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  • Author: Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Natasha Quek, Md. Didarul Islam, Naman Rawat
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial defeat reflects a shift in the epicentre of violence from Iraq and Syria to the peripheries (countries with an active presence of IS cells or other insurgent and terrorist threats). In the study of terrorism and insurgency, age-old threats can persist while new threats are always emerging, either due to policy shifts that give rise to new opportunities for insurgents to exploit, or due to changes in the political climate of societies. As such, the May issue deals with three key thematic challenges in a post-IS threat landscape. First, it looks at returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), who after IS’ territorial defeat have either traveled to or attempted to return to their home countries. According to the United Nations (UN) more than 40,000 FTFs from 110 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS. The return of segments of the FTFs indicates escalation of threats in their home countries as they come armed with operational skills and could possibly regroup, establish local cells and engage in violence. In this case, a high number of FTFs travelled to Iraq and Syria from Tunisia despite the country’s peaceful transition towards a participatory democracy, in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Second, in order to deal with the shifting threat landscape, it is necessary to develop new and strengthen existing de-radicalisation programmes. De-radicalisation is a smaller part of broader counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts that focus on terrorists or returning FTFs in custody. Effective de-radicalisation programmes will provide detainees with opportunities to reintegrate back into the society by rejecting violence and promoting peaceful coexistence. This issue critically evaluates de-radicalisation as a concept and specific programmes in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while extoling the need for holistic approaches for effective outcomes. Lastly, beyond the Islamist extremist threat emanating from IS and other affiliated or local groups, other non-Islamist threats continue to persist. This includes far-right extremists gaining traction and engaging in violence in parts of United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, ethno-separatist groups (Baloch Liberation Army in Pakistan) and communist groups (The New People’s Army in Philippines and the Naxalites in India) also have a strong support structure and operational presence. According to the Global Terrorism Index, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or Naxalites killed 205 people in 190 different incidents across 2018. This issue specifically delves into the Naxalite insurgency in India, which has evolved from a mass-mobilisation movement to a militant insurgency over the last few decades. The article advocates for institutional reforms to address various grievances to reduce the agency to violence. In the first article, Natasha Quek and Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff explore the causal factors behind Tunisia contributing one of the highest numbers of FTFs in theatres of conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The authors contend that the proliferation of Tunisian FTFs and surge in jihadist-linked violence domestically in recent years, poses a threat to long term stability, and could also fuel conflict in the wider region. Tunisia’s strong history of secularism provides an advantage, as the government can rely on a robust civil society rather than adopt a purely security-based approach. However, additional policy responses are needed to curtail jihadist activities and safeguard the country’s democratic achievements. Md. Didarul Islam then assesses various definitional aspects and theoretical models of de-radicalisation programmes. The author further provides observations on the gains, limitations and local context of de-radicalisation programmes, gleaned from four country case studies, which suggest that effective de-radicalisation of individuals necessitates a holistic approach focused on three key areas: (i) re-education or ideological interventions; (ii) vocational training or financial support; (iii) and a viable reintegration environment. Isolated approaches towards de-radicalisation that discount these variables are likely to only bring short-term success and a higher likelihood of recidivism. Lastly, Naman Rawat then examines different factors and underlying causes which have sustained the Naxalite insurgency in India for over fifty years. The author argues that since the 1960s, the lack of legitimate political institutions as well as corrupt practices of the government and bureaucracy have contributed to the Naxalites’ socio-political alienation in India. Additionally, the ineffective implementation of land reform laws, which prohibit acquisition of the tribal lands by non-Adivasis, has pushed the more extreme sections of tribal and peasant people to revolt against the government. Though the insurgency has been weakened in recent years, it is far from over.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Radical Right
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Indonesia, Middle East, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia
  • Author: Damien D. Cheong, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Sara Mahmood, Abdul Basit, Neo Loo Seng, Farhan Zahid
