From 2002 to 2020, three South Asian countries Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India have consecutively maintained their spot in the world’s top ten most terrorism impacted countries list of Global Terrorism Index. The primary driver behind the terrorist activities undoubtedly remained conflict but of varying nature. As in the case of Afghanistan, it was a civil war where the Taliban, US and Allied Forces, Afghan Government (Afghan Security forces and police), and IS-K were the actors involved. Whereas Pakistan faced immediate rise and decline of insurgency in its tribal areas and North Western Province with the huge presence of Tehrek-i Taliban Pakistan and Islamic State Khorasan IS-K as well as the separatist movement of Balochistan Liberation Army in the Balochistan province. Similarly, India suffered multiple minor conflicts at different fronts which only constitute 37 separatist movements continuously going on in the country with many Hindu-Muslim violent clashes. Continuing the legacy of South Asian countries the Philippines has also made it to this list almost ten times. Now shifting the focus from the world’s most terrorism impacted countries to the Asian region only in this year 2021, Afghanistan, Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, and India were sequenced as the Asian countries that suffered the maximum brunt of terrorism. Overall in the Asian region, Afghanistan is the country that recorded the highest number of terrorist attacks which accounts for 27.3% of the total whereas the Philippines recorded the second-highest numbers which are around 24.5%. Similarly, Pakistan reported the third-highest number of terrorist attacks which is 21.9% whereas Indonesia stood at fourth with 18.6% and India suffered the least number of attacks around 7.7% of the total number of terrorist attacks in Asia which can be seen below.
Map: Overall Attacks in Asia (Red Circles Display Rural Areas, Blue Circles Display Urban Areas, and Black Circles Display Unknown Areas)
Gross 478 deaths were recorded in Asia. 127 was the highest number of deaths in August whereas May recorded the second-highest number of deaths in Asia which accounted for 124. Similarly, a total of 732 people were wounded in sum ten months of the year 2021. May manifested the maximum number of wounded people about 276 in the overall Asian region whereas August recorded the second-highest number of wounded people about 262 in one month.
Out of the total 274 attacks in Asia, 75 attacks were carried out exclusively in Afghanistan. Out of the total 478 deaths of the Asian region in the first ten months, solely 321 deaths were recorded in Afghanistan. 647 wounded people were reported in Afghanistan out of a total of 732 wounded people of the whole Asian region. While 5 kidnapping incidents of the whole Asian region were exclusively carried out in Afghanistan.
Graph: Civilian Casualties
Both Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K) are strategic rivals and ideological opponents. Taliban believes in the Hanafi school of thought and also believes in nationalism to create Islamic Emirate and rule over it under the principle of Shariah. Taliban specifically targeted the US and its allied forces for toppling its regime in 2001 and also challenged the authority of the Afghan Government backed by the US and Afghan National Security Forces fighting against it. IS-K is a branch of DAESH that works on the agenda of exploiting sectarianism, delegitimizing existing states, and degrading the trust of people in democracy. By doing so it believes to create an Islamic caliphate in Khorasan by transcending the boundaries of areas that today come under Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. It believes in Jihadist Salafist ideology and is an anti-Taliban plus anti-religious minority. IS-K is a hardliner in its belief of considering Hanafi ideology as deficient and rejects nationalism which poses it in opposition to its irreconcilable enemy Taliban.
Afghan Taliban operates in a single country that is Afghanistan but it has its affiliated group named Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan(TTP) which was formed after the regrouping and assembling of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan after their government was overthrown in Afghanistan. But IS-K is a global brand that currently operates in Central Asia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Undoubtedly it is also an affiliate group of DAESH. With Taliban emergence to power in Afghanistan after US withdrawal and ramping up of IS-K’s violent acts, Tehrik-i- Taliban Pakistan and Balochistan Liberation Army once again found the ground in Pakistan to resume their terrorist activities at an evident rate. In Afghanistan, both IS-K and Taliban recruit fighters from Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan who cross the border from the Northwestern province of Pakistan due to strict operations and actions of security agencies.
