Over the years, the surging global trends have assumed varying characteristics between 2020 and 2022. While on the one hand, negotiations between the state apparatus and terrorists have become normalised and a part of the international relations conducted in Africa and South-Central Asia. On the other hand, the non-state actors, having accumulated far-reaching influence and fear factor, have now audaciously challenged the state’s integrity and thereby compel the government of the day to heed to its demands, from the bottom-up to the top-down.
On the other hand, far-right and politically charged acts of terrorism have primarily swept away the traditional Islamist jihadist threats facing the West without wholly diluting its essence. In contrast, the narratives about accelerationism, the great replacement theory, and video games as a radicalisation toolkit have become vital to analysing the first world’s developing security challenges.
Negotiating with terrorists: The Malian way
Amid the widening rift with the French, the Malian junta has presumably sought to acquire an alternative, even a disagreeable partner, to diminish the locals’ growing angst and frustration at continuing violence and insecurity. Accordingly, the Malian leadership is reportedly in the works of negotiating a deal with Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), an Al-Qaeda affiliate and the most rapidly expanding terrorist outfit worldwide. This step has presumably been initiated as part of the government’s last-ditch attempt to retain power and bring the ravaging war, from 2017 onwards to an end.
Analysts like Wassim Nasr believe that the already strained relationship between the Malian junta burdened with multiple economic embargoes and President Emmanuel Macron hit its rock bottom due to the prospect of a ceasefire between the government and the terrorists. He claims –
“Negotiations were the last affront for France and, in the current context, it is the junta’s last card to play. But even if the negotiations ultimately fail, a ceasefire would allow the junta to boast that it has facilitated the return of displaced populations or that it has enabled a particular village to stop being encircled by the jihadists and that is what counts for the local people.”
In central Mali, several tribal leaders have signed what crudely termed as “survival pacts” with JNIM fighters in the absence of effective army control and destabilising security situation countrywide.
To preserve peace and prevent the killing of ordinary civilians and the looting of cattle by the jihadists, the communities have collectively sought to achieve a fragile but ongoing truce with this deadly terrorist organisation. However, while freedoms have been put aside to eliminate violence by the terrorists, the hard-won stability does not appear to be taken for granted. Some of these tribal heads have now called upon the government to officially open a channel for negotiations with JNIM, including them and clerics. Whether or not this will be mainstreamed and eventually bear fruit is still debated.
The Afghan-Central Asian quicksand
As the Afghan example suggests, the US-led attempts to negotiate a dignified exit from its longest-running war after 2001 also normalised diplomatic engagement with insurgents-turned administrators. Most states globally have exercised caution in granting official recognition to the Taliban’s interim government. Nonetheless, their continued engagement, beginning with the Doha agreement signed in February 2020 or the Troika Plus Meeting held in Moscow, has de facto accorded an informal diplomatic status to Afghanistan’s new regime.
A country undergoing a multifaceted human security crisis as Afghanistan is bound to be the forerunner on the Global Terrorism Index report. The internalised violent rivalry between the Taliban and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), with a potential for spillover, has added to the Afghans’ chaos and instability, especially in the Shia Hazara community, frequently jolted by bloodshed and insecurity. Moreover, replacing the Taliban as the deadliest terrorist organisation in 2021, the ISKP has continued to stage the ground for a protracted conflict locally while attempting to permeate the Central Asian borders, including those of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
It has also tried to depict any cooperation between the Taliban and the Uzbeks as a betrayal on the former’s part for colluding with a country that it accuses of being Islam’s enemy and for being heretics. Furthermore, while the outfit is hailing the allegedly recent attack on the Tajik soil as the initiation of its parent organisation’s “great jihad to Central Asia,” its association with hardened Tajik jihadists goes back to their recruitment by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and Afghanistan in 2015.
According to a Voice of America report unveiled in April 2022, the ISKP claimed to have staged ten rocket attacks, targeting the Uzbek territory, particularly a military facility in Termez. Although the Uzbek government swiftly refuted this assertion, the SITE Intelligence Group, a non-governmental organisation that tracks jihadist and white supremacist outfits’ online terrorist propaganda, has published alleged pictures supporting the ISKP’s audacious claims.
