India’s government has flooded the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir with troops and cut off internet access upon announcing the revocation of its constitutionally protected autonomy, and plans to divide the disputed territory into two new political entities with reduced power. Article 370 of India’s constitution grants Jammu & Kashmir a high degree of autonomy, a concession to the demands of the territory’s Muslim majority, many of whom favor independence or union with Pakistan. In addition to abrogating Article 370, Delhi announced plans for a bill to divide India-controlled Kashmir into two “union territories,” which have lesser powers of self-government than states. A reduced Jammu & Kashmir Union Territory would continue, at least, to have a legislature. But it would be separated from the Buddhist-majority region of Ladakh, which is to become its own union territory, without a legislature. Complicating matters further is that the populace of Ladakh itself is divided along sectarian and regional lines. News of the plan to separate Ladakh from Jammu & Kashmir was met with jubilation in the principal Buddhist town of Leh, but with foreboding in Kargil, an enclave within Ladakh inhabited by Ismaili Muslims. (Map via Wikipedia)
In the latest of mounting attacks across Afghanistan, an bomb blast near Kabul University left eight people dead and some 30 wounded. Days earlier, a roadside bomb killed at least 11 pilgrims riding a truck in the southern province of Kandahar, headed for the shrine that houses the tomb of Sufi Shah Agha, a companion and relative of the Prophet Mohammad. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Kandahar authorities blamed the Taliban, which often uses roadside bombs to target security forces in the province. Days before that, at least six people were killed and 14 wounded when a suicide bomber targeted a wedding celebration in Nangarhar province. Paradoxically, the escalating violence comes just after Afghan officials met face-to-face with Taliban leaders as well as US negotiators at the peace talks in Doha, Qatar. (Photo of Shah Agha shrine via Geoview)
As Sri Lanka marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of its long internal war, a new wave of communal violence has erupted following the Easter Sunday terror attacks. In days of anti-Muslim riots, mobs have ransacked mosques and attacked shops with petrol bombs. The Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena, which has been repeatedly linked to such pogroms since its founding in 2012, is named as having instigated much of the violence. But just as many Sri Lankan Muslims have held peace vigils to repudiate the Easter attacks and declare their solidarity with Christians, some Sinhalese Buddhists have repudiated the pogroms and declared their solidarity with Muslims. (Photo via SriLankaTweet)
Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Trump has dispacthed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom’s energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and “sectarian cleansing” in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let’s hope that Trump’s mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime. (Photo via Stars & Stripes)
Baghdad’s irregular Hashd al-Shaabi militia has joined with the National Defense Forces, one of the Assad regime’s paramilitary militias, to conduct “sweeps” along the Iraqi-Syrian border for remnant ISIS cells. These are both sectarian Shi’ite formations backed by Iran. The use of such sectarian militias has been concomitant with widespread abuses of the Sunni population of the region. Human Rights Watch is now urging the Iraqi government to reject a plan for the indefinite detention of whole families with suspected ISIS affiliations. Under the plan, up to 300,000 could be interned in camps in the desert. (Photo: Defense Post)
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. 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 the Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Saudi Arabia executed 37 men for terrorism-related crimes. Among those killed, 11 were accused of spying on behalf of Iran. Fourteen were convicted for offenses pertaining to anti-government protests. Most of the convicts were Shi’ite, and were predominantly from the country’s Shia-majority eastern province. One was arrested when he was 16 years old. Amnesty International harshly criticized the mass execution, charging that torture was used to secure forced confessions in some of the cases. Amnesty also said Saudi Arabia’s executing of those who were under the age of 18 at the time the offense was committed constitutes a violation of international human rights law. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)
Bahrain’s High Criminal Court sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Bahrain’s ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia. The mass sentencing was immediately condemned by Amnesty International: “With these outrageous sentences, Bahrain’s authorities have once again demonstrated their complete disregard for international fair trial standards.” In February, Bahrain convicted 167 people of participating in a non-violent sit-in, and in a separate May 2018 trial 115 people were stripped of their citizenship. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)
In Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, at least 16 were killed and over two dozen injured in a blast that targeted members of the Shi’ite Hazara community. Eight of those killed in the blast at a crowded vegetable market were Hazara. This was the latest in a relentless wave of terror against the Hazara people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. In March, three were killed and some 20 injured when a mortar attack struck a gathering in Kabul commemorating the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, leader of the Hazaras’ Hizb-e-Wadhat Party and a key figure in the Mujahedeen resistance movement of the 1980s. Assassinated in 1995 by the Taliban, he was recently awarded the title of “Martyr of National Unity.” The Kabul ceremony was attended by high officials and billed as a step toward national reconciliation. ISIS took credit for the attack, but the ongoing terror campaign leaves many Afghan Hazaras concerned about the current peace talks with the Taliban.
In an amusingly grim development, Donald Trump formally designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization,” and Tehran’s Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by declaring the Pentagon’s Central Command a “terrorist organization.” Both moves mark a first, applying the designation to government entities. The perverse irony, of course, is that both Trump and Tehran can be seen as perfectly correct. Left-secular forces in the Middle East have long decried that the region is caught between two poles of terrorism—that of political Islam and that of US imperialism. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are complicit with “sectarian cleansing” of Sunni Muslims in Syria. CENTCOM’s warplanes meanwhile virtually destroyed the city of Raqqa in the battle against ISIS—with civilian casualties nearly doubling after Trump took over. Yet in Iraq, the US and Iran were in a de facto alliance—both supporting Baghdad and fighting ISIS. And indeed, given Washington’s growing tilt to Assad in the Syrian war, an element of this alliance can be seen there as well. That’s why they call it a Great Game.
Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged Islamic State affiliation based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture, Human Rights Watch charges. The 53-page report claims that Iraqi and KRG authorities often arrest children with "any perceived" connection to ISIS, use torture to coerce confessions and prosecute them in "hasty and unfair trials." International law observes children recruited by armed groups as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. (Photo: WikiMedia via Jurist)
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, attacked Kashmiri students in Maharashtra. Colleges in Dehradun and Bhopal expelled Kashmiri students for posting objectionable content on social media about the suicide 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). (Photo via KashmirWatch)