Friday, August 31, 2018
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Unresolved Indonesian Insurrections: Unresolved Indonesian Insurrections August 31, 2018: Indonesia continues to cope with violence caused by religious and ethnic dispute...
Unresolved Indonesian Insurrections
August 31, 2018: Indonesia continues to cope with violence caused by religious and ethnic disputes which have both resisted permanent solution. Islamic conservatism and radicalism are largely under control but Islamic terrorist groups still survive. Ethnic unrest and separatism are a more serious problem. This is mainly about Papua (the western half of New Guinea, the fourth largest island in the world), and bitter memories of losing nearby East Timor to a separatist uprising that, after more than 20 years of unrest, resulted in East Timor becoming independent. Indonesia is trying to avoid a similar fate for Papua. There have long been periodic outbreaks of ethnic violence in Papua, but now it is getting worse. Papua was long seen as less of a problem, and a more distant one, than Islamic terrorism.
Most Indonesians consider the establishment of East Timor in 2002 as nothing less than foreign interference and stealing of part of Indonesia. Australian soldiers led the peacekeeping force during this operation, and Indonesians hold Australia largely responsible for this "land grab". The rest of the world accuses Indonesia of atrocities in their brutal treatment of the population in East Timor, beginning when Indonesia invaded the province after the Portuguese colonial government left in 1975. An East Timor declaration of independence was ignored by the Indonesian invaders and over a hundred thousand East Timorese who resisted or protested were slaughtered. East Timor was always a very poor and small (1.1 million people) part of Indonesia, and an even more poverty stricken independent nation. Indonesia didn’t lose much, except nationalist pride. Independent East Timor is propped up by foreign aid and growing business with neighboring Indonesia. In contrast, Papua has fewer people, more territory and less of a local economy. But Papua does contain huge quantities of valuable natural resources. In light of the many problems the UN encountered as East Timor gained its independence, there is not much enthusiasm for assisting Papua separatists.
Indonesia is determined not to lose Papua, the way they did nearby East Timor (also populated largely by Melanesians). Papua is much larger and populated with more of a less-educated population with a more tribal culture. As Papuans gain more education and political skills, Indonesia will have more difficulty holding onto the place. At the moment, the government is trying to tag the separatists as violent. But the evidence for this is often murky, and the Indonesians security forces have often carried out secret attacks and tried to blame them on someone else. There is definitely some violence but a lot of it is just local tribes that have long been hostile to any outsiders.
Papua is a large area that is thinly populated 900,000 people most of them belonging to one of the more than 300 Melanesian tribes. It is the poorest part of Indonesia, with some thirty percent of the population being extremely poor. The Papuans, who were ruled as a Dutch colony for centuries, were granted independence by the Dutch in 1961, but a year later Indonesia invaded and no one went to the aid of the Papuans. The UN called for a referendum to determine what the Papuans wanted, but Indonesia never allowed that to happen. The UN has continued to protest and pressure Indonesia, but nothing has changed, except for growing separatist violence. The government has responded by arresting and prosecuting anyone who openly demonstrates support for separatism. This has provided the incentive for more Papuans to join the non-violent and violent separatist groups.
Most Indonesians do not want Papua to be independent. In addition to lots of valuable natural resources, there's lots of unused land that can be occupied by Moslem migrants from crowded parts of the country. But that causes friction because the native Papuans are Melanesian, who look quite different from the majority Malays. Moreover, the Melanesians tend to be Christian while the Malays are almost all Moslems. The Malays are better educated and dominate the government and police. The Malays are also very corrupt and have done little to improve the lives of native Papuans over the last half century. There are a lot of Melanesians outside of Papua, and they are increasingly subject to violence by Malay Islamic radicals.
The situation in Papua got worse in 2018 when WPNLA (West Papua National Liberation Army), one of the two armed rebel coalitions, declared the start of a new offensive. WPNLA also claimed that it had gained the allegiance of more of the many armed separatist factions in Papua and that this would enable it to wage a sustained campaign. Their demands were the same one Papua separatists have been using since the 1970s; another vote on independence, but only after all Indonesian security forces have been withdrawn. The last referendum, in 1969, was generally considered rigged. Indonesia spent three decades using a lot of violence putting down Papuan protests. That ended when the Suharto dictatorship was overthrown in 1998 and replaced by an elected government. This encouraged the separatists but armed resistance was sparse and often carried out by uncoordinated factions. That slowly changed over two decades and now there are believed to be over two thousand armed separatists and a growing number (nearly a majority now) willing to operate in a coordinated fashion. The separatist demand that bothers the government most is about shutting down foreign run mines and oil/gas operations.
The most hated of these is the Freeport operation which is one of the largest copper/gold/silver mining facilities in the world. It employs nearly 20,000 people, most of them Papuans getting paid much less than foreign workers (but far more than what the average Papuan makes). The problem with the Freeport mine is the massive pollution is causes because waste from the mining and refining operation pollutes a major river system that remains polluted even when it reaches the sea, a hundred kilometers to the south.
