Event ReportsPublished on Jul 20, 2010
Because of the tacit and overt alliance between the constituents of policymaking institutions and the violent non-state actors in Pakistan, it is imperative to review the current strategies and policies to evolve a more comprehensive set of actions.
Terrorism in South Asia: US-India Perspectives

The two-day dialogue on Terrorism in South Asia: Perspectives from US and India between the US-based Heritage Foundation and the ORF, held on July 20-21, 2010, focused on the growing relationship between the State agencies and various types of violent non-state actors in South Asia which pose unique challenges to counter-terrorism strategies.

The tacit and overt alliance that exists between constituents of policymaking institutions and these violent non-state actors further complicates the issue. Therefore, it is imperative to review the current strategies and policies to evolve a more comprehensive set of actions to stem this cancerous liaison that is likely to drag the region deeper into a morass of violence and instability in the years ahead.

In his inaugural address, the National Security Advisor, Mr. Shivshankar Menon, said that there was a growing fusion between terrorist groups in South Asia and traditional distinctions between these groups are turning meaningless now. It seems highly unlikely that the nexus between terrorists will be broken in the near future.

Stating that there exists a better understanding of the “ecosystem” in which terrorism exists today, Mr. Menon said the interrogation of the one of the main accused in the Mumbai attacks, David Headley, in the US recently has confirmed many things about terrorist operation that India already knew.

In an oblique reference to Pakistan, Mr. Menon said the confirmation of the understanding has only further underscored the reality of links of terrorists with official establishment and intelligence agencies.

The National Security Advisor said terrorism is no longer the recourse of the poor and deprived. More often, than not, terrorists and their supporters belong to Middle or Upper classes, shifting the realm which it exists in. Mr. Menon said, “it is that nexus that makes it a much harder phenomenon for us to deal with. These links or nexus, from what we see unfortunately suggest that, will not be broken soon. If anything, it well get stronger.”

A possibility of nuclear weapons reaching the hands of terrorists exists and it is very important that the issue is being taken up by the ORF-Heritage Dialogue, Mr. Menon said. Both India and the US have learned lessons and the two countries are trying to put together institutions, policies, and practices which would help overcome this issue. Having already set up the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and a multi agency center to collect and disseminate information, the government is continuing to pursue counter-terrorism efforts through the establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

Differing Counter-terrorism Policy Approaches

Dialogue’s first session dealt with the fundamental differences between Indian and US policies regarding counterterrorism as well as an analysis of the evolution of the relationship between the two countries.

It was pointed out that four primary factors could cause dramatic changes in the relationship between the two countries in the future: (1) the convergence of US & Indian stakes in combating an unprecedented threat, (2) changes in India’s international role in relation to the US, (3) changes in the “shape” of terrorism, and (4) changing South Asian regional dynamics. Furthermore, it was made clear that the US and India have diverging political inclinations and strategies, making it difficult for counterterrorism strategies to be completely aligned. A recognition of this divergence was the key to advancement of their relations for the future.

Pakistan’s role in counterterrorism was also an important part of the discussion. Expert panelists from ORF articulated the critical need for Pakistan to be deluded from the illusion that they are of great importance to the US. This illusion has given them the platform from which to serve as a ‘safe haven’ for terrorist groups around the world.

The US needs to develop a strategy which targets terrorism rather than just terrorists, Major General (Retd.) Asfir Karim, who was the discussant at the first session, said. He also suggested that the approach to counterterrorism must take a more global stance; currently, the focus is much on localized groups but does not consider the potential for a global stronghold by Islamic fundamentalists.

Mr. Vikram Sood, Vice President of ORF, said that the sequencing of counter terrorist actions is important on the basis of five requirements—detect, deter, destroy, and then develop and dialogue. He argued that an attempt to engage in dialogue before a reasonable semblance of the first three steps will be interpreted as “appeasement” by the terrorist; therefore, the timing of the last two aspects must be carefully nuanced.

A concern was expressed over the fact that US citizens often source terrorism to Kashmir and believe that if this regional dispute was resolved, terrorism would be eliminated.

Af-Pak Strategy

The second session shifted the discussion to some of the challenges related to Afghanistan. Sharing some of his pessimism over the US Af-Pak policy, Ambassador Kanwal Sibal asserted that “no strategy is working.” Furthermore, the critical need to suppress the Taliban was underscored at the dialogue. US policy & economic aid was identified as hindering this effort and increasing the chances for this group to dominate the region.

Panelists agreed that the partitioning of Afghanistan would be extremely detrimental to the US and India and is a cause both sides can work to prevent.

Mr. Siddharth Varadarajan, Strategic Affairs Editor and Bureau Chief of The Hindu, articulated what he believes is a distillation of the consensual Indian position on foreign policy. There is a high level of unanimity and coherence on Afghanistan, he said. Mr. Varadarajan outlined four primary, common interests of both the US and India: (1) security to ensure that the Afghan territory never becomes a haven for terrorism, (2) regional integration so Afghanistan can benefit from the high growth that is part of the “South Asian” story, (3) use of the “Silk Route” as a land corridor and useful transit point, and (4) joint energy ventures.

