South Asia Theater
As Sri Lanka marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of its long internal war this week, human rights groups are demanding accountability in the mass atrocities that marked the final stages of the conflict, in which many thousands were displaced or "disappeared." The International Committee of the Red Cross says 16,000 people are still missing. (The New Humanitarian, Amnesty International) Ominously, the commemoration comes amid a new wave of communal violence following last month's terror attacks that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday. In days of anti-Muslim riots that started May 12, mobs moved through towns in the northwest, ransacking mosques and attacking shops with petrol bombs. The riots came amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which has been repeatedly linked to such pogroms since its founding in 2012, is named as having instigated much of the violence. (Sri Lanka Campaign, Al Jazeera)
At least 10 people were killed and 25 others injured in a suicide blast that targeted security forces guarding a famous Sufi shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore May 8. The attack, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, was apparently aimed at a police vehicle, and five officers are among the dead. The Data Darbar shrine, where Sufi saint Ali Hajveri is buried, was the target of a 2010 suicide attack that killed more than 40 worshipers, and has since been under heavy security. The new attack was claimed by Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. (RFE/RL, Pakistan Today) Hizbul Ahrar appears to itself be an offshoot of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, which has particularly targeted Sufis. (TRT World)
After claiming responsibility for the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed over 320 people, ISIS has released a photo and video of the supposed mastermind of the attack and other of the alleged suicide bombers. The video and the photo released through the terrorist network's Amaq News Agency purport to show the Sri Lankan militants pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his presence. (Colombo Page) Sri Lankan authorities had named a little-known militant group called National Thowheeth Jama'ath as behind the attacks—a name roughly translated as "group in the name of the oneness of God." Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that his security services had been tipped off that the group was planning attacks, admitting that the "information was there." (Al Jazeera, Gulf News, Time)
Gunmen killed at least 14 passengers after forcing them off several passenger vehicles on the coastal highway through Pakistan's restive Balochistan province April 18. Some 20 militants apparently stopped vehicles, checked passangers' identification papers, and shot selected ones to death on the roadside. There was initially speculation that those marked for death were ethnic Punjabis, targeted by the region's Baloch separatists. A statement later issued by a previously unknown militant group said those targeted were determined to be members of the military or security forces. The attack was claimed by the Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar, or Baloch People's Liberation Coalition, which is believed to have emerged from factional rivalry between the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). Pakistan has filed a diplomatic complaint with Iran, accusing it of giving the Baloch militants harbor on its territory across the border. (Khaama Press, AP, RFE/RL, Pakistan Tribune)
As India and Pakistan exchange military strikes in the wake of last week's massive suicide blast in Kashmir, many cities across India report cases of targeted violence against Kashmiri students and businesses by right-wing groups. Members of Yuva Sena, youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena, reportedly attacked Kashmiri students in Maharashtra on Feb. 20. Two private colleges in Dehradun expelled Kashmiri students for posting objectionable content on social media about the suicide attack. Two nursing students from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh were expelled by college authorities for comments on social media after the attack. A video surfaced on social media showing a Kashmiri man being beaten in Kolkata, West Bengal, by a mob which forced him to chant patriotic slogans like "Vande Mataram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai" ("Mother, I praise thee" and "Victory to Mother India," two phrases appropriated by the Hindu-nationalist right).
Rising temperatures in the Himalayas will melt at least one-third of the region's glaciers by the end of the century even if the world's most ambitious climate change targets are met, according to a new report. If those goals are not reached, the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of their glaciers by 2100, according to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, released Feb. 4 by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. Under that scenario, the Himalayas could heat up by 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) by century's end, bringing radical disruptions to food and water supplies, and mass population displacement. Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region, which spans over 2,000 miles of Asia, provide water to nearly a quarter of the world's population.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Oct. 31 overturned (PDF) the 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman, citing failure to proffer enough evidence that Bibi indeed committed the offense. Bibi's conviction stemmed from an altercation with her Muslim co-workers at a farm in Punjab province, who said they would not drink water fetched by Bibi after she sipped from it because she was impure. Heated words were exchanged, and the account of the incident was later apparently exaggerated to incriminate Bibi. The trial court convicted her of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Bibi initially made what the high court called an "extra-judicial confession" to the crime at the scene, but claimed at trial that the confession was made under coercion and threat of death.
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.