At first, the growing number of attacks in 2018 were denied by the security services. By the middle of the year, those denials no longer worked. Police and soldiers in Papua responded to these incidents but their actions were not immediately reported because in Papua the police restrict the media and much of the violence takes place in isolated settlements. Eventually, the truth gets out but that only shows that police have been using terror tactics for at least a decade, killing a separatist every month or two and calling the incident one involving criminal, not political (separatists) activity. The WPNLA took credit for most of the attacks and often made it clear the targets were Malays from the Moslem majority of Indonesia coming to settle in a remote area and provide information for police about what native Papuans are up to. As the WPNLA reports via the Islamic terrorists piled up it became obvious that the security forces silence was about cover-up, not a lack of separatist violence. The Papuan separatists gave a long struggle ahead of them and after fifty years the separatists are more determined than ever before. That has the government concerned but not worked. Not yet.
The religious problems are all about JAD (Jemaah Ansharut Daulah), an Indonesian Islamic terror group that had affiliated itself with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). At the end of July, a court finally outlawed JAD which enabled police to more effectively investigate, capture and prosecute JAD members and supporters. What finally convinced the government to push for a ban and the passage of a stronger counter-terrorism law was a series of bloody attacks in May that JAD took credit for. These attacks were largely against Christian churches and other targets in East Java. These attacks triggered a massive police and public backlash that quickly led to numerous arrests of known or suspected ISIL supporters. Since these attacks police have arrested nearly 200 suspects and killed another 17 who resisted arrest violently. Interrogations and captured documents indicated a larger membership of JAD then previously believed. There was also proof that Aman Abdurrahman, the cleric that played a key role in forming JAD, encouraged the recent attacks even though he has been imprisoned since 2009. Abdurrahman was put on trial again and condemned to death. The date of the execution (by firing squad) has not been set but the police made it clear that they have more than a hundred JAD suspects under surveillance all and all of them would be arrested just before the execution of Abdurrahman. This is meant to cripple any plans JAD might have to carry out revenge attacks. Some known JAD leaders are still at large and being sought. New laws were passed making it easier to arrest terrorism suspects and hold them longer for interrogation.
Islamic terrorism continues to be a threat that is closer to where most Indonesians live and easier to report on. Yet ISIL has very little local support. Only about four percent of Indonesians approve of ISIL violence, the lowest percentage in Moslem majority nations. That is still a lot of people (over ten million) but the fact that over 90 percent of Indonesians oppose ISIL makes it a lot easier for the security forces to hunt them down. Despite that ISIL leaders had apparently deluded themselves into believing that they could gain a lot of local support by carrying out several horrific attacks during a short period of time. Al Qaeda had tried this over a decade earlier in Indonesia and failed spectacularly. ISIL failed to note how the al Qaeda in Indonesia fail developed because ISIL, as a more radical offshoot of al Qaeda, believed they were immune to past realities. They were not and that may provide other Moslem nations with another example of how a Moslem majority country can tolerate Islamic conservatives while also being able to crush Islamic terrorism.
Most of the recent Indonesian attackers were known supporters of ISIL who had traveled to Syria to live in (and fight for) the caliphate and then returned when the caliphate collapsed. Most of the Indonesians who went to Syria did not come back. Even many of those who were not killed believed they were safer outside of Indonesia.
The 500 or so known returnees underwent screening and extensive warnings to not support Islamic terrorist activity while back in Indonesia. Even before these attacks, the government was trying to get the counter-terrorism laws changed to deal with the way ISIL operated (indoctrinating entire families and advising them to conceal their religious fanaticism). In 2017 the government admitted that the popularity of ISIL had led to counter-terrorism forces detecting small groups of ISIL supporters in all but a few of the 33 Indonesian provinces. The May 13-14 attackers belonged to JAD, which had ordered its members to make attacks like these after a May 8th incident at a high-security prison for convicted Islamic terrorists, including some senior JAD leaders. Five prison guards died while preventing 156 prisoners from breaking out. After that the failed prison break there was another incident on the 10th where a policeman, standing guard in front of a West Java police hospital was stabbed by a man who turned out to be an Islamic terrorist. The attacker was shot dead by other police but was identified. Police have intercepted and arrested or shot dead (if resistance was encountered) several armed men intercepted as they sought to get close to the prison where the escape attempt was being suppressed. This did not indicate that ISIL was planning a larger series of attacks. So the JAD attacks came as a surprise and in response, the government surprised ISIL by banning JAD and finally passing the stronger counter-terror laws.
Within a few days of the last May attack police, especially Detachment 88 were allowed to arrest dozens of people they had been watching but could not touch because ISIL had, until then, purposely not been violent inside Indonesia. Now the entire country was on high alert and the government quickly obtained the new anti-terrorism law they had been seeking. The new law gives the police and military the power to arrest “potential terrorists.” This kind of power is unpopular with many Indonesians who remember the decades of military dictatorship that used similar powers to suppress any critics. The military leaders insist they will not abuse the new law and that may well be true if the military is constantly watched for misuse of the new arrest powers. The Indonesian remains relatively free and unrestricted.
