Almost a decade after the United States launched what would turn out to be its longest-ever military campaign, talk about the threat of terrorism in Asia has largely receded from international headlines. But before and since September 11, Asian nations have been grappling with their own insurgencies and terrorism challenges. The Diplomat takes a look at 8 of them.
Terrorism in Asia
The war in Afghanistan has cost the United States alone more than $1.26 trillion, and is now the longest military operation in the country’s history, exceeding the US combat role in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. But with the United States set to start gradually reducing troop numbers this summer, are Afghan forces ready to take over security duties and repel the Taliban?
The Diplomat’s David Axe, writing last week from Afghanistan, argues that the process of reintegration of militants that was to help smooth the transition has failed, while Afghanistan analyst Juan Cole has posed the question of whether the country can even afford the security commitment necessary to survive. Either way, as Robert Dreyfuss wrote last month, it looks like we could soon be seeing the beginning of the end for US involvement.
Photo: 43rd Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs
Neighbouring Pakistan also faces a significant terrorist threat, most notably from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which operates in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While pledging allegiance to the Afghan Taliban and its objectives, the TTP has also increased its attacks within Pakistan, most notably since 2009.
In June 2009, the Pakistani military launched a major offensive: Operation Rah-e-Nijat. But although it succeeded in pushing back the TTP’s previous gains, 2 million Pakistani civilians were displaced and the TTP has since continued its attacks, including a February 10, 2011 suicide bombing in Mardan that killed at least 31 people.
India has long suffered from terrorist threats, most notably from Naxalite organisations and Kashmiri separatists. But on November 26, 2010, the southern city of Mumbai was hit by 10 coordinated attacks conducted by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The attacks themselves arguably represented the most serious terrorist incident in the country for years and culminated in a three-day siege of the symbolic Taj Mahal Hotel.
On 29 November, with the international media watching, Indian security forces successfully stormed the hotel and overcame the militants. Still, Delhi has repeatedly complained about the pace of the Pakistani investigation into the Pakistan-based outfit, as well as the consistent support China gives its neighbours. Some in India accuse China of using Pakistan as a proxy with which to tie it down. But writing here last month, Lyle Morris asked the question: is China also supporting insurgents in India?
The Bangladeshi government has been making significant strides in its de-radicalisation programme, which is aimed at countering the existing terrorist threat from radical leftist and Islamist groups. As part of this initiative, the Bangladeshi military has been cooperating with the US military to further develop its counter-terrorism capabilities. For example, from 2009-10, the Bangladeshi military took part in four joint US-Bangladeshi military exercises – the Tiger Shark series - on Bangladeshi soil. In addition, US diplomats and security experts have also been cooperating with their counterparts in Dhaka to develop an effective Bangladeshi counter-terrorism policy.
The Philippines has long suffered from the threat of Islamic radicalism emanating primarily from the southern regions of Mindanao, Basilan and Jolo. In particular, groups such as Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah have become notorious for operating across a number of Asian territories. As a result of their historical military cooperation, dating officially back to the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty and consolidated by Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P), the United States has played a significant role in providing training and assistance to the Philippine military in its efforts to contain the terrorist threat. Complicating the issue, though, has been the tendency, according to South-east Asia correspondent Luke Hunt, for the Philippines authorities to latch onto terrorist incidents to score political points. As he notes, ‘Politics, self-interest and terrorism are a dirty mix.’
The terrorist threat to Indonesia is primarily posed by the central Java-based Jemaah Islamiyah group. Following the bombings of tourist sites in Kuta, Bali, in October 2002, which killed 202 civilians, the United States and Australia helped establish Indonesia’s special counter-terrorism force, known as Detasemen Khusus 88 (Detachment 88). First active in 2003, the special operations force has reportedly continued to receive elite training from the CIA, FBI, and US Secret Service, as well as funding from the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. As Luke Hunt has noted, the initiative has had some high-profile successes, with several eminent Jemaah Islamiyah leaders captured or killed, including Azahari Husin, Abu Dujana, and Noordin Top.
Thailand suffers from a major ethnic separatist insurgency in its southern Malay Pattani region. The conflict, which involves several groups including the Pattani Liberation Army (PLA) and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Pattani-Malayu (BRN), has claimed more than 4,000 lives since 2004. Despite a government-organised National Reconciliation Commission and periodic attempts at negotiation, attacks have continued through 2010-11, especially in Yala Province. Unlike the nearby Philippines and Indonesia, however, the Thai government has insisted on dealing with the problem independently.
China’s restive autonomous Xinjiang Province has seen an ongoing, sporadic Islamic-separatist insurgency since at least the mid-1990s. A considerable proportion of the attacks and other incidents have been attributed to the Uyghur-dominated Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation (ETLO), both of which advocate the establishment of an independent state of East Turkestan. In addition, responding to wider instability in the region, the Chinese government has deployed significant numbers of People’s Armed Police and People’s Militia to the province to establish a strong security presence and to deter popular protests deemed to be in support of the terrorist group’s broader separatist objectives.