RSIS presents the following commentary Abe’s India Visit: Raising the Bar by Rupakjyoti Borah. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at Republication is allowed subject to prior permission from the Editor.

No. 015/2014 dated 23 January 2014
Abe’s India Visit:
Raising the Bar

By Rupakjyoti Borah

The upcoming visit of the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to India will take bilateral ties between Tokyo and New Delhi to a higher level. India ranks high in Abe’s priorities as Japan faces an aggressive China, while trying to once again make its presence felt in Asia’s balance of power.
THE UPCOMING visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to New Delhi on 26 January 2013 as the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations is slated to be a landmark event in the evolution of the bilateral ties between the two countries. This will be the third high-level visit from the Japanese side in a short span of two months.
Last December the Japanese Emperor paid a State Visit to India - significant because it is rare for the Emperor to undertake foreign visits. This was followed recently by the Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera who made a highly successful visit to India. This series of high-level visits, coming one after another, clearly shows the desire of the Abe-led government to put relations with India on the fast track.    

Significance of Abe’s upcoming visit

This impending visit by the Japanese premier is significant for several reasons. Firstly, by choosing to come to India on Republic Day, which is mainly a display of India’s military strength, along with its cultural diversity, both India and Japan are sending out a  clear message that relations between the two nations are going to deepen, regardless of what other nations have to say.

Secondly, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has invested a huge amount of personal capital in the relationship with Japan. Since PM Singh has already announced that he would not be seeking another term in office, he would be very keen to ensure that he leaves a lasting legacy on the relations between Japan and India.

Thirdly, for Japan, already on the back foot due to an aggressive China and a hesitant United States, relations with India are a top priority. When China unilaterally declared the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, the US did not overtly ask China to rescind the zone  and in fact told American commercial airliners to comply with  Beijing’s orders.
The US has also expressed “disappointment” with PM Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on 26 December. The fact that Washington may not be willing to antagonise China is not lost on Tokyo. Recently, India’s ties with the US too have taken a hit following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in the US and her subsequent expulsion.
Fourthly, Japan is also looking towards India as a major market for Japanese products and a prospective buyer for its weapons. Japanese businesses have almost reached a saturation point in countries like China - in addition to political tensions between them - and hence they are looking towards emerging markets like India. New Delhi has also emerged as the world’s biggest arms importer and Japan has, in a major departure from its ban on weapons exports, offered the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibian aircraft to India.

Fifthly, on the Indian side, New Delhi is looking to Tokyo to source high-end technologies which can help India fast-track its economic growth. Although the Indian economy has become sluggish of late, it is growing faster than many other economies across the world.  In spite of many Japanese companies being mired in red-tape in India, the huge size of the Indian market and its growth prospects is something which no major Japanese business can afford to ignore. Japan’s population is shrinking and it would do well to take the help of highly-skilled Indian workers in areas like Information Technology, besides doctors, nurses etc.
Sixthly, the rise and assertiveness of China is an important factor bringing Tokyo and Delhi closer. Last year, Chinese troops entered Indian territory and very reluctantly moved back, ruffling quite a few feathers in the Indian establishment, which saw the move as a sign of China’s increasing belligerence.

Stumbling blocks
However, a few stumbling blocks remain. One major hurdle in the burgeoning ties is the unwillingness on the part of Tokyo to sign a civilian nuclear deal with India. Japan is the last major developed country to hold out on a nuclear deal with India while the US, Russia and France have already signed nuclear deals with Delhi. Another sore point is the Japanese insistence on India signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which India considers as highly unequal.

Internally there is cross-party support in India for improving relations with Japan. India is scheduled to go for elections in May this year, but whichever party or group of parties gain power in New Delhi, Japan-India relations are certain to become stronger. The biggest positive factor in Japan-India ties is that there is no historical baggage in the relationship, unlike in Japan’s ties with many other Asian countries.

From Tokyo’s perspective PM Abe’s visit to India will reinforce Japan’s strategic diplomacy in South and Southeast Asia to balance China’s extensive influence in Asia and strengthen Japan’s presence in the emerging economies of the Indo-Pacific region.

Rupakjyoti Borah is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, India. He contributed this to RSIS Commentaries.

RSIS presents the following commentary Myanmar’s ASEAN Chairmanship: Will it Lead to National Reconciliation? by Eliane Coates. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at Republication is allowed subject to prior permission from the Editor.

No. 012/2014 dated 20 January 2014
Myanmar’s ASEAN Chairmanship:
Will it Lead to National Reconciliation?