Meanwhile, the government called for all Indonesians, especially those active on the Internet, to report any suspicious activity. That has worked in the past after a major attack (like the one in 2002) and worked again. Police were soon getting lots of tips and detailed information about what turned out to be JAD/ISIL members trying to hide in plain sight. The problem is this ISIL stealth mode does not stand up to a lot of scrutiny, especially by neighbors. The counter-terrorism intelligence experts quickly reconstructed the “how to” manual Indonesian ISIL supporters created to avoid police attention. Suddenly the local ISIL threat was a lot larger than believed. On the plus side, many of these ISIL members were still going through training and preparations for major attacks and could be jailed before they were ready.
What had the most impact on Indonesians was the use of children as suicide bombers. During the first attack, there were survivors who described how the mother triggered the vest her nine year old daughter was wearing before setting off her own. Indonesian Moslems knew this sort of thing took place elsewhere, like in Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. But to have it happen in Indonesia, the most populous (264 million people) Moslem (87 percent of the population) nation was horrific. Indonesia had always practiced a less fanatic form of Islam, in large part because Indonesia was not converted via conquest but gradually via contact with Arab merchants and seamen. The foreign Moslems attracted converts via personal example, not aggressive preaching and threats of physical harm.
But that made it easier for more conservative clerics to attract some Indonesian Moslems who were willing to “defend Islam” against the “heresy” rampant throughout Indonesia. Another target was the large non-Moslem minorities of Indonesia. The government tried to placate the Islamic radicals and that seemed to work for a while until it didn’t. Now is another of those “they have gone too far” moments for the Islamic radicals and a growing number of Indonesians are becoming less tolerant of intolerant Islamic conservatives. Some of this shift in attitude is in self-defense. As Islam spread peacefully through Indonesia (until Christianity showed up and provided some competition) only some local Hindus, Buddhists and so on proved able to resist the conversion trend. That conversion was helped by the fact that most of the conversions were carried out by Indonesian Moslems who were tolerant of those seeking to keep some of their traditional (and ancient) practices. This is something Christian missionaries had learned to do, with great success. But Islam was different because back in Arabia and Egypt (where the most authoritative Islamic scholars tended to live) the word was that no such modifications were tolerable. But Indonesia was far away and no one ever seriously proposed a military expedition to rectify this incorrect thought.
Then came the Arabian oil wealth in the 1950s and soon there were Arab Islamic scholars opening up madrassas (Islamic religious schools) and building new mosques all over the world, paid for by powerful, pious and now petroleum rich Arabs who sought to protest Islam. All this was to make it clear that a true Moslem did not keep any old religious practices around. Most Indonesians ignored this, but a small minority became believers and by the end of the 1990s there were millions of Indonesians who favored this stricter Islam. Politicians found that the Islamic parties could deliver votes reliably as long as you supported the new lifestyle laws they wanted. So far the Islamic parties, for all their fanaticism, are very much a minority and the majority of Moslem politicians do not want to outlaw “traditional Indonesian Islam”, which tolerates alcohol, night clubs, education and modern fashions for the women and a lot of other stuff that makes the country prosper and brings in the tourists. Extreme groups like ISIL are forcing Indonesia to decide how tolerant it will be of an intolerant form of Islam.
One nasty side effect of all this enthusiasm for “defending Islam” was increased intolerance of any actual or suspected religious disrespect from non-Moslems. For example, a Buddhist woman was recently convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to 18 months in prison because she complained (privately, to friends) that the sound volume of public address system used by the local mosque was too loud and it would be nice if they turned it down. That casual comment turned into a rumor that Buddhists were critical of Islam and saying unspecified nasty things. That soon resulted in a mob of Moslems attacking a local Buddhist temple. That led to the woman who made comment being tracked down, arrested and prosecuted. The reaction to all this from most Indonesian Moslems and the Moslem clerical establishment was largely negative. These mob actions and prosecutions for “blasphemy” were seen as unjust and embarrassing by most Moslems. Moreover Moslems were fed up with getting bullied by a righteous minority. Another such embarrassment occurred recently when some Indonesian clerics tried to ban the use of a new measles vaccine that contained tiny amounts of material from pigs. There was no substitute available and Islamic clerics in other Moslem majorities where the vaccine had been used declared that this sort of thing was allowed under Islamic law. In short the “more Islamic than thou” attitudes that enabled ISIL to get established and grow in Indonesia had backfired.
