Asean coooperation key to anti-terror efforts, says think tank

Elina-Noor-terroristPETALING JAYA: Asean countries need to focus on domestic inter-agency and state-to-state cooperation in the fight against rising terror concerns in the region.

Analysts and experts have called for greater cooperation among nations in Southeast Asia as the Islamic State (IS) terror group has lost its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

An estimated 40,000 people have traveled from around the world to take up arms for the IS as it occupied territory in both countries and declared a caliphate in 2014.

A few hundred are believed to still be fighting as IS struggles to survive, having lost most of its territory to campaigns by Western-backed Syrian and Iraqi coalition armies.

Many thousands were certainly killed in the intense fighting, but experts believe many have survived, posing a formidable threat going ahead.

Some have returned home to face their country’s legal system or are feared to have returned home below the radar of the authorities.

Others are reported or feared to have gone to other conflict areas where IS franchises are operating, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The most important things in the fight against terrorism in the region are actual and effective domestic inter-agency and state-to-state cooperation,” Elina Noor, foreign policy and security studies director at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, told FMT.

“There may be jurisdictional or other issues hampering cooperation in these two areas but if jurisdictional complications can be worked out through mutually agreed upon arrangements, then there may be no need to establish a regional counter-terrorism body, after all.”

Marawi conflict

The country in the region that has been hardest hit by terrorists is the Philippines, where government troops battled IS-affiliated groups for five months in Marawi city.

The Philippine congress has approved a one-year extension of martial law which was imposed in Mindanao during the Marawi conflict.

But certain quarters have criticised the move and the government’s lack of political will in addressing other efforts in countering violent extremism.

One of them is the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a congressional bill which seeks to establish a proposed new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, replacing the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The bill has not been passed since its first reading in 2014, which has been cited to be one of the reasons people disgruntled with the bill’s slow progress join militant groups.

Experts and analysts have advised that apart from politics, efforts to prevent violent extremism should also consider socio-economic factors affecting Asean society.

In line with these, Elina believes that military action should be the last resort in tackling the threat of terrorism which is constantly evolving.

“Although the nature of the terrorist threat has and may continue evolving to warrant more forcible measures, the military option should always be the last resort in countering terrorism if there are other better options available,” she said.

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