Global Terrorism Index 2022 and State of South Asia: Enduring Progress of Bangladesh

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Since the Al Qaeda terrorists did strike against the United States on September 11, 2001, terrorism has been a major challenge for the world. Despite original projections that the COVID-19 pandemic would exacerbate the impact of terrorism in specific places, the pandemic appears to have had very little influence on terrorism in 2020 and 2021. While the pandemic, Ukraine crisis, and Taiwan tension are threatening peace and security in today’s world, terrorism remains the primary asymmetrical threat. For the rise of religious radicalism, regional tension and non-resolution of disputed regions, the South Asia region has become an arc of instability. Gradually, the global terrorism center of gravity has shifted to South Asia.

Barring Bhutan, a Buddhist nation, in South Asia, Bangladesh has considerably improved its terrorist threat matrix, according to the GTI 2022. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) is thorough research that examines the impact of terrorism by combining four metrics: events, fatalities, injuries, and property damage. According to GTI 2022, South Asia, which has held this position since 2007, has the highest average GTI score in the world in 2021. The Caribbean and Central America, on the other hand, saw the least damage from terrorism.

According to GTI-2022, two layers have different ranges of terrorism scores in South Asia. In the First layer, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India stand with scoring high in the GT index. And in the second layer, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan stand with a low scores. South Asian states may be categorized into two groups that contain different scores of terrorism in GTI-2022. The first group includes three countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In the GTI-2022 list, two countries; Afghanistan and Pakistan are positioned in the first ten countries among the 163 countries which means both have a high rate of terrorism. India is enlisted as the twelfth position on the list.

Afghanistan has positioned first with increasing number terrorist incidents and deaths, increased by 33 percent in 2021. Afghanistan has the greatest global death toll from terrorism in 2021 (1,426), making it the most affected by terrorism for a third straight year.

According to GTI-2022, the Taliban has changed its tactics and primarily targeted civilians, who were the subject of 47% of attacks and 64% of fatalities.

Prior to that, the Taliban were responsible for the most occurrences but in 2021 with Taliban the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), the IS terror outfit’s regional affiliate, is responsible for the total deaths in Afghanistan. In August 2021, the Sunni-based ISKP claimed responsibility for an attack against the Shia community in Kabul that killed eight persons and injured hundreds more. And after the assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri by the US, the ISKP, also known as ISIS-K, has already stepped up its propaganda by alleging the Taliban’s failure to protect al-Zawahiri which will endanger Afghanistan’s stability.

Pakistan’s situation in GTI-22 shows that it has positioned in the tenth and reveals that in 2021, there were still as many terror-related occurrences as there were in 2020 (171 incidents in 2020 and 186 in 2021). According to the report, the  Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is closely affiliated with the Afghan Taliban and responsible for killing tens of thousands of Pakistanis between 2007 and 2015, was responsible for the deaths and mostly police and military were targeted. The Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) reports that there were 207 terrorist incidents in Pakistan in 2021, a 42% rise from 2020, and that cost 335 lives.

Behind its twelfth position of India in the GTI-2016, there are domestic policies and geopolitical moves. There were 415 terrorism-related incidents reported in 2020 compared to 460 in 2021, 153 of which were gunfights between security personnel and militants. But according to the Minister of State for Home Affairs, a total of 229 terrorist attacks (12 civilians) were reported in 2021 which was 417 in 2018. India is also facing the rise of Hindu radical groups’ atrocities. According to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, on September 10, 2021, a crowd of 200 extremist Hindu nationalists attacked a church in the state of Uttarakhand.

The second group contains four member states of South Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. These four countries have seen decreasing number of the score as the change from 2020 to 2021. These countries’ national policies are mostly responsible to counter terrorism and its incidents toward civilians. Bhutan has scored zero in the GTI report which shows that Bhutan has no impact on terrorism. Bhutan’s global terrorism score gradually decreased from 1.24 in 2012 to 0 in 2021 which makes Bhutan unique in South Asia.