This recent and quite major outbreak of ISIL violence was not unexpected, but ISIL did manage to gain the element of surprise. Up until May, there had not been much Islamic terrorist violence in 2018, even though a lot of Indonesian ISIL members were coming back from Syria and other places where ISIL had been crushed. In February there was an attack on a church in Java. The attack consisted of an attacker armed with a sword. He was subdued but not before he wounded several people. That attack did not set off calls for a major crackdown because it was apparently a “lone wolf” operation. It was the high-security prison breakout attempt on May 8th that did get the attention of counter-terrorism experts. The prison contained dozens of key Islamic terrorist leaders and technical experts. Such an effort to get them out of a heavily guarded prison indicated that many of the returned ISIL members had been busy, and discreet. Four days later the attacks on Christians showed that the local ISIL activists were desperate, determined but not prepared for a major effort.
Indonesia has established a remarkable record of suppressing Islamic terrorist violence within its own borders but that has resulted in most Indonesian Islamic terrorists fleeing the country and showing up elsewhere. This approach to suppressing Islamic terrorist activity required continuous and active measures to detect and arrest Islamic terrorists. But ISIL was different, even though most Indonesian ISIL recruits also fled the country. Until recently there was no indication that something big was coming.
While the war against ISIL in Syria and Iraq was raging during 2016 Indonesian counter-terrorism forces crippled ISIL efforts to expand into Indonesia. Counter-terror forces crushed MIT (Mujahadeen Indonesia Timur, or Mujahadeen of Eastern Indonesia), the last of the older Islamic terrorist organizations still active in the country. MIT was long led by Santoso (single names are common in this region), who openly declared MIT part of ISIL in 2014. In 2016 a series of raids and arrests left Santoso dead and MIT reduced to fewer than ten active members. MIT carried out some attacks before 2017 but suffered heavy losses in the process. Since 2014 MIT concentrated most of its efforts on recruiting and setting up trained cells of terrorists in other parts of the country.
After late 2014, with the Islamic state established in eastern Syria and western Iraq Indonesia cooperated in identifying its citizens suspected of going overseas to work with Islamic terrorist organizations. Thus hundreds of Indonesians were arrested overseas (usually in Turkey) and deported to Indonesia to face prosecution or, at the very least, constant surveillance. This was because many Indonesians remembered what happened when several dozen Indonesians who went to fight in with al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Many of these men returned to Indonesia and formed Islamic terrorist groups that, after 2001, carried out several spectacular attacks, including one in 2002 that killed nearly 200 foreign tourists. This resulted in a major counter-terrorism campaign that eventually killed or drove into exile nearly all the active Indonesian Islamic terrorists. There was a real fear that some of those ISIL members returning from Syria will try to emulate what the Afghan veterans did. In 2015 police revealed that they were monitoring returning ISIL men and would act against any suspected of engaging in terrorist activities in Indonesia. Many arrests since then are apparently a result of that surveillance program. ISIL responded by urging members to conceal their Islamic radicalism as much as possible.
There were some forms of Islamic terrorism that were more acceptable with Indonesians and ISIL exploited that by attacking non-Moslems. That had already led to increased counter-terror activity each year on Java and Sumatra before Christmas. Police make numerous arrests and seized bombs or bomb components intended for attacks on Shia and Christian communities. Christians are ten percent of the population while Shia are less than a half percent of Indonesian Moslems while Buddhists and Hindus are about two percent. These minorities are not evenly distributed so there are areas that are all Moslem and easier for Islamic terrorist groups to recruit and survive. The Christian islands used to be almost entirely Christian, but since the 1980s the government has encouraged (with laws, money and land) Moslems from overpopulated areas to move to less populated Christian territories. This has created frictions on islands like Sulawesi that are not entirely religious. Islamic terrorist groups began forming in the late 1990s and concentrated their attacks on non-Moslems, both local and foreign (tourists).
Since 2013 small ISIL type (or affiliated) groups gave been appearing and single out Shia Moslems as well as Christians and other non-Moslems (or Moslem sects ISIL does not approve of). Islamic conservatives in the government (especially parliament and the judicial system) deliberately target Christians by accusing them of anti-Islamic acts. These accusations are almost always false but because of the way politics works in democracies with a Moslem majority, such accusations mobilize many Moslems who are willing to demonstrate, often violently, in support of “defending Islam.”
That explains why Islamic terrorism continues to survive in Indonesia. The government does not want to offend the many Islamic conservatives out there. The Islamic conservative politicians use religion as a tool to get what they want, which often has nothing to do with religion or the “infidel (non-Moslem) threat.” Islamic political parties are unable to gain wide popularity but together they have gained control over 10-20 percent of the seats in parliament. The percentage varies depending on how active Islamic terrorists have been.
But there is something else unique about Indonesia, the nation with the largest Moslem population in the world. Islam is not the state religion of Indonesia as it is in most other Moslem majority nations. Indonesia officially recognizes five religions; Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The founders of the Indonesian state (formerly a Dutch colonial government) found the Dutch approach to religion (deliberately allowing multiple religions and prohibiting religion based persecution) could work in Indonesia because the Dutch had demonstrated that. So Islamic political parties face a formidable number of constitutional and cultural challenges to gaining control of the government. Most Indonesians are fine with letting the Islamic parties operate openly as long as they observe the laws and constitution. So far that has worked.
