In 2015, countries in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, faced palpable threats from violence carried out by traditional groups and human smuggling networks working to facilitate militants’ travel across the borders. The rapid spread of ISIS in the region has further threatened the security of the countries in the region.
Even though Indonesian authorities thwarted a number of plots, the challenge from ISIS-linked entities is gaining increasing traction in the country as evidenced by the January 2016 attacks in Jakarta. Moreover, although Singapore remained unscathed from terrorist attacks, there were a handful of self-radicalised individuals attempting to join ISIS, which have become a matter of grave concern for the country. Despite peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and rapprochement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the government of the Philippines faces the threat of the spread of ISIS particularly in view of the fact that a number of groups in the country have converged to facilitate the establishment of an ISIS enclave in the region. At the same time, Thailand confronts newer challenges besides its age-old brush with insurgency in its southern provinces in particular, the threat from human smuggling networks and an overwhelming presence of Rohingya (from Myanmar) and Uighur (from China) refugees in the country.
South Asia continued to be in limelight not only because it registered the highest number of terrorist attacks but also due to the prospect that instability in few of the key countries could render the conflicts in the region more intractable.
In Afghanistan, poor governance, lax security and fractionalisation of the Taliban after Mullah Omar’s death has created unrest and instability which ISIS has capitalised to build its own infrastructure. As Pakistan reels under the threat of domestic militant groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and others, ISIS appears to be making a firm and steady foothold in the country. In Bangladesh, intolerance along religious lines is on the rise despite years of efforts by the government to degrade and destroy the traditional militant groups. The spread of ISIS in the country has also placed this region under sharper focus. Relatively immune from terrorist attacks in the past, the presence of Maldivian fighters in Syria and Iraq has exposed the country in terms of its vulnerability to radicalisation and recruitment efforts by groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. As Sri Lanka attempts to recover from the deadliest terrorist threat from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), the remnants of the group and militant Islamist networks portend new challenges to the security of the country.
Central and East Asia
The jihadists’ narrative of armed struggle against Syria’s “anti-Sunni Alawite” regime appears to be the main driver for the recruitment of Central Asia’s Sunni Muslims, particularly for those who feel a sense of solidarity and duty to protect their co-religionists in the Middle East. Beijing continues to be concerned about the spill-over of violence in Xinjiang into other parts of China, as well as the presence of Uighur militants in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, China continues with its tough posture against separatism and terrorism, as evidenced by the passage of its first counter-terrorism law in December 2015.
In 2015, Middle East remained the epicentre of the global jihadist threat despite the intervention of global players like the U.S. and its allies, Russia and Iran. The Middle East, especially countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya are falling into the proverbial trap of “great games,” a development which is evident in the rather individualist policies pursued by each of the countries involved instead of the most common and the pressing need to defeat ISIS.
Countries in Africa continue to face terrorist threats in multiple dimensions and in diverse forms due to the porous borders, poor governance and undertrained and underequipped armed forces. This is compounded by the involvement of criminal networks in illegal drug, arms trade and human trafficking.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is reverting to violence, while ISIS Sinai Province carried out attacks against Egyptian security forces and claimed responsibility for downing of the Russian airliner. In Somalia, despite counter-offensives by the government forces along with African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), Al Shabaab’s capabilities seem intact. ISIS appears to be expanding its influence in the country. Libya has been in a state of perpetual conflict for the past several years since the fall of Gaddafi regime, mainly due to the failure on the part of the successor parties to reach an agreement on a unity government. ISIS has exploited the chaos to establish its stronghold in Libya in 2015. Nigeria continues to experience violence in the form of terrorist attacks carried out by Boko Haram even as the current government has introduced policies to empower marginalised northern communities and immunise them from the risk of radicalisation.
Attacks by Colombia’s insurgent groups, including the ELN and criminal gangs, known as BACRIM continued throughout the year. Despite skepticism about the outcome, the Santos administration resumed peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), and managed to secure an agreement on transitional justice which will hopefully pave the way for the signing of a peace deal in 2016.
Terrorism remains the top national security threat for most countries. ISIS and Al Qaeda continue to project their presence and relevance, carrying out attacks all over the world. However, the threat of terrorism, whether from ISIS or Al Qaeda, is not existential for the states concerned and should not be taken as such. The apparent success of groups like ISIS is largely due to the inaccurate understanding of the intention and capability of groups, together with an inaccurate assessment of opportunities for these groups to operate in respective countries. There is also a lack of unanimity among the countries about the strategy to fight the threat – which requires a combination of both kinetic means and strategic initiatives like countering the radical ideology, deradicalisation and community engagement, among others.
This issue of CTTA makes a modest contribution to place the terrorist threat in its current perspective and help the international community in general and policy makers in particular to craft appropriate responses against the same.
Africa / Central Asia / Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / Country and Region Studies / East Asia and Asia Pacific / Global / Middle East and North Africa (MENA) / South Asia / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 14/03/2018