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Tag Archives | terrorism

Leaves from South East Asian Books: Dealing with Radicalisation

ISIS is increasingly focusing on South East Asia where large populations of moderate Muslims reside, while governments are intensifying efforts towards deradicalisation and counter terrorism.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

In the last week of Ramzan, terrorist attacks have taken place in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, Yemen, Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. While some of these incidents remain claimed by different terrorist groups, the influence of the ISIS tactics have been pervasive. In South-East Asia, where large Muslim populations reside have not been immune to the spread of ISIS ideology. The semi-state has already established presence in Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. At the beginning of Ramzan, Furat Media (which is affiliated with the IS) released its first Malay newsletter Al-Fatihin, aimed at Malay speakers across South-East Asia.

This was the IS ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy where the group decided to turn to countries eat of West Asia where huge Muslim populations reside. It first began in 2014 when the Katibah Nusantara, a military wing consisting Malay and Indonesian speaking fighters was formed. Since then, several local groups have pledged allegiance to the group. A Pew Study showed that 11% of Malaysians and 4% of Indonesians displayed favourable view of ISIS.

Countries in South East Asia have been taking proactive counter terrorism efforts. The region is not new to fighting terrorism as radical groups (both local and with links to groups in West Asia) have a long history in the region. However, the governments have responded with swift crackdowns and long interrogations against potential perpetrators. In 2015, over 100 people were arrested and seven plots were foiled in Malaysia while in Indonesia, approximately 74 people were arrested and nine plots detected in time to prevent them. Singapore also followed suit with stringent security measures enforced all over the island.  The three countries are focusing on re-vamping their legal framework to boost counter terrorism efforts.

The ISIS has garnered limited support in South East Asia because of the effective deradicalisation programmes carried out by governments and awareness programs to sensitise moderate Muslims. Indonesia in 2013 published a National Deradicalisation Blueprint to intervene and persuade people away from radical narrative. While it does face issues with recidivism, it has focused on prisons as a site for radicalisation since the early 2000s. Malaysia’s deradicalisation programmes date back to the 1960s, though it was initially aimed at reintegrating communist insurgents and reducing marginalisation. In October 2015, the Malysian Deputy Prime Minister claimed that the deradicalisation programme had a 97 per cent success rate and was recognised by the United Nations and Interpol.While this certainly is a tall claim, Malaysia’s deradicalisation has largely proved that it has faced even fewer extremist related attacks than Indonesia.

ISIS territory may be wrested from their control however, it will not be the end of the group, the ideology or the tactics. The ISIS also works on the principle of radical networking and even if they do manage to establish a caliphate, it is possible that their supporters all over the world continue with their agenda. While countries in South East Asia grapple with diverse religious challenges (from growing extremism of various religions, communal clashes to persecution of minorities), they have still proved adept at dealing with religious terrorism. Examples from Malaysia and Indonesia can prove helpful at tackling the threats in other countries with large moderate populations with the potential to be radicalised.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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India-Pakistan Rendezvous: Will terrorist attack destabilize the relation

 

Prime Minister Modi has called for a prompt and decisive action against those involved in the terror attack at Pathankot air base. Speaking to Prime Minster Nawaz Sheriff, Modi expressed his grave concern on the terror activities on the Pakistan soil and has called for an actionable response. Disrupting bilateral talks between India and Pakistan could be attributed as the key reason to this attack and a similar pattern has been sighted in the past.

A noticeable interface at the recent Paris Climate summit, on the sideline was the India-Pakistan Prime Minister talks that paved the way for a crucial Ministerial level dialogue. The rare meeting of the NSA (National Security Advisor) between India and Pakistan was described as cordial, open and positive. This was followed by the visit of India’s Foreign Minister Sushama Swaraj to the Heart of Asia Conference at Islamabad. Prime Minster Modi’s visit thereafter to Pakistan and meeting his counterpart Nawaz Sheriff, was seen as a significant bilateral development and an unprecedented progress in India-Pakistan relations. Interestingly this was followed several engagement like the cricket diplomacy and  the assurance by Modi to attend the SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan next year.

Despite the recent terror attack at the Pathankot Air Base and the Indian Consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan with several reports confirming the involvement of Pakistan militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the rendezvous between India and Pakistan continues. However, Prime Minster Modi has reiterated the fact that such a dastardly terrorist attack was carried out from the Pakistan soil and has insisted firm action. Normalization could succeed only if action on perpetrators are taken as promised by Pakistan. There is no ambiguity in the terrorist attack and India has provided specific information to Pakistan to investigate the strike. Prime Minster Modi has demanded stern action to be taken against the perpetrators.