The recent ISIL attacks, especially those using young children, puts the Islamic politicians on the defensive for a while. The major Islamic party, the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) has, since 2004, managed attract and keep about eight million voters. The next elections are in 2019 PKS is expected to once more escape any blowback from the outbreak of ISIL violence. While PKS is led by Moslem clerics it has managed to hold onto voters by playing down Islamic lifestyle rules (over blasphemy and vaccines) and concentrating on reducing corruption and promoting what Westerners would see as a socialist economic platform. PKS also encourages more foreign investment and economic expansion. Yet lurking in the background is the fact that Islamic scripture (depending on who is interpreting it) approves of and encourages violence against non-Moslems and Moslem heretics. Islam is the only major religion to be burdened by that and it is a persistent problem that no one has found a permanent fix for. Indonesia, however, is the only Moslem majority nation that deliberately prohibits Islam from dominating the nation. No Indonesian ruler ever invoked “defending Islam” to justify his rule. Indonesia does allow a lot of experimentation. For example, the province of Aceh (the first part of Indonesia to be converted to Islam centuries ago) was allowed to implement Islamic law as part of a deal to end a separatist rebellion. Aceh is still subject to federal laws and the use of Islamic (sharia) law does not appear to have made life better for the people of Aceh. Most Indonesians expect Islamic terrorism to be similarly tamed. So far Islamic terrorism is still around, regenerating each time it is crushed.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Missing Iridium: Enhancing Regional Nuclear Securi...: Missing Iridium: Enhancing Regional Nuclear Security The recent case of a missing radioactive device in Malaysia highlights the signi...
Missing Iridium: Enhancing Regional Nuclear Security
The recent case of a missing radioactive device in Malaysia highlights the significance of nuclear security in Southeast Asia. Enhancing nuclear security cooperation is needed to address Southeast Asia’s nuclear security challenges and weak nuclear security culture.
An industrial device containing radioactive material reported missing by Malaysian authorities on 20 August 2018 is a reminder that nuclear security is an important security issue that needs attention in Southeast Asia. The device was lost while being transported from Seremban in Negri Sembilan to Shah Alam, Selangor by two technicians of a company that provides testing, calibration and inspection services to heavy industries.
There are concerns that the unknown amount of radioactive iridium contained in the device could cause radiation exposure or be used as a weapon, otherwise known as “dirty bomb”.
Although there is no nuclear power plant in the region currently, radioactive sources are widely used for civilian applications in medical, industrial, agricultural, and scientific research fields. Without stringent oversight on the use and handling of radioactive materials, there are potential risks of these being accidentally leaked, stolen and used for malicious purposes, or released indiscriminately by non-state actors/terrorists through ‘dirty bombs’.
Hence, a key point to note is that the security of radiological material is an important component of nuclear security. According to the latest Global Incidents and Trafficking Database prepared by the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), there were 870 reported incidents involving radioactive materials (theft, missing, leaked, smuggled etc) from 51 countries between 2013 and 2017.
Four of such incidents were reported in Southeast Asia, including one case in Malaysia last year. The need to strengthen radiological security cannot therefore be overstated.
Southeast Asia’s Nuclear Security Challenges
This recent incident highlights the importance of nuclear security to ASEAN. While nuclear security is often understood to be about securing nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons, it is also very much about the security of radioactive materials. As defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear security is “the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities”.
Even in the nuclear weapon-free Southeast Asia, there is a broad range of legitimate uses of radioactive material especially in industrial facilities, hospitals, research reactors, and scientific laboratories. For instance, radioactive sources are present in 17 hospitals in Thailand and seven hospitals in the Philippines.
Radioactive material is under the State’s regulatory, export and licensing control, but unauthorised removal or loss puts the material out of regulatory control. This is where the potential risk of this being used by an adversary in a malicious act is present. This risk has clear transborder implications.
The risk in the region is further magnified with the presence of extremist groups wanting to use ‘dirty bombs’, weak maritime security, insufficient border and export controls, and scarcity of adequately trained radiological security responders. The chance that a malicious actor or group could try to get access to radioactive material cannot be ignored.
But apart from the immediate impact of a radiological leak, attack or explosion, there are four major transboundary consequences associated with a nuclear security incident ̶ health, economic, societal and environmental. These consequences are all non-traditional security concerns which should compel all ASEAN member states to enhance cooperation on nuclear security.
Enhancing Regional Nuclear Security Cooperation
Establishing an effective and sustainable nuclear security infrastructure is crucial for the protection of states, people, society and the environment. In ASEAN, there are in place building blocks of a nuclear security infrastructure that needs to be strengthened, beginning with every state that utilises nuclear technology and radioactive material.
