"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." (Chinese proverb)
Asia has always been a region apart, isolated and divided by rivalries and loyalties hard to comprehend from the Western standpoint. Strong nationalism tends to prevail, politically and economically, as each nation does things "their own way," and militarily in a different way, the tradition being to train extremist groups in one country to stage attacks in another. The region suffers from numerous separatist and secessionist movements, as well as ideological disagreements. During the 1950s and 60s, most nations in the region were classified or self-aligned with that outdated, pejorative term, "third world," but such terminology has been largely replaced by such phrases as fourth world, indigenous peoples, least developed countries, former or current communist countries. It is archaic in academic circles to talk about 1st, 2nd, and 3rd worlds because many former communist worlds are as technologically-advanced as first worlds and certain oil rich third worlds are richer than some first worlds. Nonetheless, many parts are Asia are quite poor and densely populated. Following Africa, Asia is the second poorest region of the world, and following the Middle East, Asia is the second most terrorist-prone region of the world. International pressure and public opinion seem to have zero influence on the region, and there is a strong anti-internationalist sentiment which extends to a sharp distrust of other Asian nations.
Conflict watchers have their hands full with Asia. The three biggest powers are China, India, and Japan (although it is worth noting that Japan is more Western than Eastern nowadays). Russia is no longer considered a superpower. The Big Three are distrustful and suspicious of each other. Almost all the other nations in Asia are reluctant to align themselves with any of the "Big 3" because of mistrust also. In today's globalized system, two large Asian countries are posed to become the world's major actors in the 21st century -- China and India. Each have large populations and are modernizing fast. Soon, the Indian-Chinese axis will be a matter of some global importance.
|Asia is the largest land mass on Earth. 60% of the world's population lives there. There are 50 nations, but it's better to think in terms of regions. The dividing line with Europe is considered to be the Strait of Dardanelles that extends up from Turkey, connects the major lakes, and then the Ural Mountains. The dividing line with Africa is considered to be the Suez Canal. Central Asia refers to the Stans (explained below), Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of Iran, and much of China, Mongolia, and Russia. East Asia consists of Japan, Korea, parts of China and Mongolia, and some Pacific islands. Southeast Asia is Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, and Brunei. South Asia consists of India, parts of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, and sometimes, parts of Afghanistan. West Asia (or the Near East) consists of parts of Turkey (Asia Minor), the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the Arab Peninsula, and all the Middle Eastern territories that were once Mesopotamia. North Asia consists solely of Siberia, its related provinces and districts, and the Russian Far East. In addition, there are numerous volcano islands in the region that are considered part of Asia, as well as the Pacific Rim islands such as Australia and New Zealand. The Pacific Ocean has an estimated 30,000 islands; no one knows the exact number. The Indian Ocean has exactly 15 islands, and the Antarctic Ocean or Southern Oceans have 45 islands.|
China thinks of itself as the region's superpower, and it would be a mistake to underestimate China in this regard. Chinese society has some 5,000 years of history behind it, much of that time involving imperialism and warlordism. It embraced communism by the time the Chinese civil war (1927-1949) was over, and the leading revolutionary leader was Mao Zedong (aka Mao Tse Tung in certain Romanized versions of Mandarin). Mao's ideas have had an international, not just an Asian influence. His central contributions are summarized below:
|MAO ZEDONG: The father of the People's Republic of China, founder of the Communist Party, chaser of the Nationalists to Taiwan, builder of the Red Army, instigator of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, genius of military strategy, and theorist of a particularly virulent version of Marxism-Leninism, has inspired more terrorism and insurgency than any other type of ideology the world has ever known. Mao believed in self-reliance. If something needed doing, you did it yourself. Anything less than 100% on your part was an insult to your honor, your family's honor, and your nation. Attitude is everything. Technical skill, talent, and intelligence mean nothing. Power means never being insulted again. Communes should replace villages, and people should organize into brigades with decisions made by decentralized committees. Class struggle is ongoing and continually involves learning by doing until you get it right, and by never giving up. Success can go to your head, so in order to fight this in yourself, you need to fight (violently and by any means necessary) all of bourgeois culture which flaunts self-importance and success. Guerrilla action, or a "people's war" should free up "liberated zones," and guerrillas should fight with a strategy of "mobile warfare" which means giving up territory if necessary. Landlords and landowners should have their land taken away and given to peasants. Secret police should roam the countryside, rooting out traitors. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. At one time (with the end of the Cold War), it was thought Maoist ideology would die down, but numerous ethnic groups (indigenous peoples) around the world embraced it. Post-Cold War Maoist tactics include commercial sabotage and black market disruption.|
Mao's ideology of terrorism can be summarized by his three points of attack for a people's army:
politically mobilize the rural populace by convincing them that ultimate success depends upon the support and belief of all the people, and that their superior motivation and belief can wear down any enemy by waging a protracted military campaign or war of attrition
invoke a new, radical strategy that only the peasantry, not the elite, offers any hope for real change and recovering human dignity
espouse a revolutionary doctrine that utilizes both violence and terror, arguing that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, and that change only comes about through extreme, shocking violence in which the masses must be coerced into participating with if the corrupt state is to be annihilated
A simple yet effective way of looking at nations in the Asian region is by classifying them as "open" or "closed" societies, and to further add some understanding of communism. Maoist communism is a closed, completed revolution, as opposed to Trotskyism, which is a version of Leninism (Castroism) that the revolution must be ongoing and somewhat open to new ideas. Most Asian communist nations can be considered "closed" via this understanding, which explains the strict limits to rights of freedom of association, expression, and assembly in Asia. The more "open" and liberal societies include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Singapore, although even in these nations, Western concepts like due process and human rights take on different meanings. At any given time, segments of Asia are either democratizing, becoming communist, becoming Islamic, or undergoing a period of civil unrest. The exceptions are Australia and New Zealand, which constitute a zone of stability in the pacific rim, along with other nations which have joined in the Rome Statute (participation in the International Court), such as Bangladesh, the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, South Korea, and Thailand, but even then, there are exceptions within exceptions. In the Solomon Islands, for example, the government has had difficulty getting people to give up the tribal custom of using sea shells for money.
Most Asian conflicts are territorial, communal, ethnic, or based on caste tensions exacerbated by government action or inaction. In INDIA, for example, the ruling Hindu party regularly oppresses Muslims, Christians, and Dalits (untouchables). In CHINA, ethnic tensions run deep, especially, for example, in the largest and westernmost province, Xinjiang, which is traditionally a Muslim area. In INDONESIA, religious differences run deep, the army usually siding with Muslims and the police usually with Christians. There is not a single ethnic or religious conflict in the region that is not reducible to some kind of "ancient hatred" or long-standing territorial dispute. BURMA, for example, has constant ethnic insurgencies that affect relations with India, Bangladesh, and Thailand. KASHMIR is a constant source of tension between India and Pakistan, as are Tibet and the Russian border for China. Laotian terrorists (ethnic Hmong) victimize Thais throughout the region. Indonesia's inability to control its breakaway provinces worries Malaysia, and raids into Malaysia by Filipino guerrillas often strain relations. Recurrent coups in Fiji also tend to attract concern.
