Author : Kabir Taneja

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Sep 24, 2021
Quad’s commitment to counterterrorism seems to be only vaguely defined, despite being highlighted as an area of cooperation. Given that it is a priority in the region, the Quad can still provide a strategic vision around counterterrorism to forge common grounds
The Quad’s Counterterrorism Priorities

The Quad’s first in-person meet in late September, to be hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington D.C., comes only weeks after the end of the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. The return of the Taliban has redefined the American ‘war on terror’, and new questions are being raised over counterterrorism policies and aims in the post-9/11 era. For the US, the movement from “war on terror” to “over the horizon” counterterror design is a forced shift in thinking with a blueprint that is yet to be formulated.

From the perspective of the Quad, counterterrorism is being highlighted as one of the main areas of cooperation for the grouping.<1> However, the design of such cooperation that the Quad can commit to on this arena remains loosely defined. Since the Quad started to debate matters of regional and global security, largely through the lens of the Indo-Pacific region, discussions from the perspective of counterterrorism have largely been strategic in nature rather than tactical. The Quad members have all suffered terrorism in recent times. For example, Japanese journalist Mika Yamamota was killed in Syria in 2015, and some years later, long-time social worker and doctor in Afghanistan, Tetsu Nakamura, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in 2019 in the city of Jalalabad.<2>

Direct counterterrorism cooperation between the Quad members without a framework of an alliance, however, poses roadblocks on issues such as sharing of intelligence (which is different from information).

While counterterrorism has regularly featured in statements and communications released in and around talks held by Quad leaders, little has materialised. In November 2019, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) hosted the first counterterrorism table-top exercise (CT-TTX) for Quad members.<3> The purpose of the CT-TTX was to familiarise the new multilateral forum to the issue of terrorism. It also aimed to discuss the building of an ecosystem based on an increased sense of partnership, comradery and cooperation that could be institutionalised into mechanisms of formalised sharing of information on suspected groups and individuals, funding, and an increasingly challenging space of online radicalisation and recruitment, amongst other avenues for counterterrorism and countering violent extremism.

Direct counterterrorism cooperation between the Quad members without a framework of an alliance, however, poses roadblocks on issues such as sharing of intelligence (which is different from information). While there has been an increase in intelligence cooperation between India and the US on a bilateral level, a wider intelligence-sharing network amongst the Quad grouping is not in the near horizon. This needs to be prioritised, as the role of intelligence-sharing in counterterror architectures is fundamental. India, despite its own military and intelligence capabilities not measuring up to its massive strategic challenges on its border regions, could lead the charge for increased intelligence cooperation in the Quad, specifically after the eruption of India-China tensions in the Ladakh region in May 2020. However, commitments on this front from Tokyo and Canberra may be subject to their own bilateral strains with Beijing from a regional point of view rather than a multilateral one.<4>

A point of convergence might be the development of commonly funded forums and agencies working against extremism and terrorism in peripheral geographies in and around the Indo-Pacific.

Overall, counterterrorism cooperation could be achievable for the Quad; it could also serve to make the forum more cohesive. Strategically, rather than militarily, cooperation on this issue in geographies such as Southeast Asia and South Asia can offer a regional aim rather than one bound by a geographic vision of the Indo-Pacific and common threat perceptions. For the same, operationally, a point of convergence might be the development of commonly funded forums and agencies working against extremism and terrorism in peripheral geographies in and around the Indo-Pacific. This could be done by engaging civil society, universities, law enforcement agencies, and technology ecosystems to push back against extremist ideologies. For example, a Quad-led ecosystem that will bring together countries such as Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal for deliberations on best-practices in countering violent extremism and debating regulation of online spaces to create counter-narratives against terror groups would not require military programs or assets in the Indo-Pacific region. It would also be a way for the Quad to engage with other states as part of its formulation. From the point of view of government agencies, exercises such as CT-TTX can also be expanded to include observer states and agencies to participate on a rotational basis covering countries belonging to the Indo-Pacific geography.<5>

The NIA’s hosting of the CT-TTX showed New Delhi’s appetite to take a leading role in pushing the counterterror narrative within the Quad grouping. While these initial steps may have been temporarily stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s growing call for stronger counterterror approaches across multilateral forums—such as the United Nations Security Council<6> and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization—will spill over into the Quad as well.<7>

A wide intelligence-sharing network amongst the Quad grouping needs to be prioritised, as the role of intelligence-sharing in counterterror architectures is fundamental.

To be sure, some analysts question whether counter-terror cooperation has any space within a multilateral formulation that largely targets China’s rise in Asia and beyond. However, caging the Quad within geographic binaries is untenable beyond a point. Indeed, the US has highlighted its exit from Afghanistan as a recalibration of its strategy to manage newer threats in Asia (namely, China), and the collapse of Afghanistan and rise of the Taliban in that country is increasingly aided by a potentially strong Chinese support. If European states are declaring their respective Indo-Pacific policies, there are no viable reasons to limit counterterror cooperation within Quad frameworks only to the waters of the Indo-Pacific region. President Biden has said, “We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. There’s nothing China or Russia would rather have than the US to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan.”<8>

Counterterrorism may not be among the primary tactical aims of the Quad. However, the Quad can still provide a strategic vision around counterterrorism, given how it has become a global priority. With India being pivotal to the Quad’s future, counterterrorism will likely get a significant push as an issue to be tackled from the political, strategic, and tactical fronts.

This piece is part of ORF’s Special Report No. 161, The Rise and Rise of the ‘Quad’: Setting an Agenda for India | ORF (


<1>Quad leaders’ joint statement: The spirit of the Quad”, The White House, March 12, 2021.

<2>Tetsu Nakamura: A Japanese doctor amongst six dead in Afghan gun attack”, BBC, December 4, 2019.

<3>NIA to host first counter-terrorism cooperation exercise for ‘Quad’ countries”, Press Trust of India, November 19, 2019.

<4> Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, “What does the new counterterrorism exercise mean for the Quad?”, The Diplomat, December 6, 2019.

<5> Kabir Taneja, “Cooperation against ISIS is low hanging fruit for a stronger Indo-Pacific”, 9dashline, February 8, 2021.

<6>Kabul attack reinforces need for world to stand united against terrorism, India tells UN Security Council”, Press Trust of India, August 27, 2021.

<7> Kadambini Sharma, “PM flags “radicalization”, cites Afghanistan at regional summit SCO”, NDTV, September 17, 2021.

<8>Remarks by President Biden on the end of the war in Afghanistan”, The White House, August 31, 2021.

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Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...

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