Strategies for combating international terrorism in Central Asia
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has been cast as the site of a new “great game”. Central Asia has been largely influenced by international developments and the emergence of persistent sources of instability and tension in other parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. Some states in the region have succeeded in expanding their relationships with other actors. For example, Kazakhstan has tried to advance its goals by participating in important international issues and designing appropriate policies. Although Kazakhstan has succeeded in this path, most of the countries in the region face major challenges.
At the moment, Central Asian states are facing serious menaces to their security from various challenges like drug trafficking, water disputes, religious fundamentalism and expansion of terrorist and takfiri groups such as ISIS.
Given the increased risk of terrorist groups infiltrating the region, the key question is: “What strategies exist to counter international terrorism in the Central Asian region?” This study suggest that an integrated long-term strategy is an effective and comprehensive way to combat international terrorism.
Central Asia and international terrorism
The war in Syria and Iraq has significantly altered modern terrorism, with radical Islamic militants from Central Asia being no exception. Most importantly, for the first time travelling outside of the region to fight in the ranks of militant and terrorist organisations became a mass phenomenon. In Syria, the radical Islamic militants from Central Asia have established terrorist organisations of their own. These terrorists have Salafi-Wahhabi inclinations and are among the backers of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, and Daesh Takfiri groups. They have turned into a potential threat for countries in Central Asia as these international and organized terrorists may one day find their way to other regions and states after Syria.
Activities of extremist networks which send their members and devotees to Syria have a determining role in the region. Many of the foreign rebels operating in Syria had links to these groups in their own countries. A portion of them are being encouraged by their relatives and friends in Syria to join the ranks of the Takfiri militants, especially older brothers motivate the younger ones to join the terrorists.
The terrorists’ method for recruiting forces is almost the same in most of the countries in the Central Asia. They usually do this through local sources and Islamist groups and organizations that have close ties with al-Qaeda, Salafists and Wahhabists. However, this is not done openly.
A number of terrorist groups are tasked with recruiting individuals to send them to fight in Syria. In fact, all terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the al-Tahrir Party are busy with the recruitment. The Takfiri groups of al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic Jihad Union are also employing nationals from Central Asia. In some countries, the process of employment is done through indigenous people. For instance, one-third of all Kyrgyz people who have traveled to Saudi Arabia in pursuance of religious education have turned into extremist Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in Kyrgyzstan. That is why today the Kyrgyz are employing their people to prevent this.
The Challenges of Combating Terrorism in Central Asia
Fighting terrorist threats in Central Asia is a complex issue. To counter these threats, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian governments have been reevaluating their national counter-terrorism strategies. Counter-terrorism cooperation under the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has its limits because not all the Central Asian governments are members of the organizations. Also these strategies have been mainly established to counter-terrorism within the member states, not the ones stemming from other regions.
On the other hand, some external actors play a destructive role in improving the security situation in the region. Indeed none of the great powers are not serious fight against terrorism. At present, the security conditions of the region can be made more complicated for several reasons:
First, the spread of terrorism and extremist groups;
Second, U.S. competition to increase penetration;
Third, ISIS’s willingness to be present in the region;
Fourth, the presence of people from the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the ranks of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria;
Iran and Fighting Terrorism in Central Asia
The rising threats of extremism in Central Asia represent a strong menace for Iran interests. Due to the increasing presence of ISIS forces in Afghanistan, the security of Central Asia remains a top priority on the Iran security agenda. The Iran-Central Asia Strategy should include in its objectives the challenges of foreign fighters and radicalization, drug trafficking and organized crime, and conflicts that require cooperation between Central Asia and Iran.
No one and no country can deny the constructive and positive role of Iran in fighting the scourge of terrorism in the region and the world. Iran’s efforts and assistance to regional countries have helped reign in the violence and bloodshed of ISIS terrorist group in various parts of the world by bringing the self-proclaimed statehood of ISIS to an end in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to advocate dialogue, cooperation and trust among regional countries as the only viable way to end terrorism and devastating wars in the Middle East. In result no country would benefit from weakening Iran in the region.
In the past years, Iran has acted as a buffer zone and has prevented the entry of terrorist groups from Middle East to Central Asia. Iran has always tried to fight with terrorist and takfiri groups. Among foreign actors in the region Iran and Russia have a good cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Iran and Russia are winning the Fight against Terrorism in Syria. Undoubtedly Iran and Russia can offer their experience in combating terrorism to Central Asian countries.
