• The Convergence

The Afghanistan Crisis and Its Impact on Singapore

By Eldrick, Editor



Photo: France 24

The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has aroused numerous responses from leaders across the world, with most of them being strict condemnations and dismay. [1] The conflict, which started from 1978, has proven to be one of the most irresolvable political conflicts in the world and appears to remain so for time to come.


This time round, the situation has been exacerbated by the US’ withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, leaving its people to fend for themselves. Many around the world disapproved of the US’s move and deemed it as harmful to the Afghans. At the same time, the Taliban's abrupt annexation of Afghanistan has also affected countries around the world in less-than-positive ways. While Singapore is not directly implicated in this situation, this article highlights the potential implications of the crisis on the little red dot.


Taliban leaders gathering in the Presidential Palace after President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. Photo: India Today

Background of the Afghanistan conflict [2]


The Afghan conflict started amidst the backdrop of the Cold War. In 1973, the Army General and prince Mohammed Daoud Khan led a coup against the then monarchical ruler, King Mohammed Zahir Shah and established the Republic of Afghanistan under a one-party system. However, this autocratic system was driven by intense persecution of political enemies, especially the purging of communist figures as well as perceived favouritism towards certain social groups, namely the Pashtuns. As a result, Khan was heavily disliked and distrusted by many. In 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), a communist alliance, overthrew Daoud’s government and on the 28th of April, Daoud himself was overthrown and murdered in the coup. [3] Subsequently, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) was established by the proto-communist forces.


This was followed by a period of civic unrest in Afghanistan due to disagreements among different factions and the so-called ruling government. The Soviet Union, who supported the DRA, invaded Afghanistan in order to prop up a pro-Soviet government. The DRA fought against a group of guerrilla fighters known as the Mujahideen, which was supported by the US and other countries like the United Kingdom and Pakistan. [4] As a result, the Cold War backdrop resurfaced as a full-fledged proxy war between the US and the Soviet Union, which eventually led to an almost decade-long war.


The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan [5]


The clearest spillover effect of the proxy war was seen not in Afghanistan but in the US. On 11 September 2001, Al-Qaeda operatives hijacked a total of four commercial US airplanes and crashed two into the World Trade Centre building. Al-Qaeda was part of the Mujahideens fighting against the Soviet forces and were supporters of the Taliban. However, after the war, they expanded their operations and began to take on the duty of jihadism. As Jihadists, they “see violent struggle as necessary to eradicate obstacles to restoring God's rule on Earth and defending the Muslim community, or umma, against infidels and apostates.” [6]


Following the attack, US President George Bush announced a “war against terror”, vowing to eradicate the Taliban. However, since its inception, the war has stretched the US both in terms of manpower and economic spending. It was noted that the US had spent close to 1 trillion dollars on the war with no hope of a resolute ending. [7] Then in 2016, US Presidential candidate Donald Trump made, as part of his election promises, the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. Joe Biden, despite running against Donald Trump in 2021, decided to go with the latter’s directive upon being elected President and ordered for the withdrawal of US troops by September 2021. As a result, almost all US troops had evacuated Afghanistan by then, leaving civilians utterly exposed to the painful uncertainty of the Taliban’s regime. [8]


Impact on Singapore


With an overview of the Afghanistan crisis, in particular, its latest manifestation in the form of the US’ withdrawal of troops, we can now begin to examine the possible impact this event might have on Singapore. Being a small country that is economically dependent on the global supply and logistical chain, [9] Singapore has always been susceptible to the forces of global politics. As such, one immediate impact on Singapore is the uncertainty of Singapore’s relation to Afghanistan. Singapore does not have any diplomatic representation in Afghanistan. [10] Moreover, although Singapore usually takes on a neutral or more nuanced position when it comes to foreign geopolitics, it can hardly maintain a neutral position if the Taliban accrues more power given that the US troops are no longer stationed in Afghanistan. However, this may not necessarily spell trouble for Singapore as it is located relatively far away from Afghanistan. The more pertinent impact on Singapore comes from the corollary of the Afghanistan crisis – the militant Jihadist who have formed bases and alliances across Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, each of which are of close proximity to Singapore.


Despite sprouting from Middle-Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan, Jihadist movements have taken root in Southeast Asian countries quite extensively. For instance, the Southeast Asian branch of Al-Qaeda, which goes by the name of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was responsible for a bombing attack in Bali in 2005. In 2008, the escape of terrorist suspect, Mas Selamat Kastari, from Singapore’s Internal Security Department’s Whitley Road Detention Centre led to widespread alarm and awareness of terrorism within our home ground. Evidently, the threat of terrorism in Singapore is potent.