On the face of hope, there is a movement for comprehensive bilateral dialogue as against a composite dialogue. The Foreign Secretary talks as of now does not stand cancelled. Instead of confrontation and antagonism there is an unruffled silence. There is a regional implication to this reticence, both India and Pakistan are competing for influence and stabilization in Afghanistan. Several common interest like trade, security, energy and terrorism underpins this relationship. Modi’s address at the Afghan Parliament dawned a ray of hope, positive spirt and an earnest effort to dispel the Pakistani notion of distress on India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

There are several drivers to this stabilization process and some of the key factors would be energy assets and viable Central Asian markets for both India and Pakistan. Afghanistan is a key promoter of regional stability and is looking forward to an era of economic and security cooperation. With an emerging India-Afghanistan-Pakistan triangular relation, each of them are exhibiting high level of maturity and commitment. The recent inauguration of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is yet another important strategic calculi.

Regional rapprochement has not been very successful and largely the South Asian politics have been dominated or clouded by India-Pakistan relations. Prime Minister Modi on assuming office has committed to sustain normalcy in the region. Earnest effort to adhere his commitment was seen in several of his initiatives towards the region. The recent   Modi’s visit enroute from Kabul to Pakistan is an important milestone in the process of regional stabilization.

Terror attacks and threats have been the key destabilizing factor in the area. Several terror outfits coexist and cohabit in the region and they have been supported largely by fundamental and fanatic groups. Countering terrorism has been a daunting task and several peace process to find a solution to this enduring problem has dominated the past years. Thus countering terrorism as a regional phenomenon would succeed only if there is a single peace process outcome in which both India and Pakistan are involved. Pakistan counter terrorism operation in the tribal region along Afghan border is underway. A step to regional balance and progress is on cards and India’s involvement is seen as positive step in this initiative. South Asian diplomacy has been advancing well in the past few months with several rounds of talks at the Government level and the impromptu visit by the Indian Prime Minister.

Balancing the regional stability is a daunting task, there are several glitches to this progress. It is not the very first time that peace process or normalization talks have been stalled. The question that remains is, will the recent terror attack at Pathankot air base set the clock behind in India-Pakistan Relations.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute.  She tweets@priyamanassa

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India-Afghanistan Relations: The Way Forward

The iconic short story “Kabuliwallah” by Tagore and the interpretations on the land beyond mountains and imaginations have shaped the India and Afghanistan relations from the past to the present.  “Bound by thousand ties and million memories”, the relations between the two countries go beyond the traditionally state-to-state relations or government. History, culture, civilization and people to people contact have created commonalities thus making the past history the guide to the future.

 

India-Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid rich tribute to Indian democracy. India has been admired as the largest pluralistic society in which diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and sectarian groups coexist and cohabit together. India being the largest secular democracy is in a position to share its know-how and practice with Afghanistan. The nascent egalitarianism society of Afghanistan in all its earnestness looks forward to India for assurance and support in its quest for democracy.

There is a strong economic, politico-strategic and security component in the India-Afghanistan relations. India’s economic assistance and support to democracy is a step to reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan and helps India to establish links with energy rich Central Asia. For India a friendly and pro-active democratic regimes in Afghanistan would act as a balancer in the region. The stability of the region can be assured only if we have a stable Afghanistan which would counter the Taliban forces and India has extended its all out support in this endeavour.

Encountered with deep recession, Afghanistan embarked on several austerity programmes and launched stimulus packages that would help the economy move out of a dependent entity to a self-reliance system.  From Afghan’s standpoint, India’s investments and partnership would be a great value addition in the re-building process of the countries economy and infrastructure. The strategic and security system of Afghanistan is fragile and weak and India’s support and strategic partnership is worthy of mention and a step forward in stabilizing the region. Powers like United States welcomes India as a key player in the stabilization process that agonizes Pakistan, who has adopted a zero-sum approach in the region creating a security dilemma.