No doubt, security, peace and respect for the sovereignty of countries, as well non-interference in their internal affairs, and an effective fight against terrorism without double standards will be in the interest of all countries in the world.
Fight against Terrorism Requires a holistic and coordinated approach. For the implementation of the international Counter Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia need a Regional Joint Action Plan. Integrating counter-terrorism strategy to political, economic and social development policies is an important part of the comprehensive approach.
In order to combat terrorism in Central Asia, there are a few issues to consider:
1. All States in region to combat terrorism must take coordinated action.
2. Fighting terrorism in Central Asia will not succeed without creating peace and stability in Afghanistan.
3. Combating terrorism requires the formation of a regional and international coalition with States that really have a concern for countering terrorism, not the countries that have been sponsors of terrorist groups.
4. The fight against terrorism requires the use of past experiences in this regard. Iran and Russia have considerable experience in combating terrorism.
From our partner Tehran Times
Terrorism a Collective Problem and its Challenges
Terrorism has become a global problem that affects everyone regardless of race, religion, or nationality. The recent US report that warned of the availability space for terrorist groups in the Afghanistan is a clear indication that terrorism is not just a local problem, but a global one. The fight against terrorism requires a collective effort and a shared responsibility from all nations, as no single country can single-handedly tackle this menace.
Afghanistan has been a hotspot for terrorism for decades. The region has been home to various terrorist groups, including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS.
The fight against terrorism requires a collective effort from all nations. It is not only Pakistan’s responsibility. It is essential for all nations to work together to address the root causes of terrorism. This includes addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and political instability. It also requires effective law enforcement, intelligence gathering, and cooperation between nations.
Pakistan has long been a victim of terrorism, with thousands of innocent lives lost and billions of dollars of economic damage inflicted upon the country. One of the main factors contributing to this scourge has been the instability and insecurity in neighboring Afghanistan, which has allowed terrorist groups to thrive and operate with impunity. In recent years, there have been growing concerns about the resurgence of these groups in the region, which poses a significant threat not only to Pakistan but also to the wider international community.
The United States, which has been involved in the war in Afghanistan for the past two decades, has been one of the main actors in trying to address this issue. However, a recent US report has warned that despite the presence of thousands of US troops and billions of dollars in aid, terrorist groups were once again regrouping along the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. This has raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the US-led intervention in the region and the future of regional stability and security.
Pakistan has also been voicing its concerns about the terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan for a long time, and has been making concerted efforts to tackle the issue. This has included high-level diplomatic efforts, including numerous meetings and consultations with other countries, as well as increased security measures within Pakistan’s borders.
One of the main challenges faced by Pakistan has been the lack of cooperation from the Afghan government, which has been unable to control the territory and prevent the resurgence of terrorist groups. This has led to a situation where Pakistan has been forced to bear the brunt of the violence and instability in the region, even as it continues to make efforts to address the issue.
However, despite these challenges, Pakistan has remained committed to its efforts to tackle terrorism and to work with other countries in the region and beyond to address this common threat. This has included a strong focus on intelligence sharing, joint operations, and other measures aimed at disrupting terrorist networks and preventing attacks.
At the same time, Pakistan has also been making efforts to address the underlying issues that contribute to the spread of terrorism, including poverty, inequality, and lack of education and opportunity. This has included a range of social and economic development programs aimed at addressing these issues and providing a more stable and prosperous future for the people of Pakistan and the wider region.
Despite these efforts, however, the resurgence of terrorist groups in the region remains a major concern, and requires a concerted and sustained effort from all actors involved. This includes the Afghan government, regional powers such as Iran and India, and the international community as a whole. Only by working together can we hope to address this common threat and ensure a more stable and secure future for the region and the world as a whole.
Terrorism is indeed a common problem and a shared responsibility, and requires a collaborative approach from all actors involved. Pakistan, as a victim of terrorism, has been making concerted efforts to address this issue, but faces significant challenges in the form of the resurgence of terrorist groups in the region. It is therefore incumbent upon all actors to work together to address this issue and to ensure a more stable and secure future for the region and the world as a whole.
U.S.-Pakistan Two-Day Counterterrorism Dialogue
On March 6–7, 2023, Pakistan and the US had a Two-Day Counterterrorism Dialogue during which they reiterated their commitment to combat terrorism. A variety of subjects were discussed throughout the course of the two days of discussions, including counterterrorism cooperation in multilateral fora, assessments of the regional counterterrorism environment, cyber security, and battling violent extremism. The US assistance projects in Pakistan were discussed, with a focus on strengthening the judiciary and anti-money laundering sectors.
