Indo-Pacific countries turn to partners to fight terror

Indo-Pacific countries turn to partners to fight terror

Joseph Hammond

Indo-Pacific countries are working more closely together and with the United States to curb the financing and execution of terrorist attacks in the region, a U.S. report states.

The 305-page 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism, released in June 2020 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, includes reports on Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, the Philippines and Singapore.

Each country report covers a range of topics from methods to counter violent extremism to measures taken to combat terrorist financing. The report also highlighted growing levels of counterterrorism cooperation across the region.

Among the Indo-Pacific terror attacks discussed in the report: the Islamic State-inspired attacks in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019, which killed more than 250 people; and the March 15, 2019, mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 51.

These incidents provided context for cooperation among partner nations, the report observed, including efforts leading to the arrest in Singapore of a suspect linked to radical Sri Lankan preacher Zahran Hashim, the purported planner of the April 2019 attacks.

Significant collaboration took place through intergovernmental organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation convention on the suppression of terrorism. The report highlighted ASEAN’s “Our Eyes” intelligence-sharing initiative and the global coalition to defeat ISIS as examples of successful collaboration.

The report also emphasized the role of emerging multilateral frameworks such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, among Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. (Pictured: Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and Indian Army Soldiers conduct a joint anti-terrorism drill in Vairengte, Mizoram, India, in late October 2019.)

Bilateral initiatives that often receive little attention were covered by the report, such as an agreement that calls for Japan to provide the Maldives with U.S. $4.6 million to fund counterterrorism efforts.

“For too long the lack of multilateral cooperation on this issue in Asia has been a serious issue — manifested by the growth of foreign fighters that the region has seen in recent years,” Animesh Roul, executive director of the New Delhi-based Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, told FORUM. He praised the growing cooperation between the U.S. and India, which hosted the first counterterrorism tabletop exercise with Quad members in November 2019.

“The U.S. government engaged with the Indian government to improve border security and information-sharing capabilities,” the 2019 Country Reports stated. “India is in the process of improving its ability to detect and deter terrorist travel by using watchlists, implementing biographic and biometric screening capabilities at ports of entry and expanding information sharing.”

Joseph Hammond is a FORUM contributor reporting from the Indo-Pacific region.