The European Eye on Radicalization, published a new report by Rajat Ganguly, researcher at the Murdoch University, on the jihadi terrorism in South and Southeast Asia. The report suggests that if the collapse of the Islamic State caliphate at the end of 2017 and the recent killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may convey the impression that the war against jihadi terrorism is almost over, this is just a false impression, particularly as far as South and Southeast Asia are concerned.
The document highlights how jihadi terrorism is the most lethal threat faced by states and peoples in South Asia today. Most experts on Afghanistan agree that the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist group aligned to Al-Qaeda that wants to reimpose a harsh Islamic rule in the country, has effectively defeated theUS-led NATO and Afghan government forces by capturing almost 70% of the state’s territory and running a parallel government in the areas under its control.
The expansion of the Afghan division of IS, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK), has been the result of two main developments: the defection of extreme hard-line factions from the Taliban to ISK, and the steady return ofjihadists from Syria as IS caliphate crumbled. This has further muddied the political landscape and security situation in Afghanistan. Inrecent times, ISK have carried out terror attacks against the civilian population, government officials, NATO/Afghan forces, and even against the Taliban.
The report also indicates that India has faced relentless jihadi attacks from groups based in Pakistan, especially since the outbreak of an armed insurgency in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). In J&K, mainly in the Kashmir Valley, political protests and student demonstrations in the late 1980s were soon transformed into a full-blown armed insurgency in favour of independence led by the nationalistic Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). By the early 1990s, however, jihadi groups based in Pakistan had hijacked the movement. These groups, most notably the Hizb ul-Mujahideen (HuM), unleashed a campaign of terror in the Valley aimed at ethnically cleansing the area of non-Muslims.
Other jihadi groups carried out terror attacks in Kashmir and other areas of India, notably the attempt to blowup the Indian parliament (the Lok Sabha) in New Delhi in 2002 and the Mumbai terror siege in 2008. In recent times, JeM has carried out major terrorist attacks against Indian security forces, at Uri and Pulwama, which led to Indian reprisals against terrorist camps inside Pakistan, the February 2019 Balakot airstrikes being the primary recent case-in-point. The Indians have also looked to dismantle the terrorist launch pads across the line-of-control in J&K with various tactics, such as the commando raids in the aftermath of the Uri attacks in 2016.
The picture is not much different if one looks at Southeast Asia, Ganguly affirms. The analyst highlights thatin Burma, national integration has been a key challenge, especially from non-Burman ethnic groups such as the Shan, Karen, Kachin, Arakan and the Rohingya. Over the years, the Burmese army has fought pitched battles with rebel forces belonging to various ethnic groups and the state has used serious forms of control and repression to manage inter-ethnic tensions. The most recent clashes flared in the Rakhine province in 2017 after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked a police station on 25 August killing 12 police personnel. The state accused the ARSA of being a terrorist organization and its leaders for fomenting jihad.
According to the International Crisis Group, ARSA’s founding leader, Ata Ullah, was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia where he was exposed to Wahhabi-Salafi ideology and many of the group’s leaders have trained abroad particularly in Saudi Arabia. The ARSA rejected the terrorist tag and stated its aims are to “defend, salvage and protect” the Rohingya against state repression. The Burmese military, however, adopted a scorched earth policy, thereby creating a major humanitarian crisis. Due to the brutal crackdown by the Burmese military, over one million Rohingya refugees moved into neighboring Bangladesh.
Jihadists in South and Southeast Asia have established a network of collaboration not only among themselves but also with Salafi groups operating out of the Middle East. Most of the jihadi groups operating in South and Southeast Asia established strong links with Al-Qaeda in the 1990s, and some of their cadres had experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s, fighting along side the Afghan Mujahideen as they tried—eventually successfully, with Western help—to rid their country of the occupying Soviet forces.
After the Afghan war ended in 1989, some of these South and Southeast Asian fighters returned home and founded jihadi networks that received funding, support, and advice from Al-Qaeda. Other veterans of the Afghan jihad even travelled to places like the J&K, southern Thailand and Mindanao to help in local jihadi theatres there. After Bin Laden was killed and IS created its caliphate, many Al-Qaeda affiliates held their ground but in South and Southeast Asian there were significant defections to IS.
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