Geo-economically Afghanistan is very important for India, the foreign trade policy of India and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), hosts a tremendous promise that could help the country develop economic and strategic importance in Eurasia and Central Asia. The INSTC has particular economic and strategic relevance to India given the increasing regional ambitions of China through its one belt one road initiative. Several MOUs have been signed between India and Afghanistan. Indian investors are interested in the “virgin markets” of Afghanistan. Indian private sectors are seen as a driver towards prosperity in Afghanistan. The other important project is the building of Sister-City relations between major Indian cities and Afghan counterparts. The Sister-City relations will be connected through tourism, faculty exchange programs as well as through private sector investment. Several invitations have been extended to India to invest in Afghanistan.  India has been invited by Afghanistan to join Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan Trade and Transit Agreement a very significant link wherein Afghanistan would act as a land bridge connecting South Asia and central Asia

Termed as one of continuity and engagement, India-Afghanistan relations is built on mutual trust and cooperation. With the exception of the Taliban rule, India’s relations with Afghanistan remain strong. Indian support continues in the reconstruction, rebuilding and stabilization process of Afghanistan.  As the fourth largest donor, Indian contribution to the rebuilding process has been to the effect of US $ 2.2Bn and generous assistance has been provided in the formation of human capital with approximately 13000 Afghan students studying in Indian Universities. India’s signature project and commitment to democracy and institutional support can be seen in the completion of the Afghan Parliament. The Salma dam in Herat is yet another initiative in terms of infrastructure development is nearing completion which would generate 42 MW of much needed power for the electrification of rural and urban Herat and also help in irrigating 80000 hectares of agricultural land. The Trade and transit between India and Afghanistan, is gaining momentum and the movement of trucks across the Attari-Wagha border would spur regional trade and enhance economic engagement in South Asia. There is a ray of positive hope that Pakistan would allow the India-Afghan trade movement, which would boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is also keen on India’s involvement in the India-Iran Chabhar Port project. The project would create an international transit corridor. The Chabhar Port Project is of enormous significance both to India and Afghanistan. For Afghanistan it would boost the regional trade and for India it would provide a sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

India is an all weather friend of Afghanistan and continues to play a significant role in tackling terrorism in the region. India has expressed keen intent to strengthen Afghanistan’s defense capabilities for safeguarding its security and combatting all forms of terrorism.  India is supplying helicopters to Afghan government in its effort to combat the growing menace from Taliban. India and Afghanistan have discussed several ways and means to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism. India has spearheaded capacity building prgrammes and training to Afghan soldiers in their effort to tackle terrorism. Several terror network outfits operate from Afghanistan and have expressed this menace as a global phenomenon threatening international peace and stability.

Deep engagement drives India-Afghan relations. There is committed partnership and enduring interest between the world’s largest and fledgling democracy. A pluralistic society with rich tradition and civilization that was undermined by the Taliban forces today is committed to restoring peace and stability in the region. Deeply embedded in democratic principles and values, India’s support in this endeavor of reconstruction of Afghanistan is most sought after. There are set agendas and shared objectives in India-Afghanistan relations. India is keen to assist and build a robust economy and stable political institution in Afghanistan.  An earnest effort in the reconstruction process that is vital for India, as it anchors regional peace and stability.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.

 

 

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The Pathankot Attacks: The link between terrorism and the drug market

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Punjab’s porous border, which has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent, is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

The Pathankot Attacks have once again heightened the national security concerns in India, specifically in Punjab as terror has struck the region twice within twelve months. The entire episode raises serious concerns about the preparedness of Indian security forces. This article is primarily aimed at establishing a link between the terror attacks in Punjab and the drug smuggling rampant in the state. The porous border that Punjab shares with Pakistan topped with the lack of vigilance in the area has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent. The same is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

First, the question arises on how the terrorists infiltrated the International border or the LOC, despite an alert and heightened security. There are speculative reports that terrorists may have entered from the same point which was exploited during the Gurdaspur attacks. Other reports suggest that the terrorists might have sneaked in from Bamial village in Pathankot, a spot covered in thick foliage and unfenced rivulets which is often used by drug peddlers. The Gurdaspur area for instance is quite close to the Pakistan border and lies between Ravi and Beas, a terrain that is vulnerable. Security forces already possess requisite gadgets like thermal imagers and radars to monitor activity in these areas. Therefore, such repetitive lapses hints at the ill preparedness of forces and possibly, the involvement of an insider.

Second, the fact that they could easily gain access into an airbase with such a large amount of ammunition makes one wonder if terrorists are bribing their way through the state. The air force base in Pathankot, spread over a vast 25km, houses strategic military equipment and an aerial fleet and is situated on the highway that leads to J&K. How is it that there were no fool proof security mechanisms at such a strategic base? Instead of ridiculing an SP who reported his abduction, why did authorities not kickstart the combing operations instantly?