Human trafficking is a major issue in Asia. Businesses regularly import and export slave labor on a transnational basis. Women are often kidnapped and sold as sex slaves -- Thai women to Japan or Afghani women to Gulf states. Law enforcement in the region is either corrupt or turns a blind eye to such practices. Huge numbers of refugees, migrants, and displaced people exist in the region, and are usually fleeing from militia warlords toward refuge in some safe country like Australia. Homelessness is quite common in Asia, and drug transshipment points abound. The rights of children doesn't seem to hold much sway, and young people throughout Asia quickly learn to fend on their own. In BURMA, for example, children as young as 11 have been forced to serve in the Army. Most refugees from Burma flee to THAILAND, but Thailand doesn't want them either, or more precisely, only wants them in order to organize some counter-refugee force. The Thai-Burmese border is a serious, conflict-ridden area, and there are many such cross-border regions in Asia. Most Asian nations have good military-espionage capabilities, the two being inseparably linked in many ways, masking the true extent of internal security problems, transnational crime, and other social problems which serve as a breeding ground for terrorism.
China has a 3 million strong, $70 billion a year military capability with an average 12% increase in military spending every year. As the largest army in the world, they have the capability of offensive land warfare against Vietnam, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Russia, India, and Pakistan. They could overrun Taiwan (whom they consider a breakaway province) in a matter of hours. China has long wanted to annex places like Tibet and wipe out that form of Buddhism known as Lamaism, but the self-exiled Dalai Lama has proven to be a formidable figure. China is the world's fastest-growing economy, and the second-largest in the world (behind the United States, where it owns about 25% of U.S. debt). While much of the rural hinterlands is underdeveloped, the coastal regions and major cities are doing quite well (see video).
|China is interested in doing away with the Turkic-speaking Muslims who make up the majority in the far northwest province of Xingjiang. No less than nine million Muslims inhabit the region, out of twenty million who inhabit China as a whole. Muslims in China fall into distinct racial groups. The largest, the Hui, are widespread. The next biggest, the Uighurs - pronounced WEE' gurs - are almost entirely in Xinjiang. Prof. Dru Gladney (Asian Studies) has long argued the Uighurs are more interested in sovereignty than Islam, but the Chinese position is that at least one group in particular, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (Etim), is an international terrorist group, and is so listed by the US, at China’s insistence. About 9 Uighurs were part of the Gitmo detainees. The Chinese first started cracking down on the region in 1990, and in 2007, started raiding al-Qaeda training camps. The extent to which China will extend its fight against al-Qaeda is unknown.||
Ideology, economics, and border disputes with Russia have pitted China and Russia against each other several times, involving some rattling of nuclear weapons. Currently, a Sino-Soviet treaty prohibits Russian and Chinese nukes from being targeted at one another, so they are all aimed at the U.S. by mutual agreement. China is building up its navy (which is mostly submarine based) to defeat the U.S. Seventh Fleet which is permanently stationed in the area. American law (the Taiwan Relations Act) requires the U.S. to intervene militarily if China attacks Taiwan. To defend itself, Taiwan has a 400,000, $14 billion military strength, and a technologically advanced air/naval defense system. Gunboat diplomacy and containment have always been the predominant American foreign policy in Asia, but appeasement is also common. At one time after WWII, America was ready to give Taiwan back to China, but the Chinese were in a civil war and there was no one really to give it to.
During the 1956-1966 reign of Deng Xiaoping, China became more capitalist or at least open to the idea of free competition. Laurence Brahm (2001), a Mao expert, believes China's economy will overtake the U.S. in a few short years. China is an amazing trade exporter, and currently belongs to the World Trade Organization. Economic growth has been phenomenal, but a good relationship with the West remains elusive for at least a couple of reasons -- one, China's record on human rights, particularly following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 -- and two, Chinese spying and stealing of military and technological secrets from several countries. Neither issue is going to go away. The conditions which gave rise to mass protest in 1989 still plague China today, and Chinese intelligence systems are the world's oldest and perhaps best. They have the world's second or third best spy satellite system, and the world's best HUMINT (Human Intelligence) system, frequently infiltrating agents among the 15,000 Chinese students who arrive in the U.S. annually, as well as making good use of academic exchange and trade visits.
China has been an expansionist country and warrior culture for a long time. A central cultural belief is the country's destiny to be the center of the world. Since the 6th Century, China has had both a secret police force (specialists in torture and brainwashing) and secret societies (like the Boxers and Triads). The Chinese intelligence network was the brainchild of Wang Dongxing, Mao's most trusted bodyguard and the man who brought down the Gang of Four and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) right before Mao's death in 1976. Wang was the one who set up the system of re-education labor camps, procured young women for Mao (who believed sexual activity slowed down aging), oversaw the development of spy schools (with special instructions in disguise, sexual seduction, surveillance, and photography), and set up China's principal spy stations around the world. Chinese intelligence agencies are constantly changing names and using innocent-sounding covers (e.g., the Institute for International Relations; the Chinese Students Friendship Association), and the national news agency, Xinhau, is mainly a cover organization. The government limits use of fax machines, computer networks, and the Internet. Most anything in China used by journalists, diplomats, or visitors (telephones, hotel rooms) is bugged for sound and video.
China has many borders, and as an example, let's look at the one with India. The fairly inhospitable 2,000-mile border between India and China has been an issue in world politics. China doesn't (or shouldn't) care about Nepal, which is frankly a mess, a failed monarchy with an ongoing civil war since 1996. Bhutan is another monarchy with border issues where China has some interests. However, the position with India is most interesting, and the role of the United States in it is even more interesting -- a kind of Bismarckian strategy in which the U.S. wants to contain Chinese influence and is currently aligning itself with Japan (and Taiwan, a possible "hot spot" or pivotal moment in history about to happen) in order to further this effort, but the U.S. is unsure about whether to use India as a counterbalance against China. Several experts believe that a step in this direction could damage the fragile Indian-Chinese relationship. China would likely perceive stronger U.S.-India relations with some sort of hostility, so for right now, the U.S. thinks it best to allow India and China to pursue their relations independently, without any outside interference.
Lately, China has provoked quasi-military confrontations over disputed waters in the South China Sea, insisting it has “indisputable sovereignty” over nearly the whole of the sea, or as their foreign minister puts it "China is a big country and other countries are small countries." Disputes have occurred with Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even the United States. In 2012, for example, when the U.S. complained about China declaring Woody Island a prefecture-level city, Beijing called the U.S. embassy and demanded the U.S. "shut up." Never mind that both Taiwan and Vietnam claim Woody Island. China is like that with numerous, little, obscure places in the South China Sea, which consists of 770,000 square miles larger than the Gulf of Mexico where a third of the world's trade passes thru. Great conflicts have been known to flare over little things in faraway places. This particular geographic area also sits atop huge estimated oil and natural gas reserves, but it is China's expansionism, in the form of what they call their "21st Century Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" that worries most observers.
