Asian Security: Traditional and Emerging Challenges

Asia, which is the economic powerhouse of the world and where half of the world population resides, is confronting several challenges on the security front. Today’s security challenges extend well beyond the state definitions and encompass all levels – security of human beings, security of states, security in the region, security of the world and also the security of the planet “Earth”. Vast landmass, immense littoral water, diverse race and vast population have resulted in many clashes and wars, leading to instability and insecurity in the continent since long. Asia, aftermath the twin tower attacks in 2001 and rise of Al-Qaeda, have witnessed a significant surge in already existing high levels of insecurity. From Korean peninsula in the East to Gaza Strip in the West, from Caucasus in the North to Indonesia in the South -- wars, conflicts and rising tensions and intrusion by external powers have become the shared reality for the people of Asia. Adding to these evils, the menace of terrorism in different forms and counterterrorist measures like US-led War on Terror is threatening peace across the continent. The rise of marginalized and disintegrated the economies, result of globalization and liberalization, has hastened discontent among disgruntled socio-cultural systems of almost all countries of this region. This has added woos to the level of insecurity and inability of statecraft to contain it.

Security Challenges in Asia are varied and numerous. The following are the most visible challenges.

Terrorism secures the first place among the security threats in Asia. Growing number of terror incidents in Asia surpasses such happenings elsewhere in Asia. Asia has become home to highest number of terror outfits in the world. The most prolific terror outfit, Al-Qaida, has its bases in Asia and its topmost leaders are hiding there. It influence is well visible from Palestine to the Philippines. In the name of freedom and Islam, Hezbollah and Hamas are carrying on their terror campaign in the Middle East and have taken over the old method of the PLO. In Saudi Arabia, the Holly Shrine of Mecca was taken over by terrorists led by Juhayman al-Otaibi in 1979 and after that it is facing a visible terror threat from Al-Qaida. Roads in Lebanon and Iraq were most unsafe in the world due to continuous suicide bombings. In Pakistan, the terrorists are well-organized and knocking at the gates of national capital. It has become a front in war against terror. World’s all terror incidents are planned and executed from its soil. Even the national institutions like the Army and the intelligence are being viewed as a collaborator of terror outfits. In India, internal and external terrorism continue to play hide and seek game with government forces. The northeast and Kashmir are in flames of crossborder terrorism. The recent, terror attack in Mumbai speaks volume of such incidents. In Bangladesh, Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen are active and have political patronization. Many militant leaders operating in India have taken shelter there. In Afghanistan, the emergence of the Taliban has forced back the country to the medieval age. The central Asian states are threatened by Islamic terror outfits. The Islamic terror outfits are also active in China’s restive Uyghur Xinjiang province whereas the Falun Gong members and the Tibetan supporters are waiting to strike at every opportune moment. In Thailand, thousands are killed by militant outfits like the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN), the Barisan National Pembebasan (BNPP) and the Mujahadeen Pataniin the Deep South provinces -- Patani and Yala. The spillover is also affecting peace in neighboring Malaysia. Radical groups have gained considerable influence in Keddah and Penang. Jemaah Islamiyah, an affiliate of Al-Qaida is carrying out campaign to establish radical Islamic states in Malay Peninsula. Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia are on its target. Bombings at Indonesian resort city, Bali, in 2002 and Jakarta Marriot Hotel in 2003 were its works. The Abu Sayyaf Group based in the Philippines is one of its offshoots. Named after the Al-Qaida leader  Rasul Sayyaf, it was founded by Abdurajak Janajalani, a close aid of Osama Bin Laden in the 1980s. It also actively supports other Filipino militant groups the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Misuari Renegade/Breakaway Group (MRG/MBG) and the Philippine Raja Solaiman Movement (RSM). In Japan, the Aum Shinrikyo cult is feared for its sarin gas attacks on public places.

The narcotics trade is the second most discussed security challenge in Asia. The drugs and money flowing from the "Golden Crescent" (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran) and the Golden Triangle (around 350,000 sq. km that overlaps the mountains of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Yunnan Province of China) contribute to crime, social conflicts, exacerbate corruption and threaten sovereignty, fuel extremism and terrorism, and plays a vital role in civil wars. In Afghanistan, along with Al-Qaida, almost every group operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban, militant outfits and warlords, is believed to have been financing their operations though the drug trade. The undemocratic nature of governments in Pakistan and civil war in Afghanistan promote a potent and deadly nexus of terrorist networks with key players in the drug trade. The narcotics trafficking networks are used to smuggle men and arms across borders to Central Asia and South Asia. Narcotics are also being used as soft security threat by depleting human health. In many Asian countries, including Tajikistan, India, Thailand and Afghanistan, fueled by narco-money, non-state actors threatening public security through armed resistance in the form of ethnic separatism, religious extremism or simply a criminal agenda sponsored by foreign agents. It is also enabling crime syndicates to co-opt corrupt state institutions or key individuals and, thus, reducing the force of state law and sense of public security. Flow of illegal money is eating into security of market forces.

Proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons in Asia is gradually emerging as the biggest threat to public security. Not only there is fear of these WMDs falling into the hands of terrorists, there is also possibility that bigger players Like the United will intervene to bereave the Asian "rogue" states of their possible nuclear arsenal. Already North Korea and Iran are on the US radar. As these states have age old rivalry with their neighbors, there is every likelihood of conflict arising out of the regional nuclear threat. At the same time, no one can deny the fact that any national crises, changeover to dictatorship, or anti-West feeling in countries like Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea may lead to use of their nuclear arsenal against western interests and cause war. Al-Qaeda-linked nuclear scientists in Pakistan also pose a serious threat to security in Asia.

Growing number of organized crime syndicates also pose a serious challenge to security in Asia. Fueled by Asian economic boom and narcotics trade these syndicates have rapidly grown their influence and base. They are often used by state intelligence to harm their counter parts. They supply arms to various insurgent and terror groups and act as their conducive. Not only they pose threat to law and order, but also they try to teether the political setup by either influencing it or by challenging it. They pose threat to sovereign governments in small nations and to the sociopolitical fabric in big nations.

Insurgency is a big challenge for Asian nations. Countries like India, China, Thailand, Pakistan, etc. are riddled with insurgency or ethnic disturbances. This poses a threat to the security systems in these Asian powerhouses. As Asian nations put maximum focus in subduing insurgents, the security system is bound to bear the fallout. The consequences are terror strikes, bloodshed, protracted warfare, allegations of human rights, etc. All these put the Asian nations on backstage and make their security apparatus overburdened.

Apart from these traditional challenges there are other potent threats to both national and public security in Asia. Border disputes between countries may catch up flame at anytime. Cultural and legal differentiation giving rise to ethnic conflicts and there is every possibility of unrest and emergence of terror groups. Unemployment, despite economic boom, is leading to rise in crimes and crime syndicates. Corruption creating discontent and this is often used by vested interests. Foreign interference have caused velvet revolutions which often lead to more harm than good and created instability and emergence of resistance groups.  Apart of these factors like economic inequality, population explosion, underdevelopment, low levels of production, regionalism, rising piracy have their role in challenging security systems in Asia.

The Asian nations have to face these challenges with strong determination. Principles of preemption and unilateralism are not agreeable part in their combatant capability. Tethered by ethnic and regional tension, political rift, insurgency, and lack of military teeth, the Asian nations are not expected to follow the "US way" of war on terror. Their ultimate response lies in close cooperation and coordination both at regional and global level.

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