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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 15, No. 43, April 24, 2017

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal


ASSESSMENT


PAKISTAN
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In the name of God
Sanchita Bhattacharya
Visiting Scholar, Institute for Conflict Management

The practice of condemning an individual or a particular group for following 'certain religious practices' in the name of blasphemy has intensified acts of violence in Pakistan. In the latest blasphemy case, Mashal Khan, a student, was brutally lynched by his own hostel mates at Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in the Mardan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in broad daylight on April 13, 2017, after being accused of blasphemy. The deceased was a resident of Swabi and a student at AWKU’s Journalism and Mass Communications department. A friend of the deceased student said that a mob attacked and beat him, before shooting him in the head and chest. The mob then continued to beat his body with sticks.

Some of the recent cases of blasphemy-related crimes include:

April 21, 2017: A mob attacked a man and beat him brutally inside a mosque in Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after he was accused of uttering blasphemous remarks following Friday prayers. The man, who is yet to be identified, is alleged to have pushed the imam of the mosque to allow him to speak after jummah (Friday) prayers. Eyewitnesses claim the man then uttered 'blasphemous remarks' amidst the prayer gathering. As worshippers started beating the man, the mosque's imam, fearing for the man's life, handed him over to the Police. The Police took him to the local police station for his protection, and claimed that they were trying to ascertain the man's mental health. A First Information Report (FIR) was filed against him over charges of blasphemy and terrorism, according to the Deputy Commissioner Chitral, Shahab Yousafzai.

April 19, 2017: Three armed sisters shot dead a man in Nangal Mirza village, Pasrur tehsil (revenue unit) near Sialkot, Punjab, after accusing him of committing blasphemy 13 years earlier. In their statement to Police, the women alleged that Abbas had committed blasphemy in 2004, but “we couldn’t kill him at the time because we were too young then.”

June 22, 2016: Renowned qawwal (Sufi singer) Amjad Sabri (45) was shot dead in a targeted killing incident in the Liaquatabad Town of Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-Hakimullah Mehsud faction spokesperson Qari Saifullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2014, the Islamabad High Court had issued a notice in a blasphemy case against Amjad Sabri along with two TV channels for the playing of a qawwali during a morning show. The traditional qawwali sung by Amjad Sabri had mentioned religious figures, which was deemed offensive.

According to the latest World Report, 2017, published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 19 people remained on death row after being convicted under Pakistan’s draconian Blasphemy Law, and hundreds awaited trial. Most of those facing blasphemy are members of religious minorities, often victimized by these charges due to personal disputes. Further, the HRW 2015 Report suggested that, since 1990, 60 people have been murdered after being accused of blasphemy. Besides, in 2015, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) listed a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus who had been accused under innumerable clauses of the Blasphemy Law since 1987. The majority of these cases were for desecration of the Quran; a minority was for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

Lately, the 'pretext' of blasphemy has been devised in Pakistan, not only to persecute religious minorities, but also prominent political figures, as was evident in the case of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab and Shahbaz Bhatti the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs. Both were brutally murdered in 2011 for questioning violence linked to allegations of blasphemy. Taseer was killed by one of his body guards, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who had reportedly been incensed by the Governor’s efforts to secure marginal amendments to the Blasphemy Law, as also his advocacy of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death on November 7, 2010, for alleged blasphemy. Bhatti was killed on March 2, 2011, by unidentified militants, who fired 30 bullets at him and managed to escape. Pamphlets from two self-styled TTP factions, Fidayeen-e-Muhammad and al Qaeda Punjab Chapter, were found at the incident site, which declared, "anyone who criticises the blasphemy law has no right to live".

In the initial phase after the creation of Pakistan, there were no legal provisions for religious discrimination. However, changes occurred during the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq (1978-1988) and the Blasphemy Law was promulgated in 1985. In 1990 the punishment of life imprisonment under this law, which sought to penalise irreverence towards the Holy Quran and insulting the Holy Prophet, was included. In 1992, the government went a step ahead and introduced the death penalty for a person held guilty of blasphemy under Blasphemy Clause 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Crucially, this was done under the ‘democratic’ government of Nawaz Sharif. The clause reads:
"Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine".