This predominantly Hindu and pro-American country is an emerging superpower with a large, 2,500,000 strong military, possessing full tank, submarine, and air attack capabilities. It has the world's largest volunteer armed forces, and the world's second fastest growing economy. A large scale manufacturing and technological base supports a sustainable path toward development. India also possesses nuclear weapons which it says it needs for border protection and in case of the unlikely scenario of America turning on it. The number of terrorist, insurgent, and extremist groups in India is large, and some of them are active worldwide, especially emerging jihadist groups, but India has its hands full with a number of low-intensity conflicts, the four main ones being as follows:
|The Kashmir problem is a nuclear war waiting to happen. Kashmir is an area dividing India and Pakistan, created when the British walked out in 1947. When the British left, they tried to demarcate boundaries as best they could, but Kashmir was one of those areas (along with Junagadh and Hyderabad) which wasn't easy to demarcate. Kashmir subjects were 80% Muslim, but the leader was Hindu. During a 1948 revolt, Kashmir's leader fled to New Delhi and signed an accession agreement handing over Kashmir to India. This became the basis of India's claim to Kashmir. On the other hand, Pakistan claims that Kashmir belongs to it because if a vote were held, the predominantly Muslim population would choose Pakistan. Four major terrorist groups active in the area include: Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM); Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM); Lashkar-e-Omar (LeO); and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). HUM is an anti-Hindu Pakistani intelligence-sponsored organization linked with al Qaeda (the cellphone of Osama bin Laden's courier uncovered when both men were killed in May 2011 contained contacts to high-level HUM agents), and HUM is not opposed to attacking American targets, especially tourists. It's website was the source of the Slammer virus in 2003, so they possess good cyberterrorism capability. JEM (aka The Army of Muhammad) is a relatively new terrorist group which has conducted suicide attacks deep inside India, most notably an attack on India's parliament in late 2001. LeO is named after Mullah Mohammed Omar, chief of the Taliban militia, and has an ideology similar to the Taliban. LET is a Taliban outfit with strong linkages to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). All these Kashmiri terrorist groups are suspected of being sponsored by Pakistan, but all such allegations are strongly denied by Pakistan. India and Pakistan hate each other so much they point nuclear weapons at each other.|
|India has many terrorism problems, but the worst may be the Maoist revolutionaries called the "Naxalites." The Naxalites take their name from a village in West Bengal called Naxalbari, where they first staged an uprising in 1967. India nearly wiped them out during the 1970s, but they splintered and regrouped, so that by 2004, they comprised a loose coalition of factions as well as command of a political party (the Communist Party of India). Their stated aim is to help the landless poor, tribal people, and lower castes (whom they tax for "protection"). Currently, they control a large swath of jungle territory called the "red corridor" which runs from the border with Nepal through thirteen of India’s twenty-eight states. Their fighting force is estimated at twenty thousand strong, and they raise money via a campaign of violence, extortion, and kidnapping. In a given year, they kill several hundred (nearly a thousand) Indian officials and civilians and carry out about twice as much non-lethal violence as occurs per year in the Kashmir region.|
Despite widespread sectarian violence and insurgency, India has managed to maintain its unity and democracy. Incidentally, it was foolish of Britain to lose India since it was what made Britain a global power. India has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which escalated into mountain warfare during the Sino-Indian War in 1962, and with Pakistan, which resulted in four wars during 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Animosity with China plays out strategically and economically nowadays, and it helps that the geostrategic buffer zones of Tibet and Nepal exist, but it doesn't help that China refuses to extend its nuclear "no first use" doctrine to include India. India is encircled by failed or potentially failing states -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. China's support for Pakistan also hinders relations. Clearly, if India and the United States were to team up militarily against China, that is China's worst nightmare, as would anything like a quadrilateral security partnership among Japan, India, Australia, and the United States. India is the key counterweight to China in Asia (Chellaney 2006). At current population growth, India will surpass China around 2032 as the world's most populous country. India, however, has a rather unique attitude toward foreign relations -- they reject the treaty process and believe the world's rules don't apply to it. There is a certain style of Indian diplomacy that alienates potential partners and allies.
India remains the world's best economic success story. Certainly, shocking examples of poverty can be found (and it's no liberal paradise, to be sure), but India has enjoyed the benefit of a well-developed multilingual educational system, especially in higher education (unlike China and other countries in the region). China, for its part, has basically a corrupt economy (India has a corruption problem too) based on too much export, a lack of trust between citizen and government, and suffers more from rapid urbanization alone than from rapid industrialization. While it may seem of only criminological interest to point this out, rapid urbanization alone leads to more juvenile delinquency, organized crime, and the like, while rapid industrialization alone tends to spawn rather predictable increases in property crime and downward fluctuations in violent street crimes. India is more like the U.S. at least in terms of having a similar crime problem. It should be reaffirmed that India is an ally of the U.S. (they offered their country as a base of operations after 9/11, but the U.S. didn't take them up on it). India is seeking a starkly different society, one based on freedom and democracy, promoting economic development and social justice, and it will be the dominant superpower of the 21st century, not China. The Wikipedia Entry India as Emerging Superpower discusses the pros and cons of this, and the web portal India-Rising discusses how India is dealing with its internal problems of insurgencies and terrorism.
Pakistan is an active, modern military state which historically is a conglomeration of four separate states that the British patched together. Those four states include: (1) Afghania (the A in Pakistan), since renamed the NorthWest Frontier, where locals pay no attention to the border with Afghanistan; (2) Balochistan (the t-a-n of Pakistan), which is a lawless, poverty-ridden place alternately governed by the military and/or the Taliban; (3) Sindh (the S in Pakistan), one of the oldest civilized areas on earth, which like; (4) Punjab (the P in Pakistan) is fairly literate and somewhat industrialized. All four provinces have grievances with the central government. The country has a strong intelligence apparatus (the ISI or Inter-Services Intelligence) which has muddled about in Asian politics for many years. The core of nationalist ideology is known as the two-nation theory which holds that Muslims and Hindus are distinct by religion not nationality. Pakistan's military might is mostly due to close technological ties with the U.S., and its nuclear might is best explained by competition with India. For many years, Pakistan has been an ally with the U.S. and made token efforts against joint enemies, all the while fighting the rise of Islamic extremism and lawlessness within Pakistan itself. Much Islamist extremism originates from within Pakistan. The main problem is that about 65 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day and the unemployment rate exceeds 50 percent. Pakistan also exports Islamic extremism, as the November 2008 Mumbai attacks illustrate. The al-Qaeda connection with Pakistan is strong, mainly through an AQ-friendly, pro-Taliban group called the Haqqani network, headed by a Pashtun warlord called Sirajuddin Haqqani. Other well-known Pakistani terrorists also exist, some of which are detailed below:
The Haqqani network is
strategically important because some believe they are the ones who have
been protecting Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network for many years.
They also have close ties to Pakistan and might probably turn over
al-Qaeda if given the opportunity for some proxy power sharing role
(along with the Taliban) in Afghanistan. Haqqani (pictured at
right) has a large fighting force in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's
standing offer to make the Haqqanis part of the solution in Afghanistan
depends upon: (a) if Haqqani would do as Pakistan says; and (b) if
Haqqani is not too "thick" with al-Qaeda already. On repeated occasions,
Pakistan has used the Haqqani fighters to hit Indian targets inside
Afghanistan, and American targets as well when Pakistan wants to send a
message that it doesn't like some American action.
Pakistan has been home to a number of well-known al-Qaeda terrorists, such as the ones in the wanted poster at right, Dr. Abu Faraj (upper right), has been referred to as #3 (third in command) within the al-Qaeda organization. He was captured in 2005 and attempted to destroy a notebook computer at the time of his apprehension. He is currently one of many ghost detainees at a CIA black site. Before then, Pakistan worked with the FBI to capture operations chief Abu Zubaydah and mastermind Khalid Shaikh Muhammad. Normally (but not always), Pakistani counterterrorism operatives work in conjunction with U.S. forces. Pakistan has its hands full protecting its own government from attacks by homegrown groups, and the conflict in Kashmir is a constant distraction.
It is frequently asserted that certain Pakistani military and ISI officials sympathize - or even assist - some Islamist militants, and indeed, some officials have close ties to the Taliban. The support that the Afghanistan insurgency receives from Pakistan is debateable (read Alan Brody's article), but clearly NATO forces don't like "elements of Pakistan's ISI" leaking information on troop movements to Taliban rebels. Further, the US is about fed up with covering Pakistan's rear end for the last 60 years. There is a need to root out the "rogue" elements in Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies who want Taliban-style governments in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, no amount of bribery or aid seems to result in Pakistan changing its ways, and they can always play the WMD blackmail card being a nuclear nation.