By Eliane Coates

Myanmar’s 2014 ASEAN Chairmanship will boost  Naypyidaw’s courting of world opinion in favour of its reforms. However, Myanmar’s road to reform remains long and winding. ASEAN should nudge Naypyidaw towards greater national reconciliation.
MYANMAR’S CHAIRMANSHIP of ASEAN, which begins this month, will become an open display of its progress in undertaking national economic and political reforms. Naypyidaw’s hosting of ASEAN has the potential to improve Myanmar’s international reputation, national economy, and potentially, domestic reconciliation efforts.

Long seen as a pariah state, Myanmar sees the ASEAN chairmanship as an opportunity to demonstrate its reformist credentials and a platform to re-engage the international community. For almost 50 years, Myanmar has been locked in the grip of a fierce and repressive military regime that paid little attention to international criticism.

International Image and payoffs

However, under the leadership of a quasi-civilian government, Myanmar has undertaken the path towards substantial reforms, including a loosening of the political system, freedom of the press, and economic liberalisation. This has not only convinced Napyidaw’s ASEAN neighbours, but has also managed to woo the major powers, including the United States, into according Myanmar political legitimacy leading to the easing of sanctions.
As the ASEAN Chair Myanmar has the opportunity to discard its previously isolationist foreign policy to become a responsible stakeholder of the international community. The year 2014 is Naypyidaw’s turn to steer ASEAN in dealing with contentious regional issues, including the South China Sea disputes. Naypyidaw’s challenge now is to translate this ‘chairmanship’ into a commendable ‘leadership’ role.
Apart from raising its international profile, chairing ASEAN could potentially unlock greater economic opportunities for Myanmar. This includes growing investor confidence and further integration with ASEAN and the wider regional economic communities.

ASEAN’s goal is to create a single Southeast Asian market and regional trading bloc by 2015. However, Myanmar remains the poorest ASEAN member with a GDP of only US$53 billion, contributing only 0.2% of continent-wide production in mainland Southeast Asia. Myanmar would undoubtedly struggle to meet the strict policy reform requirements for the ASEAN Economic Community in the specified time frame.

Nevertheless increased investor confidence after the ASEAN chairmanship could help narrow the crucial gaps in critical infrastructure and employment, as well as provide the momentum to achieve market regulation and greater human capacity in Myanmar.

Domestic economic reforms have already helped to increase the flow of foreign capital into Myanmar. In a recent report by the private sector, Myanmar was listed as one of five countries that had made the greatest improvements over the last five years to their business environment. The floating of its national currency, the Kyat, as well as the enactment of a new Foreign Investment Law to regulate foreign ownership limits and land leasing rules, have not only made Naypyidaw more attractive to foreign investors but has also enabled its rich natural resources, such as arable land, forestry, and natural gas to be exploited further. One report suggests Myanmar’s energy and mining sector is projected to expand to US$22 billion by 2030 from US$8 billion in 2010.
However, Myanmar’s capacity to fully exploit such opportunities is questionable at best. Endemic corruption, lack of transparency, limited legal recourse, strict approval procedures to rebuild infrastructure which are slow and costly, and remaining Western economic sanctions, continue to stifle the country’s economic growth. The International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, recently ranked Myanmar 182 out of 189 countries for the ease of doing business within its borders.
There has also been a brain drain of skilled workers to neighbouring countries which offer higher wages. While the economic pay offs in hosting ASEAN may be great, more reforms must be made to create an inviting business environment to set the stage for Myanmar’s full integration with the ASEAN Economic Community.

National reconciliation

National reconciliation presents the biggest hurdle to Myanmar’s reform process. Some outsiders remain skeptical of Myanmar’s development amid ongoing internal inter-ethnic conflict. Myanmar expects ASEAN to recognise its national reconciliation efforts to solve deep-rooted ethnic conflicts through individual ceasefire deals and comprehensive peace settlements for a nationwide reconciliation.

While most regional countries want Myanmar to succeed in its path to democratisation, ASEAN’s support of Myanmar will not be unconditional. The prestige and legitimacy associated with being at the helm of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc must not obscure the fact that Myanmar still has a long way to go, particularly in protecting human rights and pursuing national reconciliation.

Myanmar’s inter-ethnic violience continues to strain other ASEAN countries due to the refugee outflow of  Rohingya Muslims to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The Rohingya also pose a spillover potential security threat to some regional countries. In 2013 two Rohingya leaders linked to the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) were reported to have enlisted assistance in the form of weapons and tactical knowledge from Indonesian hardline Muslim groups.

