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Frontiers of extremism: The radicalization of borders

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) brought together over three hundred senior government officials, leading researchers, and many of the Institute’s influential members from around the world to discuss and address some of the world’s most critical issues at the 5th IISS Global Strategic Review (GSR), in Geneva from 7-9 September 2007. Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) Director, Muhammad Amir Rana was among the scholars who presented their papers in the seminar. His paper title was “Frontiers of Extremism: The Radicalization of Borders”. Here is the abstract of the paper:

South Asia has been the origin of numerous insurgent and separatist conflicts (inter-state, religious, ethnic, communal and inter-caste) since it decolonized after 1947. The cross-border networks of these movements, and the border disputes between the South Asian states encouraged them to flourish at the borders and develop ‘inter-movements’ relationship as well.

Most of these movements have been radicalized. The uneven distributions of the same ethnic and religious population across the borders compels states to keep borders ‘soft’, which helps different groups transport their ideology, manpower, and equipment easily. During the Taliban regime, Pakistani tribal areas were massively influenced by the Taliban ideology. The same situation can be observed on Bangladesh, India and Myanmar borders where separatist movements have been radicalized sharply.

Radicalized movements are less tolerant than separatist/ nationalist movements. Just as Kashmir Liberation movement was radicalized in late 1980’s/ early 1990’s after radical jihadist groups took over the driving seat. Similarly the Iranian part of Balochistan is a major target of the Baloch separatist movement. Now, seeds of sectarianism have been disseminated into Shia dominated Iran. It may reduce the influence of the leftist separatist groups in Balochistan besides triggering insurgency and creating sectarian rift at the both sides of border.

Small scale armed clashes on Pak-Afghan border have become a routine matter. Taliban and al-Qaeda presence on the both sides of the border has made this area very important for the world. The complex influx of Taliban has also its impact on bilateral relationships of both states and the Durand Line issue is becoming the concerning issue.

In Nepal and India, Maoist and communist organizations have developed strong ties with each other, and their influence is growing in bordering towns. Although the Maoist Movement played a major role in changing the current scenario in Nepal, at the same time the separatist movement in Tarrai is also active with the same radical ideology. Apart from radical Maoist movement in the region, the Hindu extremist groups are as well making their space in Nepal’s bordering towns.

The radicalization of the separatist movements not only makes the border disputes complex but also starts shifting inside the countries. Talibanization in Pakistan, Islamization in Bangladesh, Maoist and Naxalite nexus in India, Hindu radicalism in Nepal and the sectarian and separatist threat in Iran cannot be countered without proper internal strategies, joint resolute mechanisms and inter-state co-operation.

The South Asian states have been using the options of ‘force’ and ‘politics’ to resolve the disputes but the minority ethnic and religious movements, divided alongside the borders make it difficult for a state to resolve the issues solely, especially, when states have failed addressing their economic and social grievances.

South Asian countries also lack confidence in each other, which makes it difficult to form any joint mechanism to counter common threats. Kashmir has been a source of permanent mistrust between India and Pakistan whereas Talibanization issue is keeping Pakistan and Afghanistan at bay.

South Asian states have a joint regional forum, South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), in which Iran and China have status of observers. This forum can be used to develop common strategies to counter radicalization and deal with the insurgent and separatist movements.