The attack has come across as a big blow not only to the central government but also to the Punjab State government. It’s a brazen fact that Punjab’s notorious drug market has provided a breeding nest to an illegal arms trade racket and has also aided terrorism, both home grown and external. Punjab’s proximity to the Golden Crescent and around 550 km of shared border with Pakistan has made it a drug haven for smugglers. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, porous borders have rendered areas like Gurdaspur and Amritsar prominent heroin collection centers.

Though the security forces were able to neutralize the terrorists after a long encounter, the security breach and the loss of life could have been further contained had the government acted swiftly on intelligence reports. Had the operation started right after the complaint by the SP, who was initially taken as a prisoner by the terrorists, valuable lives could have been saved.

It should also ring alarm bells for the Punjab police – unless it tightens its grip on the drug racket in the state and the allied arms trade, the state will remain an easy target for terrorists. The smuggling network in Punjab must be comprehensively curbed and the gaps in security must be plugged. Hopefully, after two successive security and intelligence failures, the state government will pull its act together on the security front.

Shikha Pathak is a Community Manager at The Takshashila Institution. Shikha tweets @ShikhaPathak15.

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India’s options for reducing risk from China-Pak alliance

R.Srikanth

While the internal debate has predictably settled down on questioning the morality of executions in a democratic republic, few questions have been asked about whether Kasab’s execution has increased or decreased India’s options with respect to its long-term adversaries in the region, China and Pakistan.

Hafiz Saeed, leader of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba is being legitimised in the public space in Pakistan, as he makes a foray into Pakistani politics. Given Pakistan’s penchant for denying its hand in anti-India terrorism, it seems like poor strategy to execute Kasab at this time, as he is the only living being that was proof of 26/11. Can Indians afford to be sanguine about the mainstreaming of terrorist groups in Pakistani politics?

The central place of religion in politics is not surprising given that Pakistani Constitution and Republic and even the Army define themselves in terms of religious doctrine. The side effect of religious propaganda in the Pakistani school curriculum over the decades has resulted in religious fundamentalist groups garnering immense public support for right wing political groups. In this environment, terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Saeed are able to seek legitimacy by entering politics and making pretensions of abstaining from terrorism.  Hafiz’s actions of offering prayers for a 26/11 terrorist, but not its victims, says enough about his pretensions of seeking a life of peace.

It does not seem to be in India’s interest to let Pakistan get away with providing validity to groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Toiba as a legitimate political party via an election. This will result in the permanent mainstreaming of terrorist groups into Pakistani politics. However, in Pakistan, it is a truism that no matter which political party wins, the Army actually is in control. So, in that sense, not much has changed in Pakistani politics, except for the death of secular and liberal political parties. Frequent headlines in the international print media that portray the Army submitting to the civilian government of the day have always turned out to be false.

Even mainstream political parties such as the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami are very vocal about their aggressive intent towards India, should they come to power. All these political parties have openly stated their antipathy for friendly relations with India, with constant background refrain of promising more terrorism in India unless India relinquishes Indian territory in Jammy &Kashmir to Pakistan.

Buckling down to Pakistan’s blackmailing tactics to exchange land for peace, whether in Siachen or elsewhere, are unlikely to yield results for India. This is mainly due to the Pakistani Military-Jihad Complex’s (MJC) antipathy to normalising relations with India, combined with their domineering role in Pakistani politics. Since the inception of Pakistan as a state in 1947, the Pakistani Army has always dictated terms to the civilian government in power.

In the early 80s and 90s, Pakistan was financially, politically, and diplomatically supported by the USA, China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Such support has waned in the recent years due to frictions between Pakistan and its donors. USA continues to finance Pakistan under strict controls and has downgraded military relations with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia still wields a lot of influence in Pakistan, though it has stopped subsidising Pakistan like it did in the past.

The only country that has made proclamations of everlasting, mutual, enduring relations with Pakistan is China.  This was evident from the fact only a journalist from Pakistan was given the privilege of being allowed to record the proceedings of the CPC. Ignoring the dubious value of the Pakistani presence in such a meeting- the showcasing of China-Pakistan relations- is a reminder that the chance of these two Indian adversaries colluding against India in the long term is a certainty. As long as the MJC wields power in Pakistan and the Communist Party wields power in Beijing, India needs to consider the likelihood of such collusion, a certainty.

Although China’s investments in Pakistan have decreased in scope and involvement over the last couple of decades, not least to the inability of the Pakistani government to secure the lives of Chinese engineers and workers implementing development projects in Pakistan. However, China has followed a strategy of proliferating weapons of mass destruction to states like North Korea and Pakistan, and there is no indication that the CCP has relinquished the use of WMD proliferation as a tool in the toolkit of Chinese foreign policy.