At present, peace agreements have not been consolidated. Instead of granting greater autonomy, Naypyidaw is offering economic incentives through development projects to rebel leaders in exchange for signing ceasefire agreements. While this process has facilitated re-engagement between the two sides, it is no more than a short term fix; it is unable to replace sincere political dialogue to address the underlying political, economic and social causes of the ongoing armed conflict.

Human rights

Slow progress in national reconciliation efforts is compounded by increasing human rights concerns inside Myanmar. Many human rights violations continue to be reported, particularly against the Rohingya, despite Naypyidaw having set up a national human rights commission in 2011. The recent visit by the UN special rapporteur on Human Rights only confirmed Myanmar’s inability to conduct objective investigations on widespread human rights violations and to bring the perpetrators to justice, including those belonging to local security forces.

While a spokesperson for the Myanmar government has announced the Rohingya issue will not be on the ASEAN agenda, he agreed the government will accept advice from individual ASEAN governments on the conflict. ASEAN could thus play an instrumental role in pushing Myanmar from behind to achieve national reconciliation and encourage it to implement the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. ASEAN could also call upon its Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR). The AIPR’s Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR) could investigate the various demands of ethnic groups and give recommendations to Naypyidaw.

As the largest democracy in ASEAN, Indonesia could also cooperate with Naypyidaw to strengthen Myanmar’s civil society and engage in more transparent inter-ethnic dialogues. With the potential regional spillover of Myanmar’s internal strife, Naypyidaw should not interpret ASEAN’s move as intervening in its internal affairs. Rather, it would be in Naypyidaw’s best interests to embrace ASEAN’s assistance with open arms.

Eliane Coates is a Senior Analyst at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

RSIS presents the following commentary Myanmar’s ASEAN Chairmanship: Challenges and Opportunities by Dylan Loh Ming Hui. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at Republication is allowed subject to prior permission from the Editor.

No. 011/2014 dated 20 January 2014
Myanmar’s ASEAN Chairmanship:
Challenges and Opportunities

By Dylan Loh Ming Hui

Myanmar has assumed the chair of ASEAN for 2014. What challenges and opportunities are there for Myanmar?
FOR THE first time, Myanmar will lead ASEAN in 2014. The country will also host the 2014 ASEAN summit, in addition to over 240 regional meetings - drawing thousands of diplomats, leaders and journalists to the country throughout the year.

2014 is also an important year for ASEAN as it is the penultimate year before the inauguration of an integrated ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. What are the challenges and opportunities facing the country - and ASEAN - as Myanmar assumes this critical role?

Main challenges facing Myanmar

The most obvious test for Naypyidaw is its infrastructural deficit: unreliable power supply; limited Internet connectivity; chronic shortages of hotels; and poor transportation linkages are some of the problems that continues to plague Myanmar. The South East Asian (SEA) Games that Myanmar hosted in 2013 were an early test of its capabilities. While it performed creditably on safety and security, it was found lacking in others - lack of accommodation and poor transportation were common complaints. Notably, the Ministry of Sports resorted to using power generators to supply electricity during the games because it did not trust its own power network.
Questions also remain as to whether it has the ‘soft’ infrastructure and capacity to manage its chairmanship. Myanmar scholars note that managing the ASEAN chairmanship will impose extra burdens upon a narrow cohort of able people managing the reform process, but who are already greatly overworked. To that extent, the chairmanship could be an unwelcome distraction.

Secondly, as China continues to be more assertive in South China Sea, President Thein Sein would need to deftly manage ASEAN-China relations. The recent decision by Beijing to issue new fishing regulations requiring foreign vessels to seek prior permission to fish or survey in disputed waters in SCS has already drawn rebukes from Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and the U.S. The need for ASEAN unity has never been stronger especially with the goal of an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) near. It would do well to display independent-minded leadership while ensuring ASEAN solidarity.

Thirdly, the plight of the Rohingya and Myanmar’s human rights record will come under increased international scrutiny as Myanmar plays host to the region and the world. In 2006, Myanmar gave up its chairmanship under pressure from ASEAN and the United States owing to its appalling human rights record and its oppressive political regime. If Myanmar does not deal with its ongoing internal religious-ethnic conflict comprehensively, there is a risk that Myanmar’s chairmanship will be overshadowed by its human rights failings.