The religious elite support much global terrorism reside in Pakistan. Terrorist groups operating in Pakistan (and there are many) can be broadly classified as either ethnic and sectarian. A typical ethnic terrorist group would be the Muttahida Quomi Movement (MQM-A, the suffix denoting the leadership of Altaf Hussain) which seeks territorial gain over other ethnic groups (perhaps even another MQM outfit with a different suffix). A typical sectarian terrorist group would be the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni outfit which carries out attacks against Shia activists, celebrities, and worshippers in mosques. Most terrorist groups in Pakistan have their own mosques and madrassas where their unique brand of fundamentalist and violent interpretation of Islam is promulgated. Some groups have their own training camps. Weapons, firearms, and ammunition are easily available in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda leaders have, of course, made effective use of loose security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where tribal areas have provided sanctuary. Actually, Pakistan has more problems along its border than just the tribal areas, as a 2007 CFR Backgrounder on The Troubled Afghan-Pakistani Border makes clear. Pakistan has not only had to deal with seven Pashtun tribal agencies (which respect no borders) but the spread of terrorism into the large North West Frontier province (NWFP) as well as growing discontent and nationalism in the even larger region known as Balochistan. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan's borderlands represent the world's most complex geopolitical problem.
This country has been in a state of civil war for decades (see IISS Armed Conflict Database on Afghanistan or The Afghanistan Analyst), and the most recent conflict can be said to have started with the U.S. invasion in 2001. America sided with a group called the Northern Alliance, who pretty much ruled much of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 until another group, called the Taliban came to power in 1996. Doctrinal disputes, as well as ethnic grievances, play a big role in Afghanistan (as elsewhere). Borders are not respected in Afghani civil conflicts. There were times when the Taliban and Iran almost went to war. U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has been busy disrupting terror cells and breaking down terrorist operations. Other foreign nations are involved, most notably Pakistan. Of primary concern to the U.S. has been the safe havens of al-Qaeda. This group was known to have operated terrorist training camps as well as underground complexes like the one pictured below (although controversy surrounds exactly how extensive these complexes were):
|There were about 35 underground tunnel complexes found in Afghanistan, most of them in the eastern and southern part of the country. The hide-outs included natural limestone caverns and tunnels as well as man-made passageways. The natural passages consisted of ancient underground aqueducts which had long been the way to obtain water in the region. Some of the complexes would stretch for miles and lie deep under the rock while others would be little more than bunkers just under the surface, 10 to 30 feet deep. The one at Tora Bora was suspected to be the headquarters of Osama bin Laden, but did not turn out to be the vast underground "fortress of solitude" it was rumored to be. The complexes served the mujahideen well in their war with the Soviets. In 2006, the Afghani government announced plans to make Tora Bora into a tourist holiday destination. For a good picture book, see Bahmanyar, M. (2004) Afghanistan Cave Complexes: 1979-2004. NY:Osprey.|
Who are the Taliban? Theoretically, the Taliban consist of each and every member of the Pashtun people, but practically, the more radical Islamist members of those people. They are an alphabet soup of many Talibans, small Talibans, and mini-Talibans within Talibans. There is no formal recruitment or identification process, and they are the world's largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage ethnic group (proverb: me and my brothers against my cousins, me and my cousins against the world). Total size: 42 million; 60 tribes; 400 sub-clans. Pashtuns pride themselves on never having been subdued by an outside power (proverb: a Pashtun is never at peace, except when he is at war). One could say there are as many Taliban leaders as there are Pashtun leaders. While most Pashtuns follow the fairly flexible Hanafi school of thought, most of the Taliban leaders were (are) educated via Pakistani or Afghani madrassas in the Deobandi school of thought which emphasizes religious superiority, an earlier-is-best jurisprudence, and doing jihad against all forms of Western imperialism (seen as the embodiment of all evil). Talibanism (as an ideology) is a bit more fundamentalist than that, emphasizing (like Wahhabism) the complete and total domination of women as well as (like Jihadism) the establishment of Sharia law worldwide.
There are six (6) main factions: (1) the so-called neo-Taliban, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, and headquartered (now) in Pakistan as the once-governors of Afghanistan who are apparently still loyal to the ISI and Pakistani government; (2) the tribal Taliban of South Waziristan led by leaders of the Mehsud family and who are responsible for operations in the Khyber, Kurrum and Orakzai areas; (3) the tribal Taliban of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), led by Maulana Fazlullah who is a native of Swat; (4) the tribal Taliban led by Fazlullah's father-in-law, Sufi Mohammad, who is responsible for control of the Dir region as well as parts of Swat; and (5) the various Punjabi Taliban who consist of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), and the LEJ, and are used by the Pakistani government against India or any foreign element on Pakistani soil; and (6) various new, recently-created Taliban, such as the group calling itself the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which was born after the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) raid in 2007.
During 1996, when Osama bin Laden moved to Afghanistan from Sudan, he merged his elite 055 Brigade of Afghan Arabs into the Taliban armies as well as helped them out financially. With Taliban cover, al-Qaeda would go on to commit multiple acts of terrorism worldwide, the most notable being the 2001 (9/11) attacks on America. The Taliban were defeated by the allied invasion of Afghanistan as early as 2002, but by 2006, questions arose whether they had been fully defeated because a new kind of insurgency developed in the form of a neo-Taliban (Giustozzi 2007). This insurgent Taliban is more decentralized and grass-roots organized at the village level, where a typical village cell has between 10 and 50 part-time fighters (pretty much any group of that size that wishes to call itself Taliban can do so). Each cell runs its own intelligence, logistics, and population control activities with support from other village cells. To relay messages, the cells use couriers and short-range radios with an extensive code system. Some Taliban cells use the Internet. They operate semi-independently, although there are local and regional command structures which occasionally disown a member for violating the rules. Top leadership tends to have more grandiose goals than lower leadership, but what unites them is the cause of creating a "shadow government" to rival what they perceive as the West's "puppet government" in Kabul.
Waziristani chieftains in northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, have close ties to the Taliban, but the whole area is ruled mostly by tribal custom. Waziristan is the small area in green (below):
|Waziristan is a place where the Taliban resurfaced and the Pakistanis have given up a war on (see 2004-2006 Waziristan conflict). It is believed by many experts and authorities that it is the place where Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hiding. Waziristan is technically a district in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) under the governance of Pakistan, but this has only been nominal governance. Historically, the area has also been a major center for opium production and trafficking. The Sept. 5, 2006 Waziristan Accord which ended the conflict has been called the terms of surrender by Pakistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and others say a new Islamic Emirate of Waziristan was created. Even worse than Waziristan is the FATA agency of Bajaur, long known as an al-Qaeda command and control center (See Bill Roggio's map of FATA). South Waziristan students at madrassas were called "talibs" (whence the word Taliban), and this area tolerates Muslims (the Wazirs) killing other Muslims (the Mahsuds) for not being religious enough.|
Waziristan, aka "Al Qaedastan," "Talibanistan," or more properly, the "Islamic Emirate of Waziristan" is, or ought to be, the central front in the War on Terror. Akbar Ahmed (2004) is the undisputed expert on this "dark spot" region which many scholars have notoriously neglected. The region was under British rule for many years, and the British ruled indirectly, via tribal maliks (elders), who received preferential treatment and financial support. By treaty and tradition, British law only extended 100 yards on either side of Waziristan's main roads. Beyond that, the maliks and tribal custom ruled. Local British rulers were called a "P.A." (Political Agent) and the military force they commanded often had to arrest the male kin of miscreants, given the particular importance tribal custom placed on male descent groups. The British regarded Waziristan tribesmen as the physically toughest, finest fighters in the world. Waziristan is a place long accustomed to strong harsh rule. The landscape is mostly arid and desolate with fortress-like settlements. Men carry guns, and politics is inseparable from violence and crime. The local maliks (elders) make their living by encouraging young tribal members to carry out kidnappings and then get a piece of the ransom while at the same time condemning kidnapping and chastising the young. Where tribalism of this kind exists (and it is common within much of the world), weapons storage is often commanded by elders in case tribal rivalries break out. Waziristan's tribalism emulates a Middle Eastern style of tribalism. A close-up look at Middle Eastern tribal systems might be in order, as the following provides.
