Situation of Security and Counter-Terrorism Measures in Southeast Asia

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Over the last three years, the South Asian region has experienced a higher death rate due to terrorist incidents. The Institute prepares this information for Economics and Peace on the effects of terrorism in 163 countries. The comprehensive study titled  “The Global Terrorism Index (GTI)”.According to GTI 2022, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia are the most terrorism-affected countries. However, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, and Laos are the least affected by terrorism. GTI is considered an ideal instrument to evaluate the impact of terrorism on these countries. Based on these four elements, incidents, fatalities, injuries, and property damage, countries are being ranked. 

However, the index depends only on the subsequent effects of terrorism and forgets to consider the growing threat of terrorism. The changing extent of international terrorism is being seen in the terrorism activities reported in Southeast Asia. In March 2021, a woman lone wolf attacker shot fire at the National Police Headquarters in Jakarta. This organization is motivated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL)

Similarly, Two women of ISIL in the Philippines carried out suicide bombings. It was to take revenge for the death of their terrorist leader. The Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research chairman, Dr. Rommel C. Banlaoi,  also cautioned the growth of active participation of women in terror attacks. Further, he stated that “women also teach and encourage children to be their successors after martyrdom. The situations indicate the spread of female militancy in the region and the intergenerational succession of terrorism.”

The Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs reported self-radicalization, Islamist terrorism, and far-right extremism as a possible danger to its internal security. The ministry stated that within Southeast Asia, ISIL remains the immediate terrorism threat player. ISIL’s advancement in the digitalization of radicalization has increased the spread of propaganda and lone-wolf activities in the region. The circumstances make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to determine sleeper cells and contain acts of terrorism.

Moreover, The connection between conflict and terrorism is evident in Myanmar. GTI 2022 stated that Political unrest fuelled by fierce conflict leading to terrorism has increased in Myanmar. There has been a substantial rise in terrorist attacks since the military coup of February 2021. The anti-junta armed groups are behind inducing the majority of deaths. 

Terrorism continues to “breed on push and pull factors,” and vulnerabilities are making. It led to instances such as political instability, violence, poverty, unemployment, forced displacement, and oppression. Furthermore, Thailand remains a safe epicenter for terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, and Hezbollah. The country confronts political instability, which hinders the government’s actions to enforce a counter-terrorism strategy. 

Further, Bangkok has evolved into an intersection for global organized crime cartels. According to the Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, organized crime cartels are targeting Southeast Asia to extend operations. The revenue generated by such groups has achieved unusual and risky levels. There exists a nexus between organized crime and terrorism. 

Activities related to Organized crime grow in areas with political instability and a fragile law enforcement system. Terrorism forms a fruitful ground for organized crime to produce. On the other hand, organized crime benefits terrorist organizations in recruitment, funding, and logistics. In short, this nexus can deteriorate regional security, as in Southeast Asia.

An examination of the counter-terrorism measures made by Southeast Asian countries evidences the success of regional cooperation in crushing the challenges and dangers posed by growing terrorism. The Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) to counter-terrorism launched a Joint Declaration. It strongly denounces terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It states terrorism is a direct challenge to achieving peace, progress, and prosperity. ASEAN has developed a regional framework to control, prevent, and neutralize global crime. The ASEAN Convention on Counterterrorism seeks to support mutual legal assistance, cooperation, and rehabilitative programs to fight terrorism.

At the internal level, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia are progressing in counter-terrorism actions. Indonesia effectively executes the four pillars of the United Nations Global Counterterrorism Strategy. It means that the country is attempting to handle the circumstances facilitative to spreading terrorism, preventing and counter-terrorism, supporting member states and the UN to combat terrorism, and advancing the rule of law and human rights. 

Indonesia has aimed to assist the international community in addressing the issues of terrorism financing and foreign terrorist groups. 

The Singapore government has started the ‘SGSecure movement’ to authorize its citizens to recognize radicalization indications and report dubious activities effectively. The program is extended through educational organizations, civic societies, workplaces, etc. The government recognizes the significance of people’s participation in opposing self-radicalization and terrorism. Similarly, Malaysia has launched specialized institutions, including the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT). It strives to counter terrorism and extremism through alliances for goals, capacity building, and research.

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