National governments are responsible for legal and regulatory framework that governs how security at relevant facilities are maintained and how radioactive material is managed, utilised and transported. While not all ASEAN member states have ratified legally binding nuclear security conventions and voluntarily developed national regulations based on IAEA’s code of conduct and guidance on the security of radioactive material, regional cooperation frameworks can help member states strengthen nuclear security.
The ASEAN Network of Regulatory Bodies on Atomic Energy (ASEANTOM) focuses on sharing of best practices, exchange of experiences, assisting ASEAN member states in enhancing their regulatory frameworks, and capacity building through training courses and technical collaboration with other international organisations such as the IAEA and European Commission.
ASEANTOM’s latest nuclear security-related activities include the Nuclear Security Border Exercise along Malaysia-Thailand borders; ASEANTOM Workshop on Capacity Building and Strengthening the Nuclear and Radiation Safety and Security Network in the ASEAN Region; the IAEA Regional Workshop on Strategy to Establish Inventory for the Security of Radioactive Sources; and the IAEA Regional Training Course on Nuclear Security Culture.
Another key regional collaboration on nuclear security is the Regional Radiological Security Partnership in Southeast Asia (RRSP), which brought together Southeast Asian states, Australia, the United States and the IAEA.
Launched by Australia in 2004, RRSP primarily aims to improve the physical protection and security management of high-risk radioactive sources in Southeast Asia through technical assistance and training, providing radiation detection equipment, sharing of best practices, and on-going cooperative activities on searching of missing radioactive sources and emergency response amongst national authorities, regulators and law enforcers.
Addressing Weak Nuclear Security Culture
Despite the robust regional cooperation on nuclear security, one evident shortcoming of nuclear security governance in Southeast Asia is weak nuclear security culture, highlighting the importance of human factors, such as attitudes, awareness and behaviours. Nuclear power and utilisation of radioactive material for non-power applications do not merely involve technological aspects.
Human errors such as complacency and the lack of critical thinking play a role in most reported incidents, including cases of loss and theft. It is therefore crucial to develop and strengthen the security culture of individuals, organisations and institutions that handle radioactive material. In Malaysia alone, there are around 21,000 radiation workers.
It is important that all of them demonstrate a strong security culture. However, only a few ASEAN member states such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have established nuclear security support centres of excellence that can provide holistic education and training for radiation workers, researchers, hospital staff and industrial workers. National policy frameworks on developing a nuclear security culture remain fragmented or non-existent in several regional countries.
To make the ASEAN’s capacity-building cooperation more comprehensive, it is equally important to complement regional technical training workshops on nuclear energy with enhanced training assistance on strengthening the security culture ̶ the human factors. With the ever-present transboundary risks of radiological emergencies and stolen radioactive material, improving the rate at which security policies are fully implemented and understood by all stakeholders could dramatically narrow the gaps in nuclear security in the region.
*Mely Caballero-Anthony is Head and Associate Professor at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS Centre) and Julius Cesar Trajano is Research Fellow at the NTS Centre, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Chinese Fear Attacks B...: A seemingly obsessive fear of Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment has prompted Chinese leaders to contemplate military involve...
A seemingly obsessive fear of Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment has prompted Chinese leaders to contemplate military involvement in Syria and Afghanistan and risk international condemnation for its massive repression in its north-western province of Xinjiang, involving the most frontal assault on Islam as a faith in recent history.
Chinese fears of Uyghur activism threaten to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Its policies are likely to prompt jihadists, including Uyghur foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, some of whom are exploring new pastures in Central Asia closer to China’s borders, to put the People’s Republic further up their target list.
Up to 5,000 Uyghurs are believed to have joined jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq in recent years, including the Islamic State, whose leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, listed Xinjiang in 2014 at the top of his list of countries that violate Muslim rights.
Uyghur fighters speaking in videos distributed by the Islamic State have vowed to return home to “plant their flag in China.” One fighter, addressing evil Chinese Communist infidel lackeys,” threatened that “in retaliation for the tears that flow from the eyes of the oppressed, we will make your blood flow in rivers, by the will of God.”
Maps circulating on Twitter purporting to highlight the Islamic State’s expansion plans included substantial parts of Xinjiang. Al Qaeda echoed the Islamic State’s statements by condemning Chinese policy towards Xinjiang as “’occupied Muslim land’ to be “recovered (into) the shade of the Islamic Caliphate.”
China’s concerns of a jihadist backlash go beyond fears of political violence. They are driven to a large extent by the fact that Xinjiang is home to 15 percent of China’s proven oil reserves, 22 per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal,.
Yasheng Sidike, the mayor of the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi and city’s deputy Communist Party chief, in a signal of what re-education means in camps in which, according to the United Nations, up to one million Uyghurs, a Turkic minority, and other Muslims have been detained, recently argued that Uyghurs were “members of the Chinese family, not descendants of the Turks.”
