Regional approach needed to tackle terrorism in South Asia
The 2015 terrorist attacks in India at Dinanagar in Gurdaspur district of Punjab on July 27 and at Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir on Aug. 5 were followed by the 2016 attack at Pathankot in Punjab on Jan. 2 accompanied by a similar attack at the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan on Jan. 4.
Reports indicate that the US and Afghan security forces need to consider Islamic State (IS), besides Taliban, as a potential terrorist threat in Afghanistan. UN figures show that in the Nangarhar province alone, 48 incidents of violence took place between Taliban and IS fighters during May-July 2015.
More recently, on January 20, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan carried out a major terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University near Peshawar in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Indian and Pakistani prime ministers condemned the attack.
Several alleged IS sympathizers in India were picked up by the police ahead of the country’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26.
Terrorism in South Asia is a regional rather than a national challenge and must be dealt with as such. However difficult and complicated the task may be, it would be desirable to evolve a regional approach, methodology and strategy to meet the challenge of terrorism in South Asia by ending contestation and accusations between individual states.
This will pave the way to peace and stability in the region and give people a chance to enjoy the benefits of development as spelt out by the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) set up in 1985.
It would be useful to involve the Mahbub ul-Haq Human Development Centre, Islamabad, (www.mhhdc.org) in carrying out research and policy studies on terrorism in South Asia in the light of their leading concerns for human development and human security in the region.
The SAARC mechanism provides details of development policy and programs for the region. It has adopted a Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism followed by an Optional Protocol (2014).
However, the SAARC approach on terrorism appears less than comprehensive given the growing complexity of the problem aggravated by the emergence of the IS threat in South and Southeast Asia. The SAARC concept and strategy on terrorism needs elaboration and explication if necessary by amending the its charter.
The Pathankot terrorist attack in India was by all accounts led by the Pakistan-based outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), which had earlier been involved in the hijack of an Indian Airlines plane in 1999 and in the December 2001 attack on Indian Parliament which led to a war-like Indo-Pak situation.
Former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf recently described the JeM as a non-state outfit which was roaming free in spite of making two attempts on his life. Perhaps the outfit enjoys significant political backing in Pakistan.
The Pathankot attack seems to have been facilitated by the presence of drug and arms trafficking, money laundering and espionage in Punjab in collusion with elements across the border in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also suspected is the possible role of sections of the civil society in Punjab alienated by strict government measures in the 1980s to contain Sikh extremism and terrorism.
A former director general of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) recently revealed that a deputy commandant of his organization had been convicted and punished for his involvement in drug trafficking offences. Suspicions exist regarding the possible role of the Gurdaspur district superintendent of police. He is under interrogation by India’s National Investigation Agency. Two constables of the BSF have been taken into custody.
Terrorism, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, espionage, political assassinations, and destabilization of governments have been characterized as ‘multinational systemic crimes’ (MSCs). These crimes are distinct from conventional crime and are transnational or international in character.
MSCs are ‘crimes by various kinds of organisations that operate across national boundaries and in two or more countries simultaneously’. Individual acts in connection with such crimes are part of a highly complicated, well organised system that functions very much like a modern international business corporation.
The concept of ‘multinational systemic crime’ is collective referring to a variety of criminal behavior systems. Each crime is regarded as a serious threat by governments when directed against their national interests or ‘national security’. They are usually well organised and integrated with powerful legal and illegal institutions of nation-states.
No global criminal justice system to tackle these globalized crimes has yet come into existence. With increasing terrorist threats across the world, the narrow parochial concepts of correction and law enforcement are not relevant. These crimes are part of broader problems in political and social sciences and pose intractable policy challenges for the international community.
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in South Asia have been victims of MSCs in their variety and complexity. Hence they need to be dealt with on the basis of regional cooperation. The continuous Indo-Pak political confrontation over terrorism and related offences do not address the problem.
The global threat posed by IS or ‘Daesh’ and its rapid outreach in South Asia make regional cooperation a dire necessity. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have huge Muslim populations and are vulnerable to increased terrorist threats from the IS or its proxies. Such threats and actions are a regular feature of South Asian politics.
The Indian response has included a crisis management group at the central government under former prime minister Manmohan Singh (2004-14). A National Counter Terrorism Centre was also proposed but the government was voted out. But a beginning was made with the setting up of a multi-agency centre in the Intelligence Bureau.
A cabinet committee of security functions and the then Union home minister took daily meetings with the leading security officials.
India has held that effective counterterrorism needs: i) intelligence; ii) analysis and iii) command and control. Converting information into intelligence is the job of the specialist. High quality analysis calls for multidisciplinary teamwork combining the skills of the border guard and the computer technologist, the role of the policeman and the professor and the expertise of the spy master and the scientist.
A single line of command and control is essential in carrying out counterterrorist operations. The institutional response must be coordinated with foreign policy, defense and intelligence establishments.
Effective counterterrorism in South Asia further needs reform of colonial origin intelligence and police structures. Inherited criminal laws and police organizations attach priority to security of state and public order maintenance.
However, human security concerns have now become important as brought out by the Mahbub ul-Haq Centre for Human Development.
Intelligence agencies in India and Pakistan are dominated by the police and often have their own concept of ‘national security’.
BN Mullik, the Intelligence Czar of India from 1950 to 1964, who had his own concept of national security, was able to persuade the democratic prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to take several undemocratic steps such as the arrest of prominent leader Sheikh Abdullah of Kashmir (1953), the induction of army into the Naga Hills in the Northeast (1955), the ‘forward policy’ on the Sino-Indian border (1954-62) and the dismissal of the elected communist government of Kerala (1959).
In a recent interview, Assad Durrani, the ISI chief in Pakistan, did not hesitate to admit that he had his own concept of what constitutes ‘national security’ for his country.
Manmohan Singh was persuaded by intelligence agencies to prioritize state security over social justice concerns while formulating a strategy on Maoist violence.
A South Asian regional counterterrorism mechanism is important especially in the context of the emergence and rapid spread of the ideology of IS in South and Southeast Asia. An independent South Asian Counter-Terrorism Centre, distinct from the SAARC, must be set up.
India could play a leadership role in the conceptual and operational domains in dealing with the terrorist threat in South Asia utilizing the enormous moral, material, intellectual and professional resources available in the region.
Former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri made a welcome contribution to Indo-Pak amity in his book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove (Penguin/Viking, 2015). His book provides an account of the Indo-Pak peace process and the Kashmir framework solution, evolved through years of backchannel diplomacy between the two countries. He notes Henry Kissinger’s view that in resolving complicated international disputes ‘the test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction’.
The Indian political leadership needs to urgently consider Kasuri’s proposals for Indo-Pak amity and prepare the ground for regional cooperation on the approach and methodology to tackle terrorism and related ‘multinational systemic crimes’ in South Asia.
The author was a senior official of the Union Home Ministry in India. He is the author of ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India’, Routledge, 2016