Opportunities for Myanmar

Economically and politically Myanmar has made great strides in opening up while its assumption of the chairmanship will allow Naypyidaw to open up further to the outside world. The Myanmar Government has affirmed its readiness to benefit from the experience of previous chairs and others in ASEAN.

For example, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked a Singapore think-tank for advice on its ASEAN chairmanship role. Its willingness to learn, coupled with the inflow of people, ideas and practices that comes with the chairmanship will further socialise Myanmar into developing sets of ‘best practices’ enabling it to build up its educational, socio-political, diplomatic, bureaucratic and human resource nous as it grapples with its role as an actor on the world stage.

Secondly, Myanmar also happens to be the coordinator of the ASEAN-US dialogue. This gives Myanmar the unique opportunity to elevate its relations with the US and benefit from the immense rewards that can be reaped from a deeper relationship. Investments by American businesses hit US$243 million as of August last year, according to the Myanmar Investment Commission. But this sum is paltry compared to the $43 billion dollars in total foreign direct investment in the same period.

Increased investment from the US will diversify Myanmar’s economy making it more resilient, reduce reliance on Chinese investments, thus making it more geopolitically balanced and attracting further investments from the western countries that still take the lead from the US.

Impact on domestic reform

Thirdly, being the chair of ASEAN - and with national elections looming in 2015 - there is strong political impetus to push through urgently-needed reforms in several areas. It has already made some progress in this regard. For instance, during the SEA Games in Myanmar, high-speed 4G mobile Internet network was installed (albeit only for the Media and VIPs) in various venues in a relatively short period of time. Additionally, Myanmar has given the ‘go ahead’ for an ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) in Naypyidaw.    

The APF is a set of civil society meetings held in the ASEAN Chair’s country each year. The green light by Myanmar stands in stark contrast to Cambodia’s actions when it was chair where it sent government-only representatives, meddled extensively in proceedings and even shut down meetings and kicked out activists. These show the willingness and ability to tackle some of the pertinent problems facing Myanmar especially when under pressure to perform globally.

Myanmar’s chairmanship will be closely watched by South East Asian neighbours for it is a momentous year not only for Naypyidaw but for ASEAN as well. Myanmar has the backing and the support of its fellow ASEAN members to pull off a successful chairmanship. It would be in the interest of Myanmar and ASEAN to grab this opportunity to open up more quickly domestically and integrate further with the international community.

Dylan Loh Ming Hui is a research analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

RSIS presents the following commentary Restructuring China’s Maritime Security: Lofty Ambition, Little Progress by Zou WentaoIt is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at Republication is allowed subject to prior permission from the Editor.

No. 007/2014 dated 13 January 2014
Restructuring China’s Maritime Security:
Lofty Ambition, Little Progress

By Zou Wentao

China announced the restructuring of its maritime law enforcement agencies more than half a year ago, but progress has been slow and the real change could take years to realise.
IN THE past few years, China’s maritime law enforcement vessels attracted media attention for playing a leading role in “protecting its legitimate maritime rights and interests”. Recently, however, these vessels have been getting less international attention, due partly to changes in China’s maritime security policy. It is also due to the fact that China’s maritime law enforcement agencies are undergoing restructuring. The progress of this restructuring, however, has been slow.
It is also due to the fact that China’s maritime law enforcement agencies are undergoing restructuring. The progress of this restructuring, however, has been slow.

Changing structure, but limited progress

Following Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Reform and Opening-up’ policy in 1978, China’s maritime administration has been decentralised to support economic development and ocean protection. This decentralised system comprised a number of ministries having to do with land, agriculture, transportation, public security, and oceanic administration. According to the 2012 China Ocean Development Report, there are more than 17 governmental agencies handling the different dimensions of marine affairs management.
Although such a management method appears to have laws and rules to follow, in effect, there is an absence of a centralised management. This weakness, marked by the lack of good communication and cooperation mechanisms, has created problems. 

In 1984, the State Council envisaged using the centralised leadership system to manage China’s marine industry. However, this system was accepted only in March last year. According to the new plan, various maritime law enforcement forces, hitherto scattered throughout different ministries and departments, would be merged to form a single new institution - the China Coast Guard (CCG).

Lack of coordination

There has, however, been very litte information about the progress of this government institutional reform. China appeared to have blacked out further information on the reform following the publication of a news report by a Japanese news agency about newly-unified CCG vessels departing a naval port in Xiamen for the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands to conduct surveillance. 

Beijing in fact classified the report as a “threatened national security”. Since then, local authorities were required to tighten security on these ports and vessels and everything about maritime law enforcement seemed to have become confidential. 