However, in the aftermath of Mashal Khan's killing and public outrage, the Pakistani Parliament has passed a resolution for a change in the law. On April 18, 2017, the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to condemn “the barbaric and cold-blooded murder of Mashal Khan and resolves to ensure that strong safeguards may be inserted into the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse through such atrocities in the future, including by mobs involved in such crimes.” Federal Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer presented the resolution, which also demanded that the Federal and Provincial Governments take strict action against the ‘perpetrators’ and ‘facilitators’ of the heinous crime, including those making hate speeches. A probe found no proof of blasphemy by Mashal.

The dangers of the Blasphemy Law are that related "crimes" require no proof of intent or evidence to be presented after allegations are made and does not include any penalty for false allegations. Moreover, most of those who are accused in blasphemy crimes in Pakistan spend years in prison, waiting for a hearing.

Significantly, in 2010, a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Sherry Rehman, introduced a Private Bill to amend the Blasphemy Law. Her bill sought to change procedures of religious offences so that they would be reported to a higher police official and the cases be heard directly by the higher courts. The Bill was passed on to a Parliamentary Committee for vetting. However, Rehman was forced to withdraw the Bill in February 2011, under pressure from religious forces as well as some opposition political groups.

As is evident from the trends, the targets in these cases of violence are mostly minorities, both within and outside the realm of the ‘majority sanctioned Islam’ – often preached by the clerics to instigate and enlarge divisions in an already-fragmented Pakistani society. Pakistan is one of more than 30 countries that have blasphemy laws, which are usually enacted under the auspices of ‘promoting religious harmony’. However, Human Rights groups confirm, the law, instead of promoting communal harmony, is frequently used to settle personal disputes, disproportionately targeting religious minorities – Christians, Hindus, or members of minority sects of Islam, and, increasingly, those declared ‘deviant’ by extremist Salafist-Sunni formations.

The blasphemy laws were introduced in purported attempts to bring Pakistan more in line with ‘Islamic principles’. Instead, the laws have complicated the relationship between religion and democracy, and have raised questions regarding religious tolerance and Islam. In principle, blasphemy laws are supposed to protect the accused till there is proof of guilt. But in Pakistan, the wordings of the laws have converted them into tools of religious bigotry and violence.

Making the legal position worse in December 2013, the Federal Shariat Court ordered the Government to delete life imprisonment as a punishment in blasphemy cases, stating that death was the only sentence in cases of conviction and awarding any other punishment would be unlawful.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, while purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way that amounts to the persecution of religious minorities. As the 2013 Asian Human Rights Commission Report noted, moreover, alleged incidents of blasphemy by religious minorities are often used to fuel mob violence, targeted sectarian killings, looting, burning of houses, burning of or attacks on places of worship, descration of holy books, land grabs, etc.

The prevailing Blasphemy Law is consuming Pakistani society from within, giving legitimacy to heinous crime and human rights violations in a country that is ranked 153rd out of 163 countries in the 2016 Global Peace Index. The climate of hate and apathy in the system, often underpinned by state policy and law, provokes violence in all possible forms, including terrorism, extremism, violence against women, sectarian killing or random blasphemy related crime.

INDIA
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Mizoram: Managing Irritants
Giriraj Bhattacharjee
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

On April 15, 2017, State Home Minister R. Lalzirliana reiterated that the Mizoram Government was ready to carry out repatriation of Bru (also known as Reang) families lodged at six relief camps in Tripura, and that the State Government had ‘completed all formalities’ which were supposed to be done in connection with the repatriation process. He also stated that, though the Supreme Court had called, on March 28, 2017, for status quo to be maintained; it clarified that people who wanted to move back should be asked to go.

Significantly, the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the apex body of displaced Bru people staying in the six Tripura refugee camps, had filed an application in the Supreme Court (SC) stating that they feared the Union of India and the Tripura Government were trying to “force the Brus back to Mizoram without either proper security or proper rehabilitation”. The Court had consequently called for status quo to be maintained.

