Editorial Note: Impact of the One-Year Taliban Takeover on South and Southeast Asia
The impact of the Taliban’s one-year rule in Afghanistan varies across regions and countries. Of the two regions in focus in the current issue, the impact on South Asia was more pronounced than on Southeast Asia. Seemingly, the salience of Afghanistan as the trendsetter of global jihadist trends has diminished. The foreign jihadists have not travelled to Afghanistan in significant numbers. On July 31, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s killing, in a US drone attack in Kabul in a Taliban safehouse, also exposed a continued nexus between the two groups. His killing will likely blunt Al-Qaeda’s hope to revive its global jihadist brand under the Taliban protection. At any rate, Al-Qaeda is not fixated on high-profile attacks against the US and the West. Rather, it is investing in localising and regionalising its jihadist narrative. Hence, continued vigilance is required to ensure the transnational jihadist group does not make serious inroads into South and Southeast Asia’s local conflicts.
In South Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan bore the brunt of the Taliban’s takeover in the form of growing militant violence in the border regions, triumphant jihadist narratives, cross-border flow of refugees, struggling economies and human rights violations. While other South Asian countries like India and Bangladesh did not witness any significant physical changes. the extremist narratives increased exponentially in the discursive space.
Meanwhile, the Southeast Asian threat landscape has not been significantly impacted, despite the Taliban’s return to power. Indeed, some pro-Al-Qaeda groups had issued congratulatory statements and vowed to imitate the Taliban’s model, but such avowals were mainly confined to cyberspace. The less pronounced impact on Southeast Asia is partly explained by the split in the global jihadist movement between Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS). The pro-IS Southeast Asian jihadist groups did not see the Taliban’s return as a victory for themselves.
This issue carries three articles. The first article by Bilveer Singh studies how the Taliban takeover has impacted the social and political drivers of the Islamist terrorist threat in the region, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The author first assesses the historic links between Islamist militancy in Southeast Asia and the Taliban 1.0, and then postulates how the linkages between the current Taliban regime and various politico-militant movements in the region are shaping up and will be forged. The article also alludes to the possibility of Islamist political fringes going mainstream and capturing power, as witnessed in a few countries in other regions.
The second article by Abdul Basit examines the impact of the Taliban takeover on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author notes that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)’s attacks against the Pakistani security forces have increased significantly. Meanwhile, the Taliban’s internal coherence has been tested since they came to power. The main disputes dividing the Taliban factions include sharing of power and resources, ethnic differences, engaging the international community for recognition, cutting ties with al-Qaeda and girls’ education. The author notes that the Al-Qaeda chief’s killing will hurt the prospects of Al-Qaeda’s revival in the immediate term. Meanwhile, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-K) is resilient and poses the most significant threat to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The National Resistance Front is weak but if the Taliban’s internal divisions persist, it can become a threat to reckon with in the coming years.
The last article by Iftekharul Bashar and Kalicharan Veera Singam discusses the varied impacts of the Taliban takeover in South Asia, outside of the Af-Pak region. In Bangladesh, there are concerns over the increased activities of Islamist militants and politically oriented Islamist groups – although their ability to transform into significant threats for the Bangladeshi government remains questionable. India presents a somewhat mixed picture, with the country featuring prominently in the propaganda of various pro-Taliban organisations such as the Al-Qaeda, although this has not translated into physical attacks. In Sri Lanka and the Maldives, it remains unclear if the Taliban takeover could potentially invigorate the domestic jihadist threat. The ability of these states to cope with Islamist terrorism, given their limited capabilities vis-à-vis their larger neighbours, also raises concerns.