Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

24 Sep 2015

In this week's Roundup, we look at the implications of Russian engagement in Syria, and new research into the reasons that jihadi fighters defect from ISIS.

We also draw together analysis on the geographical spread of Mali's insurgency, the roots of Hindu nationalism in Nepal, the Taliban's resilience in Afghanistan, and China's role in the Middle East.

Top Stories

Syria: Russian fears of domestic jihad linked to ISIS, as well as the presence of Orthodox Christians in Syria who look to Russia for protection, means Russia cannot be excluded from peace negotiations, argues Ed Husain.

Iraq/Syria: A new report from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation identifies four key factors that drive jihadis to defect from ISIS. Exploiting them will help to build counter-narratives. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings of the report.

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq/Syria: Despite pledging to degrade and destroy ISIS a year ago, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has admitted that the effort against the group is "tactically stalemated."  Will McCants explores how ISIS remains so strong, despite the continued operations against it.

Egypt: 'Operation Martyr's Rights' is the Egyptian military's latest campaign to eliminate the insurgency of ISIS' Egyptian affiliate from the Sinai Peninsula, but with violence having steadily escalated over several years, residents are suffering  writes Heba Afify.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Despite international infamy, Boko Haram's internal operations remain largely a mystery.  Fulan Nasrullah considers reasons why this might be, finding that foot soldiers are kept ignorant of strategies, complicit political and military leaders, and a tight cell structure that minimise leaks. 

Mali: Violence has spread from the insurgency-wracked north to the centre and south of Mali in recent months.  Ibrahim Maiga argues that while international intervention pushed Islamist insurgents from the north, individual fighters were deployed to the centre and south for individual attacks to distract peacekeepers. 

Central & South Asia

Pakistan: Two weeks after the first airstrike on a militant stronghold by a Pakistani-made drone, The Economist explores whether this incident could indicate a more active Pakistan in the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, some experts speculate that a purely drone-focused approach to militancy in the country's tribal areas could in fact worsen the insurgency in the long term.

Afghanistan: Surveying the current state of the Taliban, including its leadership structure, funding and international allies, Daud Qarizadah finds an organisation with a strong resilence against factionalism, even at times of uncertainty and shock, due to its founding narrative of a unified jihad.

Nepal: Violence in the streets and attacks against churches accompanied the Nepalese parliament's rejection of a proposal to make the country a Hindu state once again this week. Sudarsan Raghavan explores the context of resurgent Hindu nationalism, stemming from widespread disagreement over the shape of a new constitution and the legacy of the war that ended Nepal's monarchy.

East & South East Asia

China: With China's foreign policy based on a foundation of non-interference, Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus examines how this stance could change now that one of its citizens has been taken hostage by ISIS, and whether China might develop a more proactive role in the Middle East more broadly. 

Thailand: With much documented about the insurgency and violence in southern Thailand between Malay-Muslims and Buddhist militia groups, Jeerawat Na Thalang looks at the role of the Catholic Church in the region, with Catholics forming a small minority, but one that has a significant role in the community and the ongoing peace process.


Russia: Vladimir Putin's relationship with Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, is far from a simple matter. Keeping Chechnya pacified and the rest of the country safe from Islamist extremism requires Russia's leader to work with the Chechen leader.  Oliver Bullough explores how Putin's closest ally in securing Russia is also his biggest liability.


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