In reality, besides the change in uniform and colour of the surveillance vessels, there has been very little substantive progress in the restructuring process. A few factors could account for the slow progress. Firstly, there is an absence of a well-developed and effective system for rights protection. In the Chinese context, marine surveillance law enforcement is divided into two parts. The first is administrative enforcement which employs laws intended to manage the use of the sea, such as the protection of the marine environment and island protection.
The second part is the enforcement of rights largely based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and China’s 1996 Regulations on the Management of Foreign-related Marine Scientific Research. Rights enforcement aims to acquire the target’s deployment activities, followed by carrying out general inquiries and declaring sovereignty or sovereign rights.

Currently, China’s rights enforcement regulations, usually against foreign targets, are relatively under-developed. There are no detailed regulations for rights enforcement. The different agencies also had their own guidelines to follow. With all the different maritime-related units coming together now, it has become critical to develop more concrete and unified regulations for rights enforcement operations.

Dual leadership

Moreover, China’s law enforcement officers are aware of the lack of effective coordination which is needed to mobilise other agencies. Coordination is needed to increase the response options to maritime challenges: legal means, diplomacy, negotiation, and when necessary, the use of force to drive away foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.
Secondly, maritime surveillance personnel have mentioned the difficulties of coordination and collaboration among new colleagues who come from different backgrounds. Further complicating their coordination is the lack of training on their respective roles, resulting in some agencies adhering to old practices. For example, when a CCG vessel sets out to patrol the waters near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, officers from the old Marine Surveillance, the old Marine Police Force, and the Fishery Administration would all come on board, wearing vests with “China Coast Guard” prints. As a result, officers of the old Marine Surveillance would complain of increased workload and work stress from working with new colleagues.
Thirdly, the agencies deprived of law enforcement roles are reluctant to render full support for the restructuring plan. China’s unique administrative pecking order further hampers the restructuring process. For instance, Liu Cigui, Director and Party Secretary of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), is a vice-ministerial level official under the supervision of the Ministry of Land and Resources. At the same time, Liu holds the position of political commissar of the newly-merged China Coast Guard. Meng Hongwei is the deputy director of the SOA and concurrently the director of the China Coast Guard. But Meng is also a vice minister at the Ministry of Public Security who enjoys full ministerial rank because of his experience and seniority.
The China Coast Guard is supposed to be under the administrative supervision of the SOA and at the same time comes under the Ministry of Public Security for actual law enforcement operations. Obviously, this dual-leadership of the CCG makes the restructuring process a cumbersome one.

Zou Wentao is a Research Analyst with the China Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

RSIS presents the following commentary The Global Terrorist Threat: Set to Grow in 2014 by Rohan Gunaratna. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at Republication is allowed subject to prior permission from the Editor.

No. 002/2014 dated 3 January 2014
The Global Terrorist Threat:
Set to Grow in 2014

By Rohan Gunaratna

The past year has been the most violent since the beginning of the current wave of terrorism. Al Qaeda, though truncated, has become more influential globally via the web, guiding its associates to strike official and civilian targets. With the western withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 the Taliban-led terrorist sanctuary is likely to be revived to threaten stability and security worldwide.
SINCE September 11, 2001 the global terrorist threat has been growing exponentially. According to START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, there were 5,100 terrorist attacks in the first six months of 2013, following the 8,400 attacks in 2012, which killed nearly 15,400 people. “The wave of violence shows few signs of ebbing,” reported the US-based START.
The western kinetic operations have failed to reduce the global threat. Indeed, the threat of international and national terrorism is projected to grow in 2014. With half of the countries in the world suffering from political violence and ideological extremism, terrorism will remain the Tier-One national security threat to the stability of most countries.

Hubs of global terrorism

Afghanistan and Syria are emerging as the two most important hubs of global terrorism that threaten the security of South Asia, West Asia and North Africa. Just as the anti-Soviet multi-national Afghan mujahidin campaign formed the foundation of contemporary terrorism, the blowback from the civil war in Syria is likely to produce the next generation of fighters – both guerrillas who attack government forces and terrorists who attack civilians.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as India, are the most violent in South Asia. Next are the Middle East: Syria and Iraq; and Africa: Nigeria and Somalia. Since 9/11 over a million people, combatants and non-combatants, have been killed or injured, mostly Muslims, by terrorists and US-led coalition forces fighting insurgents and terrorists. According to START, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan suffered more than half of the 2012 attacks (54%) and fatalities (58%). The next five most targeted countries were India, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and Thailand. The threat is projected to escalate in 2014 and grow even further following the US-led coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan at year end.
Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts since 9/11 have had mixed results. Al Qaeda has weakened but the Al Qaeda family has grown in strength, size and influence. About 30-40 threat groups in Asia, Africa, Middle East and the Caucasus are emulating the Al Qaeda ideology of global violence and methodology of suicide attacks.

