Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

India and Southeast Asia in the Age of Terror: Building Partnerships for Peace

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

India and Southeast Asia in the Age of Terror: Building Partnerships for Peace

Article excerpt

In Asia the post-Cold War security discourse revolved mainly around concerns about a rising China, dangers of war in persisting regional flashpoints such as the Koreas, Taiwan, and Kashmir, among others. Many nations in the region also had to grapple with the demands and effects of globalization, one of the manifestations of which was the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. With September 11, terrorism came to dominate regional security concerns. The new dynamics affected both inter- and intra-regional strategic equations significantly. Ironically, however, for most of the Asian countries, terrorism was nothing new. Asia's tryst with many forms of terrorism predates September 11. With separatist and irredentist struggles in many parts of Asia--Kashmir and the northeastern parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Aceh, East Timor, West Papua in Indonesia, the Rohingiyas in Myanmar, and in Southern Thailand--many of the Asian nations have had a fair degree of exposure to the threats of terrorism. In fact, the Moro liberation movement in the Philippines is one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world. Thousands have lost their lives in terrorist violence associated with the Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka and for the liberation of Kashmir in the Indian sub-continent. In almost all these cases--and loss of innocent, non-combatant civilian lives not withstanding,--the threat had almost always been looked at as a domestic law enforcement problem and left to the initiatives of the individual states. Without exception, the issue of terrorism was being peddled with much ambivalence translated into euphemisms such as one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. For the West especially, terrorism was one of the problems that Third World societies in the impoverished countries would have to contend with. This was because many did not see themselves as targets of terrorism.

In the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network co-opted dispersed local conflicts in different parts of the world. The platform of universal jihad brought disparate Islamist groups from the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa together. The movement subsumed Islamist struggles in many parts of the world. However, the emergence of transnational terrorist networks or the desire to establish exclusionist Islamic states (in Southeast Asia, for example) did not necessarily stem from a greater awareness of Islam's global identity as peddled by Al-Qaeda. What is important here are the global linkages that home-grown groups developed under the influence of Al-Qaeda. The transfer of Al-Qaeda ideology and the Afghan combat experience to local militant organizations raised the level of sophistication and the capacity for violence of these groups (Desker and Acharya 2004, pp. 65-66). The induction of Afghan veterans into the Kashmir conflict, for example, marked one of the bloodiest phases in militancy in Kashmir, beginning in the early 1990s. Most of these groups continued to grow with Al-Qaeda. This alignment, which contributed to the reach and the lethality of the groups, changed the nature of militancy significantly (Acharya 2004a, p. 55). This also led to the reorientation and upgrading of local terrorist training camps--Mindanao in the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar--and increasing radicalization of education in the religious schools with extremist readings of the sacred text (Desker 2003a, p. 495). In Asia, for example, madrasah became the main disseminator of jihad cult--the breeding grounds for militant religious organizations. This in turn helped the radical religious militant groups, gradually overwhelming the moderate voice, to enlarge the political space within their respective societies (Hussain 2003).

Following the September 11 attacks, Asia became the main focus of counter-terrorism efforts in what the US President Bush termed "the first global war of the twenty-first century". …

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