After Sri Lanka’s attack, the government had taken initial plans which included re-establish security, intelligence coordination, and political firmness, continuing nation-building efforts, and improving governance and tourism recovery plan. Nepal has small attacks but the re-establishment of the Taliban in Afghanistan has posed a new challenge for Nepal and the region also. With an open border with India and insufficient security, Nepal is used as a transit for international terrorists. In 2016, Nepal released a National Security Policy that discusses terrorism along with extremism and tries to combat it.

Progress of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is clearly ahead of all countries in South Asia except Bhutan in dealing with the threat of terrorism. The Holey Artisan incident of 2016 remains as an exception in its history marked by peace and reocncilitation among the people. In 2021, Bangladesh’s triumph over terrorism and violent extremism persisted with more success and accomplishments. During the year, there were no fatalities associated with Islamist extremism. The threat has been contained as a result of the security forces’ consistent pressure against organizations supporting Islamist extremism. In 2021, SFs detained at least 159 militants from a variety of organizations, including 105 ABT/Ansar al-Islam cadres, 30 Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members, 8 Neo-JMB members, 7 Allahar Dal members, 5 Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) members, and 4 Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) members. The zero-tolerance policy of the government, the awareness of people, and effectiveness of counter-terrorism operations have primarily contributed to lower the threat of violent extremism in Bangladesh.

Why does South Asia score high?

Due to rising acts of extremism and terrorism, the South Asian region today confronts a serious security concern. For several reasons, such as enactment by tyrannical regimes and rebel groups, socioeconomic injustice, ideological inconsistencies, religious convictions, and foreign intervention, terrorism and the rise of extremism have been occurring across South Asia. In South Asia, except Bhutan, all states have terrorist activities which makes a serious note of concern to South Asian policymakers. Though there are many reasons, there are three speculations behind the higher score of South Asia in GTI-2022.

Firstly, national policies and external involvement might be connected to the politics of violence and extremist trends in South Asia. While overall violence has decreased since the peak of armed clashes between former Afghan government forces and the Taliban between May and August 2021, there has been a significant shift in violence against women, journalists, and educators under the new Taliban government, establishing a “permanent climate of strife.According to VOA, there is a possibility that after the assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, in Kabul by a U.S. drone operation, providing ISKP with yet another chance to enlist new troops. In India, with rising nationalism reflecting in policies, symbols, and feelings is now becoming predominant in politics, in the media, among the judiciary and the police, and in public life which is creating concerns in India and its neighboring countries.

Secondly, although Shi’a radicals in Pakistan and Afghanistan had stronger ties to Iran, Sunni radicals in these two countries have storng presence. The Sunni people make up over 85% of the population. Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka all have threats from terrorism and have seen the atrocities of terrorist attacks. Thirdly, a lack of cooperative relations and trust among South Asia’s states is responsible for a higher score. South Asia’s countries are closely interlinked geographically and economically but the region experiences the intra-state conflict as India-Pakistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan. From transnational terrorism, in South Asia, there are Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), and the Hizbut Tawhid which have domestic and international agendas of establishing the caliphate and left-wing terrorism in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Except, for external factors, South Asia is a complicated political region due to its multiethnic social fabric, historical animosity, and bloodshed along religious, communal, and linguistic lines both inside and between countries. South Asia’s regional security structure depends on India but the territorial and historical conflict between India and Pakistan makes the security structure weak in the region. States have a lack of trust and ‘we-ness’ in countering terrorism.

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak and the continuance of this deadly virus’ global spread in 2020, terrorism-related occurrences that are directly or indirectly related to various geopolitical situations continued in 2021. In South Asia, the rise of the Taliban has made a significant change in peace and stability in the region. Taliban is not only encouraging Afghanistan’s terrorism but also creating threats to Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The 2021’s GTI shows, South Asia has the highest score which is menacing for all. Addressing the multiple crises and conflicts in the region, the region should focus on a systematic approach and standard regional security structure for developing strong counter-terrorism policies for enduring positive peace in the region.

– Aditi Chakrovorty is serving as Senior Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, she served as Research Associate at the East Asia Study Center (EASC), University of Dhaka.

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