M. Aynul Islam
(Curently VLIR Scholar at IOB, University of Antwerp, Belgium. He is also Assistant Professor of Political Science, Jagannath University, Bangladesh)
Although the history of violence and conflicts in South Asia is longer than the nation-state, the religious militancy in the last decade has become a scourge, affecting development and security of its 1.5 billion people.In most cases, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have experienced highly synchronised mass terror attacks. The Indian strategic infrastructures-Parliament, railway, commercial cities, and service sector- were not immune to the terror attacks. Only in 2008, including deadly Mumbai attacks, India experienced 12 different kinds of coordinated attacks, which indicate the frightening capacity and organizational resources of the terror groups in the country.
According to Indian Government sources, some 12 or 13 potential terrorist attacks have been foiled in 2009. Pakistan has been severely affected by religious militancy. The lethality of terror attacks already prove that the Pakistan state itself is ‘incompetent’ or ‘unable’ to face the menace of terrorism. Consequently, the world community has been watching the process of how Pakistan state turning into a fragile state.
In 2009, Pakistan was attacked by terror groups at least 87 times, approximately 1,204 people killed and 2,843 injured. Bangladesh was simply helpless when Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) carried out 459 synchronized bomb explosions across the country in 2007. Although the casualties were not too high, it revealed the degree of resources, capabilities, and networks of terror groups, as well as the risks and vulnerabilities of the country.
However, due to the operational drives by the security forces of national governments, and the US active involvement in anti-terror operations in Pakistan, the lethality of terror attacks seems reducing in South Asia. For instances, both India and Bangladesh did not face any severe terror attacks in 2009. The terror-related incidences in Pakistan are not higher than the previous years. Does this mean that the operational capability of terror groups in South Asian is eliminated? What is the current trend of terror networking in South Asia?
The contemporary trend of terrorist activities in South Asia is a departure from the operational approach to capacity-building. Today the true threat is that the terrorist activities have been spreading into the societies, the loose-knit cells or informal local groups. This implies the crucial feature that South Asia has been experiencing the rise of micro-actor in terrorist capabilities. If we analyse different threat matrix, micro-actors are using mainly to rejuvenate the capability of the terrorist groups. Terrorist groups are ever more directed to increase ideological, motivational, networking and propaganda abilities.
There are such indications that terrorist training, motivation, and planning activities are frequently taking place in the land of South Asia. Reportedly, the likely terrorists are recruited by local small groups to carry out operations in their own countries and beyond. Many of them are self-radicalized through the internet and media, and figuring out a new generation of terrorists. Evidently, terrorist groups in Bangladesh have been attempting to regroup, and networking in different names and structure.
Some of the Islamist groups have emerged in Bangladesh preaching ideologies by training, distributing books and pamphlets among the common people and educational institutions, mainly in rural areas. It has been also reported that different groups use ‘strategic areas’ to take decisions, maintain command and control, conduct training and ideological motivations, and regroup when necessary. The most frightening part is that some times the group leaders prefer female trainees to motivate the local people, especially the local women. In Pakistan, the terrorist groups prefer to recruit young citizens for training within the country and outside. In some cases, the radicalised citizens are deliberately being used in mounting actual attacks.
Propaganda activities have emerged as a new type of fear for future terrorist attacks in South Asia. These activities are using mainly to serve multiple purposes of terrorist groups. According to various reports, frequently the SFs in South Asia capture group members for offences related to the production and spreading of propaganda, distributing films and other published materials showing and describing how to make bomb and other explosives. The frightening thing is that much of the propaganda materials are increasingly published in several South Asian languages.
Internet media has been gradually using as a tool to provide training and transferring propaganda activities throughout the region and beyond. They use web sites, forums, chat rooms, blogs, social networking sites, videos, virtual world, etc. to motivate, as well as to communicate each others. This largely contributes to the entire radicalisation process in South Asia. Sometimes, terror groups set up shop on the Internet to recruit new member, spread propaganda and plan attack in different regions. For instance, in 10 December 2009, Pakistani authorities arrested five young men in charge of using such internet-based social networking site Facebook and the Internet video site YouTube to motive people and communicate within the groups. It is also alleged that the World-Wide Web network was used during Mumbai attacks in India.
Many terrorist groups in South Asia are taking roots in the remote and rural areas involving local individuals, small cells, and even using local languages, which demonstrate the rise of micro actors throughout the region. In South Asia, threat has been evolving from structured group of masterminds to informal local groups. As such, terrorist threats to South Asia remain foremost among its security challenges.