Counterterrorism doesn’t get the attention it used to. But recent successes can’t mask the risk it still poses in South-east Asia.
It was probably inevitable that counterterrorism would slip from the top of the totem pole of diplomatic attention, where Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and their allies had placed it.
The September 11 strikes in 2001 against New York and Washington DC justifiably elevated the issue to a realm it had rarely enjoyed before, including in South-east Asia, which has been home to a number of well-structured and well-funded terrorist outfits.
But the global financial crisis and the rise of China have gradually put economics back on top of the list of international concerns and interests, much as the subject was in the heady days of the dot.com boom in the years before 9/11.
In a sense, counterterrorism has been a victim of its own success, with results in the field in recent years – and particularly over the past 12 months – cutting regional leaders some political slack. This has allowed them to turn their attentions to other issues, such as the economy, trade, people smuggling and human trafficking (and more traditional cross-border spats like the Spratly Islands).
Of course, nobody really believes the likes of al-Qaeda, the remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) or the more radical splinter group Jama'ah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) have packed up their bags for a life of obscure retirement in the Southern Philippines.
Indeed, the Christmas attacks in Pakistan, where a burqa-clad suicide bomber killed 44 people, and on the island of Jolo in the Southern Philippines, where a bomb exploded near the altar of a local chapel during Christmas mass, injuring nine people, were an uncomfortable reminder of terrorism’s continuing shadow.
In addition, the British and Australian embassies in Jakarta have warned tourists in Indonesia that there’s a high risk of attacks over the holiday period, while in England, nine men have been charged with conspiracy to bomb high-profile London targets in the run-up to Christmas, including the London Stock Exchange.
The festive season, it’s clear, is sadly often a magnet for the worst of intentions.
Still, 2010 was a year the authorities across South-east Asia brooked little nonsense with Muslim hardliners. Indonesia and its counterterrorism unit, Detachment 88, led the crackdown on Islamic terrorists, taking on the lion’s share of the work in an increasingly thankless job.
Photo Credit: Wikicommons / Rizuan