While the core Al Qaeda led by Dr Ayman al Zawahiri has transformed from an operational to an ideological and training organisation, the associate groups carry out the bulk of the attacks. Although the death of Osama bin Laden demonstrated that any terrorist can be hunted down, the death of the Al Qaeda leader did not reduce the growing threat.

Threat landscape

The deadliest terrorist groups in the world belong to the Al Qaeda family with the Taliban (both Afghan and Pakistan) heading the list. Others are Al Nusra Front in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Shabaab in Somalia. The Al Qaeda ability to influence associate groups was brought to international attention by the brutal attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya by Al Shabaab. With the decentralisation of the threat Northern Africa is emerging as a new epicentre of terrorism and extremism.
The “Arab Spring” has become a nightmare with multiple Al Qaeda-linked groups emerging throughout North Africa and the Middle East, including Al Nusra in Syria. With 12,000 Sunni and a comparable number of Shia foreign fighters in Syria the threat to the West and the rest of the world will grow.

Stemming from the developments in Syria, the Shia-Sunni conflict is threatening to break out into a regional conflict, involving Bahrain and Lebanon. Further afield in the Caucasus terrorists mounted year-end attacks in Volgograd, Southern Russia, hitting a railway station and a trolley bus. Shumukh al-Islam, the top forum for Al Qaeda-affiliated propaganda, praised the timing of the attacks. The SITE Monitoring Service reported the terrorists as saying Russians are not safe “since their country continues to supply arms to the malicious combatant regime of the doomed apostate Bashar”. From the Caucasus the terrorists are travelling through Turkey to Syria to fight against the Bashar al Assad regime.

Rise of violence in Asia

The South Asian sub-continent has been most violent in the past decade. In India ethno-political insurgencies and Muslim terrorists kill both Indians and foreigners. Although Sri Lanka experienced no revival of terrorism since the Tamil Tigers were dismantled in May 2009, the terrorists are reorganising in Tamil Nadu in South India. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives a wave of communal or religious extremism affected Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Afghanistan has suffered increased insurgent attacks, mostly in the south and east, where US and ISAF forces have withdrawn from many bases, remaining in only a few cities. Taliban spokesmen claim the pull out was the result of strikes by the fighters while civilians’ support for the fighters enabled them to succeed in taking control of most areas of one province. Of the 7141 attacks in Afghanistan in 2013, 63 were suicide attacks and 27 were insider attacks. While 2730 Afghan security personnel were killed and 5169 injured, 2168 guerillas and terrorists were killed, according to the Afghan ministry of interior.

In Southeast Asia, Southern Thailand remains the cockpit of conflict. The threat in Indonesia remains significant with about a dozen threat groups operationally or ideologically affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Although the peace process in the Philippines has stabilised the south, the threat from the Abu Sayyaf Group and the New People’s Army, a leftist terrorist group, is still significant.

The developments in Afghanistan also spilled over to Northeast Asia. The most violent group in China, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is collaborating with the Al Qaeda family of threat groups such as the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, Islamic Jihad Union, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus and more recently the Al Nusra Front in Syria. ETIM, a medium-sized threat group of less than 100 fighters, has attacked not only the Chinese government and society, but also the security forces of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria.
While ETIM’s aim is to create an independent Islamic state in Xinjiang, it also collaborates with like-minded threat groups that seek to create a global Islamic caliphate. In 2013 ETIM conducted or inspired over 200 attacks in Xinjiang in northwest China, as well as mounting a vehicular attack in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square last October.

In the coming decades, in parallel to developing tactical counter-terrorism capabilities, governments should build strategic capabilities to erode their support bases. The new frontiers in counter-terrorism and extremism such as community engagement and rehabilitation should be considered. Government and community leaders should develop a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. Unless governments take the lead and work with community leaders, societies will be threatened by the existing and emerging wave of ideologically-motivated violence.

Rohan Gunaratna is Head of RSIS’ International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), Singapore. He is author of “Inside Al Qaeda” published by Columbia University Press.