EFSAS organizes Seminar on ‘Terrorism in South Asia’ at VU University in Amsterdam
The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), in collaboration with the Center for International Criminal Justice (CICJ) and Enactus VU, organized a day-long Seminar, ‘Terrorism in South Asia’ at the VU University. The event proved to be very thought-provoking and fruitful as many viewpoints were expressed by speakers followed by a vibrant debate in which students, professors and lecturers participated.
Dr. Joris van Wijk, Professor of International Crimes, Conflict and Criminology and Co-Director of the CICJ, moderated the event and began his speech by illuminating the fact that recently international attention in regards to terrorism has been disproportionately focused on the Middle Eastern region, while erroneously turning a blind eye to the Indian subcontinent, which has been ravaged by violent conflicts and extremism for decades. Dr. van Wijk argued that Europe, while being concentrated on the influx of refugees and migrants from Syria and Iraq, has neglected the ongoing radicalization and terrorism which takes place in South Asia. He further deliberated upon the ongoing trends and patterns regarding extremism worldwide described in the Global Terrorism Index, which clearly put the countries of South Asia among the forefront of transgressors.
Dr. van Wijk first gave the floor to Dr. Paul Stott, Lecturer at the University of Leicester and in the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London and EFSAS Research Fellow, who thoroughly analysed the nexus between terrorism in the region of South Asia and Europe. Dr. Stott particularly examined the critical links between jihadism in Great Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He argued that the haphazard meeting of some of the 9/11 perpetrators in Germany, who were initially planning to fight in Chechnya, paved the way for ongoing terrorism. As examples, he used the case studies of two extremist groups, namely ‘Islam4 UK’ and ‘Sharia4 Belgium’, which both have expressed very similar objectives - the establishment of Islamic States in the West, the supremacy of Islamic Law and a commitment to supporting armed jihadist groups on a global level. Dr. Paul Stott described in-depth the recruitment strategies of the two groups, which were specifically targeting young disenfranchised vulnerable young men, often first or second-generation migrants. He gave the recent example of Dr. Mirza Ali, British health practitioner from Pakistani origin, who worked in hospitals in London and Cambridge, joined Al-Muhajiroun, a UK based jihadist organisation, and subsequently travelled to Pakistan to fight for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTPJA). Dr. Stott said that there is ample evidence to demonstrate that Pakistan takes centre-stage in terms of jihadism in the West, which made Gordon Brown say in 2008 that, “75% of UK terrorist plots originate in Pakistan”. Dr. Stott also shed light on the British-South Asian terrorist nexus in the face of numerous examples, such as the 1994 kidnappings in New Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir by Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British National, in an attempt to free Masood Azhhar, the first British suicide bomber in Afghanistan by Khalid Shaheed, who was Birmingham born, the 2000 suicide attack at an Indian Army base in Srinagar by Mohammed Bilal from Birmingham, belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad, and the 2002 kidnapping and murder in Karachi of Daniel Pearl, also involving Omar Saeed Sheikh. Concluding his speech, Dr. Stott remarked that although Europe is currently facing a lull in terms of jihadist violence, the threat levels still remain very high since the concept of jihad has been globalised and turned into the new ‘norm’, thus posing the dangerous question, what the next battleground of the jihadi movement will be, while he expressed his fear that Jammu & Kashmir could be seen as a possible next battlefield by these hardened terrorists.
Dr. Dorothée Vandamme, Research Associate at the University of Louvain, Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts, Research Fellow at the Genesys Network and EFSAS, examined the ongoing radicalization of young people in Pakistan. She claimed that radicalization processes should be divided into three sub-categories based on the factors which attract individuals. These are micro, meso and macro factors. Micro factors refer to individual grievances, such as personal victimization, perceived injustice, poverty, unemployment, discrimination and marginalization. Meso factors relate to the wider social environment and aspects affecting the community identity; thus, people could join a radical group as a response to family and peer pressure. Finally, according to her, macro factors refer to states or governments involvement. In order to substantiate her theoretical framework, Dr. Vandamme used the example of Pakistan, demonstrating how the Pakistani identity is far from homogenous, thus creating tensions and conflicts between the different ethnic groups, which feel disenfranchised, rejected and humiliated by the Pakistani State, as argued that the State particularly benefits and favours those living in the Punjab province. Therefore, seeing those feelings of perceived social injustice triggered by the State, many radical groups across the country, especially in rural and remote areas have started preying upon and recruiting vulnerable individuals and luring them into joining their corrupt cause. On top of that, the current mainstreaming of extremist outfits into Pakistani politics by the Pakistani military establishment has given even a bigger platform to those groups to promulgate their ideologies. Dr. Vandamme further examined the role of the Pakistani Army in sponsoring terrorist groups and facilitating access of these radical outfits into politics. She argued that the military establishment of Pakistan very conveniently differentiates between so-called good and bad terrorists, as long as it supports its objectives. Dr. Vandamme gave the example of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been used by the army as a strategic asset in its proxy war with India, while Pakistan continues fighting against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which imposes risks on its own integrity. According to Dr. Vandamme, providing access to education is one of the major strategies for tackling radicalization. She stated that the public, private and religious education sectors in Pakistan should be reconstructed and reformed in order to replace the current jihadist propaganda with an authentic historical narrative, which ultimately will equip individuals with the necessary critical mindset to counter the radicalization phenomenon.