The MBDPF had filed the application following the Mizoram Government’s announcement on November 24, 2016, that it had identified 32,857 people belonging to 5,413 families for repatriation and the process was to begin ‘soon’. Mizoram officials had conducted identification at the Tripura relief camps between November 2, 2016, and November 23, 2016. There were other developments related to this issue through 2016.  Most importantly, Road Map-V’ was approved on July 1, 2016, proposing to conduct identification of the bona fide residents of Mizoram in the camps. Those willing to return were to be resettled in three Districts – Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei.

The Bru people had fled from Mizoram to Tripura in the wake of ethnic clashes with dominant Mizos in September 1997. An attempt at repatriation began in 2010 and small numbers even moved back. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA)’s latest Annual Report (2016-17), as on December 31, 2016,  about 1,622 Bru families (approximately 8,573 people) out of 30,000 (approximately 5,000 families) had been repatriated and resettled in Mizoram.

Further, the stalled talks between the Mizoram Government and the Hmar People's Convention – Democracy (HPC-D), was revived in 2016, with the first round of talks held in the State capital, Aizawl, on August 10. This was followed by another two rounds of talks in 2016 (October 14 and December 16). On December 16, 2016, HPC-D, surrendered three AK-47 rifles, one INSAS rifle, four 9mm pistols, 17 magazines and 74 rounds of ammunition. The surrendered arms included a rifle of a Police constable, who had deserted the State Armed Police with the weapon and joined the militant outfit. Also, arms taken after the ambush at Zokhawthiang village near the Manipur border on March 28, 2015, were also surrendered. Earlier, HPC-D ‘army chief’ Lalropuia Famhoite had been released on bail on December 12, 2016. Optimistically, Lalbiakzama, Additional Secretary to the State Home Department, disclosed on February 18, 2017, that a proposed ‘framework agreement’ with HPC-D was on the cards and “Implementation of the proposed framework agreement would necessitate legislation by the State Assembly for establishment of a revamped council to be named as Sinlung Hills Council replacing [the existing] Sinlung Hills Development Council.” The fourth round of talks is scheduled to be held on April 28, 2017.

On two earlier occasions, such efforts for peaceful resolution had ended in failure. After prolonged talks, a Suspension of Operations (SoO) Agreement between the State Government and HPC-D was signed on November 11, 2010. It did not last long. After withdrawing from the SoO on June 30, 2011, the HPC-D declared, in a Press Release, "The wayward attitude of the Mizoram Government has given the impression that it is keener in derailing the peace process than opening honourable democratic platform to work out a solution to the legitimate demands of the Hmar people as enshrined in the Constitution."

Again, on January 31, 2013, HPC-D and the Government of Mizoram signed a SoO Agreement at Aizawl. The 2013 talks were preceded by a series of firm Security Forces (SFs) actions against the outfit. On June 10, 2012, SFs had arrested two top leaders of the group, ‘army chief’ Lalropuia Famhoite and ‘deputy army chief’ Biaknunga, at the Kumbigram Airport located in Silchar, Cachar District, Assam. Again, on July 18, 2012, H. Zosangbera, HPC-D 'chairman', was arrested from Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, by a combined team of the Mizoram and Delhi Police. However, all the three leaders were released on bail and talks were initiated again in 2013.

Later, the State Government wanted the SoO to be extended for another six months; while HPC-D sought a two month extension. During the July 18, 2013, talks, HPC-D stated that the further extension of SoO should be intrinsically linked with the fixation of a definite timeframe for a political dialogue. The SoO finally expired on July 31, 2013. The two sides however continued to talk, though the process finally ended in a stalemate on August 14, 2013.

Subsequently, HPC-D resumed violent activities, and was found responsible for all the three explosions reported from the State in 2014, though no casualty was reported in these incidents. A year later, the situation deteriorated further. On March 28, 2015, an ambush by the HPC-D militants on a vehicle carrying R.L. Pianmawia, Chairman of the 'Mizoram Assembly Committee on Government Assurances', and two other Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Lalthanliana and the lone woman MLA Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu at Zokhawthiang area in Aizawl District, resulted in the death of three SF personnel on their security detail. Four SF personnel and one State Assembly staffer sustained injuries in the attack. The legislators escaped unhurt.