Mr. Sidike went on to say that “the three evil forces, using the name of ethnics and religion, have been creating hatred between ethnic groups and the mania to conduct terrorist activities, which greatly damage the shared interests of Xinjiang people.” Mr. Sidike was referring to China’s portrayal of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism as three evils.
The Communist Party’s Global Times asserted earlier that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.
Witness statements by former detainees of the re-education camps reported that they constituted an attempt to brainwash inmates into accepting loyalty to the Communist Party and China’s leadership above their religious beliefs.
The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan. China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged Uyghur jihadist assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets.
Five Chinese mining engineers were recently wounded in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.
At least one Uyghur was involved in a 2016 suicide bombing of the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek while a Uyghur gunman killed 39 people in an attack on an Istanbul nightclub in January of last year.
Chinese fears of renewed jihadist attacks on Chinese targets in China and beyond are heightened by anti-Chinese sentiment in Central and South Asia fuelled by groups effected by the crackdown in Xinjiang as well as broader unease with the fallout of Chinese-funded projects related to China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative.
Major political parties and business organizations in the Pakistani province of Gilgit-Baltistan threatened earlier this year to shut down the Pakistan-China border if Beijing did not release some 50 Uighur women married to Pakistani men from the region, who have been detained in Xinjiang.
The province’s legislative assembly unanimously called on the government in Islamabad to take up the issue. The women, many of whom are practicing Muslims and don religious attire, are believed to have been detained in re-education camps.
Concern in Tajikistan is mounting that the country may not be able to service its increasing Belt and Road-related debt. Tajikistan was forced in April to hand over a gold mine to China as remuneration for $300 million in funding to build a power plant. Impoverished Turkmenistan may have no choice but to do the same with gas fields.
The emerging stories of Kazakhs released from re-education camps and the granting of asylum in Kazakhstan to a Chinese national of Kazakh descent spotlighted the government’s difficulty in balancing its need to be seen to be standing up for its people and accommodating Chinese ambitions in Central Asia.
In a sign of the times, Russian commentator Yaroslav Razumov noted that Kazakh youth recently thwarted the marriage of a Kazakh national to a Chinese woman by denouncing it on social media as unpatriotic.
Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is one likely reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.
Chinese participation in what likely would be a brutal and messy campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.
China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.
Meanwhile, China has reportedly started building a training camp for Afghan troops in a narrow corridor that connects the two countries that would be home to some 500 Chinese troops.
China agreed two years ago to fund and build 11 military outposts and a training facility to beef up Tajikistan’s defense capabilities along its border with Afghanistan that hosts a large part of the main highway connecting Tajikistan’s most populous regions to China.
China has since stepped up the sharing of intelligence with Tajikistan on issues related to political violence, religious extremism and drug trafficking.
The Chinese defense ministry, moreover, announced in April that China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan would perform joint counterterrorism and training and exercises that focus on real combat experiences.
China and Afghanistan also agreed last year to lay a cross-border fibre-optic cable that like in the case of Pakistan could pave the way to export China’s model of a surveillance state to Afghanistan.
Chinese counterterrorism cooperation with various Muslim nations could be put in jeopardy by an increasing number of media reports spotlighting the crackdown in Xinjiang. Muslim governments, who have remained conspicuously silent, are likely to be further embarrassed if Western criticism of the crackdown snowballs.
A bipartisan group of US members of Congress recently called on the Trump administration to sanction Chinese officials and companies involved in the crackdown and mass detentions. The administration may have less compunction about confronting China as its trade war with the People’s Republic escalates.
“We believe that targeted sanctions will have an impact. At a time when the Chinese government is seeking to expand its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative, the last thing China’s leaders want is international condemnation of their poor and abusive treatment of ethnic and religious minorities,” the members of Congress said.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Thailand’s Muslim insurgency roars back to life: Thailand’s Muslim insurgency roars back to life Surge in lethal attacks in nation's southernmost region underscores a lack of pro...
Thailand’s Muslim insurgency roars back to life
Surge in lethal attacks in nation's southernmost region underscores a lack of progress in resolving the conflict after four years of military rule
A new surge in lethal attacks in Thailand’s southernmost region has underscored the lack of progress in resolving the insurgent conflict after four years of military junta rule.
The restive region – spanning the three Muslim majority provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat as well as areas of neighboring Buddhist majority Songkhla – had seen a lull in violence, including over a year-long national period of mourning from October 2016-17 for deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Now, the insurgency appears have sprung back to lethal life as the military takes credit for the relative calm. This month, in Pattani province’s volatile Yarang district, a Muslim village defense volunteer was shot dead by an unidentified gunman who fired several shots at close range as the victim was entering his makeshift post.
Five days earlier, in neighboring Yala province’s Krong Pinang district, a fierce gunfight ended in the death of two insurgents. Five other insurgent suspects in the vicinity were apprehended by authorities for questioning and are still being held.
On August 11, in Pattani’s Bacho district, a mother and daughter were shot dead at point blank range by assailants who stole their motorbike and jewelry.
