Countering terrorism should find space in all multilateral debates
In an era of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the US-China competition, increasing geopolitical crevasses offer newer, safer spaces for militant organisations often seen as valuable tools in coercive geopolitics
The global understanding of what multilateralism is and how it functions is changing. With United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reforms seemingly complicated, a country like India remains on the precipice of this post-World War II architecture. The answer is coming in the form of other forums, such as the G20. These platforms are being pushed beyond their initial mandate of cooperating on global economic matters.
The idea of decoupling security from geoeconomics is wishful thinking. A more interconnected, technologically led world faces a new set of challenges. Countering terrorism, a global movement in the post-9/11 era, is losing focus in diplomacy, even as threats remain constant and, in some respects, have increased.
The haphazard exit of the United States (US) from Afghanistan in 2021 brought the Taliban back to power, upending regional security in southern and central Asia. Along with Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS) affiliates in parts of Africa and West Asia remain prominent. Recent counter-terror measures by the US in Syria, Yemen and Somalia and fractured efforts by France in the Sahel against Islamist groups, coupled with countries such as Pakistan (a State sponsor of militancy and now an importer of it) show that global counter-terror efforts are far from over.
Online propaganda by terror groups is growing. ISIS supporters are prompting their cadre to code, and groups, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are releasing classified ads to recruit propaganda writers. Supporters of the Taliban, ironically, have come up with an online counter-narrative website to dispel anti-Taliban propaganda by Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP).
While the threat of terrorism remains consistent, any chance of building a pan-global view against it is challenging. In an era of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the US-China competition, increasing geopolitical crevasses offer newer, safer spaces for militant organisations often seen as valuable tools in coercive geopolitics. From the US lifting its ban against the Uyghur-led militant group East Turkestan Islamic Party in 2020, much to Beijing’s dismay, to Moscow terming the ISKP and other IS affiliates as a product of “Anglo-Saxon” strategies has shown that the era of post-9/11 support the US had rallied is now over. For example, Burkina Faso’s decision to ask French troops to leave, who had been fighting Islamist insurgencies, was reportedly strategically replaced by Russian presence via the entry of for-hire mercenaries. This decision against French troop presence came when Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was on an expansive tour of Africa to gather support from the Global South. In other parts, such as Afghanistan, Russia’s growing confluence with China and Iran is also creating a separate architecture of global countering-West geopolitics. The post-9/11 era afforded a timely opportunity to the likes of Beijing, allowing it to build its counter-terror narratives on ethnic issues in Muslim-majority Xinjiang.
While the above examples only showcase the divisions counter-terror narratives will face amid a widening gap in geopolitics, the return of big power competition and a Cold War-like narrative between Washington and Moscow, multilateral groups such as the G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, along with “minilateral” constructs, will become more active in trying to build alternative, more agile political instruments that, ideally, should become better equipped to handle future challenges. Even from an Indian perspective, while this offers an opportunity, New Delhi may have to urgently come out with blueprints of its thinking on issues such as multipolarity and what that means in India’s political vision regionally and internationally to aid some of these systemic changes it seeks.
India has tried to keep international terrorism as a primary issue in global forums, and this practice should be strengthened, including in the G20. Global economic stability is not exclusively based on trade, strong financial institutions, and economic reorientation but on secure geographies and populations where instruments of economic growth can be applied effectively. Terrorism today may be seen as having taken a back seat, but as history shows, it’s always a single event away from returning to the centre stage.
Kabir Taneja is fellow, Observer Research Foundation, and the author of The ISIS Peril: The World’s Most Feared Terror Group and its Shadow on South Asia The views expressed are personal