Since the fall of the Ghani administration in August 2021, Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries have apprehensively looked at the evolving trends. This comes amid the growing tensions between the Taliban’s interim government and the Tajik leaders over the latter’s assistance to the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan. Its torchbearers like Ahmed Shah Massoud and Amrullah Saleh are ethnic Tajiks.
The never-ending Pakistani crises
On the other hand, the evolving terrorist trends have also included Pakistan’s domestic crisis and its confrontation with the TTP. The TTP is the Pakistani branch of the Afghan Taliban. It has waged a protracted armed battle against the host state, with some of its earlier attacks, like the massacre at an army school in Peshawar in December 2014, resulting in hundreds of school children and teachers’ deaths. However, last year, after the one-month ceasefire broke down in December 2021, it had intensified its attrition. While this temporary ceasefire agreement failed to materialise into a more permanent initiative, it reinforced the normalisation of negotiating with proscribed groups and terrorists. Nonetheless, it set the stage for a probable return to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban mediating the talks based on a similar format.
Since the beginning of May 2022, the state and TTP have been re-engaged in discussions, albeit constantly arriving at a stalemate due to demands that neither side can appear to agree to. For example, end to military operations in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas and halting attacks on Pakistani installations. Over the past month, they have extended the ceasefire thrice. This time, they have done so for an indefinite period, after the last one expired on 30 May. A three-member committee to iron out differences, moderated by Sirajuddin Haqqani, has also been formed.
Pakistani officials have claimed that over 100 officers have lost their lives in TTP attacks since 2022. This is only a minuscule sample size to understand the gravity of the situation wholly. However, the state establishment has found it increasingly challenging to convince its Afghan compatriots to rein in the TTP as it had hoped and give it some respite to shift its focus to the deteriorating economic crisis.
However, the persevering patron-client ties now face the hurdle of overcoming what appears to be a nearly-insurmountable roadblock. Despite repeated requests by the Pakistani leadership, the de facto Afghan rulers have refused to cooperate on severing ties with the TTP and instead sought to militarily engage with armed forces in constructing fences along the contested Durand Line. Furthermore, an internationalised diplomatic crisis has ensued due to Pakistani forces’ “counter-terrorism operations” in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost and Kunar provinces in April 2022. Reportedly to eliminate TTP jihadists, the airstrikes killed at least 47 civilians, including 20 children. In such instances, counter-terrorism strategies are intertwined to penalise neighbouring states who refuse to conform to patron countries’ demands.
When terrorism comes to the West: The United States, the UK, Germany, and Canada
- The United States of America
The Capitol Hill Riots organised in January 2020 to protests against those who “stole” the election, or the most recent targeted killings of African-Americans by Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white supremacist and conspiracy theorist, in a prominently African-American neighbourhood supermarket in Buffalo, New York, reveal the country’s diverse security challenges. They are driven by the deep-rooted paranoia associated with the Great Replacement Theory – a conspiracy theory touted by ultra-right white supremacists according to whom the “superior” race, i.e., the white community in the Western world, is threatened by the immigration of non-whites, which will result in the former’s extinction.
Additionally, although not directly linked to a terrorist ideology, accelerationism, is a loophole that ought to be remedied at urgent notice. Its proponents believe that it is obligatory for the alt-right white nationalists to violently ensure the liberal democratic order’s destruction to make way for an order dominated by them to emerge. Ethnic and racial minorities, Jews, “race traitors” such as whites indulging in inter-racial relationships must also be wholly wiped out. Furthermore, it is unsurprising that such distorted notions have gained prominence during the pandemic, convincing a segment of the population that migrants and Jews bear responsibility for the spread of this infectious disease.
Seth Aaron Pendley is currently serving a ten-year imprisonment sentence for plotting to blow up an Amazon data centre, driven by the farce idea that this act would disrupt most of the internet and federal agencies’ digital communication services. He believed that the fallout would have such a devastating impact on the Americans’ lives that they would violently rise against the “dictatorship.”