The two victims were Buddhists, often the targets of Muslim insurgents fighting variously for independence or autonomy from the Buddhist majority Thai state.
Weeks earlier, a gunman riddled a pickup truck with M-16 automatic rifle fire, killing the driver and wounding the passenger in the same village. The two men were Muslims; the assailants are still unidentified.
The uptick in violence was barely covered in local media, underlining the lack of attention given to a decades-old conflict that is estimated by some counts to have taken more than 7,000 lives since reigniting in January 2004.
Compared to the insurgent violence levels seen in other global conflict zones that have dominated international news headlines since the 9/11 terror attacks in America, Thailand’s steady but deadly insurgency is more localized and low intensity.
The lack of media and public attention to the so-called Deep South has played to the government’s hand, as policymakers in Bangkok and military commanders in the field tout their counterinsurgency strategies as a creeping success story.
They note that the number of insurgency-related violent incidents has dropped significantly over the years, from over 4,000 in 2007 to an estimated 500 in 2017. Those figures are largely consistent with independent conflict monitoring, including the Pattani-based Deep South Watch.
Military officials also claim that their current peace initiative, accompanied with hearts and minds-geared development schemes, has undermined grass roots support for separatist insurgents, including the shadowy Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), which has so far refused to enter into peace negotiations.
It is not immediately clear, however, that is the case. While the fall in incidents is no doubt one reason why the junta has put the conflict and its suppression on a policy back burner, BRN sources maintain that the drop in violence was their own decision and not due to the government’s counterinsurgency operations.
At the same time, BRN leaders acknowledge that there is a heavy cost to using violence that sometimes results in civilian casualties. They also must contend with a growing web of local informants who are paid by police and military to ferret out their networks.
When such secret informants are targeted for retribution, sometimes lethally, the BRN risks losing grass roots support for attacks on seemingly innocent civilians, they say.
That’s driven a certain shift in insurgent tactics. Rather than carrying out small-scale violent incidents and disturbances that contribute to security force death tolls, as at the height of the conflict in 2007, combatants have been ordered by insurgent leaders to make their hits count, both through greater intensity and psychological impact.
The insurgent aim: to undermine security force confidence and make areas ungovernable until the BRN decides its next tactical move. Like all insurgencies, the BRN says, their operations and attacks are communicative actions.
The conflict is now arguably in a holding pattern of tit-for-tat strikes between militants and government security forces, with neither side winning a clear tactical advantage. BRN representatives say recent attacks prove they can still strike and ratchet up at will.
A bombing spree on nearly 20 ATM machines throughout the region in May was one example of how insurgents continue to target perceived symbols of the Bangkok centric state. Most of the targeted ATMs were also just meters away from military and police checkpoints.
They have also shown that they are capable of hitting areas outside the Deep South, causing tremors in nearby beach tourism areas popular with foreign tourists. In August 2016, BRN militants carried out a wave of bomb and arson attacks in seven provinces in the upper south region in a retaliatory strike.
A bomb attack at an evening food market in Pattani in October 2016 that killed one and injured 20 was also launched in retaliation for a dragnet operation in Bangkok that rounded up over 100 Patani-based, ethnic Malay youth.
Meanwhile, a bomb blast at a pork stall at a Yala province fresh market in January 2017 that killed three and injured 20 others was also in retaliation for the round-up of 50 or so young men in Yala’s Than To district following an arson attack on a passenger bus.
Separatists acknowledge that their attacks violate international norms and humanitarian principles, as frequently raised by rights groups like Human Rights Watch.
The aftermath of a suspected insurgent bomb blast outside a supermarket in Pattani, May 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Surapan Boonthanom
Militants generally shy from targeting local officials, particularly those who fall under the ministry of interior’s chain of command, all of whom are authorized to bear arms if they choose. These local officials include para-military defense volunteers, village chiefs and their deputies.
Recent history shows, however, that militants have no qualm about killing local officials if they cross the line and spy for the military or police.
The junta government’s heavy-handed tactics and the insurgents’ ability and willingness to ramp up pressure through violence means the conflict is no closer to resolution under military rule.
Insurgents say that’s because the military regime is only interested in using the peace process as a means for identifying insurgent groups’ shadowy and secretive leaders. The BRN is unwilling to meet government representatives face-to-face for talks, relying instead on intermediaries.
Yet BRN members say they are interested in learning from the international community about norms, including in relation to humanitarian law, rules of military engagement, and codes of conduct for combatants, as a way to enhance their legitimacy.
Senior Thai officials say the government may be willing to allow foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations to play such a role, though they also fear foreign involvement would enhance the BRN’s international standing without it making any concessions to first stop the violence.
But until a decision on the matter is reached and both sides agree to talk rather than fight, Thailand’s southernmost war-torn provinces will remain stuck in low-level lethal strife for the foreseeable future.
Don Pathan is a consultant and security analyst based in Thailand. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone.