the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna as "living entities," officially giving these rivers that have seen long years of ecological damage a legal voice. "This order may be seen as a precedent and come across as strange but it is not any different from the status of being a legal entity as in the case of family trusts or a company," said Raj Panjwani, attorney with India's National Green Tribunal, a body charged with prosecuting enviromental crimes. Under the ruling, the rivers are accorded all rights guaranteed by India's constitution, including the right not to be harmed or destroyed. The ruling, which comes in a public interest litigation brought by the NGT, mandates action by the national government if Uttarakhand state authorities fail to meet their responsibilities regarding the rivers.

Pakistan: deadly ISIS attack on Sufi shrine

A suicide attack on a Sufi shrine Feb. 16 killed at least 75 worshippers and wounded dozens more—the deadliest in a string of blasts in Pakistan this week. At least 250 others were wounded, with the only hospital in the area overwhelmed. The blast went off outside the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the town of Sehwan, Sindh province. The blast took place during Dhamal, a weekly dance ritual, with hundreds of devotees present inside the shrine and lined up to enter. The Islamic State's Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the attack. (Hindustan Times, Indian ExpressBBC News, Al Jazeera)

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