South Asia Theater

Pakistan: crackdown on Internet 'blasphemy'

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has issued notices to Google and Wikipedia censuring them for "disseminating sacrilegious content" through their platforms. The notices, issued Dec, 24, accused these sites of hosting "misleading" content referencing the present khalifa (spiritual head) of Islam. The PTA specifically cited articles and search results allegedly portraying Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the current leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, as the "present khalifa of Islam." Additionally, the PTA demanded the platforms remove an "unauthentic" version of the Quran published by the Ahmadiyya community from the Google Play Store. The PTA warned the platforms "to remove the sacrilegious content to avoid any legal action" under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.

India extends internet restrictions in Kashmir

The government in the Indian union territory of Jammu & Kashmir issued an order Dec. 25 extending the suspension of high-speed 4G internet services for a further two weeks. The order is efffective across the territory, excluding the districts of Ganderbal and Udhampur. The government said it received credible reports of terrorists attempting to infiltrate from across the Line of Control that separates the territory from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The order ostensibly seeks to deter recruitment of youth into terrorist groups, and the circulation of provocative videos and "fake news" on social media.

Pakistan: Hazara massacre sparks hunger strike

Members of Pakistan's Hazara people have launched a sit-in and public hunger strike after a massacre targeted the Shi'ite minority at a coal-field in a remote area of Balochistan province on Jan. 3. Hundreds have been blocking a major thoroughfare through the provincial capital, Quetta. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid was sent in to meet with a delegation of the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), the organization leading the sit-in, but his offer of compensation to victims' families was rebuffed as insufficient. In the attack, armed men rounded up miners from worker housing at the Machh coal-field in mountainous Bolan district. Those determined to be Hazara, 11 in all, were marched into the hills and summarily shot. Many had their throats slit or were otherwise mutilated. The local franchise of the "Islamic State" claimed responsibility for the massacre. Families of the victims are refusing to bury their loved ones, but have brought the bodies to the site of the sit-in, demanding the Balochistan government either arrest the killers or resign. (IANS, ANI, Dawn, Al Jazeera)

Pakistani rights activist found slain in Toronto

Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch, 37, was found dead in Toronto, Canada, on Dec. 21. Baloch went missing the previous day. The Toronto Police stated that "officers have determined this to be a non-criminal death and no foul play is suspected." But Baloch, from Pakistan's restive Balochistan region, fled her country in 2015 because of threats on her life. As a campaigner with the Baloch Students' Organization, she had harshly criticized the Pakistani military and state over ongoing rights abuses in the region. She continued to campaign for the rights of people in Balochistan while in exile, and the threats against her did not stop after she left Pakistan. Baloch's close friend, Lateef Johar Baloch, told reporters that she had recently received anonymous threats.

Farmers march on Delhi amid general strike

Thousands of farmers from across India's north marched on Delhi despite efforts by police to block them with road barricades, tear-gas and baton charges Nov. 27. The cross-country march, which converged from Punjab and Haryana states, entered the capital one day after several Indian states were shut down by a general strike in support of the farmers' demands. This was called by a newly formed Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions bringing together 10 of the country's major organized labor federations. Leaders claimed 25 crore (250 million) workers participated in the strike. The "Chalo Delhi" (Go to Delhi) mobilization was called to protest a package of agricultural reform laws passed in September that lifts requirements for government purchases of grain at guaranteed prices. (IndustriAll, FirstPost, PTI, Al Jazeera, NDTV, AP, NewsClick)

Himalayan border conflicts escalate

China has mobilized thousands of troops backed up by armored vehicles to a contested area along the border with India in the Himalayas, where troops last month hurled stones at each other across the unmarked boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The area in question is in the Galwan River valley between Ladakh, in Indian-administered Kashmir, and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin. Top generals from both sides held talks in Moldo, on the Chinese side, on June 6, but tensions remain high. India charges that Chinese forces are hindering patrols by its troops along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim, and refutes Beijing's claim that Indian forces have crossed to the Chinese side. (SCMPNDTVNDTV)

'Super Cyclone' Amphan compounds COVID-19 crisis

Tropical Cyclone Amphan unexpectedly intensified into a rare "Super Cyclonic Storm" on May 18—becoming the northern hemisphere's strongest tropical cyclone yet in 2020. Amphan made landfall two days later, leaving a trail of destruction along coastal areas both in India and Bangladesh, impacting tens of millions of people. At least 77 deaths in India and 25 in Bangladesh have been reported so far. Over three million people in both countries remain displaced from their homes, taking refuge in community shelters—obviously placing them at risk of contracting COVID-19. In India's West Bengal state, thousands of people evacuated from their homes are crammed inside buildings that were being used as COVID-19 quarantine centers, because there is no other shelter available. (ReliefWeb, The Watchers, ThirdPole)

India: paramilitaries deployed as clashes escalate

Unemployed migrant workers left stranded by the COVID-19 lockdown have repeatedly clashed with police in India's industrial hub of Gujarat state, and the situation is fast escalating. Protesters demanding transport back to their homes were again attacked by police at a market on the outskirts of Surat on May 4; tear-gas canisters were met with pelted stones. (NDTV, GulfNews) Riots yet again erupted four days later in Ahmedabad, as security forces attacked residents defying stringent lockdown orders. (AFP, FirstPost)

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