Earlier, the US made several remarks in support of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts. It is important to note that this increased support occurred in the wake of the TTP’s worst strikes in recent months, particularly those in Peshawar and Karachi. A research group in Islamabad called the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies recently revealed numbers showing that January 2023 was one of the bloodiest months since July 2018 with 134 deaths and 254 injuries from at least 44 militant attacks across the nation.
Moreover, at the end of 2022, at least nine attacks in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan, killing at least six security officers. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an armed organization often known as Pakistani Taliban due to its ideological affinities with the Afghan Taliban, has so far claimed responsibility for two of those attacks. Since the TTP ended a ceasefire agreement in June 2022 with the government unilaterally, it has urged its militants to conduct attacks across the country.
The Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), a research group with offices in Islamabad, calculates that the TTP and its affiliate organizations carried out more than 150 attacks in the first 11 months of 2022, killing more than 150 people, the majority of whom were members of law enforcement agencies.
Residents of the tribal agencies and the surrounding areas, which include towns like North Waziristan, Bajaur, and Bannu, have been complaining about the TTP fighters’ increasing presence since they started setting up checkpoints and demanding ransom from traders at least since last year.
As a result of the Afghan Taliban’s success in 2021, the TTP has intensified its efforts to persuade Islamabad to adopt its demands at the bargaining table, according to analysts.
One of the TTP’s fundamental demands is that the government reinstate the autonomous status of the tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The KP province amalgamated with the tribal agencies, which were formerly a center of Taliban violence. TTP also wants the security forces of Pakistan to leave the area.
The TTP has been fighting the government of Pakistan since its founding in 2007. They are calling for stricter application of Islamic law, the release of their members who have been detained by the government, and a reversal of the merger of Pakistan’s tribal regions with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to the Pak Center for Peace Research, terrorist attacks in Pakistan increased by 50% in the year after the Taliban took control of Kabul, resulting in the deaths of about 433 individuals (PIPS).
In a nutshell, the US’s affirmation of its support for Pakistan in its counterterrorism operations is timely given that security threats to Pakistan will not only persist there but will expand to the rest of the region, and the US is not far behind these concerns, particularly in this cyber age. The United States has reiterated that the security relationship with Pakistan is ‘important’ and that many of the threats that Islamabad faces “could well in turn be threats to us”
Violent Extremist Organizations Threaten West Africa’s Development
Violent extremist organizations, such as militant Islamist groups, have been a major threat to West Africa’s development. In Burkina Faso, these organizations have spread instability through violent events and have become increasingly active in the Sahel region (Brottem, 2022). The presence of these extremist groups has led to persistent instability across much of West Africa, from Mali in the north to coastal regions in the south. Islamist extremism has been particularly pervasive in the Sahel region, resulting in widespread insecurity and instability hampering development efforts (Council on Foreign Relations, 2023).
Burkina Faso is among the countries most affected by this phenomenon, as it has seen a dramatic rise in militant Islamist groups in recent years (Brottem, 2022). These extremist groups are linked to other littoral countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, and they have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against rural inhabitants and security forces. This has led to a heightened sense of insecurity among West Africa’s coastal countries, which are increasingly vulnerable to extremism (Aubyn, 2021). The below map from The Economist depicts highly concentrated areas of terrorist attacks in the West African Region. This picture highlights that from 2019-2022, the trajectory is pointed upward, sending discomfort, and spells trouble for these affected countries.
The presence of weakened economies and widespread poverty in West African countries has made them especially susceptible to recruitment by violent extremist groups (Council on Foreign Relations, 2023). These extremist groups have been responsible for several severe human rights violations, including forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, and extrajudicial killings. In the Sahel region, terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram have been responsible for a series of attacks that have further destabilized the region. As a result of this instability, African states are struggling to respond adequately to these challenges posed by violent extremism (Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa, 2022). Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult for regional governments to protect their citizens from human rights violations perpetrated by extremist organizations and their affiliates in coastal areas (Security Council Report, 2021).
Violent extremist organizations continue to threaten West Africa’s development as they are responsible for regional instability and attacks across the continent. The region has suffered through violent political crises, wars that engulfed Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, and extremist attacks in Nigeria, including those of Boko Haram (Siaplay & Werker, 2023). In recent years, Nigeria has faced insurgencies from terrorist groups such as Daesh. All these events have affected West African countries’ ability to achieve sustained economic growth or lasting peace. Even with increased security measures by local governments, it is difficult to prevent extremist violence due to the lack of resources available for counterterrorism operations (Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa, 2022). Civil wars and other extremism have caused instability in many areas throughout West Africa, making it difficult for nations to focus on developing their economies or providing basic services such as health care or education (UN Deputy-General Mohammed, 2022).