On the other hand, in November 2021, a large-scale shooting at the Oxford High School in Michigan has become the first even to be categorised by prosecutors as an act of domestic terrorism in the country. The mass violence and fear generated by one of the several incidents related to gun violence in the United States has relatively convinced the authorities that acts of terrorism, whether committed by Islamist jihadists or a high school teenager, should be placed and judged within the same paradigm. Whether it was 9/11 or blood spilled at an academic institution and a supermarket, these events fulfilled some of the essential criteria of terrorism –
“Any act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
Violence linked to alt-right ideologies has catapulted, including in the United Kingdom (UK), according to the Metropolitan (Met) Police’s Assistant Commissioner, Matt Jukes. 41 percent of arrested individuals in 2021 comprised of those affiliated with or ideologically inclined towards the alt-right. Last year, a 13-year-old teenager was arrested on charges of trying to make a bomb.
However, the Islamist jihadist threat has not waned yet in the UK. Three arrests – a 13 and an 18-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl – have been made by the police during a week on terrorism-related charges in May 2022. Although their investigations are currently viewed independently for the moment, Richard Smith, Commander of Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command Centre, has claimed that –
“It is a further indication of a concerning upward trend in police action against younger people for terrorism-related matters.”
Moreover, Prevent, a core component of the British government’s counter-terrorism, counter-radicalisation strategy, has also struggled to address the loopholes in its countrywide de-radicalisation programmes. For example, Sir David Amess, a former parliamentarian, was assassinated in October 2021 by Ali Harbi Ali, an Islamist terrorist who was once a part of this initiative.
In 2020, violent right-wing extremist incidents across Germany reached a two-decade high. The past statistics indicated that 23,064 alt-right-related crimes accounted for all politically-motivated crimes during that year, with an increase of 18.8 percent in violent hate crimes, including attempted murders and fatal injuries. In addition, January 2020 witnessed a racially-motivated attack against the country’s only serving black member of the Bundestag (the German federal parliament), Dr. Karamba Diaby, when his car was found riddled with five bullet holes. A week after that incident, he received a threatening email warning that he would meet the same fate as Herr Lübcke (details mentioned below).
In March of that year, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – The German Domestic Intelligence Services) placed the alt-right Alternative für Deutschland’s (Alternative for Germany) influential party leaders under surveillance and categorically defined it as an extremist organisation. According to Herr Thomas Haldenwang, the Intelligence Chief, at least 200 lives have been lost due to right-wing extremism between the German re-unification and March 2020.
Furthermore, one must also consider two significant far-right attacks – The deadly Hanau shooting in February 2020, where nine people died and five suffered injuries by Tobias Rathjen, a right-wing ideologue driven by anti-Semitic sentiments. Even though his letters detailing his chilling thoughts had been delivered to the state authorities, no action had been taken. Following his rampage, he murdered his mother and committed suicide after returning home. This was preceded by the assassination of Walter Lübcke, a politician from Hesse, in June 2019, who was targeted by Stephen Ernst, a neo-Nazi, due to his pro-refugee stance.
On the other hand, the Ukrainian war appears to have given the German neo-Nazis a fresh impetus to advocate for their ideological aspirations –
“When Putin marches through, men will again be men, electricity and fuel will become cheaper, Islamization will end, and the greens and lefties will all be locked up.”
This message appeared on Free Thuringians, an alt-right extremist groups’ Telegram channel.
The threat analysis report released by the federal administration’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre in 2021 warned that authorities’ ability to detect potential attacks committed by such religiously or ideologically motivated groupings or persons has become challenging. For example, there are hundreds of alt-right outfits across the country. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement and security personnel find it difficult to narrow down and clamp down on at-risk individuals and groups.
Furthermore, as Jessica Davis, a former Senior Intelligence Analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has aptly pointed out, while a considerable segment of radicalised people is active on social media platforms only a minority of them genuinely translate their views into threatening actions, the “challenge is really figuring out who in that big bucket is actually going to do something.” The pandemic has also witnessed a surge in neo-Nazi activities, predominantly hate crimes, as targeted violence against the Black community in Canada has catapulted by more than 96 percent, with analogies being drawn with the Buffalo shooting in the United States of America.
Terrorist threats have magnified over the past few years, gradually subsuming efforts to prioritise socio-economic development, particularly in fragile states. Namely, Mali is still struggling to address the local grievances and is unable to develop and implement a multi-pronged counter-terrorism strategy that works. This has forced the government’s hand and compelled it to potentially strike a peace deal with the terrorists. In addition, the efforts to do so have intensified amid the inevitable French withdrawal from the Malian territory and the desire to secure peace and stability. However, one could also assert that, like Mali, Afghanistan also served as the theatre of negotiations to end the “forever wars.”