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The suicide attack on India’s paramilitary Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) in Kashmir’s Pulwama district has once again exposed the sharp fault-lines between India and Pakistan, pushing them to the brink of war. The February 2019 attack, claimed by Pakistan-based anti-India militant group, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), killed 40 CRPF personnel. This attack and its aftermath underscores a new phase of militancy in violence-ridden Kashmir and renewed hostilities between India and Pakistan. India’s retaliatory airstrikes on alleged JeM camps inside mainland Pakistan (after a hiatus of five decades) have redefined the conflict threshold. In 1999, even at the height of the Kargil crisis between the two states, the Indian air force did not cross the Line of Control. Indian airstrikes signal a qualitative shift in the Indian position from the strategy of deterrence-by-denial to deterrence-by-punishment. Consequently, this will result in a new unstable equilibrium, lowering the threshold of a low-intensity, limited conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Moreover, the absence of a functional India-Pakistan crisis management mechanism further increases the probability of a limited conflict. The United States (US) and international community’s response to the Pulwama attack and its aftermath is also pertinent. Instead of urging both India and Pakistan to desist from escalation, for the first time, the US and international community acknowledged India’s right of self-defence and emphasised de-escalation only after Indian airstrikes on alleged JeM camps in Balakot. Barring China, no other country condemned India’s violation of Pakistani sovereignty. This will have long-term implications on strategic stability and balance of power in South Asia. The Pulwama attack has also witnessed emergence of new interlocutors in India-Pakistan tensions such as China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. JeM has 40,000 trained militants in its ranks and returned to Kashmir in 2016 with the Pathankot air base attack. Between then and the Pulwama attack, it has increased its activities and presence in parts of Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir (IAJK). The use of a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) to hit a military convoy in a highly-militarised zone like Kashmir shows JeM’s enhanced operational capabilities. Accumulating 80 kilograms of highly explosive ‘RDX’ and preparing a VBIED signify the expertise of JeM’s cadres. The suicide bomber Adil Rashid Dar was a local Kashmiri, whom JeM had recruited by exploiting his anger and quest for revenge against the Indian state to serve its agenda of ‘liberating’ Kashmir. After witnessing a dip between 2008 and 2013, violence and militant recruitment have spiked in Kashmir since 2015. The number of militants killed in Kashmir rose from 130 in 2016 to 200 in 2017 and 240 in 2018. In the first two months of 2019, 31 militants have been killed in Kashmir. At the policy level, Pakistan’s response to the JeM threat is critical. Kinetic measures against militant groups such as sanctions, arrests and crackdowns, helpful in the short-term, need to be supplemented. Non-kinetic measures like an effective counter ideological narrative and a comprehensive de-radicalisation and rehabilitation plan would be necessary to create incentives for JeM members to shun militancy. The larger question is how will Pakistan create a counter ideological narrative against JeM without compromising on the state’s identical stance on Kashmir? Moreover, effective rehabilitation of a large number of militants will require massive time and resources and a strong political will by the Pakistani military and political leadership. In 2002, when the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf banned JeM and took action against its cadres, the group retaliated with two assassination attempts on him, alongside several high-profile attacks inside Pakistan. In the event of another round of crackdowns initiated against JeM, a serious backlash cannot be ruled out. Moreover, if JeM splinters as a result of heavy-handed crackdowns, some of its members might gravitate towards terror groups like Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). India and Pakistan, beyond proxy warfare, will have to dispassionately discuss the security challenges arising out of various terrorist groups operating in the region. India and Pakistan will have to create joint counter-terrorism and counter-extremism frameworks to overcome the challenge of militancy, notwithstanding who launched and supported these groups since the 1980s. Against this backdrop, the current issue features four articles looking at different aspects of the Pulwama attack and its aftermath. In the first article, Farhan Zahid traces the background and current status of JeM and its founder Maulana Masood Azhar. The author maintains that Azhar’s ideology had a significant impact on the evolution of Kashmir’s militant landscape. Headquartered in Pakistani Punjab’s Bahawalpur province, JeM has longstanding ties and nexuses with other militant groups in the region such as Al-Qaeda (AQ), the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). These ties have allowed JeM to evade bans and crackdowns from the Pakistani security forces in the past. Notwithstanding information that Azhar is critically ill and his brother Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar and brother-in-law Qari Talha are running JeM’s day-to-day operations, the author emphasises the need to create counter-narratives against Azhar’s violent ideology. The second article by Muhammad Sinan Siyech dissects the Pulwama attack using Louise Richardson’s conceptual framework of the Three Rs (Revenge, Renown and Reaction). According to the author, the Pulwama attack manifested all three Rs making it a highly successful attack for the JeM. The suicide bomber was seeking revenge for repeated arrests and humiliation faced at the hands of Indian security forces. JeM also drew maximum attention from mainstream and social media in the aftermath of the attack. The attack centre-staged Kashmir as a core dispute between India and Pakistan and a nuclear flashpoint that needed serious international attention. It also prompted immediate reactions from India in the form of retaliatory airstrikes on JeM camps in Balakot, escalation of India-Pakistan tensions and stringent security measures in Kashmir. The author argues that such security measures in Kashmir would likely provide JeM with fresh recruits and funding. To mitigate this likelihood, there is need to examine India’s domestic responses in Kashmir, with continued diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to take action against anti-India militant groups. It is also necessary to strengthen international ties to ensure timely information and intelligence sharing to curtail terrorist networks and their financing. The next article by Damien Chong and Neo Loo Seng discusses whether Kashmir could turn into a future bastion for the Islamic State (IS) akin to Marawi in the Philippines in the aftermath of the