Ultimately, it was clear that the optimal strategy was yet to be found in Afghanistan—until there is a fuller grasp on the domestic politics which exist within the country, this sort of strategy will not be successful.

Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Threats

The third session began with defining transnational terrorism, articulating that all terrorist groups are transnational by nature. Most of the threats are conventional in structure, as of today. However, non-traditional threats certainly need to be addressed too. Pakistan as the source for the majority of terrorist plots was deemed as a point of commonality between the US and India; however, India’s ability to engage with Pakistan is far more difficult than it is for the US given the context of the relationship.

It was also concluded that a multilateral approach is needed in order to effectively address these threats; terrorism is manifested, today, by a nexus of factors which makes it far more difficult to effectively combat. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the source of it in order to undermine it. Furthermore, India must view itself in light of an unconventional South Asia—one that encompasses a greater portion of the region, so as to develop the most comprehensive understanding of the roots of terrorism.

David Headley was also a large part of the discourse; several participants expressed their concern with the fragmented process of interrogation and information obtained in the US, particularly with this case, arguing that a diplomatic approach that would be beneficial to India could have been undertaken.

Three important points regarding these terrorist threats were made: (1) terrorism is about intelligence, (2) police are the solid foundation for counteracting it, (3) and the criminal justice system under which intelligence is protected is extremely important.

Failed Talks on India-Pakistan Relations

In his Dinner-table address, former National Security Advisor and ORF Trustee, Mr. Brajesh Mishra said that India-Pakistan talks could never succeed as long as the Armed Forces were the rulers in Pakistan. He said that there was a grave danger to the national security because of “unmitigated hostility of Pakistan and China.”

Commenting on the failure of recent talks between the Indian-Pakistan Foreign Ministers, Mr. Mishra said that the talks will continue to fail until India grasps the reality that the Pakistan army will never allow peaceful relations with India. Furthermore, India must understand that “Pakistan Army’s hostility towards India is not because of Bangladesh, Kashmir, or Siachen. Pakistan’s very existence depends upon hostility towards India. Unless we grasp that, we would never be able to deal with Islamabad.”

Pointing out that the Bush Administration had given more than 12 billion dollars assistance and the present administration is giving five to six billion dollars to Pakistan to fight war on terror, Mr. Mishra asked the Americans after all, what had they got in return for its assistance in nine years. Cautioning that terrorism is going to increase in the coming years because of unmitigated hostility of Pakistan and China towards India, Mr. Mishra advised the Indian policy makers to give equal importance to defense capability as to economic growth.

Understanding Regional Disputes

The principal objective is to prevent threats to the homeland, ORF Senior Fellow Mr. Wilson John said adding that the issue for India is more or less genetic and therefore gives India no choice but to directly deal with it.

Pakistan’s dual policy of insisting on attrition as a metric of success against ‘miscreants’ and thereby infuriating large sections of the population, being highly selective in its counter terrorism objectives, has led to a massive proliferation in militant networks throughout the country.

Furthermore, as Pakistan’s security establishment, political class, citizenry, and media gradually take greater ownership of the war against militant groups, the country is expected to further fragment along ‘Jihadist’ and modernist lines. Additionally, Pakistan in the coming years will not only be confronted wit the arduous task of identifying and breaking existing alliances among radical militant groups, but also face the specter of ‘proxy’ groups from merging with militant groups hostile to Pakistan’s pro-Western government.

It was also said that the growing relationship between the State agencies and various types of violent non-state actors in South Asia will pose unique challenges to counter-terrorism strategies—the tacit and overt alliance that exists between constituents of policymaking institutions and these violent non-state actors further complicates the issue. Therefore, it is imperative to review the current strategies and policies to evolve a more comprehensive set of actions to stem this cancerous liaison that is likely to drag the region deeper into a morass of violence and instability in the years ahead.

There was also a discussion on Bangladesh. The conspiracy to assassinate Sheikh Hasina in April 2004 is an example of institutional involvement in these terrorist cases as well as the strong influence Pakistan has on this relatively weak region, it was pointed out.

It was said that as India continues to grow, the dynamics of India’s leverage with China will change and India will be in a position to affect a change in Sino-Pakistan relations.

The critical importance of a coherent, allied police force was stressed in the final session of the conference. It was said that terrorists must be treated as criminals and punished for the same. Common sense and fairness should be the driving factors when analyzing terrorist plots, rather than personalization—it was articulated that too much weight is given to what one assumes to be the ‘identity’ of a terrorist, often distracting from the real signs of a potential attack. Therefore, there needs to be a ‘world class’ police structure to deal with terrorism most effectively and allow sharing of intelligence because human rights and human safety are ultimately the most important to protect.

Mr. Praveen Swami, Associate Editor of The Hindu, said the focus must be on “capacity-building.” India has not been able to build this capacity because (a) the importance of comprehensive training is not realized and (b) the people who know the how to prevent insurgencies and terrorist attacks are not influencing policy frameworks. He argued, however, that an international policing system is not needed. The issue is not the lack of evidence or information, but it is the ability of states to act on matters which seem obvious and well-known.

(This report is prepared by Shefali Bharadwaj, Research Intern)

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