Unstable countries in the Sahel region, including Mali, have eclipsed West Asia and North Africa region, and Afghanistan, in the at-risk category. On the other hand, according to the Global Terrorism Index Report 2022, Afghanistan has retained its place as the worst impacted by this menace third year in a row.
Concurrently, one must remember that Afghanistan’s position has been cemented primarily because of its humanitarian and security quagmire. It is confronted with numerous challenges – the absence of adequate funds to run the country and provide essential services and security, in addition to brain drain and the threat of a booming narco-terror economy looming ahead. The trajectory it will take is debatable despite numerous dialogues and conferences focused on its emanating issues being organised worldwide.
Additionally, Pakistan also sought to adopt a similar playbook to halt, even partially, the radicalised elements,’ including those belonging to the Taliban’s Pakistan branch’s advance. The army and intelligence agencies have faced this mounting dilemma despite their long-standing relationship with the Afghan Taliban. Their radicalisation occurred in the Pakistani madrassas over two decades ago. It retained the support of subsequent governments during their insurgency against Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani’s administrations and the international coalition forces. As explained Sami Yousufzai, an Afghan journalist –
“Pakistan is angry that the Taliban are copying its playbook by hosting a militant group hostile to a neighbouring country.”
Invariably, such sentiments will remain unchanged because the subsequent Afghan governments are unlikely to compromise on their jihadist principles to such an extent. They are already under severe strain due to reported Uyghur defections to the ISKP and criticism for parlaying with the West. Betraying their TTP brethren would unravel the fundamental argument for waging the bloody insurgency to replace the American-backed administrations and replace them with an Islamic system based on Sharia. A group whose inability to secure the country from ISKP attacks or to overcome the humanitarian catastrophe amid the pandemic would not survive such an overreaching compromise of their Islamic beliefs. Like the Afghan Taliban, the TTP also seeks to violently overthrow the existing state infrastructure and replace it with a Sharia-backed Islamic government.
Alt-right terrorism and conspiracy theories have increasingly gained ground among the new breed of terrorists in the western world. The Great Replacement Theory is at the core of emerging security challenges. However, developed countries have also continued to experience its fallout, rapidly shifting its course from Islamist threats to alt-right domestic violent extremism or politically motivated violence. For example, first-world countries such as the United States of America have realised that individuals who are generally the amalgamation of white supremacists and conspiracy theorists pose some of the most significant domestic threats to the nation-state.
Despite emerging as the European powerhouse over the last few years, Germany has been compelled to navigate challenges of politically-motivated terrorism, frequently attributed to the alt-right ideology. As per official accounts, it is believed to have recorded at least 19 such attacks, surpassing those anywhere in the western world. A substantive degree of radicalisation occurs on chat forums and video games, particularly among middle-class persons. Over time, this can take the form of politically-motivated terrorism, and the situation appears to have worsened amid the pandemic. The United Kingdom is a case in point.
The Canadian authorities, who have remained relatively immune, vis-à-vis their western counterparts to such acts of terror, have recently begun to confront security challenges posed by lone-wolf actors and small-scale organisations.
On the other hand, while the Covid restrictions have constrained people’s ability to participate in physical meetings and engage in activities intended to cause tangible harm, hours spent traversing through online forums have spurred alt-right radicalisation and continued to inspire lone-wolf attacks. The targets of attacks are often those who are considered a threat to white supremacy, either due to their racial or religious attributes, and “race traitors.”
Nevertheless, catapulting alt-right tendencies in the West cannot dilute the threat posed by Islamist jihadists. For example, the challenges associated with Prevent, a core component of the British government’s counter-terrorism strategy, have recently been subjected to greater scrutiny due to its loopholes.
These overlapping conflicts are detrimental to domestic and regional security dynamics.
As has been indicated above, governments have resorted to backtracking from their ideal positions or refraining from engagement with terrorists to save face, redirect resources towards socio-economic crises engulfing their populace, or reduce fatalities of the civilians, or state personnel, including the police, and armed forces.