Therefore, the impact of the current crisis in Afghanistan on Singapore includes a reinvigoration of local and regional jihadist movements in Southeast Asia. [11] As jihadist movements in Southeast Asia look up to those in the Middle East, the withdrawal of the US troops could signal a form of victory to them in their fight for an Islamic state. The holy war to propagate Islam can be spun into a winning narrative.


This would mean that Singapore has to be on the lookout for an accumulation of forces within the militant groups of Southeast Asian countries. In fact, Japan recently warned all its residents abroad in Asian countries to be wary of terrorist attacks, especially in places of worship. Although Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) disputed the threat, the fact that the warning was conceived of in the first place points to the heightened alert that the present Afghanistan crisis has resulted. Naturally, issues of safety and security would have to be prioritised. While the current strict surveillance afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic could mean that Singapore would be well-handled to sieve out any potential terrorists, Singaporeans’ general lethargy with the pandemic might result in us being too fatigued to stay vigilant about issues like terrorism.


Lastly, self-radicalisation could become easier with the rapid progress and convenient access to online information. The spread of misinformation and even of false religious dogmas poses a significant threat to Singapore. This is evident already from the various news sources on the current Afghan crisis. It is not too difficult to find various analyses of the crisis, some in favour of the US and some in favour of the Taliban. Undiscerning individuals, especially those who are younger and more impressionable could find themselves believing falsity and hence, being sucked into the rabbit hole of falsehood and radicalisation. [12] In fact, in the Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2021, it was reported that 54 people have been dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related conduct since 2015. Of these, 44 were self-radicalised. [13] Recently, a 16-year old Singaporean boy was also detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning to attack two mosques. [14]


To complicate matters, this problem is difficult to tackle given the ubiquity and ease of access to the internet. If the Singapore government were to deprive anyone of online access, they could be perceived as overly draconian. On the other hand, if they were to control one’s online access, a clear and nuanced stipulation of how much they can control would have to be stated. Evidently, it is not possible to completely stop anyone from coming across terrorist ideas given the open-ended nature of the internet and online media. Therefore, this highlights the far-reaching impact that the rise of Jihadism and radical ideology, which sprouted from the Afghanistan crisis, has on Singapore.


Conclusion


It is unlikely to see a resolute ending to the conflict in Afghanistan anytime soon, given its widespread nature and the Taliban’s intricate links to terrorist organisations across the world. The US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan may have reflected badly on the US but it also spells trouble for countries like Singapore. Admittedly, some may take what is written in this article with regards to the impact that the takeover of Afghanistan has on Singapore to be overstated given the current COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic serves as a confounder as it has derailed much of what goes in the world normally since it burgeoned in early 2020. Countries around the world, especially Singapore, have invested most of their administrative time and energy into policies and measurements to stem COVID transmission in the community. As a result of this, perhaps the Afghanistan crisis would not have as large of an impact due to the fact that countries are too distracted to deal with it directly.


Furthermore, the current airline network has been closed for a while now due to the virus and hence, issues of aspiring travelling militants are staved off temporarily. Despite all this, and the peripheral significance that the crisis seems to have for Singapore, the fact that it has made threats seem more imminent and urgent should indicate a hint of emergency and maintain its relevance. Hence, we should never rest on our laurels.


As far as policy-making goes, no amount of paranoid security fencing would heighten our civic consciousness to be vigilant. As such, we must always remain alert and governments worldwide would do good in constantly reminding citizens of this fact. The same ought to be said of Singapore.




Bibliography


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/16/world-leaders-react-as-the-taliban-take-kabul-in-afghanistan.html


[2] https://search-ebscohost-com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=

318496&site=ehost-live)


[3] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/afghan-president-is-overthrown-and-murdered


[4] https://www.npr.org/2021/08/19/1028472005/afghanistan-conflict-timeline


[5] https://doi.org/10.1111/dech.12276


[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30411519


[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_ec5NwWMy8


[8] https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/04/americas-afghan-refugee-crisis/


[9] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/should-small-states-act-like-small-states


[10] https://mothership.sg/2021/08/singaporeans-afghanistan-mfa/


[11] https://www.jstor.org/stable/26918076


[12] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/20-years-after-911-will-spores-way-to-tackle-terror-hold


[13] https://www.mha.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/

singapore-terrorism-threat-assessment-report-2021.pdf


[14] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/16-year-old-singaporean-detained-isa-planned-attack-2-mosques-435241




 

Eldrick is a Y3 Philosophy student who likes films, music and literature. “To rejoice in one’s heart and to love, one needs solitude, but to be a success one must get about in society.” Stendhal