The below figure from the Center for Strategic International Studies illustrates the many coups, with some successes and failures. However, the picture presented here alone does not do justice to the current security situation in this volatile region. These recent coups have had great impacts on security and other development projects. The most notable ones are in Burkina Faso, where two coups were staged in less than a year, which is not captured in this picture. The violent groups always capitalize on gaps or gray areas where governments have little to zero control of their vast territories to settle and launch attacks against first security forces, then civilians.
With the help of their African partners, African governments must lead the way in creating a successful counterterrorism strategy that addresses these threats and creates conditions to improve the livelihood of their people (Sherwood-Randall, 2022). The instability caused by violent extremist organizations has devastated many countries on the continent, making it difficult for them to focus on development and economic growth. The threat these groups pose is real and requires concerted efforts from both African governments and other partners if they are to be defeated (U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2016). It is essential that African countries work together in order to create peace and stability across the region so that citizens can have access to basic services, education, job opportunities, and economic growth.
West Africa is particularly vulnerable to the threat of violent extremist organizations, which can disrupt and impede the development of resilient, democratic societies. The Accra Initiative was established in 2012 to address this threat, with the aim of promoting collaboration between African member states and international efforts to combat violent extremism (Aubyn, 2021). In recent years, Burkina Faso has been a key focus for international efforts due to its strategic importance in West Africa. The country is situated in the Sahel region, bordering countries such as Niger and Mali where extremist groups are known to operate (Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa, 2022). Due to extreme poverty and limited economic opportunities, many people living in Burkina Faso risk joining these groups out of desperation or coercion (U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2016). It is, therefore, critical that national interests are prioritized when it comes to tackling extremism and creating stability throughout the region – including coastal areas, which may be vulnerable for different reasons – so that all citizens can have access to basic services without fear or insecurity (UN Deputy-General Mohammed, 2022).
Work countering extremism is essential to achieving this. West Africa is home to many extremist groups, with violent extremist organizations like Boko Haram and Ansaru wreaking havoc in the region. Persistent attacks against security targets and civilians have hindered development and created numerous security challenges (Haruna, 2022). It has become increasingly important for regional governments to take concrete steps toward tackling violent extremism. The Accra Initiative is a regional strategy that aims to counter violent extremism in West Africa through comprehensive action plans and cooperative efforts between member states (IRI, 2023). This initiative includes a range of initiatives such as improved border control, de-radicalization programs, and support for victims of violence – all of which will help reduce the threat posed by extremist organizations throughout the region. The Sahel region has been particularly hard hit by these challenges, with several countries facing ongoing instability due to numerous armed groups operating there.
Burkina Faso, in particular, has faced a significant increase in the number and strength of violent extremist groups, including jihadist groups and terrorist organizations (CISIS, 2016). These militant groups have employed subtle strategies to target regional economic interests and disrupt communal peace through violence and intimidation. This has devastated the development of countries in West Africa, like Burkina Faso (Aubyn, 2021). These extremist organizations seriously threaten stability and security in the region, making it difficult for governments to promote economic growth or tackle pressing issues such as poverty or inequality (Security Council Report, 2021).
Terrorist groups, terrorist organizations, and militant Islamist groups have all been active in West Africa, particularly in the Sahel region (Sherwood-Randall, 2022). Al Qaeda has been in the region for some time, although its power has waned over recent years. Other criminal organizations, such as Boko Haram and Ansar Dine, are also very active in the region. The presence of these extremist groups is having a huge impact on West Africa’s development prospects (Council on Foreign Relations, 2023). In order to tackle this security threat, increased cooperation between countries is needed, both at a regional and international level. International assistance from powerful nations such as the United States and France could be key to tackling these two major issues: violence perpetrated by Islamic extremist groups and poverty across the Sahel region (CISIS, 2016). However, there has been a huge lack of trust in France’s involvement in West Africa, which could also be a caveat in how these countries fight off these violent groups. It is essential that governments collaborate more effectively to combat these security threats if they are to ensure lasting economic growth for their citizens (U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2016).
The continual attacks in the region mean development becomes a secondary priority for the leadership, exacerbating many citizens’ living conditions. This permissive environment created by violent extremist organizations underscores the inability of governments to foster better social policies to disengage the vibrant youths from engaging in social vices.
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