soft approach needed on radicalism
THE five-month battle in the southern Philippine town of Marawi between the government and Islamic State-linked militant groups was recently declared over.
But the threats posed by radicalism and extremism to South East Asia are not likely going to end, while the issue of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has added to the complexity.
Soft approaches, as well as wellmonitored humanitarian assistance sent to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and reconstruction of Marawi, are needed to block radical groups from spreading their influence across the region, analysts said.
“The links between Indonesian and Philippine extremists go back a long, long way, and they are not going to end simply with the liberation of Marawi,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a research institute based in Jakarta.
In May, militant groups that pledged allegiance to IS seized control of a significant portion of Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of over 200,000 on Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost major island.
In the declaring the end of the battle late last month, the government said it had successfully concluded “the most serious threat of violent extremism and radicalism” in the Philippines and in the region.
Almost 50 civilians, nearly 170 troops and over 1000 militants died in the fighting.
The fighting totally devastated Marawi, and the Philippine government has begun the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction, assisted by some other countries and international organisations.
Jones, however, warned that unhappiness over the process of reconstruction, if it is not going on well, may lead to further radicalisation.
On Sunday, Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine foreign ministers held a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila to discuss the latest situation in Marawi.
During the meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi acknowledged the Marawi liberation “is not an end, but a beginning of a bigger task – creating sustainable development and peace in Marawi and in the region.”
She reaffirmed Indonesia’s commitment to supporting the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation and at the same time, assisting Manila to deal with the roots of the problem in Marawi “to prevent the recurrence of the tragedy” in other areas in the region.
Indonesia, according to Retno, is ready to help Manila in developing a curriculum for Islamic religion classes in Islamic schools in Marawi, as well as sending Muslim scholars with expertise in Islamic law and theology to spread moderate Islam there.
Jones stressed, however, that the crisis of the Rohingya, a stateless minority Muslim group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, has already been “affecting the region in many ways.”
“Anger against the treatment of Rohingya Muslims has grown very high, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia,” she added, saying that it may become “a factor that will increase radical Filipinos to try building cooperative links with their colleagues in Malaysia and Indonesia.”
“One big question is: Is there any possibility that Indonesian and Malaysian extremists could hook up with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army?” Jones said, referring to Rohingya militants who allegedly killed Hindu villagers in Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine State during the latest round of violence in the area in August.
On Monday, speaking before a plenary session of the ASEAN leadership summit, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called for the grouping’s solidarity to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine.
“The longer the problem is going on, the bigger the impacts will be for regional security and stability, including with the emergence of radicalism and trafficking in persons,” Jokowi said.
What ASEAN needs to watch, according to Jones, is humanitarian assistance sent to Rakhine by radical groups from Indonesia and Malaysia, as it may become a way for militant groups to build communications with ARSA and set up an alliance.
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry, together with some Indonesian nongovernmental and religious organisations, joined in the so-called Indonesian Humanitarian Alliance for Humanity have so far become the only group sanctioned by the Bangladesh government to distribute aid for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
“What the Indonesian Foreign Ministry is doing is so important because they are trying to control the humanitarian aid going into (Bangladesh’s district of) Cox’s Bazar and other towns in Bangladesh,” Jones said.
“But, despite their efforts to try to ensure that this group is the one that is officially sanctioned to distribute aid, we have seen Salafist (puritanical Muslim) groups, for example, establish their own connection to some of the camps in Bangladesh,” she added.
“That’s what to watch for, to look at whether the humanitarian aid from radical groups is reaching or not reaching the camps,” she said.
Indonesian terrorism expert Bonar Tigor Naipospos of nongovernmental organisation Setara, meanwhile, underlined that the conflicts in the southern Philippines and Rakhine State have created an opening for IS to enter because local rebels need support, either in financing, weapons or training.
“If ASEAN wants to be stable, it must give priorities to the conflict areas,” he said. – Kyodo
Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, talks to journalists in Manila, Philippines, on November 8.