Undoubtedly, Asia as almost become the new strategic centre of gravity in international politics.7 In the post-Cold War period, concomitantly Asia’s vulnerability to the menace of terrorism has also become more acute as compared to other parts of the globe. There are issues, like tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the maturing nuclear threat from North Korea, and political stability in Central, South, and South-east Asia that have assumed new meaning in the light of the on-going war on terrorism.
Emergence of terrorist groups as sub-statal actors seems to have become defining features of post-9/11 terrorism. In the post-9/11 period, a ‘new form of terrorism’ is said to have emerged. Delineating between ‘new form of terrorism’ and ‘old’ terrorism, Steven Simon cites the example of al Qaeda, which justified its 9/11 acts as acts of religious devotion and it is this “religious motivation, coloured by a messianism and in some cases a apocalyptic vision of the future”8, that distinguishes al Qaeda and its affiliates from conventional or ‘old’ terrorist groups. ‘New terrorism’ poses more serious and dangerous threat to security.
This ‘new terrorism’ has “different motives, different actors, different sponsors, and demonstrably greater lethality. Terrorists are organising themselves in new, less hierarchical structures and using ‘amateurs’ to a far greater extent than in the past.”9 The potential of threat of use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has added a more serious and dangerous dimension to the new form of terrorism.
Terrorism has assumed a pervasive character and its menace threatens almost every country on the globe in general and Asian region in particular with occasional occurrence of terrorist incidents in West European countries.
Another dangerous development that provides teeth to ‘New Terrorism’ is the tendency among lesser known terrorist groups to gravitate towards al Qaeda. A variety of lesser-known regional or national terrorist outfits, such as Ansar al-Islam, the Zarqawi network, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), Salifiya Jihadia, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), are now increasingly gravitating towards al Qaeda operationally and seeks to advance its objectives of worldwide terror.10 Many parts of Asia in particular, and the world in general, are vulnerable to the threats of new terrorism.
Factors like the existence of large Muslim communities (some 240 million Muslims); easily penetrable geography; the existence of significant Western and pro-Western interests; and a generally lax security environment make South-east Asia a region of immense geo-strategic significance for the terrorist groups. Consequently, terrorism tops the security agenda of countries in South-east Asia and the issue of transnational terrorism in post- 9/11 has galvanised the ASEAN states to cooperate in anti-terror efforts.
There has been an on-going and across-the-board military modernisation and expansion programme being pursued by most South-east Asian states, which includes many of them acquiring the kind of military hardware for conventional threats, rather than the unconventional threat of terrorism. Significantly, states have used the sceptre of the terrorist threat to justify their continuing military buildup. In other words, the terrorist threat has been used as a pretext for ongoing military expansion plans by some states. Although another fallout of South-east Asia seemingly becoming the second front in the campaign against terrorism has been the United States’ military re-engagement with the region, which has not translated into overall US attention to the region’s wider strategic concerns and interests. Washington is merely interested in pursuing its anti-terror campaign, and its supposed strategic re-engagement in South-east Asia is very narrowly focused on that particular issue. Under the prevailing circumstances, countries of South-east are called upon to address their terror-related problems on their own through the forum of ASEAN and Asian Regional Forum (ARF).