Ms. Danielle DePaulis, EFSAS Research Analyst, analysed the ongoing terrorism and violent conflict in Afghanistan, and its larger repercussions for the region of South Asia. Ms. DePaulis provided a historical background of the foreign influence in the country, including the British dominion in the 19th century and subsequently the Soviet invasion in 1979. She argued that the series of events that ensue from the 1970s in Afghanistan ultimately led to the development of a force that has become uncontrollable. Even after 9/11 with the invasion of US troops in the region, which was aimed at fighting the so-called “War on Terror”, dismantling Al Qaeda and then the Taliban, and finding Osama bin Laden, the Taliban currently controls about 55% of Afghanistan and remains the most powerful insurgent group in Afghanistan. As Ms. DePaulis claimed, after the exhaustive amount of resources and time spent on assuring that the terrorist group would remain a non-existence threat, many are now questioning what other options are possibly left for the future of Afghanistan. She further deliberated upon how in the past several months, the conversation about peace talks with the Taliban has gained momentum, yet she warned that while this endeavour is a welcome development, the absence of insistence that the terrorist outfit denounce violence prior to ushering it onto the table does raise serious concerns. In addition, the Taliban’s battle for territory with fractions of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, namely the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), was another matter of discussion. As Ms. DePaulis explained, the ISKP in Afghanistan has been at the forefront of some of the deadliest attacks in the country in recent time, particularly after losing grip in Syria and Iraq and searching for new battleground for resurgence. Although, the power of the Taliban has proven very strong and the ISKP is currently more of a shadow of its former self, with many of its fighters and resources lost, DePaulis argued that it is crucial to note that just because the war on the Islamic State has thought to be won for now, this is only in terms of loss of territory. The fact that the group has gone underground may not mean much as the ideology and motivations remain strong and the State still has thousands of members in the region of origin and supporters throughout the world, who feed off their strong social media presence. In conclusion, Ms. DePaulis stated that it is crucial, when navigating the path ahead, that the West and other dominant global powers learn from past mistakes that have triggered the emergence and development of such terrorist outfits.
Mr. Junaid Qureshi, Director EFSAS, deliberated upon terrorism and radicalization taking place in Jammu & Kashmir. He began his speech by saying that long before the appalling incident of 9/11, violent extremism became a reality in the region of Jammu & Kashmir in 1947, during the partition of British India, when the newly created State of Pakistan invaded Jammu & Kashmir, and still 70 years after, the people of Jammu & Kashmir are suffering heavily from it. The incursion of the Jammu & Kashmir State by frontier tribesmen under Pakistan’s sponsorship, and assisted by regulars of its army on 22 October 1947, resulted in the division of the State into two parts, one controlled by India and the other by Pakistan. The invasion led by Pakistan was against all canons of international law and a clear contravention of the UN Charter. Mr. Qureshi further explained how after the Soviet-Afghan War, many fighters felt the need to continue the insurgency somewhere else. Therefore, seduced by the feeling of belonging to a greater Muslim brotherhood, Muslim youngsters from Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir were trained into combat and fight against Indian rule in Jammu & Kashmir by the Pakistani State and its military establishment. Hence, as a result the ongoing violent extremism in the region jeopardized any genuine political grievances of the people. Mr. Qureshi explained how terrorism has changed the makeup of the Kashmir conflict, since once the gun has started ruling, the conflict has lost any of its legitimacy, demands for justice and credibility in the eyes of the international community. He argued that in order to address political issues, it is of utmost importance that terrorism should be brought to a complete halt. Mr. Qureshi concluded by saying that the main objective should be to end terrorism, which only could pave way for an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity - cessation of acts of violence is one of the major prerequisites for long-term effects; positive and sustainable solutions could only be found when talks are held in a non-violent environment.
The Seminar was followed by a vibrant and challenging Q&A session during which the public and the speakers engaged in a debate on issues related to the potential spill over of terrorism from Xinjiang to Pakistan and vice versa, the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the region, the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir and the various solutions to the issue.
The Seminar was attended by professors, researchers, scholars, government officials and students who eagerly took part in the discussions during the networking reception held afterwards.