The upcoming meeting of the UN Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) in India on October 28 and 29, 2022—the first to be held outside the organisation’s New York Headquarters since 2005—is being heralded by New Delhi as a tribute to victims of 26/11, and to its efforts in drawing global attention to the persistent threat of terrorism and violent extremism in India and the wider South Asian region.
Ahead of the special event, India’s permanent representative at the UN, and the current chair of the CTC, Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj
, said that terrorism is no longer an issue faced by any one particular country, and the India meeting will serve to reflect on “recent developments and evidence-based research” regarding the use of the internet and its attendant technologies, including the misuse or abuse of social media, and new payment mechanisms that are being manipulated for terrorist purposes.
India took over the chairmanship of the CTC as US troops left Afghanistan in as much of a mess as when it entered in October 2001—an unfinished war that has left hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians at the mercy of a conservative, militant Taliban government; an unabated persecution of women and minorities; and continued, frequent terror strikes. For India, the Pakistani deep state’s decades-old proximity with the Taliban has further threatened its domestic and regional security directly since the withdrawal of US troops, making this tenure at the CTC particularly critical.
of jihadist radicalisation in India has almost consistently shown that communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims violently manifest in local religious conflicts. And Pakistan’s desire to leverage the resultant disaffection, recruit youth, and provide logistics and training to them has often had fatal consequences. Given India’s history as a victim of cross-border terrorism, the new reality of a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan with strong ties to Pakistan, and the possibility of new or repurposed resources and manpower making its way into the hands of terror outfits gives New Delhi plenty of reason to worry. A new US government approach to those in power at this time in Islamabad will add to its concerns as it hosts the India meeting.
India has served as chair of the CTC twice since the Committee was established; first taking over in 2011, less than three years after the horrific Mumbai terror attacks, when the then Permanent Representative and now central minister Hardeep Puri appealed to the world community for a new ‘zero tolerance’ paradigm
in the International fight against terrorism. Even as various countries have adopted this approach, critics argue that it has led to the de-prioritisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in global counter terror efforts and has led to xenophobia and Islamophobia. “9/11 provided the moment when the `routinising' of the `extraordinary' could seek, and find, legitimacy,” argues scholar Usha Ramanathan
A decade after, apart from Islamist, jihadist terrorism, the world is dealing with new forms of terrorist violence from white supremacist, Neo Nazi, and right-wing extremist actors who have been fuelled and radicalised by anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-elite populist politics. This is the global environment in which India has assumed the CTC’s Chairmanship.
For India, the Pakistani deep state’s decades-old proximity with the Taliban has further threatened its domestic and regional security directly since the withdrawal of US troops, making this tenure at the CTC particularly critical.
Debate on the definition of “terrorist”
While taking charge for the year, Ms. Kamboj’s predecessor, TS Tirumurti, reiterated Delhi’s zero tolerance position on terrorism, and said, “Member states must remain united against the tendency of labelling acts of terrorism based on their motivation. Such categorisation will lead the global community back to the pre-9/11 era of ‘my terrorist versus your terrorist’.”
In the context of shifting dynamics of radicalisation, and the kinds of terrorism being unleashed across societies today, India has raised concerns over the adoption of new terminologies to define these varied challenges and threats—especially from the right-wing, whether they are White Supremacists in the United States, Europe or New Zealand; Buddhist radicals in Myanmar or Sri Lanka; or extremist Hindutva groups in India. Instead, Ambassador Tirumurti warned the General Assembly while adopting a resolution on the seventh review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (GCTS)
last year that, “we are now seeing attempts to divide us once again” by adopting new terminologies under the guise of “emerging threats such as racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism, violent nationalism, right-wing extremism” and called it a dangerous tendency. Going one step further, he added in January 2022
, that the “emergence of contemporary forms of ‘religiophobia’, especially anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist, and anti-Sikh phobias is a matter of serious concern and needs attention of the UN and all member states to address this threat.”
And herein lies the challenge. There is a complete breakdown of political consensus around the world on assessing what radicalisation means and the impact of domestic politics on national responses to defining or categorising variants of extremism. It is further complicated when inter-state, transnational cooperation is required, making it necessary for India as chair to seek a dialogue on what is now known as racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE), that must also come under the purview of the UN’s Preventing and Countering Extremism (P/CVE) frameworks. This international cooperation is vital in a digitalised world in which tensions can travel across borders with ease, as we saw in the British city of Leicester recently.
In an environment dictated as much by national interest of member states, as by the need to protect an international rules-based order, the complexities and contradictions of global politics have, without a doubt, consistently played out when it comes to tackling terrorism in India’s region.
Therefore, the upcoming Delhi meeting must also be a moment for pause and reflection. For the 20 years since 9/11, the world has grappled with the inability to counter terrorism effectively in the face of multiple drivers that have radicalised jihadi actors, and counter radicalised those who are today being termed racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.
Push factors like marginalisation, identity-based discrimination, and targeted violence, along with a lack of education and economic opportunities; or pull factors that provoke at risk men and women to align with causes that espouse violence as a means of ‘struggle’, are swirling in the same boiling crucible, which is fuelling radicalisation, violent extremism, and terrorism globally today. So much so that as a result their own politics, the emergence of polarised societies, and easy access to weapons and ammunition, the FBI has declared White Supremacist violent extremism a major domestic terror threat in the United States, and Britain was among the first countries to proscribe locally supported Neo Nazi groups.
In an environment dictated as much by national interest of member states, as by the need to protect an international rules-based order, the complexities and contradictions of global politics have, without a doubt, consistently played out when it comes to tackling terrorism in India’s region. The obligations laid out by the Counter Terrorism Committee apply to all UN member states, and India has benefitted from bilateral and multilateral efforts, especially in the context of the 26/11 investigations, whether it is through the United Nations or the Financial Action Task Force. And, as a party to several sectoral conventions on terrorism adopted by the UN, India’s own counter terrorism policy, irrespective of its implementation, is framed, on paper, in the language of UN security council resolutions—particularly 1267 and 1373—by including them in the amendment to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in 2008
, which is the bedrock of India’s anti-terror legislation. The amendment elaborated theciting UNSCRs 1373 forming the CTC and 1267 that designates individuals as terrorists, amongst others. Drawing on UNSCR 1267, the UAPA has been amended four times since 9/11, most recently in 2019, to authorise the designation of individuals as terrorists for the first time. Like so many anti-terror laws across the world, the UAPA also gives the State near absolute power over the individual, essentially, and often undermining, the right to due process. Can this be a time to relook at the powers that states have assumed?
There is no question that India has a terrorism and extremism problem—insurgencies in Kashmir and the Northeast, Left Wing terrorism, or religious based terrorism that includes both cross-border sponsored Islamist and majoritarian religious violence
. However, as the United Nations Counter Terrorism Committee undertakes a review of its impact over the last two decades, and charts a course for the future under India’s chairmanship in this unusually important meeting, Delhi must look beyond the current political motivations and propose a framework that reflects its own history of open multilateral engagement, principled diplomacy, rule of law, and constitutional protections when it comes to addressing ideological, racial and ethnicity based extremism and the new developments shaping terrorism challenges internationally.
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