Security will not be too far from the minds of the leaders when they assemble for the G20 summit at Antalya in Turkey. Just weeks before, the capital had been hit by bombs which killed over 80 persons. Yet, the 20-most powerful and influential nations stand deeply divided to be really effectual in restoring order around the world.
Standing atop the Crowne Plaza hotel on a beach in Antalya, if you look deep and far enough towards south-east, you could perhaps spot signs of some of the most serious threat to global peace and security in the last two decades.
On Turkey’s south-eastern coast, Antalya is separated only by the Mediterranean Sea from the terrible war that has hit Syria since 2011 where a mix of rag-tag rebel armies, numbering close to 50 separate groups, is fighting the Islamic State (IS), the extremist group, which aims to establish an Islamic Caliphate across large swathes of the world with large Muslim population. Both these groups, in turn, are fighting the armies loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who is being helped by Iranbacked Lebanese militia army, the Hezbollah and other Shia forces from all around the region.
Further complicating the situation, the western powers, mainly led by France and the United Kingdom, have been aiding the Sunni (largest denomination of Islam) rebels fighting Assad, in a clear attempt to dislodge him as they did in Libya with Muammar Gaddhafi. The United States mainly stood on the sidelines, though it has shipped arms and run bombing raids, to be seen as part of the coalition. Turkey, which is bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugees, has also been bombing Syria, mainly in line with the French and British targets.
The problem is not limited to Turkey. Terrorists have struck France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Australia and Canada, to name but a few. Indeed, it may be easier to name the countries that have remained beyond the reach of the terrorists.
The recent entry of Russia in the Middle East conflict has changed the scenario entirely. Worried about losing its sole military base in the region and regretting letting the western powers dislodge Gaddafi, Russia’s long-time ally, Russia has been hitting both the IS as well as anti-Assad Syrian forces, changing the entire equation, not just in Syria but indeed the whole region.
Caught off guard by the forceful Russian entry, France and UK warned Moscow that its aircraft may be attacked by their air force due to the presence of too many varied command structures in the small battlefield. It is unlikely that the western powers would actually ever engage the Russian forces, but it shows how delicate the entire situation is and how close the world is to an armed conflict, even if it remains limited to Syria, between Russia and the West. Also, the rather accurate use of its Cruise missiles, launched by Russia from its Caspian Sea base, would worry the Europeans about the renewed ability of Russia to hit targets all over Europe with a fair degree of accuracy.
Russia also regained a toehold in Iraq, which was the only ally during the Soviet days, when Saddam Hussein’s defence forces were armed and trained by the Soviets and subsequently the Russians. The Shia Iraqi regime has been complaining of lack of assistance by the western forces, which have almost stopped the bombing raids in Iraq and is yet to drive the Sunni IS forces away from the large swathes captured by the extremists in northwestern part of the country.
Hence, when Russia offered to provide assistance, the Iraqi leadership was quick to accept the offer and signed an intelligence sharing agreement and provided the Russians a command centre in the centre of the so-called Green Zone, right under the nose of the United States embassy.
This conflict of interest could be an opportunity for the surprisingly well-organised and efficient IS forces to increase their reach and come closer to achieving their goals and also spread the conflict to newer areas.
Though it may be the newest and certainly the most serious threat to global peace, IS is not the only challenge that the world is facing. Weakened and enfeebled after their conflicts with the IS, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda in various parts of the world do continue to pose a serious security threat.
In Afghanistan, the United States has been forced to keep at least 5,000 of its troops beyond the deadline of 2017 set by President Barack Obama for total withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. However, the rapid resurgence of the Taliban, which has captured key parts of Afghanistan, notably in southern province of Helmand and northern Kunduz province, came under a severe Taliban assault recently.
Perhaps more worryingly, in the recent months, Afghanistan has also seen the rise in forces affiliated to the IS in the areas bordering Pakistan. The rapid crumbling of Afghan army and severe infighting amongst the leading politicians, who represent different tribal groupings, show that the situation in this country is no different from the one that prevailed before the US intervention.
The situation is hardly any better in Libya now than it was when the United States consulate was bombed in September 2012 killing the US ambassador and several others. This attack, carried out by anti-Gaddhafi rebels and perhaps with the weapons obtained from the US and its allies, displayed clearly to the West, all that had gone wrong with their strategy of arming disparate groups of rebels, without even the most cursory background check of the leanings of these elements and their reliability in the war against terror.
From large swathes of North Africa, including Libya, parts of Tunisia and even Egypt, to almost the entire southern Sahara African nations, large chunks of west Africa and parts of eastern Africa as well are currently in the grip of extremist Islamic armed insurgent groups, mainly the IS but also including Al Qaeda and other fragmented groups. The war in Africa is more of an attritional war rather than the blitzkreig that IS has carried out in the Middle East.
It is not just the Russians and Iranians who do not see eye to eye with the policies and actions of the western coalition in the region. Many other nations, notably India and China, too have a very different view of the situation and have been asking the western allies to cease their support to the anti-Assad forces in Syria and to the anti-Houthi forces in Yemen, which has seen an armed intervention by the armed forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, led by Saudi Arabia.