Pulwama terrorist attack. Various arguments are discussed for and against such a scenario. On one hand, continued violence, socio-economic and political instability in Kashmir, similar to the situation in Marawi in 2017, are pull factors for transnational threat groups such as IS. This is particularly in light of the recent collapse of IS’ territories in Syria/Iraq prompting it to re-group elsewhere. Proponents of the contending view argue that such an outcome is implausible as threat groups have thus far failed to effectively exploit the Kashmir conflict, given it is framed as a territorial and political dispute as opposed to an Islamist conflict. By assessing a broad spectrum of scenarios, the article discusses the pitfalls of the Marawi case and how they can be avoided in Kashmir. The last article by Abdul Basit and Sara Mahmood looks at the security and geopolitical implications of possible US withdrawal from Afghanistan on South Asia’s complex and diverse militant landscape in the context of the Pulwama attack. After 9/11, the US presence in Afghanistan had kept India-Pakistan tensions under control to ensure Islamabad’s cooperation in the border areas to track and hunt AQ remnants. A case in point is the US-brokered 2003 cease fire agreement between India and Pakistan. Now that the war in Afghanistan is nearing its end, tensions between the two South Asian nuclear rivals over Kashmir threaten to provide fresh fuel for regional militancy and bilateral tensions to persist. It seems that several militant groups like JeM which diverted their fighters to Afghanistan after 9/11 to assist the Afghan Taliban in fighting the US are now returning to their old conflict zones through incidents like the Pulwama attack. The Afghan Taliban’s perceived victory in Afghanistan will create a triumphant jihadist narrative for a plethora of militant groups in the region, giving them new zeal and fervour which will make the South Asian militant landscape more lethal and violent.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, South Asia, India, Kashmir, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Anushka D. Kapahi, Gabrielle Tañada, Farhan Zahid, Shane Britten
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: This issue of CTTA observes three critical case studies of political violence and terrorism that highlight either countering terrorism or preventing violent extremism (PVE) policies as the key takeaways. Research has highlighted that improved and innovative counter-terrorism and PVE policies can mitigate the long-term effects of terrorism and extremism, and possibly prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place. Through the case study of the Philippines, this issue discusses identity-driven conflicts and the need for ‘hearts and minds’ driven approaches by the state for conflict resolution. In order to ensure long-term peace, the state should look into culturally-sensitive approaches that don’t alienate aggrieved groups and instead attempt to mainstream and integrate them into the broader society. Further, the issue delves into the influence and ideology of radical ideologues in the case of the Afghanistan -Pakistan region. The article highlights a national counter-narrative campaign can play a role in decreasing and countering the reverence and following of religious figures preaching intolerance and extremism. Lastly, the issue observes intelligence failures in terrorist attacks and recommends an improvement in related counter-terrorism policies through increased focus on cognitive analysis. This would allow states and related security agencies to respond better to emerging terrorist threats and prevent violent attacks from occurring. In the first article, Anushka D. Kapahi and Gabrielle Tañada analyse the interplay of history, religion and identity to explain the Bangsamoro people’s uprising in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. The authors argue that despite legal advancements, the Bangsamoro people’s demand for autonomy and self-governance still exists due to a lack of recognition of their cultural identity. This has obstructed conflict resolution, attempts at assimilation and overall development within the region, necessitating a culturally-sensitive approach that gives due consideration to locals’ identity for long-term peace. Farhan Zahid sheds light on the impact of influential Pakistani militant ideologue Mufti Nizam-ud-Din Shamzai’s worldview — in the form of fatwas, speeches, sermons and books — on various militant groups in the Af-Pak region. Shamzai is a celebrated scholar among Af-Pak militants and they continue to draw inspiration from his writings and teachings even after his assassination in 2004. However, Shamzai’s personality and works remain under -researched. The author recommends that formulating a national counter narrative against violent extremism while understanding the impact of his ideology on Af-Pak militant discourse is essential for policymakers in Pakistan. In the last article, Shane Britten reviews the importance of cognitive analytical techniques for accurate intelligence analysis in counterterrorism. He contends that lack of training in the art of cognitive analysis has been a major factor in various counter-terrorism intelligence failures in recent years. These intelligence failures are not of information-collection, but reflect the inability to adequately analyse the collected information. The author suggests that by improving the cognitive capabilities of intelligence analysts involved in counterterrorism through training and capacity building, the percentage of intelligence failures could be minimised.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Asia, Philippines, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri, V. Arianti