Hmar tribesmen are an ethnic minority mostly inhabiting the north-eastern corner of the State, and are demanding an autonomous council for the Hmar tribes.

These developments marked the further consolidation of peace across Mizoram through 2016. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Annual Report 2016-17 thus noted, “Since the signing of Accord with the Mizo National Front (MNF), [on June 30, 1986] there is no local militancy in the State of Mizoram. Mizoram remained by and large peaceful. In 2016, no incident of violence was reported as against 2 violent incidents of 2015.”

According to partial Data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there were no terrorism-linked fatalities through 2016 in Mizoram as against three killings (all SF personnel) in 2015. The last civilian fatality in the State was recorded on October 15, 2014, when dead bodies of two non-tribals were found near the Tuikhurhlu area in Aizawl. The last militant killing was recorded on February 26, 2008, when Thangcha Kipgen, ‘president’ of the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), was killed in a hotel room in capital Aizawl in an alleged factional fight. HPC-D was the only prominent Mizoram-based insurgent still operating within the State, and since its signing of the SoO, no significant local insurgent formation remained active. Media reports, however, indicate the presence of a minor group, the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM), whose cadres were reportedly involved in a number of abductions-for-ransom incidents in the Mizoram-Bangladesh-Tripura border areas, in connivance with the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). On April 20, 2017, Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana disclosed that three BDFM militants were arrested in the Lawngtlai District near the Bangladesh border on April 16, 2017, while trying to enter Mizoram from Bangladesh. Two AK-47 rifles and 39 rounds of ammunition were seized from them.

Sporadic incidents of violence continue to be carried out by insurgent outfits operating out of neighbouring states like Assam and Tripura, and prominently include the Tripura-based NLFT and the Assam-based United Democratic Liberation Army (UDLA).   

However, no other violent incidents linked to militancy, such as abductions, extortion and explosions were recorded in 2016, according to the SATP database. In 2015, two incidents of extortion had been recorded by SATP. However, according to State Police data, there were six cases of abduction in 2016, down from 15 such cases in 2015. Similarly 15 cases of extortion were recorded in 2016 compared to 24 such cases in 2015. State Police data does not reveal the affiliation of the those involved in these incidents, or whether they were cadres of insurgent groups or local criminals.

While peace generally prevails, some threats persist. One of the major among these is the active terror camps of Northeast insurgent groups along India’s border with Myanmar and Bangladesh (Mizoram shares its porous border with both these countries). In a significant incident on December 8, 2016, Mizoram Police and Assam Rifles (AR) troopers jointly raided a militant hideout located five kilometres from the Saiha town in the Saiha District of Mizoram near the Kolodyne River, along the Indo-Myanmar border, and arrested eight militants of the Myanmar based Arakan Liberation Army (ALA), along with sophisticated weapons and ammunition. The arrested militants were identified as Khaing Thi Zaw, Khaing Myo, Khaing Ray Min, Khaing Ming, Khaing min Htoo, Khaing Raing, Khaing Myo Naing and Khaing Zaw.

Securing the border, consequently, is of paramount importance. According to the UMHA website, there are only 18 Border Outposts (BOPs), as against a sanctioned 91, along the 318 kilometres long Indo-Bangladesh border which falls within the State. 222.89 kilometres of this border has been fenced, as against a sanctioned 349.33 kilometres [the sanctioned length of fencing exceeds the total length of the border in official documents].