This is where China and Pakistan gain from their illegal occupation of Indian territory in J&K. Pakistani occupation of PoK and China’s occupation of CoK, has resulted in a physical border and land route connecting China and Pakistan. As long as this land route connects China and Pakistan, China’s capability to proliferate weapons of mass destruction to Pakistan via such a route remains in place. Proliferating such weapons by Air or Sea is a lot harder as the global commons is monitored. Thus, it is in India’s long-term interests to ensure that Chinese capability for such proliferation is neutered. Once a capability is neutered, China’s intentions towards India in that region do not matter if India regains control over all of J&K. Intentions of any geopolitical entitiy can change on a whim with no effort, but geopolitical capability needs to be gained and maintained.

Why is the completion of the accession of J&K to India necessary? Why does Indian government spend an enormous amount of revenue generated from other Indian states to sustain J&K? For one, there is a parliamentary resolution in effect today that declares India’s sovereignty over all of Jammu & Kashmir.  India retaining control would mean that India would have a border with Afghanishtan, establishing direct Indian transit into Central Asia. India has been denied land transit rights into Afghanistan and will continue to be denied such rights for the foreseeable future. Also, as explained earlier, such reclamation of control over J&K would ensure breaking a land route between two of India’s most bloody-minded and hostile adversaries, China and Pakistan. Seems prudent for India to proactively gain leverage over them in order to control events in the future that may be orchestrated by the collusion of these two hostile nations.  It should be noted that a political union of the two sides of the LoC in J&K is a logical first step towards Indian control over all of J&K.

What are India’s options with respect to Pakistan, especially given China’s significant capabilties today, to change the nature of India-Pakistan relations via WMD proliferation? India taking the initiative on foisting aggression on Pakistan is not an option, as this is exactly what the Pakistani MJC has been trying to do for a long time. Recall the 26/11 was orchestrated when the Pakistani Army was trying to prove to its American allies that maintaining a large army presence in the Indo-Pak border is essential, in order to avoid going after the Taliban in North West Pakistan.  The Army’s gambit would have worked had the Indian government reacted to 26/11 by escalating hostile intentions, thereby providing the Pakistani Army with a solid excuse to not cooperate in Waziristan.

If India escalates the situation on the ground, Pakistani army’s best option is to respond by claiming that various red lines have been crossed. Once this is done, what will follow is a drumbeat of “India-Pak nuclear flashpoint” from motivated third parties, mostly arms-control wonks. Such a falling out of events has never worked in India’s favor in the past. A more important reason to avoid a war with Pakistan is the effect it will have on the gap between India and China in terms of economic and military power. The already wide gap is likely to increase further, which is unwise given that there is no guarantee India can recover from such a setback post war with Pakistan. However, even if overt war is ruled out with Pakistan, the sub-conventional proxy war options that Pakistan avails is also available to India- it is a different matter that Indian political leadership seems to have failed to avail itself of such options.

Let us take a look at Pakistan today. Pakistan government’s choice to radicalise their population with religious dogma, hatred and violence in school textbooks has created multiple generations of Pakistanis that would fit the label of religious radicals or fundamentalists- people who are not averse to using violent means as a tool to further their religious-political goals. The end result seems to be that Pakistanis are increasingly vulnerable to terrorist bombings in their own country, and State of Pakistan is increasingly unable to exert control over its own territories.  This should seemingly increase India’s options, but it has not done so yet.

The Pakistani government effectively controls 3 out of 4 states in the country. The army dare not challenge militant tribes in the Northwest Frontier province that challenge the Pakistani army on the ground. Any election in Pakistan is likely to usher in a religious-minded political party in power- these parties have openly stated their concurrence with the goals of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. If such a religious party comes to power as a result of elections in Pakistan, it will legitimise anti-India terrorist groups in Pakistan, which means an increase in anti-India violence emanating from Pakistan, as it has happened in the past. When dealing with Pakistani MJC/Government it is prudent to watch what they are doing rather than what they are saying, as explained by Mr Vikram Sood.

If suggestions that Saltoro/Siachen be transformed into a “Peace Park” are taken seriously by the Indian government, then it would imply that the Indian Government has learnt no lessons from the Kargil War or has forgotten those lessons already.

R. Srikanth is a Senior Researcher at the Cyber-Strategy Studies Team at the Takshashila Institution and a GCPP alumnus.
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