A Close-Up Look at Tribal Systems
|The Pashtun tribal areas represent the world's largest concentration of a tribal society, and in tribal thinking, the tribal system encompasses all of humanity. 40% of Afghanis are Pashtuns, and about 20% of Pakistanis are Pashtuns. Much of Pashtun folklore is chronicled in Bernt Glatzer's article "The Pashtun Tribal System," which loosely defines a tribe (also called clan or lineage) as any group which makes geneology the basis of social structure. Pashtuns believe they are all descended from Khalid bin Walid (a famous general in Mohammed's army), and strictly follow the Koranic injunction that Allah put all people into nations and tribes for good reason. All followers of Islam believe in a tribal system of some kind, at the very least, the idea that all people (via common descent from common ancestors) are all part of one, huge family. Tribal systems are very patriarchial. Middle Eastern tribes, in particular, consist of male lineages sub-divided into complex segments such as clans, sub-clans, and so on, down to families. The complexity of these lineages (what anthropologists call "segmentary lineages") may play out so that brother is pitted against brother, cousin against cousin, within the same family. It is custom that tribal lineages are beyond the powers of any state or government official to meddle with. Societies with strong tribal systems tend to have weak states. Tribes maintain their own order by constantly balancing power between themselves by adding or substracting to the size of their clans. A central institution is the blood feud. Any attack on a member of one's lineage is an attack on the whole clan or sub-clan, and a corollary to this is that whenever any member of one clan commits an unjustified killing, any lineage member of that clan becomes fair game for retaliation by the offended clan. A code of honor exists, however, with the privilege of sanctuary built-in. Strangers who pass by are also supposed to be treated with hospitality. The code of honor tries to make enemies friends, but often at the cost of turning friends into enemies. Who is friends with whom varies from week to week, month to month, or year to year in tribal societies. No tribal society has ever been interested in learning new forms of governance. They are only interested in maintaining balance among their factions.|
Bangladesh was set up by the partition of India in 1947 as East Pakistan, but became independent of its (West) Pakistani rule (with the help of India) during the bloody Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. After its independence, Bangladesh tried to become a parliamentary democracy, but the poor country suffered famines and a series of coups and counter-coups. It continues to suffer from corruption, political violence, and the rise of Islamic terrorist groups. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Bangladesh has no fewer than four (4) active terrorist groups, one which is an al-Qaeda front, two which are Taliban oriented, and one which is Maoist in character. The largest and strongest group appears to be Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a Taliban-like group with al-Qaeda links which is opposed to all cultural events like cinema and wants women to always stay in the house. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has put together some good resources on Is Bangladesh Becoming the Next al-Qaeda Haven?
Another terrorist group active in Bangladesh is Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). This group was created back in the early 1990s with financial aid from Osama bin Laden. Although technically a Kashmir separatist group, they are unique in having originated nowhere near the Kashmir region. They have been responsible for much of the domestic terrorism in Northeast India (along the Nepal border between Kashmir and Bangladesh). Within Bangladesh itself, they are known as HuJI-B (the B signifying Bangladesh), and they aim to establish an Islamic government there by killing progressive intellectuals. They are also bent on carrying out armed attacks on India, training young girls for such purposes and sneaking them into India via the safe route of Kolkata (Calcutta) in West Bengal.
This country is a hard-line communist country that emerged from its war with the South (1957-1975) isolated, cratered, and largely defoliated. One million Vietnamese refugees made their way to the United States, avoiding reeducation camps. The U.S. cut off diplomatic relations, and succeeded in implementing worldwide economic and credit embargoes. The Soviet Union was Vietnam’s main economic ally in the post-war period while Vietnam maintained a large army (850,000 troops), fought border wars with China, and attacked Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime. The Vietnamese army is now streamlined (500,000 troops) for purely defensive purposes against all foreseeable threats (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China). Prisoner of war and missing in action groups have generated pressure against any normalization of relations until the Vietnamese provide a full accounting of U.S. POW’s and MIA’s. U.S. businesses have been allowed to open offices, but foreign investment in Vietnam is limited. There is a significant reserve of offshore oil. Vietnamese officials have expressed a desire to establish better relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world, and appear to sincerely have economic development as a key priority. Few signs of terrorist activity exist.
SRI LANKA (pronounced sree-LAHNG-kuh)
This is a poor island south of India formerly known as Ceylon (see IISS Armed Conflict Database on Sri Lanka). About 75% of the people are Sinhalese-speaking, Buddhist-believing, 12% of the people are Tamil-speaking, Hindu-believing, and 8% of the people are Arab-speaking, Muslim-believing (this being a common problem, see Lecture on Ethnonationalist Terrorism, in countries were the invidious comparison processes produce not just historical animosities by a hatred of whomever happens to be current scapegoat). The Tamils have long hated the Sinhalese, and the Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have been a significant uniformed terrorist group there (see in-depth analysis of their form of terrorism at the Lecture on Religious Terrorism). The background is that an exclusionary and politically dominant strain of Sinhalese nationalism has prevailed ever since 1956 when Sinhalese was declared the country’s official language, and the Tamils have faced an institutionalized anti-Tamil bias in education, employment, and government. The heaviest violence erupted in the mid-1980s which was a period when the Tamil Tigers, aided by extortion money they extracted from their diaspora, started building up military assets and engaging in conventional as well as terrorist tactics, including suicide belt bombings, a tactic the LTTE have nearly perfected. In 1991, a LTTE suicide bomber assassinated the Indian prime minister. In 2009, the Tamil Tigers were pushed back to a small portion of the countryside they dominated.
NEPAL (pronounced NAY-pall)
Nepal is a landlocked country with close ties to both of its neighbours, India and China, as well as with Bangladesh, which shares no boundary with Nepal but is separated from Bangladesh by a narrow strip of land about 13 miles wide, called the Chicken's Neck (also the name for a boundary zone in Kashmir). From time to time, Nepal gets caught up in Sino-Indian conflicts. The most recent problems have involved Maoist rebels who control boundary zones and parts of the countryside while the government only controls the major cities. Chaos sometimes comes unexpectedly, when in 2001, the Crown Prince got stoned and drunk and killed the whole royal family before killing himself. Since then, the country has been considering getting rid of its monarchy and moving toward democracy (see 2006 Democracy Movement in Nepal). The Maoist rebels, however, have established a strong presence, almost rivaling as much geographic territory as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Nepali folklore and music attract tourism, as does Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, situated between Nepal and Tibet. Nepali culture is highly tolerant of alcohol and drug use, and the country since the 1960s has attracted hippies (narco-tourists) because cannabis grows wild there. Cannabis is technically illegal according to Nepalese law, but regularly smoked during Hindu festivals, especially those worshipping Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and reproduction, who presumably smoked marijuana. Since the Nepalese Civil War ended in 2006, the Maoist rebels have moved into the protection racket for local drug barons.