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The evolving concept of Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE), as part of ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts, has to address various social, economic, political religious and individual factors that attract or push youth from activism towards extremism. Social media platforms and religious institutions are crucial mediums of influence that can be used to minimise and eventually eliminate the exploitation of these two domains by violent-extremist groups for recruitment, propaganda and legitimation of their extremist agendas. Articles in this issue give an insight into the roles played by social media and madrassas as well as religious leaders and extremists in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Indonesia. The first article by Rohan Gunaratna analyses the recent riots between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in Sri Lanka. It observes the historical development of relations between the two communities, specifically focusing on the role of Sinhala ultra-nationalists in advancing their communal and political agenda in the island state. In 2012 and 2013, the ultra-nationalists’ intolerant rhetoric against Muslims and Christians emboldened supporters to engage in mob violence targeting both minorities. Communal riots had erupted in 2014 and intermittent bomb attacks on Muslim establishments occurred in 2017. To restore communal harmony, the author prescribes a cohesive approach that combines laws criminalising intolerant rhetoric and propaganda in cyber and physical space, arrests of those involved in mob violence, and building structures at national and grassroots level to foster communal harmony. In the second article, Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri examines the madrassa (Islamic seminaries) education system in the context of growing radicalisation and religious extremism in Pakistan. The piece studies the madrassas’ relationship with various political groups, and their local and foreign funding sources. The study relies on published reports as well as quantitative data collected from over one hundred madrassas in Punjab. The study finds that several madrassas in Punjab have links with local and foreign militant organisations that render them vulnerable to external manipulations and interference. However, madrassas which purely dedicate their energies to learning and teaching are generally free of such manipulations. To meet the challenges and overcome the controversies facing the religious seminaries, the article recommends reforming the educational curriculum, providing quality education, reviewing funding sources of madrassas, banning political affiliations of madrassas and monitoring foreign influences on them. Lastly, V. Arianti probes the use of sharp weapons in terrorist attacks by Indonesia militant groups. She argues that IS’ emphasis on knife attacks in its online publications, frequent employment of vehicle-ramming and stabbing by lone-wolf attackers in Europe and local jihadist groups’ efforts to seek recognition from IS central contributed to the steady rise of knife attacks in Indonesia. The author believes that while knife attacks will continue to be an attack tactic in Indonesia militant landscape, bombings and shootings will be the preferred tactics because of their relative potential to cause mass casualties.
  • Topic: Education, Nationalism, Politics, Terrorism, International Security, History, Counter-terrorism, Homeland Security, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, South Asia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Iftekharul Bashar, Remy Mahzam, Marcin Styszynski
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: In the last several weeks, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and its affiliates have demonstrated their continued ability to direct and conduct high-casualty and high-impact attacks in and outside their strongholds in Iraq and Syria. On 10 February, a car bomb struck Baghdad killing 10 people and wounding 33 others. Six days later, a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sindh (Pakistan) killed over 80 people and injured 250. The latest (8 March) is the attack on a military hospital in central Kabul which killed 49 people and injured over 60. The global terrorism situation remains grim as IS continues to plot more attacks and exploits social media to subvert the alienated and disgruntled to its jihadist cause. On the battlefields in Iraq and Syria, however, IS is on the retreat, pounded by the US-led Coalition as well as Russian and Syrian forces. The Coalition forces are making significant progress in their offensive to retake western Mosul, capturing its airport, military base and main government complex. IS fighters are outnumbered and experts expect western Mosul to fall in coming months. On the Syrian front, IS has lost Palmyra again, after recapturing it in December last year, and is coming under attack in its de facto capital Raqqa. Some 400 US Marines have been sent to assist in the allied operation to retake Raqqa. It would not be long before more comprehensive, co-ordinated and forceful plans are implemented to defeat IS as well as other jihadist groups. With the likely imminent defeat of IS on the battlefronts, it is timely to discuss the global threat landscape in a post-caliphate scenario. Marcin Styszynski, in his article, highlights four factors that will influence the threat trajectory: the strategic withdrawal of IS into smaller Sunni strongholds to carry out operations and attacks, the expansion of threat frontlines by IS’ associated networks and returning fighters, the rise of sectarian and religious tensions, as well as the competition between Al Qaeda and IS. The author concludes by emphasising the need to address the root causes of political conflict and instability if the significant successes of the Coalition forces in the last two years are not to be in vain. This March issue also examines IS jihadist propaganda and information warfare in cyberspace. Remy Mahzam highlights the great emphasis IS places on online propaganda, and the significance of its propaganda magazine Rumiyah (Rome). He looks at IS calls for various forms of attacks to be executed, and attempts to influence specific groups of readers through exploitation of religious texts and powerful emotional and spiritual messaging. He concludes by spelling out what needs to be done to counter IS digital warfare. Iftekharul Bashar looks at the threat in Bangladesh, six months after the Dhaka Café attack and argues that even though the security establishment has weakened IS through hard approaches, the group is far from eliminated. In his view, the current administration needs to adopt a long-term approach to tackle the broader issue of radicalisation and the diverse threat emanating from IS, Al Qaeda and other associated groups in the country.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia, Global Focus