The new people’s Army (NPA)- Communist wing of the Philippine party (CPP) is affianced with communist rebellion against the government in the Philippines. Since 1970 it is the deadliest group in the Philippines that fights to overthrow the National Filipino government through guerilla warfare and wants to establish a socialist regime. It targets police, security forces, politicians, government officials, rivals, splinter groups and strongly opposes US military presence in the Philippines. West Papua National Liberation Army(WPNLA)- an armed separatist group in the far east archipelago fights against the Indonesian government for the liberation of Western New Guinea. The conflict in the Western Papua region started when Indonesia took control of the region in 1960 and denied the right of self-determination since then pro-independence fighters are in clash with the Indonesian government and its National military forces. Naxal Maoist Rebels who are active in the red corridor of India known as central India fights against the Indian Government. It all started as a tribal peasant uprising in Northeast India against the local landlords but it was trampled. After the 1970’s government defeat, various factions of Naxalites gathered under the banner of the Maoist Communist Party of India in 2004. The basic motivation of Naxal Maoist rebels is to fight for their land rights, employment for the poor laborer, and social prestige. Although the red corridor area is mineral-rich, high in illiteracy and poverty can lead to further displacement of already marginalized people if the mining process is renewed there. They claim to represent the poorest, most socially and economically marginalized class (tribal and Dalits). They target landlords, police, security personnel, politicians, the Indian Government, and infrastructure as well. They provide social services and also hold the governing role in their controlled areas. Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) which is a splinter group of CPI fights against the Maoist Communist Party of India and considers it as its worst enemy. TPC claims that the Yadav cast was dominating the decision-making process in CPI over the Dalits so they split themselves and formed a new group by non-Yadav leaders. It also fights for the social prestige of Dalits in the region.
Graph: Attacks by Organization
Taking into consideration the security environment of Asia, 86.1% of terror attacks were carried out in rural settings whereas 13.5% were in urban settings and the rest 0.4% of attacks occurred in the unknown security environment. Taliban (Helmand, Farah, Sare-e-pul), IS-K(Nangarhar province), TTP (Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa), Maoist Naxal rebels(Red corridor-Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh), TPC (Jharkhand), NPA(Provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental), WPNLA (highland of Papua region) all of them are rural-based groups engaged in guerilla warfare having their heartland in their respective areas enclosed in the bracket next to their names. They majorly have their presence in rural settings but also execute activities in urban areas to stay relevant but at a comparatively lesser number.
Graph: Security Environment
Comprehensively, terrorist organizations in Asia utilized armed reactions as the most preferred mode of engagement in 42.7% of attacks whereas assassinations and IED attacks were equally utilized at second preference which accounts for 13.1%. Raids with 9.1%, mortar attacks with 4.4%, kidnapping and execution with 4.0% were betrothed at the sequenced preferences. 42.7% of total attacks in Asian regions were focussed on government, military, and police targets making armed assault (armed reactions) as the most preferred mode of engagement exceedingly obvious. Armed assault is favorable by terror groups against security forces as it involves an equal front line and head-to-head competition with the intent of causing deaths. Whereas assassination and IED as second preference justify the disproportionate frontline between the terror groups and civilians, figures to create massive blows to stay relevant and unleash high-level destructions and deaths with huge psychological impact. It also justifies the target selection, that is, 30.3% of attacks in Asia are aimed at civilians only.
Graph: Attack Type
Analyzing the target type, it is estimated that 44.2% of terror attacks were targeted at tactical/operational military units whereas 30.3% of attacks targeted civilians/the social sphere. Operational police units came at the third preference in target type with 15.3% terror attacks directed on them whereas 1.8% terror attacks were also executed against officials. Furthermore, operational military and police facilities, political and religious figures, government facilities, and investments also came under the broader target types of the terrorist group in Asia.
Five active terror groups in Asia mainly focused on targeting operational military and police units as their priority which includes Naxals, NPA, WPNLA, TTP as well as BLA who are mainly fighting against their respective governments and their machinery. Attacks that focus on security forces, governments aim to daunt support for government, deter people from joining any government organization and dampen the spirits of members of police and security forces. So, it can be estimated that out of a total 59,5% of terror attacks were directed towards security and police forces whereas the rest 30.3% were aimed at civilians. While Taliban and IS-K prioritized civilians as the target type to illustrate that the government was unable to provide security to people, to saturate media coverage, to produce clarifying effect on public opinion that every successful activity reminds masses of the group’s existence. TPC with its negligent number of activities about 0.4% activity rate is only vigorous against Communist party of India’s member and leaders.
