Fight against ter­ror­ism has bumpy road ahead

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

Three au­da­cious ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Dec 19 left the world hor­ri­fied. Per­haps the most chill­ing of those at­tacks was the as­sas­si­na­tion of Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Turkey An­drei Karlov in Ankara. The as­sas­sin, an off-duty po­lice of­fi­cer, pulled out a gun while Karlov was sev­eral min­utes into a speech at an art ex­hi­bi­tion and shot up to eight times, shout­ing “Don’t for­get Aleppo, Don’t for­get Syria”.

In Berlin, a truck plowed through a Christ­mas mar­ket, killing 12 peo­ple, which Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel de­scribed as a “ter­ror­ist” at­tack. The sus­pect, a Tu­nisian na­tional, was killed in a shootout with po­lice of­fi­cers in Mi­lan, Italy, on Fri­day.

And in Zurich, Switzer­land, three peo­ple were wounded when a gun­man opened fire in a mosque fre­quented by So­mali im­mi­grants.

De­spite Karlov’s as­sas­si­na­tion, how­ever, Rus­sia and Turkey have vowed to main­tain their de­tente and work to­gether to “in­vig­o­rate” a po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion to the Syr­ian con­flict, which in turn, they said, will de­feat the de­signs of the per­pe­tra­tors to cre­ate a chasm be­tween the two coun­tries. The needed re­sponse, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said, would be to strengthen the fight against ter­ror­ism.

How­ever, it is too early to say whether the as­sas­si­na­tion of Karlov was a re­sult of extreme in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion of po­lit­i­cal opin­ion, or or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to Turkey’s ef­forts to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia.

The two coun­tries, along with Iran, have made no­table progress in jointly han­dling the Syr­ian cri­sis de­spite their long­stand­ing dif­fer­ences. The key dis­agree­ment be­tween Moscow and Ankara lies in their stance on Syr­ian leader Bashar al-As­sad. Moscow and Te­heran stand firmly be­hind As­sad, whereas Ankara does not trust him and has been back­ing the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces.

But Turkey also wants a se­cure bor­der and wider sup­port for its ef­forts to neu­tral­ize the in­de­pen­dence-seek­ing Kur­dish forces in the south­east­ern part of the coun­try. Ap­par­ently the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment is more des­per­ate to pre­vent the Syr­ian Kurds from grow­ing stronger and seek an in­de­pen­dent home­land with their com­pa­tri­ots in Turkey and Iraq.

Yet Turkey’s con­cerns were not prop­erly ad­dressed by the United States, which ex­plains why it turned to Rus­sia, which has gained a big­ger say in the Syr­ian cri­sis. Com­bat­ing ex­trem­ist groups in Syria with Rus­sia is also in line with Turkey’s na­tional in­ter­est.

Fac­tors that have led to in­creas­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Europe — from Bel­gium to France to Ger­many — and the Mid­dle East, es­pe­cially Turkey, in re­cent years, are in­ter­wo­ven. In Europe’s case, the slug­gish eco­nomic re­cov­ery has not only dealt a blow to peo­ple’s liveli­hood and wel­fare but also trig­gered blind ha­tred to­ward im­mi­grants, cre­at­ing deeper di­vi­sions and vi­o­lent re­ac­tions.

Be­sides, vi­o­lent at­tacks might be car­ried out by armed ter­ror­ists and home­grown ex­trem­ist groups, or both, try­ing to make their voices heard. In the long run, with the Is­lamic State group strug­gling to re­gain its footing in Iraq and Syria, the chances of ter­ror­ism spilling over into Europe could in­crease. The re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Turkey, how­ever, are clearly tar­geted at the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, and pos­si­bly car­ried out by Kur­dish mil­i­tants.

It is note­wor­thy that both the Euro­pean Union and Turkey have reached a his­tor­i­cal turn­ing point in their in­volve­ment in the Mid­dle East. Turkey is strug­gling to con­tain the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party, and the EU is still seek­ing ways to deal with the on­go­ing refugee cri­sis and the rise of pop­ulism in some mem­ber states. But nei­ther Turkey nor a weak­ened EU can heal the wounds in the short term.

The sec­ond round of glob­al­iza­tion since the 1980s has mostly ben­e­fited the fi­nan­cial and high­tech in­dus­tries in the West, but left the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor in deep trou­ble. More Western­ers tend to blame the rise of ex­por­to­ri­ented emerg­ing economies and the in­flux of im­mi­grants for their wan­ing ben­e­fits, fur­ther fu­el­ing pro­tec­tion­ist sen­ti­ments. And the fore­see­able spread of ter­ror­ism to other re­gions and fric­tions be­tween ma­jor pow­ers point to a bumpy road ahead for all par­ties in­volved in the Mid­dle East.

The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the His­tory Depart­ment of Pek­ing Univer­sity, and di­rec­tor of the Turkey stud­ies cen­ter at Pan­goal In­sti­tu­tion, a Bei­jing­based think tank.

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