CTTA: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses (June 2017)
Building a Global Network for Security
A Journal of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research
We are pleased to release the June issue of the CTTA.
In 2013, the US announced the end of its Global War on Terror (GWoT) after defeating Al-Qaeda. Two years later, in 2015, at a White House-hosted summit, the Obama administration propounded the concept of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) to confront, contain and eventually eliminate the latent threat of radicalism and extremism. Though CVE is not an entirely new concept, the purpose of the summit was to add more urgency and impetus to the various on-going non-kinetic efforts to counter extremism and its underlying causes.
Recently, some media reports have indicated that the Trump administration is toying with the idea of scrapping the CVE project. Others maintain that the US is considering renaming CVE as countering radical Islamic extremism and shifting the focus back to kinetic-efforts. Regardless of the decision, it is clear that components of CVE will have to be retained if the present threat of religious extremism and terrorism is to be checked. These involve community engagement to build social resilience and counter extremism, and rehabilitation and re-integration of radical elements.
Keeping this in view, the latest issue of CTTA features the CVE programmes of three Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, focusing on the rationale and main components of their initiatives along with highlighting the achievements and challenges.
Overall, the threat landscapes in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan have some common characteristics that make the comparison worthwhile. First, all three are Muslim-majority countries with religious diversity and heterogeneity. Second, the jihadist landscape in these countries is presently split between Al-Qaeda loyalists and the so-called Islamic State (IS)-affiliates, with the latter having an ideological advantage. Third, in the recent past, these countries have witnessed an unprecedented rise of IS-inspired recruitment from the middle and upper-middle classes in urban areas. Internet and various social media platforms have played an important role in their radicalisation and recruitment. In a way, the battlefield has expanded from real space to cyber space. Or, as Thomas L. Friedman noted in his recent New York Times article, there are two kinds of caliphates – ‘real’ and ‘cyber’. Fourth, all three are grappling with the problem of growing religious conservatism and politicisation of Islam. Compounding the existing problem is the ambivalence of the authorities towards the jihadist threat in Bangladesh and Pakistan, as they have been in denial of the IS threat to their internal stability.
CVE in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan is a work in progress. Short of any major achievements, these programmes, notwithstanding enormous challenges, have shown promise. They have created awareness among these traditional Muslim societies about the threat of religiously-inspired extremist ideologies. Similarly, the indigenous natures of these programmes have bridged the trust gap between the state and society, which is the sine qua non of a successful CVE policy.
When a comparison is carried out, some common traits of the CVE programmes in these countries become visible. For instance, all are aimed at balancing the kinetic and non-kinetic aspects of counter-terrorism and extremism or as Rohan Gunaratna puts it, evolving ‘smart’ responses by combining the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ responses. Likewise, in all three countries, CVE efforts are trying to neutralise the social avenues which extremists exploit to recruit people. They are sensitising masses through awareness campaigns against extremist ideologies as well as providing counter-narratives to strengthen the state-society bond.
The CVE programmes in these countries however face several challenges. Pakistan and Bangladesh, for example, need to build up political consensus among the diverse political parties and interest groups on countering religious extremism and terrorism. All three countries need to institutionalise various CVE components with clearly-defined mandates, roadmaps and a dedicated professional manpower to manage these programmes. Additionally, a plethora of initiatives undertaken by civil society organisations exists alongside the government measures. There is a need to bring synergy and harmony between them for better results. Another challenge is the dependence of these programmes on donor funding which raises concern about their sustainability and longevity.
The four articles in this issue deal with various aspects of the CVE programmes. Rohan Gunaratna sets the tone by discussing the shifting focus of the Trump administration from strategic to tactical and operational counter-terrorism. He argues that preventing radicalisation through community engagement efforts, and rehabilitating and reintegrating those who have been radicalised are critical to counter-terrorism efforts.
Muhammad Haziq bin Jani looks at Malaysia’s CVE programmes which pre-dates the U.S. conception of CVE. He highlights Malaysia’s reliance on internal institutions and indigenous CVE policies, and stresses the need to manage trends that undercut its CVE efforts; he argues that counter-narratives and introducing upstream education measures are critical to countering the threat of violent extremism.
Farhan Zahid looks at the inadequacies of the CVE programme in Pakistan, arguing that even though the country has been faced with Islamist terrorist groups since 2001, militancy and terrorism continues to pose a dominant threat. The author asserts that functional strategies, which focus on implementation of the existing CVE programme and its continued evolution in light of the changing dynamics is key to Pakistan’s progress against radicalism and extremism.
Lastly, Iftekharul Bashar focuses on CVE in Bangladesh, discussing the shortcomings of the programme while the country is confronted with the growing threat of IS. The author advocates the need for a comprehensive national action plan for CVE programme that looks beyond ad-hoc responses, and a dedicated body to coordinate inter-agency response to the problem of violent extremism.