By MR Josse
GAITHERSBURG, MD: This column focuses on South and Northeast Asia spurred by a number of revealing write-ups, in the aftermath of the horrendous carnage that befell Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, courtesy indigenous Sri Lankan Islamic suicide bombers linked to their notorious Islamic partners-in-crime.
After the Easter Sunday terrorist holocaust I had wondered why Sri Lanka had been chosen for such singular, baleful attention. That query still remains unanswered, though some light has been shed on those heinous acts by the Sri Lankan army chief, Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayke.
Indeed, in a recent BBC interview, he alleged that the suicide bombers had, prior to their outrage, traveled to three Indian states for “some sort of training or to make some more links towards other organisations outside the country.”
As reported in Karachi’s Dawn – based on the BBC interview – “they have gone to India, they have traveled to [India-occupied] Kashmir, they have gone to Bangalore, they have traveled to Kerala state.”
Senanayke theorized that “everybody” responsible for intelligence gathering and preparation of counter-terrorism operations – including politicos – should be held accountable.
Perhaps even more instructive is his conviction that the climate of negligence in Sri Lanka was the root cause for the tragedy. And that negligence was born, in his view, from “too much freedom, too much peace for the last 10 years.” He said “People forget what happened 30 years ago. People (were) enjoying peace and neglected security.”
The assertions of Indian commentator/analyst, Brahma Chellaney, writing in the Daily O, are not only corroborative of Senanayke’s claims but provide additional grounds for concern in as much as “India’s internal jihadist threat is rapidly growing” especially in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Chellaney says the Sri Lanka bombings have helped “highlight the growing cross-strait role of Islamic forces in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.” He avers that the collapse of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq has only “intensified” the terrorism challenge.
Furthermore, as he explains, the jihadist threat in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam – a la Sri Lanka – is linked with the growing spread of Wahabism which, if left unattended, the scourge of Islamic extremism could become a major internal security crisis in India.
As Nepal has a shared, porous border with West Bengal and is in close proximity to Assam, one worries what the state of security consciousness is in Kathmandu where political and/or bureaucratic in-fighting, corruption and external political intervention exuberantly flourish.
A final bit on South Asia – China’s May 1, 2019 belated acceptance, on a UN Security Council list, of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Masood Azhar, as an international terrorist is noteworthy. There are two particular points of interest.
One is that it may signal a shift in Beijing’s South Asian priorities, especially as it came as somewhat of a gift for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is contesting elections currently; two, that Azhar was released from jail by India in the December 1999 Indian Airlines hijack drama that began in Kathmandu and ended in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
It would be wise, however, not to leap to overly hasty conclusions: the manifestations of that Beijing decision on ground should be visible soon enough.
Now, here are two important developments vis-à-vis Northeast Asia, both having to do with the United States. The first concerns President Trump’s threat to use tariffs on Chinese imports and target more goods in, to force Beijing to agree to a final trade deal.
For sometime now, the Trump administration has been under bipartisan pressure to raise the topic of China’s detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities during the now imminent trade talks. Significantly, however, it now seems that it has declined to do so, instead, according to the New York Times, it has backed away from imposing sanctions against officials believed to be involved in the Xinjiang crackdown.
One can only speculate if the Chinese shift on Masood Azhar was a quid pro quo with Washington’s reportedly going soft on China with respect to the upcoming Sino-American trade negotiations. One way or another, we should know, ere long.
The other development having a Northeast Asian salience pertains to North Korea’s recent firing off a volley of projectiles off its eastern coast – the most serious weapons test since November 2017 when it launched an intercontinental ballistic missile.
It comes just months after the second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly over a disagreement on whether harsh sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would be lifted before it dismantled its entire nuclear-weapons programme.
The most credible explanation to Kim reviving his old playbook ending his moratorium on nuclear and long-range missiles is to exert pressure on Trump to return to the negotiation table: according to UN estimates, 40 percent of the North Korean population urgently needs food aid, after the state suffered its worst harvest in a decade, underscoring the crippling impact of international sanctions.
Meanwhile, back in the ranch, a fine form of mayhem reigns with the House Judiciary Committee planning a contempt vote for Attorney General William Barr for his refusal to comply with a Congressional subpoena demanding the full, unredacted Mueller Report detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s attempts to disrupt the probe.
The Mueller Report, released on April 19, 2019, was an indictment of Trump’s obstructionist ways, which many the Democrats say is an impeachment issue and should be tackled by Congress.
Others are not so sanguine, arguing that the best way to resolve the issue is though the 2020 presidential elections: after all, the electorate passes final judgment on their presidents and their shortcomings every four years.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s disclosure that the America has offered Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido “full range of options” to oust President Maduro has had no visible impact – thus far.
Easter Sunday Sri Lankan bombings: external underpinnings
By MR Josse