BURMA/MYANMAR (pronounced MYAHN-mar)
The military junta in charge here has refused to recognize the results of most elections, but started softening on that in 2012. A political activist named Aung San Suu Kyi comes from Burma and is Asia's "darling" or hero-savior, but any role she plays in the pro-democracy movement remains uncertain. The military junta who control the country sometimes show an interest in weapons of mass destruction, importing weapons technology from North Korea, and military technology from China. The most striking thing about the whole country is the militarization -- tanks and jeeps everywhere, manned by boys who barely look 14 years of age. The other striking aspect is the large number of Buddhist monks. Oppressive poverty is widespread. Burma has had several ethnic rebellions in the last 50 years, two big civil wars (1886-91 and 1948-58), and most notable the rebellion of 8/8/88 (August 8, 1988) when thousands of students (called the "88 generation), joined by monks and civilians, marched against the military government, who handled the protest with machine gun fire. Northern Burma shares a long border with China and has not been under complete control of the Rangoon government since WWII. The people of this region (Kachin, Karen, Shan, etc.) are not Burman, and have organized into various ethnic liberation movements, like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), aka the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). In 2011, 10,000 Kachin people were displaced after the KIA threatened one of the Chinese hydroelectric dam projects on the Northern border. China needs electricity badly, and is certainly not interested in seeing any ethnic unrest on its border. On the other hand (and in another place), China supports the insurgency in Assam (a famous tea-growing region in India close to Bangladesh) because oil also exists there. Pakistan also supports this insurgency, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) being the main protagonist. ULFA's insurgency has claimed more than 10,000 lives since the revolt began in 1990, and ULFA claims Assam was never part of India and was taken away from Burma in 1826 by British forces.
This country has a modest, well-armed military (250,000 troops) that benefits from increased (about $4 billion a year) purchases of modern equipment (like F-16s). It is the only Southeast Asian country with its own aircraft carrier. Thailand has force projection capabilities, and has longstanding border disputes with several countries (such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and China). Thailand has long been one of the more peaceful countries in Asia, being predominantly Buddhist, and drawing more visitors than any other country in Southeast Asia. However, in recent years, Thailand has been under attack by terrorist groupd based out of the predominately Muslim southernmost provinces. One such group calls itself the Islamic Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), and they like to target school teachers and police officers. To learn more about other groups, visit StrategyPage which has some good coverage on the worsening Islamic Terrorism in Thailand, or visit BangkokPundit, a blog about the political problems in Thailand.
This country (the DPRK) was founded by partition after WWII and came into its own during the Korean War (1950-1953). Today, it is essentially a prison nation of 23 million people (by comparison, 26 million people live in the South). North Korea is the sworn enemy of the U.S. and Japan, and since no peace treaty was ever signed in 1953 (only an armistice which North Korea regards as null and void), technically a state of war still exists. The U.S. maintains a rather large military presence in South Korea and along the DMZ (demilitarized zone), an arbitrary dividing line across the 38th Parallel. North Korea uses prison camps, informers, and propaganda to repress opposition, and in general, builds up its military at the expense of providing for its own citizens. The Pentagon has always assumed the North will invade the South in a surprise, blitz attack as they did in 1950, although the possibility exists that tunnels might be used (since North Korea is regarded as the world's best at tunnel construction, often exporting their equipment and know-how to Middle Eastern countries). In fact, export of things that can be used to kill people is about all that holds their economy together; that, and vicious anti-American propaganda media like the North Korean video F**king USA. North Korea has maintained a vigorous nuclear weapons program since 1964, and has an on-again off-again pattern of inspection. It's important to avoid "nuclear blindness" with North Korea because not only are they pursuing nuclear weapons, but conducting biochemical weapons research as well (see North Korea's Biochemical Threat). Most research/development takes place underground or inside mountains free from spy satellite surveillance. Speaking of satellites, incredibly telling is this famous satellite photo of the country showing how little electricity there is. Yet, despite any visible signs of public infrastructure, North Korea manages to operate some 40 bugging and surveillance posts from which it eavesdrops on communications and signals. In addition, North Korea employs hundreds of world-class hackers tasked with hacking into computer networks worldwide. North Korea's colleges and government facilities turn out hundreds of cyber warfare specialists a year. They are perhaps more advanced at cyber warfare than most developed countries.
Successors to Kim Jong-il
|Kim Jong-nam is the reclusive eldest son of Kim Jong-il who lives in Macau as a professional gambler. He has long been considered a possible heir apparent, but he apparently doesn't get along with his family very well. His service to the country includes having headed the secretive Computer Committee, a cyberwar branch of the State Security Agency, which has been producing some of the world's top hackers since 1994. North Korean Economy Watch has a good article on Kim Jong-nam's worldwide front organizations like the Korea Computer Center (KCC), the Korea 615 Editing Corp, Silibank, and the Pyongyang Informatics Center, to name a few. He travels the world incognito, and there are sometimes "sightings" of him in various places, including the U.S.. Kim Jong-un (pictured at a very young age at right, and as older below), is Jong-nam's half brother, and is considered just "like his father" in enjoying sports, movies, liquor, military might, and nuclear weapons. His service to the country includes planning various terrorist attacks that North Korea has sponsored or conducted directly. He was educated in Switzerland, is an overweight diabetic, and is multilingual. In late 2011, at age 29 (age is a guess, since nobody knows for sure) he became the world's youngest dictator.||
North Korea was ruled by Kim II-Sung (the Great Leader) for 46 years, in 1994, leadership passed on to his son, Kim Jong-il (the Dear Leader) in 1994, and in 2011 was passed onto Kim Jong-un (the Great Successor). This is the first time in history that passing on control via family inheritance took place in a communist country. There is a lot of mythology about the Kims for which Martin (2004) provides a good corrective, and for further insights, Scott Snyder is a good read. The Kim legacy has been the worst case of human rights abuse without any parallel in the modern world. Vast numbers of the population have starved or frozen to death, and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in prison camps. The government stratifies its population into "desirables" and "undesirables" according to a Songbun system. Everything, from the distribution of food, housing, employment, education, and marriage, is based on how "desireable" you are in terms of State-assigned social class, birth, and political opinion. Refugees regularly try to flee the country. Kim Jong-il regularly ordered kidnappings and assassinations. North Korean agents have kidnapped Japanese citizens, brainwashed them, and turned them into spies. Sprees of skirmishes tend to erupt with predictable regularity along the DMZ, but for the most part, the DMZ is very quiet, so quiet in fact, that it has become a de facto nature preserve, a haven for endangered plants and animals, like Siberian tigers, black bears, musk deer, cranes, and all the exotic wildlife that once dominated the peninsula. Politically, the most recent initiatives have involved a diplomatic hope that six-party talks (China, South Korea, North Korea, USA, Russian Federation and Japan) will lead to a resolution of security concerns raised by North Korea's nuclear weapons program. China, for its part, probably will not do anything since it benefits from extracting the mineral wealth of North Korea at bargain-basement prices. Relations with the U.S. have greatly deteriorated since the country took strong offense to being called part of the "axis of evil" in 2002. The country's leaders ought to be up on charges of crimes against humanity for at least two things: (1) the diversion of aid-for-food money as well as continuing to do nothing about natural disasters; (2) people held without due process of law for arbitrary reasons in political prison camps with unspeakable conditions, starvation-level rations, forced labor, torture, and an unique three-generation guilt by association rule which means relatives, including elderly and children, must suffer the same fate as the offender.
It's debatable if North Korea is a type of communist country. Its most recent "Constitution" ratified in 2009 is baffling and defies political classification. Back in 1972, an ideology called Juche (pronounced "joo-cheh") officially replaced Marxism-Leninism, and no one's really sure what it means other than "self-reliance" and the military replacing "workers of the world" in classical Marxism. There are the usual indicators of communism, like statues of the leader almost everywhere and parades every day, but more and more the country looks like its run by some sort of "military first" crime family. Clearly the people are brainwashed. For example, North Koreans believe food aid packages delivered by foreign nations are some sort of of "tribute" to their wonderful leader. A significant number of South Koreans also believe that North Korea represents what is "authentically Korean" because North Korean propaganda draws upon the stuff of ancient cultural dynasties. Myers (2010) makes the point that North Korea is some sort of racist nationalist totalitarian state. For example, they hate people of foreign origin and color, and are adamantly opposed to other nations becoming mongrelized thru interracial marriage. Every child from birth is trained to embrace racial uniformity so much that each person desires to look alike and achieve the same average height (mostly from malnutrition) of being six inches shorter than the average South Korean. It has become a nation of dangerous racist dwarfs.
For many years now, this country has attracted the attention of authorities as an emergent hub, both logistically and operationally, for cross-border jihadist extremism in the region. In fact, it has been called the "Second Front in the War on Terror." Most of the focus has been directed toward a particular group called the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) which has close ties to al Qaeda via Osama bin Laden's donation of $6 million to them. ASG was also associated with Ramzi Yousef of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as Operation Bojinka, the precursor to the 9/11 attacks. There are a lot of loosely-affiliated al-Qaeda groups in the Philippines (see 2005 Report on Philippines Terrorism), but ASG has a notable tendency to spread its brand of terrorism around Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. Between 1998 and 2001, the group acted more like pirates than terrorists, but in the post-9/11 era, with U.S. and Filipino marines tracking them, ASG has been acting more like terrorists, albeit ones with $5 million rewards on their heads. The group has connections reaching back to Afghanistan when Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani became the group's founder but died in 1998, leaving his younger brother, Khadaffy Janjalani, in charge, but the younger Janjalani was killed in 2006. Then, the ASG put one-armed 70-year old Radulan Sahiron (aka "Kumander Putol") in charge, but he was considered too old to command. Then, the group in 2007 voted to make Syria-trained Islamic scholar Yasser Igasan its new leader. The Jolo-born Igasan went to the Middle East in the mid-1990s to take up Islamic studies, and returned to the southern Philippines in 2004. The size of a typical ASG contingent, the one based in the Sulu islands (between Mindaneo and Borneo), is about 100-200 members. A larger ASG contingent is based in the Basilan and Mindanao region, which is where the original 1970s Islamic insurgency originated in the Philippines with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Both contingents are subject to the same leadership, although factions have broken out before, either thru leadership struggles (when the group is quiet) or when they deliberately split to carry out military operations. "Home" for ASG is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Their most notable accomplishment was the June 2001 capture of 13 hostages, including 3 Americans, although some might argue it was collecting a $25 million ransom during a raid on a famous diving site off the Malaysian coast. They're a cruel group. They've beheaded several people on raids at tourist resorts, and they know the jungle intimately. The jungle areas where they hideout is so dense that if you attack it with mortars, they just explode harmlessly up in the forest canopy. They're also unbelievable sharpshooters. There are concerns that ASG could attempt to morph or combine with JI (see below) before they are wiped out.
The country has seen activity by another Islamic terrorist group, the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), aka Jemaah Islamiah. This group is dedicated to establishing a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy in all of Southeast Asia. Their most famous accomplishment was the 2002 Bali disco bombings which killed hundreds of people on the Indonesian island of Bali. Subsequent backpack bomb attacks (their signature method) have occurred not only in Bali but in hotels and crowded places throughout the region, and they are known to work in collaboration with ASG. The spiritual head of JI is Abu Bakar Bashir ("Teacher Abu"), an Indonesian Muslim cleric who denies any connections with terrorism, but often faces legal difficulties including a demand by the USA that he be turned over. The operational head of JI is Riduan Isamuddin (aka Hambali, the "Osama bin Laden of Southeast Asia") who is currently detained in Guantanamo. Jemaah Islamiah specializes in financial and logistical support for al Qaeda in the region. Their financial network is vast, and includes arms smuggling. They are good at keeping their activities secret. Their existence only became known after the Bali bombings.
The Philippines suffers from many internal problems, including even Christian extremists with Islamist ties. The country is, unfortunately, not well-equipped to deal with all of this, having been plundered by previous government officials. Their armed forces are also small, numbering only about 100,000 troops. $2 billion a year is spent on modernization (partially funded by the United States). At present, the Philippines has only a limited ability to defend herself from potential enemies (China, Japan, Indonesia), and it has its hands full with guerrilla rebel forces.
This is the world's most populous Muslim nation, consisting of 13,000 islands, only about 3,000 of which are inhabited, some 300 ethnic groups, and 250 different languages. It is a country with a good sized military (300,000 troops) and it spends $3 billion a year on it. Indonesia may be capable of limited protection of sea lanes and surrounding waters against all foreseeable threats from China, Philippines, and Taiwan. Indonesia is a regular buyer of excess military hardware from more sophisticated nations. The Indonesians are concerned with territorial and raw material disputes in the South China Sea. They regularly receive military assistance from the U.S. as well as other international aid. However, when Indonesian troops are used against their own people, the U.S. usually cuts off aid, and trains Indonesian officers in how not to violate human rights during riot control situations. Back in 1944 when Indonesia became independent, it first experienced despotic rule by a nationalist leader named Sukarno. His ruling party, the PKI, was deposed in a bloody coup d'etat in 1965, and another strongman, named Suharto, came to power and ruled until 1998. Together, these two leaders left their mark, especially Suharto, who brutally quelled the East Timor bid for independence for many years. East Timor eventually won its independence in 1999 with U.N. assistance.
Separatist violence occurred elsewhere, however. The easternmost part of New Guinea called Papua (aka Irian Jaya) saw the Free Papau Movement (OPM) engage in kidnapping terrorism during 1996 in order to gain international attention. Irian Jaya is still not free, and it is one of the largest and resource-rich parts of Indonesia. Another long-standing grievance exists in the province of Aceh, which claims independence because it was never part of the Dutch colonial possession that Indonesia once was. The Free Aceh Movement is gaining steam, and noteworthy is the fact that after relief aid came into the Aceh province following the fatal 2004 tsunami, most of the money was spent rebuilding infrastructure for Islamic fundamentalism. On the island of Borneo, too, ethnic and religious tensions are high. Throughout much of Indonesia, Christians and Muslims have long lived side by side in peace, but not so nowadays. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been associated with a "Slaughter Christians" theme. Killings have taking place across the archipelago, in Aceh, in the Moluccas, and in the Kalimanatan province, to the tune of about 1,000 per year. Law and order have broken down. Terrorist groups have sprung up dedicated to the implementation of sharia law throughout the region. The Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah (discussed earlier) is but one manifestation of the increasing Islamic fundamentalism in the region, and their influence is so great that one of JI's boarding schools has been called al-Qaeda's "West Point."
This country has a modest military force of 100,000 troops but it spends $4 billion a year on modernization, and is making attempts to control its sea lanes with the acquisition of missile-equipped frigates. The primary emphasis on military spending is geared for coastal and sea lane defense. No offensive power is being sought. Tensions between Malaysia and Singapore are great, and China is a potential threat. Control and defense of the Straits is an important concern for Malaysians. The Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah (discussed earlier) is active in Malaysia, as are other groups.
This is a country with a small and rapidly modernizing military force (only 60,000 troops but $4 billion a year is spent modernizing them). It is entirely capable of protecting itself and its sea lanes from foreseeable threats (China). There have no signs of intentions to project force abroad. It is a remarkably crime-free society with little tolerance for anything that might breed terrorism.
Japan, which consists of four main islands, has a 250,000 troop strength, $45 billion a year military capability, and is extensively supported by the U.S., has the distinction of being the place where bioterrorism erupted in the form of a 1995 Tokyo subway attack by a religious cult called Aum Shinrikyo. Japan really needs to start thinking about beefing up its counterterrorism capability. There's also popular support to get Japan's military autonomous once again. Japan's unique economy intertwines government and business. The two are so tightly wound together in most matters that the Japanese have to force themselves to think in terms of "private sector" and "public sector." Japan is also unique in that it claims territory 1,000 miles out to sea. Japan is also an economic superpower, but is not above resorting to economic espionage.
This country was discussed under the Europe area lecture, but it bears repeating that China-Russia (Sino-Soviet) relations have always been a problem, and they both back rival interests in South Asia (China-Pakistan and Russia-India). Russia-American relations can be best described as good one year and bad the next. The most common question students ask involves what countries now make up Russia, and the answer is that the former Soviet Union used to consist of fifteen (15) republics, and today, the Russian Federation consists of twenty-one (21) republics. A co-existing regional organization based on economic cooperation and collective security exists in the form of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS - also known as the Russian Commonwealth), and consists of 9 former Soviet republics and one Russian republic. Maps sometimes show CIS as part of Russia (technically, they are still under Russia's "orbit") and more often they show the vast expanse that is the Russian Far East, Arctic, and Siberia. The politico-geographic subdivisions of Russia are somewhat complicated (see Wikipedia Entry on Subdivisions of Russia). Russia crosses a lot of time zones and is the largest country in the world, and the most ethnically diverse. There are about 176 closely intertwined ethnic groups and 130 co-existing languages. Russia's oldest problem (since the time of the Tsars) has been to "balance" this linguistic diversity into a titular (head of family) acceptance of Russian as the official language.
These countries were also discussed under the Europe area lecture, but the map is reproduced here with some extended commentary.
TAJIKISTAN (pronounced tah-jih-kih-STAN)
This is one of five (5) Islamic republic "Stans" that were dominated by Russia for seven decades (the others being Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan). Tajikistan went from impoverished Soviet republic to civil war zone when Moscow’s authority ended (see Tajikistan Civil War). Islamic extremist groups of the Taliban variety have exploited ethnic divisions and taken control in some areas, launching cross-border operations. The country is a major transshipment point for illicit drugs. Borders areas with China are not well-defined. Foreign troops, including U.S. troops, are stationed in the country to help provide stability. Moscow maintains troops there, and U.S. forces began using Tajik airfields in September, 2001. Government control is fragile. It is the poorest of the Stans where about 60% of the population live in poverty.
UZBEKISTAN (pronounced ooz-beh-kih-STAN)
Population-wise, this is the largest of the Stans, and everyone from Josef Stalin on down has known that Uzbekistan is the geostrategic hub of the region. The Islamic threat is greatest here (Strauss 2006), but Uzbekistan possesses the largest military force in the Central Asian region. This country is controlled by a regime which, in recent years, has been fighting a rebel group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), one of the region's major exporters of terrorism. Each spring, there are usually major battles between IMU guerrillas and Uzbek forces. Bombings and assassinations also take place. Western intelligence agencies say the IMU has direct ties with Osama bin Laden. U.S. military advisors help train Uzbek forces to deal with Islamist threats. The country cooperates with the U.S., to some degree, in the war on terror, but there are concerns about torture (boiling people alive) and other human rights violations. The stated objective of greatest Islamist threat there; i.e., the IMU, is to depose President Karimov and establish a more religious Islamic state, not just in Uzbekistan but an Islamic Stansuperstate. In 2005, the country started having massive uprisings (see Civil unrest in Uzbekistan) and shortly afterwards asked the U.S. to vacate its airbase (known as K-2 or Karshi-Khanabad).
KAZAKHSTAN (pronounced kuh-zahk-STAHN)
This country is sitting on top of the world's last great oil discovery, and there is lots of mineral wealth here. Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest nation in the world, equivalent in size to the whole of western Europe. Some estimates are that the untapped oil reserves would rival that of Saudi Arabia. The country is fairly stable, but has poverty problems and many local leaders who are corrupt tribal chiefs, surrounded by cronies, security, and their own military who share whatever spoils come their way among themselves. The president is Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his regime is the only regime the country has known since it became independent. Despite occasional allegations of corruption in the form of kickbacks, Nazarbayev's regime is considered moderate and pro-Western, and further, he maintains a healthy balance between the United States and Russia, opening oil investment to both countries equally although Great Britain is the country's largest foreign investor. Kazakstan is the only Central Asian state whose constitution does not assign a special status to Islam. It plays up its Muslim heritage while at the same time cracking down on Muslim extremism. It tries to be a semi-secular state which sees itself as a bridge between the Muslim East and Christian West. In 2006, Borat may have turned the country into a cinematic joke with his comedy movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but there is nothing funny about this emerging super-giant in Central Asia.
|The capital city of Kazakhstan is called Astana. It has exceptionally cold winters that last about six months long. As oil money has started rolling in, the President is spending it on architecture, in hopes of making it the capital of all central Asia. Almost all of the money being spent is on palaces and government buildings, but the most interesting project is the creation of what is called Khan Shatyry, a giant transparent tent over the city which will turn most of it into a resort-like area. The architectural quality is quite high, in what is called the ethno-postmodernist style. The idea is to recreate summer year-round. For this oil rich state which is increasingly becoming a global energy player, cash is not a problem.|
TURKMENISTAN (pronounced turk-MEH-nih-stan)
This country's strongman, President Saparmurad Niyazov, suddenly passed away on December 21, 2006. He was addicted to power, and power means a lot in this region mostly governed by clan loyalties, where the concept of "headman" calling the shots remains established practice. Niyazov was one of the world's worst dictators, running the country via a cult of personality. His picture was on all the currency, statues of him were everywhere, and his profile always appeared in the corner of every TV screen. He renamed the month of January after himself, and required his biography and philosophy to be required reading in schools. Forced labor, media control, and political oppression make up the legacy of his rule. It is uncertain what will happen in this country now, what with Russia, China and the US making offers and counter-offers for gaining access to Turkmenistan's gas reserves. The country already has gas deals with Iran and China, but before he died, Niyazov said that Turkmenistan recently discovered a super-giant gas field. In late 2006, the State Security Council appointed a fellow rumored to be Niyazov's illegitimate son to be acting president, a fellow named Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow.
KYRGYZSTAN (pronounced keer-gih-STAN)
This country's longtime president, Askar Akayev, was deposed from power in a 2005 "Tulip Revolution" because he claimed to always have an interest in forming a democracy, but his so-called democratic re-elections were considered a sham by international observers. He regularly imprisoned political rivals and silenced opposition movements. He clearly saw the country as his personal fiefdom. Despite this, the U.S., following 9/11, was able to work with him to establish a beachhead for incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq. He was less amenable to the U.S. request to station AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft in the country. The current Kyrgyz President is Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has called for reviewing the Manas base agreement with the U.S., Manas being the lone US military base in all of Central Asia -- close to the Chinese border of Xinjiang. The review was called for after the accidental killing of a Kyrgyz fuel-truck driver by a US serviceman at the Manas Air Base.
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Last updated: Feb. 17, 2014
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O'Connor, T. (2014). "Asia Area Studies," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/areas/asia.htm.