South Asia: Hotbed of Islamic Terrorism

August 08, 2008


This paper explores the rising menace of Islamic extremism in South Asia while discussing key terrorist groups and networks and emerging terrorism trends.

Main Findings

  • Islamic terrorism appears to be on the rise in the region since September 11, with a new generation of terrorist leaders taking the reins of jihad.
  • Terrorist groups are increasingly preferring to work collectively, even when there is little ideological convergence among their objectives.
  • In Pakistan, crackdowns on the jihadi and sectarian organizations have backfired, triggering large-scale militant Islamic consolidation and subsequent retaliation. The U.S.-led war in Pakistan’s neighborhood has only aggravated the situation.
  • In Bangladesh, government crackdowns pushed the extremist forces into hiding initially, although now they are regrouping and recruiting cadres in rural pockets.
  • Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are serving as major hubs for ideological and material support to the South Asian radical Islamic networks.
  • In India, homegrown jihadists are emerging, while radical elements are attempting to exploit the alienation of India’s Muslim youths.
  • With these three South Asian countries increasingly under the militant Islamic grip, the Sunni-majority Maldives could become the next safe haven for radical elements.

Policy Implications

  • A regionally coordinated counterterrorism effort is imperative to fight the Islamic extremist threat in South Asia. Islamic terrorist groups have free rein in the region, taking advantage of porous borders and strengthened by the absence of an effective joint antiterrorism strategy.
  • The emerging collaboration among South Asian terrorist groups could force the U.S. to shift its current counterterror strategy in the region.
  • With the fast-changing political situation in Pakistan, the U.S. will want to devise a novel plan to continue its campaign against Islamic extremist forces in that country.
  • It is also imperative to empower moderate Islamic forces to raise their voice against the militant Islamic forces operating in the region.


National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle (USA).