World powers unite against Islamic State

World leaders uniteA spate of attacks around the world has demonstrated the reach of violent Islamic extremist, but also inadvertently served to unite global powers against the scourge.

Western countries — the US and the European Union — have often differed with eastern powers — Russia and China — on how to tackle the threat.

The US and Russia, for instance, have been at odds on how to tackle the Islamic State, also known as ISIL —  the latest terror conglomerate to emerge from the Middle East.

As the US and its EU allies have been on a dual strategy of fighting IS while at the same time supporting rebel efforts to topple Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Russia has come out in support of the regime.

The military intervention has seen Russian jets carry out bombing raids against western-backed rebels, raising the spectre of a confrontation with US forces.

Differences over Syria have heightened suspicion between the US and Russia, and directly made for tense relations evident when President Barack Obama hosted President Vladimir Putin during the UN General Assembly in September.

On the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Turkey last Sunday, however, the world took notice when Mr Obama and Mr Putin huddled together for a whispered discussion. The two pulled each other aside and talked for an hour.

No communiqué was issued and no details divulged about the tête-à-tête, but it is instructive that shortly afterwards, Russian and US forces seemed to start working together on bombing offensives against IS.

French jets also launched numerous sorties, attacks that would have had to be coordinated with other forces to avoid the possibility of collision.

Far away in China, government officials and state-owned media started taking a harsher line against terrorism.

Almost unnoticed to the outside world, Chinese security forces launched offensives against Islamic groups which authorities linked to the campaign against global terrorism.

For the first time, official media released details of an operation that killed 28 people allegedly responsible for an attack on a mine in Xinjiang two months ago.

The report in the Xinjiang government’s web portal, Tianshan, was the first official account of the September 18 incident that killed 16 people.

Xinjiang is home to the Uighur minority, a discontented Muslim group that says it is just seeking to practise its religion and culture.

“After 56 days of continuous fighting, Xinjiang destroyed a violent terrorist gang directly under the command of a foreign extremist group. Aside from one person who surrendered, 28 thugs were annihilated,” the Xinjiang Daily said.

What is notable is that instead of attributing the situation in the region to local issues, the Chinese government is going out if its way to link the unrest to the upsurge of IS and other manifestations of global terrorism.

Thus we have the US and the its allies, Russia and China reading from the same script for the first time.

This made easy the unanimous passage on Friday of a Security Council resolution to “redouble” action against IS. Although it did not specifically authorise the use of force, it implicitly gave the nod of approval for military action by the US-led western alliance, Russia and other forces against IS in Syria and Iraq.

It will also create room for more support elsewhere against the threat of Islamic terrorists, notably Kenya and Somalia where Al-Shabaab remains a potent threat; Nigeria where the Boko Haram are killing more people than IS; Mali where a simmering insurgency is causing carnage; and Libya where the administration  is threatened by militants.

The game-changer has undoubtedly been the series of attacks last week that killed 130 people in Paris, not long after the October 31 crash of a Russian aircraft over the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik brought down by a bomb.

After the Paris bombing, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed strong support for the war against terrorism. While that might have been a routine declaration of solidarity, the response from  Security minister Guo Shengkun, other officials and state media was more revealing.

“China faces the same threats from IS as France and must prepare for attacks,” warned Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

The government also raised the alert that local militants had left for training in Syria, and were coming back to attack.

The position was thus ripe for escalated crackdowns against what China described as local terrorist groups, but in an environment where the world would pay little attention.

In the wake of the UN resolution and new sense of urgency on tackling terrorism, it is likely that global powers — Washington, Moscow, Beijing, London, Paris and others — will soon be convening a summit to work out ways of confronting the menace.

This could be through the formal UN peace and security structures, or a new more flexible grouping that has the capacity to quickly agree on joint strategy and assemble the resources necessary for the task. The immediate objective would be to destroy IS networks in Syria and Iraq, together with its affiliates and like-minded groups in Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Another priority might be to check what seems like an apparent threat of large-scale terrorist infiltration into Europe through the Syrian refugee crisis.

Ever since the influx, Europe has been at a loss on now to handle them. Germany and the Nordic countries have been welcoming, leading the European nations to a sort of consensus on accepting the refugees.

President Obama has in principle accepted the refugees, against strong opposition from Republicans and some in his party.

The attacks might see the welcome mats rolled up as it emerges that some terrorists sneaked into Europe through the refugee pipeline.

Also affected will be scores of migrants from West and North Africa, and closer home from Somalia and Eritrea, who have been risking the dangerous boat rides from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to in search of refuge in Europe.

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