Mizoram, along with Tripura, remains the most peaceful state in India’s long-troubled Northeast, and can become the fulcrum for New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ policy, emerging as a gateway to South East Asia, if Infrastructure and connectivity are vastly improved, which in turn could have a multiplier effect, both on the State and the region as a whole. Mizoram has much to gain from peacefully addressing remaining unresolved issues of ethnic minorities such as the Hmar and Brus.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
April 17-23, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Assam

0
0
1
1

Jammu and Kashmir

0
0
2
2

Left-Wing Extremism

Chhattisgarh

2
0
0
2

Jharkhand

2
0
0
2

Odisha

1
0
0
1

INDIA (Total)

5
0
3
8

PAKISTAN

 

FATA

1
1
0
2

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

1
0
0
1

PAKISTAN (Total)

2
1
0
3
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Syed Mohammad Hussain and Muhammad Moslem Pradhan sentenced to death for crimes committed during Liberation War: International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) on April 19 sentenced Syed Mohammad Hussain alias Hossain (64) and Muhammad Moslem Pradhan (66) to death for crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War. ICT-1 said all the six charges brought against them had been proved. With the latest verdict, the war crimes tribunal have so far delivered 28 judgments against 53 people. 31 of them have been sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, ICT-1 on April 19 indicted six Netrakona men over their alleged crimes committed during the Liberation War in 1971. The Tribunal framed seven specific charges against Sheikh Abdul Majid alias Majid Maulana (66), Abdul Khaleque Talukder (67), Kabir Khan (70), Salam Begh (68), Nuruddin alias Raddin (70) and Abdur Rahman (70). Of the six, only Abdur Rahman is now in jail while the rest are on the run. The seven were involved with Razakar Bahini, an auxiliary force of the Pakistan Army in 1971. The Daily Star, April 20, 2017.


INDIA

Union Government extends ceasefire agreement with NSCN-R and NSCN-NK factions of Nagaland: Union Government announced on April 18 about the extension of the ceasefire with two Naga armed groups — National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Reformation fraction (NSCN-R) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Neakpao-Kitovi fraction (NSCN-NK) till April 27, 2018. The decision was taken during a meeting between Union Home Ministry officials and the Ceasefire Supervisory Board of both the Naga factions in New Delhi. The Morung Express, April 19, 2017.

India requests US for extradition of 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused David Headley: National Investigative Agency (NIA) has made a fresh request to the United States (US) for the extradition of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana for their roles in the 26/11 (November 26, 2008) Mumbai attacks. The NIA raised the issue with FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) Deputy Chief Andrew McCabe. Times Now, April 21, 2017.


PAKISTAN

COAS signs death warrants of 30 'hardcore terrorists': The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), press wing of Pakistani Armed Forces, informed that Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on April 19 signed the death warrants for 30 "hardcore terrorists" with links to the 2014 Army Public School attack. The suspected terrorists were involved in "heinous offences," which included the "kidnapping and slaughtering" of soldiers of the Frontier Constabulary and an attack on Saidu Sharif Airport, the military's media wing said. The 'terrorists' were also responsible for killing innocent civilians, attacking the armed forces of Pakistan and law enforcement agencies, ISPR said. Dawn, April 20, 2017.

Former TTP ‘spokesman’ senior JuA leader Ehsanullah Ehsan has turned himself in, says Pakistan Army: The Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asif Ghafoor, on April 17 announced that Ehsanullah Ehsan, former ‘spokesperson’ of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and a senior leader of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), had turned himself in to Pakistan's security agencies. "…I want to take this opportunity to announce that Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesperson of the TTP and a leader of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, has turned himself into our security agencies," he stated. Dawn, April 18, 2017.

Leave proxies and adopt diplomacy, US tells Pakistan US: National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt-Gen HR McMaster on April 16 said the best way for the Pakistani leaders to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence. Gen McMaster said: "As all of us have hoped for many, many years that the Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy not through the use of proxies that engage in violence." The News, April 17, 2017.


SRI LANKA

Ready to abolish or prune down powers of Executive Presidency, says President Maithripala Sirisena: President Maithripala Sirisena on April 20 said he was ready to abolish or prune down the powers of the Executive Presidency. “We have now completed two and a half years in government- criticism, allegations and insults are in plenty. They are very common features of a vibrant democracy. A draft Constitution would be ready within the next two weeks for Cabinet to discuss. We have told the Expert Committee to expedite the matter. During the previous Cabinet, I promised to bring it in January. I will now direct them to do it as soon as possible,” President Sirisena said. Daily News, April 21, 2017.