From a terrorism and counterterrorism perspective, the year 2014 was particularly significant. This was due as much to the potential impact of drawdown of US and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) from Afghanistan as to the declaration of the establishment of a so-called Islamic Caliphate by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). While the former has emboldened old and established groups like Al Qaeda Central, the Afghan Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, among others, the claim of the establishment of the “so called Islamic State” by ISIS seem to have galvanized disparate elements within the Muslim world, drawing fighters in thousands to Iraq and Syria and spurring radicalization and extremism in many countries in an unprecedented scale.
Even if there were no major attacks, the countries in Southeast Asia had to deal with the impact of ISIS. This was most evident in Indonesia and Malaysia with a number of citizens of respective countries found to be involved with ISIS – either joining the fight in Iraq or Syria or indulging in recruitment for the same or both. At the same time regional groups, especially in Indonesia, continue to target the “near enemy” – the government establishment and its security apparatus and personnel. In the Philippines, even as Manila proceeds to finalize the negotiated settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), it had to deal with other armed groups in the country such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Communists. Thailand continues to grapple with a fragile political process that has relegated Bangkok’s dealing with the Southern Thai militancy to the background. Finally, while Myanmar has been striding along on the routes to democratization, it is still grappling with myriad ethnic armed groups, not the least of which has been the Rohingiyas.
Afghanistan underwent a smooth democratic transition in terms of its presidency and government. However, with rising levels of violence by the Taliban and no sign of a negotiated settlement between the warring parties, Afghanistan’s future has become more uncertain which portends significant challenges for the country, the region and the international community at large. In Bangladesh, old groups continue to present threats, whilst new outfits like Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) are also targeting the country. AQIS also has India in its sights, despite an overall decline in terrorist activity. The threat in India is further heightened with the growing influence of ISIS in the country and the spread of left-wing militancy. Pakistan continues to reel under its home-grown terrorist threat, the most significant being the massive attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014, perpetrated by the Pakistan Taliban. In Sri Lanka, the revival of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), with challenges from Islamist and Sinhalese extremist groups have become an emerging concern.
Central and East Asia
Countries in Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – have two main concerns. The first is the drawdown of the US-led international forces from Afghanistan, and the second is the increasing number of Central Asians travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight along with the ISIS and other jihadist groups. At the same time, the violence in Xinjiang and other parts of China and the presence of Uighur militants in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia raised new concerns about the terrorist threat and Beijing’s response to the same.
In 2014, events in the Middle East were completely dominated by the rise of ISIS which brought the involvement of the US and the countries in Europe and most importantly some of the Muslim countries in the region to the forefront. Despite significant losses in terms of territory, personnel and financing, ISIS threat is still not out. At the same time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a major determinant of Middle East stability, as before. The resignation of the Yemeni President, the death of the Saudi King and the growing instability in Libya and Syria portend significant challenges for the region’s security in months ahead.
Egypt’s challenges stemmed from frequent attacks on civilians and security forces by non-state armed groups galvanized by political instability. The outlook for Libya remains bleak with diverse militias – once instrumental for the removal of Muammar Gadaffi – themselves becoming country’s greatest security concern. While Nigeria reeled under Boko Haram threats, Somalia was hammered with attacks by al-Shabaab, despite the killing of its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in September 2014.
In 2014, Colombia experienced a continuation of attacks from the insurgent groups and the country’s right-wing armed criminal groups, Bandas Criminales. Peace talks also continued with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) despite skepticism about its successful outcome.
From a counterterrorism perspective, the response, either by concerned countries or collectively by the international community, remains deficient and often counterproductive as before. While many countries affected by the renewed violence lack capability, the support to these countries by the international community, especially by the US, has unfortunately been ambivalent. This is further complicated by the debate about the nature of the threat, especially from ISIS and Al Qaeda that respective counties confront and the issue of commitment of resources by countries like the US due to domestic constraints.
Africa / Americas / Central Asia / Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / Middle East and North Africa (MENA) / South Asia / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 09/12/2015