Defeating Terrorist Groups and Terrorism
Arguably, terrorism ends in at least three distinct ways: (i) the non-state violent groups achieve their political and ideological objectives, (ii) they compromise with the governments as a result of negotiations, (iii) or they are defeated militarily. However, defeating a terrorist group does not always lead to an end to terrorism because the operational capabilities of the group are distinct from its ideological prowess and traction. Thus, instead of dying out, there is a possibility that the terrorist threat could morph and grow more complex. Most often, ahead of an impending defeat, terrorist groups withdraw tactically, decentralise their organisational structures, reform their ideological objectives and evolve their tactics with changing circumstances.
The recent claims of defeating the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Iraq and Syria are a case in point. Barely six months after the claims of victory, emerging reports indicate that the group and the terrorist threat it poses is far from defeated. The loss of territory, destruction of its organisational and physical infrastructure and damage to its sources of revenue were equated with elimination of the threat it posed to regional and global peace. However, the recent military flare-up between Russia and the United States over Syria will provide IS with the pretext and the much-needed space to stage a comeback. Furthermore, the basic issues of contention, the Sunni-Shia strife in Iraq and standoff between the Assad regime and the opposition forces remain unresolved. Given this, it is important to determine a realistic and long-term approach to tackle terrorism and terrorist groups actively even as the political disputes in conflict zones in Syria, Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan continue unabated.
Notwithstanding its apparent defeat, IS has virtualised its so-called Caliphate, moved from open to encrypted social media platforms, decentralised its organisational structure and directed its fighters to either prepare for lone-wolf attacks in their home countries, particularly in the West, or move to their respective wilayat (governorates).
Against this backdrop, the current issue of Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles. In the first piece, Jennifer Dhanaraj discusses IS’ creation of a ‘virtual tribe’, which indicates the group has not been defeated despite losses of top leaders, territory and depletion of financial resources. Through its cyber presence, IS has tapped into a sense of ‘aspirational tribalism’ whereby radicalised individuals seek to form links with IS beyond racial, ethnic and citizenship affiliations, due to alienation within their own communities. IS’ virtual tribe is further strengthened by the creation of harder to detect, smaller and leaderless networks formed by lone-wolf actors, such as those that have emerged in Europe post-2015. This indicates that the creation of social media bonds, or the virtual tribe, has now eclipsed IS’ desire to create a territorial stronghold, morphing the group into smaller and more clandestine networks that continue to pose a security threat.
Secondly, Bilveer Singh observes IS’ organisational-networking with other terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. Cooperation with other groups and forging tactical and strategic alliances is one of the primary strategies for terrorist groups to expand, survive and acquire weapons and new recruits. Particularly, the capture of Marawi was made possible both through inter-organisational cooperation and cooperation among individuals by a number of pro-IS militant factions and leaders in the Philippines. The author maintains that ASEAN countries need to focus on factors contributing to resource-sharing and cooperation among the terrorist groups in addition to the causes of radicalisation and violent-extremism.
Lastly, Mohammed Sinan Siyech’s article examines factors which have hindered IS endeavours to create a foothold in the Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir (IAJK). Beyond a nominal presence in the cyber sphere, IS has not made any substantial gains in the region. According to the author, factors such as the difficulty of penetrating into Kashmir, given the strict security measures and the lower chances of victory i.e. liberation of Kashmir from India, have hindered the presence of foreign jihadists in the valley. In addition, the nature of the Kashmir dispute as a territorial issue between India and Pakistan as opposed to an ideological issue cast in Islamist overtones has also decreased the likelihood of IS focusing on Kashmir as a source of recruits.
Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / Europe / Global / South Asia / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 02/05/2018