Disquiet on the eastern front
Middle East and Africa may be experiencing a hot war pitting the Western allies and the Russians in opposing camp, but it is not the only region where the Western nations find themselves faced with a powerful rival, who may not hesitate to use its muscle to push forward its agenda, which is often very different from the Western priorities, if not in a direct conflict.
A bigger and potentially more dangerous rivalry, at least for the United States and its allies, is creeping up steadily in the South East Asia and Eastern Pacific areas. Consistent heavy spending by China has led to the emergence of a very strong and far reaching Blue Water Navy for the Asian giant, which is now second only to the US. As its martime prowess has increased, China has upped the ante in its relationship with its neighbours.China now has 300 warships, including aircraft carriers, submarines, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and the works. In addition, over the last few years, China has sought control of various island groups in East and South China seas, posing a serious threat to rival claims from nations like the Philippines, Vietnam and even Japan, whose collective naval forces are less than half that of China.
China’s newly developed naval doctrine clearly targets the US supremacy in the region and even in the Indian Ocean as the Chinese unfurl their plans to keep the United States beyond not only off the China seas but also right up to the Philippines and parts of the Eastern Pacific.
The United States has decided to react through a ‘rebalancing’ of its naval assets, which essentially means stationing 60 pc of its navy in the eastern Pacific Ocean to deter China from being too adventurous. The US Navy will also get a fresh infusion of additional capital, with the spending set to rise to USD160 billion (EUR 144 billion), which almost matches the entire Chinese defence budget of USD 216 billion (EUR 197.7 billion).
Nevertheless, the rise of China as a competing influence in the region makes the situation inflammatory as the Chinese leadership, if faced with a serious domestic threat, could raise the stakes in the area and could lead to an explosive situation.
Not only the dark clouds
But it is not all dark and desperate, yet. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which aims to dry up any financing for terrorist and criminal activities, has made a lot of progress and now has expanded from a mere 16 nations to over 190 today and all of whom are committed to curbing the access to finance for such elements.
The FATF noted in its recent report that though the world has made progress in combatting money laundering and terror financing, the methods used by these organisations have evolved and the global community must keep in step with the new methods.
Thus the FATF has set itself the task to review whether all member nations have implemented adequate measures to criminalise terrorist financing and cut off terrorism-related financial flows. The FATF is expected to submit an updated report to the G20 countries, with additional proposals to tighten the screws on terror bodies.
Organised crime groups often launder the proceeds of their crimes and move illicit funds through the financial system using complex networks of corporate vehicles such as companies service providers and trusts. Lack of transparency in the financial system enables them to do so undetected and facilitates the commission of corruption and tax crimes. Even though this issue has been high on the agenda of both G7 and G20 leaders in recent years, many countries have still not implemented effective measures to ensure that accurate information on the beneficial ownership of corporate vehicles is available to the competent authorities on a timely basis.
The FATF is also combatting the emergence of new technologies such as virtual currencies. Existing legal frameworks do not always cover virtual currencies adequately and this creates blocks in monitoring of such routes for terror finance. The FATF has discovered that virtual currencies have already been abused for money-laundering purposes.
The world can be effective in combatting such unprecedented threats as posed by terrorism today only if the nations cast aside their narrow interests and work in coordination with others to ensure that the global security does not continue its downward spiral, which it has been on since the last two decades. It would be imperative for the G20 leaders to agree on a common and coordinated approach to tackle this threat.
Changing Faces of Terror
Though the phenomenon of terrorism may be new to the western nations, India has been fighting this menace right from the day it gained independence, with the Pakistan army pushing hundreds of insurgents in the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir in mid-1948 in a bid to dislodge the government in place.
Since then, India has had to face such insurgencies on its western and eastern borders equally, with periods of extreme spurts over the decades. For a long time, the Indian experience with terror remained limited to the areas bordering these frontiers, notably parts of Jammu & Kashmir and some north-eastern states like Assam, Manipur, Nagaland etc. Very largely, the terrorism in these places targeted the Indian security forces.
However, in the 1980s, the scenario changed dramatically and terror outbursts happened in other states, notably Punjab, where anyone was a good target and thousands of civilians perished in bomb attacks that seemed to strike any place at any time. By the late 1980s, large metropolitan cities, notably Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, too, began to be targeted, killing and injuring civilians.
Though India had been pointing towards the involvement of Pakistan secret service agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), first and eventually the Taliban from Afghanistan in many of these incidents, the western powers continued to ignore these claims, treating these more as internal security challenges for India. It took the 9/11 attacks to change the global mindset on terrorism and for the west to comprehend that terrorism is not necessarily home grown. It can and often is incited, planned, financed and executed from beyond the national borders.
While the terror has disappeared from parts of north-eastern India and the situation in Jammu & Kashmir is better than earlier, India faces a new challenge, pretty much similar to the one faced by other countries around the world – the rise of multinational terror organisations like Al Qaeda and now its much bigger rival, the Islamic State. Lured by the aggressive and clever use of social media, the IS has managed to lure thousands of youth from across the world to join in its battle for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate and dozens of Indians are believed to be have gone to join this battle.
IS has already declared India as being right on the top of its target list. Countering the challenge posed by IS will require a very different approach from the Indian government, which needs to tackle this at multiple levels, starting from the social media where the process of recruitment for IS begins and right down to making significant and visible changes in order to convince the wayward youth that their future lies in a united, strong and modern India and not in some imaginary Caliphate.