Counter Terrorism in South Asia : Building Capacities and Strengthening Multilateral Engagement

Keynote Speech by H.E. Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, New York

Distinguished Panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Middle East and the South Asian regions are top hot spots of our times. The political strangulations in these parts of the world have stroked extra-territorial and complex security challenges. The two regions have overarching and awe inspiring similarities such as presence of nuclear weapons in key states; multiple conflict situations including prolonged unresolved conflicts; deep rooted religious sensitivities in the heart of the core issues; badly managed territorial dispensation by the colonial powers; repeated wars among key states of the regions; and the reluctance on the part of the international community to attempt solution of the core issues in the face of stubborn resistance by the conflict parties. This makes the security problems in these two regions as the most important components of the international counter-terrorism debate.

  1. The attempt by the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation (the Center), and the International Peace Institute (IPI) to sensitize international community of the problems in South Asia is a welcome development. It would help solve one part of the international counter-terrorism jigsaw puzzle and could also facilitate marshalling of new troops on ground. The effort in itself is a sincere attempt to understand the complex challenges of the region for which the Center and the IPI, especially my friend Eric and Mr. Alistair Miller, deserve our warm felicitations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Our endeavours to understand security challenges in South Asia are manifestly aimed at fighting terrorism in the world. Our countries have seen enough of terrorism. There is no dearth of passion to fight it. However, the individual and sectoral interests should not be allowed to impede our understanding of this menace. Therefore, in today’s discourse I will be frank and forth-right. With that objective in mind I have divided my presentation into three parts. First, I would share with you key factors which determine over-all political and security environment of South Asia. Then, I will briefly comments on the possible approaches to resolve the key security challenges. In the end, without touching a few weak sources of the Report and a few factual inaccuracies, I would comment on the key recommendations.

Key Political and Security Challenges in South Asia

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. The SAARC region comprises of Bangladesh , Bhutan , India , Maldives , Nepal , Pakistan , Sri Lanka and Afghanistan . The total population of this region is about 21% of the world population or roughly 1.4 billion. But, the SAARC countries comprise only 4% of the world’s total physical area. The Region is divided in numerous ethnic groups who speak hundreds of different languages. The predominant cultures and religions of the region include Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. The region has a long history of conquests, occupations and armed conflicts. Still there are hundreds of common bonds including core South Asian values of compassion, hospitality and sincerity.
  2. Almost all countries of the region have contentious political issues which resulted into some kind of conflict or armed struggle with an extra-territorial dimension. In Sri Lanka Sinhalese, who are predominantly Buddhist, had been fighting Tamil Hindus in Jafna. The Tamils were supported by their cousins in Tamil Nadu in India , both financially and militarily At one stage, India even sent its forces to Sri Lanka to placate the situation. However, Indian presence was resented by the locals. Nepal faced a long communist uprising which resulted in the overthrow of the last Hindu monarchy in the world. Recently, the communist Prime Minister of Nepal had to resign on a dispute with the Nepalese army which enjoyed blessing of their big neighbour. Indian forces were also in Maldives to quell a coup. East and West Pakistan were separated in 1971, resulting in the birth of Bangladesh. There were multiple causes of this Pakistani debacle, however, the Indian military offensive christened the birth of the new State. Pakistan and India have also fought three wars on Kashmir issue. The two countries are in competition to declare those fighting in Kashmir for their right of self-determination as freedom fighters or terrorists. Ironically, in all these situations in South Asia there was only one common denominator.
  3. India and Pakistan are two important nuclear states in South Asia. Their animosity primarily springs from division of India at the time of independence and rests on the unresolved questions of post-colonial territorial dispensation. At the time of independence from the British Government, the small semi-autonomous princely states in British India were allowed to join India or Pakistan. Some joined the two; others were overpowered by the two. However, Kashmir having geographical boundaries with both India and Pakistan and being bigger in size than others stood out as casus belli of their future animosity. At the time of independence over 90% Kashmiris were of Muslim faith. The two countries had several rounds of wars on Kashmir from where all rivers of Pakistan and the main rivers of India emanate. It also resulted into nuclearization of the region. Kashmir today is recognized as one of the most prominent prolonged unresolved conflicts in the world.
  4. The tension between India and Pakistan has also resulted into the emergence of religion based politics in the two countries. In India, the flag of Hindutwa is carried by Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) with the support of Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal. Their national and provincial leadership led mosque desecration campaigns and anti-Muslim riots in India. The Indian religious parties succeeded in formation of Governments in the Centre and the provinces. The Pakistani religious parties were comparatively far less successful in election politics. Having failed in political domain, they pursued more chauvinistic adventures. First their fighting energy was absorbed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which was legitimized by the US led west and the Pakistani Government. Later, disoriented and out of job, they found interest in other areas. The Taliban, who strictly follow Deubund school of thought, headquartered in Deubund India, have proven the most vicious of the type. However, the role of religious-chauvinist power centres in both India and Pakistan has lasting impact on the social and political life of the people of the two countries, though to a varying degree.
  5. The international community’s interest in the India-Pakistan rivalry has been very limited from the point of view that seldom they were pushed enough to find a mutually agreeable solution of the core issue of Kashmir. This indifference, which to some was a delicate balance of power question, resulted into perennial status quo. The ironic testing of “Smiling Buddha” by India (name of the first nuclear bomb tested by Indian) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave birth to new security uncertainties and Al-Qaida terrorism. But in spite of these apocalyptic developments the international community did not help these two countries to resolve their perennial problems. There is a common refrain, shared by the people in both India and Pakistan that others want us to continue to fight among ourselves so that they could sell their merchandise. Probably, their leaders were less wise than the masses.
  6. The primary purpose of this part of my presentation was to identify strategic security challenges in South Asia and the linkages and genesis of those challenges. This included the underpinning of the causes of regional terrorism in South Asia. Let us now move to the discussion on the approaches to Counter-Terrorism.

