South Asia Theater
Twenty people, mostly foreigners, were killed in an attack on a cafe in Dhaka that was claimed by the Bangladesh affiliate of the ISIS franchise. Government troops stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in an upscale district of the capital 12 hours after it was seized by jihadist gunmen. Accounts are unclear if hostages were killed in the rescue operation, but at least some were apparently hacked to death by their captors—the favored method of jihadists in Bangladesh. Local media reported the gunmen tortured anyone who was unable to recite the Koran. After all this, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had the temerity to say: "It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these people? They don't have any religion." (BBC News, BBC News, NYT)
Thousands of people attended the funeral of slain qawwali singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi on June 23, the day after he was shot dead in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction. The 40-year-old Sabri, son of qawwali master Ghulam Farid Sabri, was heading to a TV station for a special Ramadan performance when two gunmen fired on his car. Qawwali is the traditional devotional music of Pakistan's Sufis, who are considered heretical by the Taliban. The Sabri family are members of the Chishti Sufi order. While the musical family has been revered since the Mughal empire, their tradition has come under growing attack in the increasingly conservative atmosphere of Pakistan. A blasphemy case was filed against Sabri last year after he mentioned members of the Prophet Muhammad's family in a song. The assassination was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. There have been no arrests.
Authorities in Bangladesh detained approximately 1,600 people June 10-11 in an effort to hunt down radical Islamist militants. Police suspect only 37 of the detainees are more than petty criminals, none of whom are believed to be "high-level operators." The raids were a response to multiple attacks in Bangladesh over the last few years, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has faced criticism regarding security for minorities and failure to prosecute suspects. Victims include atheist journalists, foreign aid workers, professors, gay rights activists and religious minorities including Christians, Hindus and Shi'ite Muslims. Amnesty International has also criticized the government for failing to provide adequate protection. Political parties in the country meanwhile expressed concern that the government would use the campaign to suppress opposition.
The Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad, India, convicted 24 individuals on June 2 of murder and other charges related to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in which hundreds of Muslims were killed. The riots, which occurred when current Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as the Chief Minister of the state, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 individuals, most of whom were Muslims, making this India's worst outbreak of religious violence since the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. The Gujarat riots came a day after 60 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train blaze. A court convicted 31 people years later of arson in connection with that incident. According to SM Vohra, a lawyer representing some three dozen victims, 11 of the 24 were convicted of murder while the rest were convicted of lesser charges, which will not be made public until sentencing. The court acquitted 36 other defendants who had been on trial since 2009, while four of the accused died during the trial.
Bangladesh authorities on May 11 executed Motiur Rahman Nizami for war crimes during the the 1971 war of independence. Nizami, a leader of the banned political party Jamaat-e-Islami, was convicted for crimes including rape and genocide, and is the fifth JI leader to be executed. Party leaders called on their followers to strike as a sign of opposition to the hanging. There has been international criticism of the Bangladesh tribunals, while the government claims they are necessary for the healing process to continue. The parliament of Pakistan has officially condemned the hanging of Nizami.
Police opened fire on peasant protestors at the site of a coal-fired power plant project in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh April 4, killing at least four. Thousands of people were charged with assault and vandalism in connection with the demonstration against the Chinese-financed project near the village of Gandamara "We demand an immediate, full and independent inquiry into yesterday’s events to hold those responsible to account for the unnecessary murder of at least four people," two Bangladeshi groups, the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said in a joint statement the following day. According to the groups, 15,000 peacefully marched on the site to protest land-grabs by the plants' developer when police opened fire. Police said one officer was shot in the protest and another 10 injured—a claim denied by the villagers, who also said the death toll on their side could be higher, with several still missing.
Pakistan's government succeeded in persuading thousands of protesters occupying a key area of downtown Islamabad's high-security Red Zone to disperse before force is used—after several deadlines had been extended, four days into the occupation. The protesters are supporters of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri—recently executed as the assassin of a former governor who campaigned for reform of the country's blasphemy laws. The case revolves around Asia Bibi, a woman farmworker of Christian background convicted of blasphemy after being accused of dissing the Prophet in an argument over a drink of water while at work in the fields. Protesters demanded that Bibi be executed as well. This was, thankfully, not a part of the deal under which they agreed to stand down—but the government did pledge that there would be no reform of the blasphemy laws, which are enshrined in the Pakistani constitution's Article 295-C. The status of the protesters' other demands—including release of jihadist prisoners, and that Mumtaz Qadri be declared a "martyr"—remains unclear. (Express Tribune, The News, GeoTV, March 30; AP, March 28; Dawn, March 27)
The fetish for hacking apostates to death on the Subcontinent has spread from the jihadis to the Hindu-fundamentalist competition... In another case of mounting caste violence in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a newly-wed couple was beaten in full public view in the town of Udumalpet on March 13—and the man then hacked to death. Times of India reports the attackers were the woman's relatives. The local police commissioner said her family was angered by the couple's marriage: "They married some eight months ago and the woman's family was unhappy. She is an upper Thevar Hindu caste and the man was a Dalit." (First Post, March 14) The Dalits are India's lowest caste, the so-called "untouchables."