Sri Lanka - Is South Asian treaty on counter-terrorism feasi...| MENAFN.COM

Thursday, 19 May 2022 12:49 GMT

Sri Lanka - Is South Asian treaty on counter-terrorism feasible?


(MENAFN- Colombo Gazette)

By N Sathiya Moorthy

Addressing an online event on“Countering use of crypto-currencies to finance terrorism” recently, Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva called for a South Asian treaty to counter the transnational and connected nature of terrorists and criminal activists in the region. There is also a“need of law enforcement's institutional reforms based on common and agreed policies”, he said further.

“In the legitimate government efforts to fight terrorism or organised crimes, in this regard, a possible South Asian regional treaty could promote counter-terrorism and anti-crime measures by promoting institutional structures and decision-making processes to promote cooperation, coordination, shared expertise and common legal approaches,” Gen Silva said.“Due to thetransnational and connected nature of terrorists and criminal activists in our region, prevention, cooperation and mutual assistance in controlled measures at international borders are essential,” he added.

The General also said that there are avenues for collaboration by establishing information exchange at customs, imposing immigration barriers and commonly agreeing on the regulation of transporting and stockpiling of weapons and drugs, dangerous goods or potential warlike equipment.Emphasising that mutual assistance can be enhanced by extending measures for collecting evidence of suspects, exchange of wanted personnel and etc, Silva said that enhancing the capacities of regional countries to handle terrorism and criminals would depend extensively on the training of law enforcement agencies.

“Apart from training for military personnel, of a particular country, it is also essential to carry out joint training for various armed forces of the South Asian region. Conducting counter-terrorism operations at a regional scale would also require regional funding. It is understood that funding counter-terrorism campaigns in recent times has become quite expensive due to the sophistication of insurgence,” Gen Silva rightly pointed out. Hence,“this is where we need cooperation as very experience armies, who have long been engaging in counter-terrorism operations, we have specialities, therefore we can share each other's specialities to counter each other's imitation,” he said further.

Pious hopes or impractical words?

Opinion may at once be divided on Gen Silva's recommendation for counter-terror tactics to be followed by South Asian region and the nations that constitute it. Some may call it pious hopes and others may say it is impractical. But there can be no doubt about the need for such a mechanism, not only because it may be cost-effective. But it is also the only way that the region as a whole, or SAARC grouping beginning with Afghanistan at the north-western outpost of the regional organisation, can take on international terrorism and/or organised crime with global ramifications.

For right reasons more than wrong, international terrorism has acquired an Islamic face for no fault of the religion per se. Of the eight SAARC members, four, namely, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives, are Islamic, going by the religious identity of its citizenry. India and Sri Lanka too are victims thereof, not that the four Islamic nations in the grouping have escaped the mindless wrath of religious terrorists.

Likewise, Afghanistan-based global drug industry, travelling all across the world through fellow-SAARC nations like Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Maldives is a case in point. It also travels on parallel lines through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, etc, etc, on the eastern wing of SAARC. The less said about it the better.

However, when it comes to implementing anything close to Gen Silva's proposal, which has to be deemed to have clearance from the government in Colombo, there are issues. Those issues alone make his idea read like pious hopes or impractical words. The reasons are not far to seek.

As nations, India and Pakistan, both members of the SAARC grouping and are also very much at the heart of the South Asian region, are at logger-heads. In the pre-Taliban era until not very recently, Kabul too used to charge Islamabad with promoting terrorism in Afghanistan. From time to time, Bangladesh too has been reporting the use of its territory for anti-India terrorism by Pakistani ISI. In recent weeks and months, Sri Lanka Navy(SLN) has not-so-infrequently intercepted drug-boats originating in Pakistan. So has the Indian Coast Guard.

This apart, when the 19th SAARC Summit in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad had to be put off indefinitely, India, which led the charge, blamed it on the western neighbour's continuously master-minding, aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism targeting the nation. Bangladesh and Bhutan openly joined hands with India. It became increasingly clear that Colombo's sympathies too were with New Delhi.

Even under the changed political circumstances in Sri Lanka, even the present government would find it difficult to certify that there was no cross-border terrorism against India and Pakistan certainly was not behind it. Two years earlier in 2014, police in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu arrested a person travelling to Colombo to meet with a Pakistani intelligence official, based in the nation's embassy in the Sri Lankan capital. According to reports, the official was quietly withdrawn from Sri Lanka. Indications were that the arrested Indian was in the pay of the Pakistani spy, and they might have planned acts of terror in and against India.

Expanding security tie-up

Gen Silva's proposal may have had as its seed, the tri-nation 'Maritime and Security Agreement' signed by the National Security Advisors (NSA) of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka at Colombo, in November 2020. The Agreement provided for the secretariat of the grouping to be located in Colombo. The deputy NSAs of the three nations have since met at least once, since as outlined in the charter.

There have since been media reports indicating that as a first step at expanding the grouping to make it more effective, common southern neighbours, Mauritius and Seychelles, may be invited to join the three. It may take a while but bringing the other two would also help strengthen shared security apparatuses in terms of information and communication, vis a vis international terrorism and global drug-smuggling in and through the region.

There have also been vague, inconsistent and unconfirmed suggestions from time to time since, for bringing in other South Asian/SAARC nations. Translated it means inviting Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, and also Afghanistan and Pakistan into the grouping. Taken to the logical conclusion, Gen Silva's proposition too would aim at achieving this noble thought, maybe on a much later date. Easier said than done, it is, now or later.

For Gen Silva's proposal to be taken seriously and implemented, Pakistan has to convince fellow South Asian nations that it would not be using their territory to target one of them, namely, India. Even more so, Islamabad has to convince New Delhi that it has had a change of heart, lately, even if it meant that terrorism from within over the past decade and more had chastised Islamabad. The question would still remain if it were true also with Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters is located and which is also the fulcrum of Pakistan's political administration – power without responsibility and accountability.

India's List of 20

There are simple devices by which Pakistan can prove to India, the rest of South Asia and the whole world that it had changed, whatever the reason and circumstances. As far back as April 2001, the Indian government of the day, then Home Minister L K Advani, handed over to Pakistani ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, a list of 20 terrorists wanted in India, for standing trial for specific acts of terrorism. The most popular name was that of one-time 'Bombay don', Dawood Ibrahim, who was the identifiable face of the post-Ayodhya 'Bombay serial-blasts' in 1993.

Pakistan denied it all, out of hand, as if India did not know what it was talking. What transpired seven years after the infamous Agra Summit where the Advani-Musharraf meeting took place as an aside to the Vajpayee-Musharraf talks, was this. The 26/11 serial-blasts in Bombay, 2008, shook not just India but the entire world, as only the Easter serial blasts did in Sri Lanka, years later in 2019. Thankfully, no Pakistani hand was seen in the latter.

Why, even New Delhi's cancellation of participation from the 2016 SAARC Summit, to be followed by a few other member-nations, owed to acts of terrorism unleashed by Pakistani ISI targeting Indian security establishments. In particular, Bangladesh too pulling out from the event did not owe to sympathy for India, but more due to its own experience in matters of religious terrorism, and also with ISI using its territory and people for cross-border terrorism against India.

In this background, for Gen Silva to propose a South Asian regional treaty on counter-terrorism, among other criminal activities in the region, may be pre-matured, if not outright out-of-place. But it is still a goal worth working towards. For that to happen, Pakistan has to change its mind and colour. Maybe, nations like Sri Lanka can work towards that, and work on Pakistan!

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: )

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