Approaches to Counter-Terrorism

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Often times politicians, diplomats and scholars give different solutions of a problem. This is because we humans tend to replicate principles of our immediate environment. We also tend to run away from the solutions which hurt us. Those are statesmen who overcome the challenges of immediacy and present long lasting solutions of problems like the Northern Ireland dispute. However, these isolated endeavours, unfortunately, fail to establish lasting trends and the differences on approaches to counter-terrorism remain real.
  2. In the fight against terrorism some countries, like the United States in the past, preferred “national security approach”. There are others, like many countries of the European Union, who prefer “law enforcement approach” and there are yet others who prefer a “political approach”, primarily based on dialogue to address the menace of terrorism. I see this question in a different way. For me these three approaches stand for three legs of a wooden stool. Break one leg and the stool with its occupant will fall down. Same would happen to a counter-terrorism strategy, that will be based on a uni-focal approach. I will delve on these approaches a little more to highlight their individual merits and de-merits.
  3. The national security approach drags us into a war hysteria which leads to broader collateral damage; suspension of fundamental human rights; and seeks pitched battles. However, being hinged on the top national concern, during the launching stage, it enjoys blind support, may that be in the area of political decision making, resources allocation or public backing.
  4. The law enforcement approach, in isolation, amounts to treating symptoms instead of the cause. However, it is surgical in nature and helps avoid collateral damage. It creates socially acceptable deterrent against the terrorists. However, it is not an end all solution and fails to stop the endless supply of those charmed and triggered by political injustice, social marginalization and inequalities, lack of development and illiteracy.
  5. The political approach has benefit of broad participation in the decision making process, earns willing obedience and endures long lasting impact. However, in isolation, it is sometime misconstrued by the parties as an expression of weakness; it legitimizes existence of illegitimate groups and individuals, and sometime condones crimes which cannot be condoned in normal circumstances.
  6. I am pleased to note that merits and demerits of these approaches in isolation are well understood in today’s Washington. Probably, this thorough understanding of the limitations helped President Barack Obama and his Administration to announce their support for a “comprehensive” approach to fight terrorism. The UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy is also based on the notion of “comprehensive approach”. It includes political, legal, developmental, human rights and operational measures to fight terrorism. We fully recognize merits of the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy. It is in this backdrop that the President of Pakistan announced a three Ds approach comprising of “dialogue, development and deterrence” to fight terrorism. We used dialogue to win public support and attain moral high ground, which was earlier monopolized by our enemies. We used the moral capital to expand the military offensive for the restoration of the writ of the Government. The country has gone through a successful judicial movement which will strengthen many aspects of the law enforcement approach. We are seeking support of our friends to procure badly needed equipment desperately needed by our police and military personnel. We are also highlighting indispensability of the development work in the affected areas.

Comments on Important recommendations

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. I would now move to the important recommendations of the Report. However, before sharing my views on specific recommendations I would like to underscore that overall direction of the recommendations is very good. These are primarily aimed at breaking the logjam of inaction. There are few out of the box ideas which may stun some, but mostly the recommendations are of practical nature.
  2. I avail this opportunity to reiterate our full support for the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy which was adopted through hard work, tough negotiations and critical compromises in New York. The Strategy was devised within a comprehensive framework acknowledging important limitations of partners. It was unanimously adopted by all members of the United Nations, thus enjoys unprecedented legitimacy.
  3. I wish to inform you that Pakistan has decided to ratify the United Nations Convention on Suppression of Terrorist Financing. The Convention is a key legal instrument which provides a framework for the prevention of money laundering.
  4. I have noted that Eric has placed a lot on the shoulders of newly appointed Chairman of UN Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force Mr. Jean-Paul Laborde. Mr. Jean-Paul is a seasoned counter-terrorism practitioner. We have been closely interacting with him in the past and would continue supporting his work at the United Nations.
  5. I fully endorse the view expressed in the Report that “the United Nations should built on increasing recognition of the importance of combating terrorism, conflict, and political violence in South Asia”. It is the right kind of awareness and our willingness to tackle the difficult questions that would lead us to lasting solutions. However, it is high time that we overcome our perennial shyness to clearly name problem areas like Kashmir and openly encourage the parties to settle their core issues. This reluctance has cost us a lot. Let us not wait for another disaster to challenge us out of inaction.
  6. As far as theoretical debate of developing regional counter-terrorism strategy is concerned Pakistan would have no difficulties, however, it should not hold us back from the action agreed in the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy as some of the measures recommended in the Report are part of the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
  7. I recognize the ingenuity of the recommendation regarding establishment of a technically focused counter-terrorism mechanism. This would lead to better understanding among the counter-terrorism practitioners in that region. However, it may also be noted that Pakistan and India do have a bilateral counter-terrorism mechanism which is suffering from utter paralysis. The mechanism proposed in the Report should have extra cushion and safety valves to with-stand mutual unease and pressures.
  8. It would be difficult for many UN Member States to accept a UN role in the preparation of their national educational curriculum. This issue has political, religious and national sensitivities. It would help terrorist masterminds to promote dark image of the United Nations. This point was exhaustively debated during the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy discussions and was excluded from the Strategy draft. It would be better if we honour that outcome.
  9. The UN should also not succumb to the regional politics of SAARC vs BIMSTEC (BIMSTEC stands for “Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation” that includes all SAARC countries except Pakistan and Afghanistan). These are strategically designed moves to promote one at the cost of the other. It would also lead to duplication of the effort and wastage of acute resources.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. In the end I would like to thank the Centre and the IPI for their interest in South Asia and thank you for your time.