Graph: Target Type
Overall 2021 remained a transitional year by and large in terms of security dynamics and terrorist activities. Statistical analysis in this report reveals the decline in the number of attacks and casualties in the Asian region in comparison to previous years. In-depth analysis reveals the resurgence of TTP, BLA, and IS-K (both in Afghanistan and Pakistan) as well as illustrates the decrease in terrorist activities and casualties in India in 2021. Like always Afghanistan remained at the topmost terrorism impacted country with a huge political shift in the country with Ashraf Ghani’s exodus, the US withdrawal, and the Taliban’s reign in Kabul. This new politico-security shift in Afghanistan has majorly left the civilian population at the risk of humanitarian crisis with food shortage, economic crunch, internal displacement, and refugee crisis. Taliban’s left space is amicably filled by IS-K for which it is trying to be more lethal, more jihadi, and more militant to attract youth in its cadres. Correspondingly, the conflict in Indonesia in the Western Papua region has entered into the worst phase with increased military operations, huge human rights violations( assassinations, detentions) which further deepen the profoundly rooted grievances of the right of self-determination and resources exploitation of Papuan people and their region. In 2021 the Philippines was the second Asian country most impacted by terrorism after Afghanistan but the government has carried out counter-terrorism operations that have resulted in fatalities but have abridged the activities of the National People’s Army in comparison to previous years. In response to the government’s hardline attitude, NPA may opt for a limited tactical move in terms of reactivation of sparrow units for urban assassination whereas strategically rural insurgency remains in the primary importance. The rise of attacks and casualties in the last half of 2021 amplifies the intensification of terror activities and their broader consequences for the year 2022.
Jakarta’s defensiveness over West Papuan’s sovereignty in terms of extensive counter-terrorism operations, arbitrary arrests and detentions of peaceful protesters, harassment of human rights defenders, increased security and military presence risks disproportionate security responses, heightens civilian casualties which result in mass flee into Papua New Guinea. It will be important to notice the patterns of the Western Papuan humanitarian crisis and its spill-over effect in Papua New Guinea. Jakarta’s hard-line approach may deepen the grievances of Papuans and further aggravate the conflict between the Indonesian Government and Western Papua separatists instead of any peaceful conflict resolution.
Intra-jihadi competition between IS-K and Taliban will incentivize outbidding violence in Afghanistan with its spill-over effects in Pakistan in terms of TTP and IS-K resurgence. It will be imperative to notice how the Taliban will cater to IS-K in its counter-insurgency approach to give basic security to Afghan people. Furthermore, the Taliban will be facing huge challenges like economic crunch, food shortage, distrust of Afghan people, and suspension of international humanitarian aid. Question of regional, international legitimacy and inclusive government at home will remain massively relevant for Taliban in 2022.
There is a high probability that 2022 will unfold an extensive wave of protests largely in Asia with the border security issues between Pakistan-Afghanistan, Western Papua Province–Papua New Guinea, targeting of ethnic and religious minorities such as Hazaras in Pakistan- Afghanistan, and massive internal and external displacement in Afghanistan.
|REGION||THE IMMINENCE OF CONFLICT||MOST LETHAL GROUP||COMMON TARGET||THE STATE MOST IMPACTED||FACTORS CREATING INSECURITY||CRITICAL DYNAMICS TO WATCH|
|ASIA||Accelerating||Taliban||Civilians||Afghanistan||War/ conflict-prone nature of Afghanistan||A high probability of the spread of separatist violence throughout the region|
|Dysfunctional political system||Refugee influx, the prospect of increased TTP activity in Pakistan, bleak chances of revival of IS-K in Pakistan in the Northwestern province, extensive targeting of Hazara Shia minority and its religious centers by IS-K with augmented attacks against Taliban Government and leaders in Afghanistan.|
|Withdrawal of the US Forces, and Taliban coming to power stir fear in Afghan people of revenge for siding with America against Taliban.||Humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan|
|Economic crunch and food shortage|
Compiled by the author.
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*The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Terrorism Analysis Platform.