The South Asian countries necessitate to work together to resist, confront and combat the common challenges of terrorism.
When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is streamlined in the Middle East, the state and non-state actors of terrorism are abusing and also exploiting the trends of technology, and can be distinguished in force in the South Asian region.
The advancement of unwanted actors is forging to reshape the normal with an abnormality. The general picture of the geopolitical realities and different incidents of the South Asian region provides the probability of Islamic State (IS) terror in South Asia.
South Asia, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual region is fragile due to political instability, corruption, poor governance; is a home of more than twenty-two UN-designated terrorists entities and nearly half of all UN listed individual terrorists.
After 9/11 attacks, the US, its allies and other nations have been looking for collaborated and even collective efforts through alliances and cooperation.
South Asian nations last year was occupied with an increase in the conflict façade; more often than not unconstructive, pessimistic, albeit with a spark of hope. With terrorist attacks occurring in interlude; there is now a prerequisite to come across a South Asian resolution.
Geopolitical realities of South Asia
The geo-political realities that attempt to challenge our immoral civilization and relationship the way we think and the way we behave as South Asian.
The magnitude of the Asian order will occupy a fundamental part. The trends of the geostrategic environment have three geopolitical realities that are challenging the old order of the region.
The old order of the region is shifting and shifting fast as China — the second-largest economy — with increasing defense capabilities playing vital with the US together with the middle powers is countering with different strategies.
The mountains that used to be the barriers are flattening. Strategic communication networks are being constructed.
Connectivity is not just physical and amongst bordering states but ideas, values, culture and technology. The rise and competition with China and Russia have been a challenge to American power, influence and interests.
The big power politics is undermining globalization, turning its back on global institutions, assault in multilateralism, cutting off financial assistance in aid to UN relief actions and engaging in trade policy predominantly based on a bilateral approach.
The Indo-Pacific region (IPR) remains and holds the most strategic importance geographical region for the US’s “American First Policy”. The US, allies and partners in the region is an obvious signal to a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous IPR recognizing the importance of freedom, equal treatment, human rights and commitment to rule of law.
The US wants to establish stronger US-India relations and assume the inclusion of India in a larger strategic design. The recent visit of Trump to India concluded with US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership anchored with mutual trust, shared interests goodwill and robust engagement of their citizens.
The world now has been portrayed as a competitive amphitheater rather than a community of nations as previously referred to. The attempt to adapt to the post World War II institutions has been less visible. The borders have not changed but geography has.
Regional old structure
China’s White Paper 2017 and the growing interest in South Asia with recent visits by President Xi Jingping to Nepal, Myanmar, its support to Pakistan in the UN, and upbeat engagement in Bangladesh, the revocation of Article 370 and 35A from the Indian Constitution, Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) National Register of Citizens (NRC) and India-China military confrontation in Doklam are just a few examples.
The economic assistance and engagement are assisting for political influence. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Bhutan and Nepal as a gate away to India with Belt and Road Initiative, China Myanmar Economic Corridor and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. This positions China firmness and a will to be a bridge to the Indian Ocean.
The US is using economic tools, allies, and partnerships. India and China’s cooperation and competition are evidently visible. The US has termed China and Russia as a revisionist power and as contestants.
The US has strengthened the political and economic supremacy with trade war and sanctions of the west more willingly than reconciling with China and Russia.
Geopolitics is altering with two strategic assessments in national capitals world over. You can observe it in the meeting halls of political parties in Kathmandu as well.
First is the growing influence of international power and influence by China and now in capitals of almost all the South Asian nations. The second involves the US prioritizing the Indo-Pacific Strategy as the core geopolitical sphere.
Finding perfection and enhancement to the possible or potential threat by the terrorist in the South Asian nations will be a real strategic challenge and vulnerability in the years or even decades to come, while the diplomatic moves and presumed gains are just a sideshow and a temporary issue along the way.
Probability of IS and South Asia
On June 29th, 2014, the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State shocked the world with an audio message proclaiming the establishment of a “Caliphate”. Five years later in March 2019, a U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian fighters announced that ISIS had lost the last section of territory in Syria it controlled, “bringing a formal end to the ‘caliphate’.
Despite losing its base and thousands of fighters, the threat posed by the jihadist group persists, as its affiliates and sympathizers around the globe continue to engage in propaganda and violence. States are possibly using the grievances as an extra operational tool turning it into capability now probably in South Asia.
ISIS established a caliphate and released a map in which it identified territories, including South Asia Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma and India, which is of concern.
Toward this end, ISIS utilized the idea of Khorasan (ISIS-K), historically viewed as the golden age of Islam and through its Khorasan province into South Asia and Southeast Asia which is remaining and expanding goals.
The rise in Acts of Terrorism in South Asia
South Asian countries have been witnessing increased terrorist attacks when the region is not new to terrorism. The Good Agreement between the US and the Taliban though a step forward will remain more a challenge than a solution for regional stability.
Beyond many occurrences, the 21st April Easter terrorist attack in Colombo claimed by the IS, which appeared as inter-faith violence and in retaliation for the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack.
The visibility of a deadliest terrorist attack in Kashmir in over 30 years where 40 paramilitary troops were killed in a convoy in Palwana (J&K) on 14th February in India. The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility.
This points out that intelligence and other enforcing establishments are not combined to challenge the common threat.
The acts of terrorism in South Asia appear from diverse causes fuelled by global dynamics, bilateral enmity, Rohingya refugee migration and local communal grievances highlighting the already deep ethnic and religious fault lines.
But to this, what is significant is information, technology, finance, logistics, communication, organization, leadership, and recruitment that terrorists use in the region.
On 10th July 2020 in Nairobi, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on extremist attacks in Africa said “Trauma from terrorism hurts families, communities and destabilizes entire regions, Nothing can justify terrorism and violent extremism, but we must also acknowledge that they do not arise in a vacuum, No one country can defeat it alone. A more holistic approach is needed to defeat this growing menace. An approach that makes full use of soft-power political tools and complements law-enforcement, military solutions and security measures is needed”.
To conclude, while the region offers an unprecedented opportunity on security-related cooperation, a myriad of security challenges from a range of transnational threats, including ISIS, Multiple terrorist organizations and the technology they operate with continues.
There is a requirement of a strategic core geopolitical mechanism to build sober and reliable intelligence-based assessments and forecasts on key trends of threats to help South Asian nations make informed decisions, identify opportunities and anticipate risks.
A common political determination and will to decide what we need as well as portrayed four geo-strategic states of affairs to combat these complex security challenges.
One, the ISIS-K in South Asia to organize, coordinate and expand the multi-domain operation with extra-operational capabilities similar to the one strategized in the Middle East.
Two, the US and the International troops are in the process to withdraw from Afghanistan (graveyards of empires) after eighteen years of war with “Good Agreement” with the Taliban, which will most likely lead to instability that will have a regional impact and will be left to the six immediate neighboring countries primarily China, India, Iran, and Russia.
India is facing unprecedented challenges in social order after the revoking of article 370 and the passing of the Citizen Amendment Act and lastly China’s growing influence in South Asia.
Geopolitics no longer deals or trade just with neighbors, Nation States can look for patterns by reframing geopolitics to re-examine the past, experiences in the present context with a new perspective and then anticipate the future.
Basnyat is a Nepal Army Major General (Retd.) and a Security Analyst.
(Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Khabarhub’s editorial stance).