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Any collective action by the international community on terrorism can develop only if it is not mired in power politics and geopolitics. But, unfortunately, the manner in which the war on terror was launched and where it stands today has been internationally divisive

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a special meeting of its counterterrorism committee in India on October 28-29. India, a target of cross-border terrorism since the mid-1980s, has been working hard for years to mobilise support for action against terrorism by the international community.

In 1986, India proposed a draft document on a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at UN, which would criminalise all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms and safe havens. Despite support for it, this proposal has languished for 36 years in joint statements with our partners. Defining terrorism has proven to be a hurdle, with some countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, wanting to exclude national liberation struggles and include State terrorism, keeping in mind the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The views of the Gulf countries on terrorism have since evolved. The rise of the Islamic State (IS), the perceived threat from the Muslim Brotherhood to the major Gulf states, the terrorist attacks on their oil infrastructure from Yemen attributed to Iranian support, the Palestinian issue losing centrality and greater acceptance of Israel explain this change in stance. Today, India has good counterterrorism cooperation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

Any collective action by the international community on terrorism can develop only if it is not mired in power politics and geopolitics. But, unfortunately, the manner in which the war on terror was launched and where it stands today has been internationally divisive.

The war on Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein triggered years of sectarian terrorism. In Syria, terrorism has been used in the political struggle to topple the Assad regime, with some elements allegedly getting western support. The emergence of the IS on Iraqi-Syrian territory was a stunning blow to the war on terror in the region.

Turkey had some linkage to the IS for its geopolitical ends. Russia has suspected a western hand in the IS’s rise to unsettle it in Syria and potentially use it to foment instability in the northern Caucasus. In addition, it alleges a western hand in the emergence of IS elements in Afghanistan, to pressure Russia via Central Asia.

By handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban, which used terror to progressively establish its grip on the country and force its retreat, the United States (US) has contradicted the logic of its war on terror. Moreover, its failure to sanction Pakistan despite the country’s proven record in abetting terrorism not only against India but against the US itself, especially when Pakistan sheltered Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership for years, raises questions.

Pakistan has already figured twice on the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list but was removed despite maintaining its terrorist infrastructure. It was removed for the third time in October after ostensibly taking steps to end money laundering and terror financing. That, given the country’s increased radicalisation, the visible street power of extremists and the inability of the political establishment to deal with that challenge, and to believe that the jihadi organisations that are well integrated with society will fade away and money will not be raised for terrorists is a leap of faith made for geopolitical reasons. Iran’s designation as a terrorist State, while sparing Pakistan, and the move in the US Congress to designate Russia as a terrorist State, can only impede any collective international action against terrorism.

China’s conduct on terrorism also suffers from geopolitics and double standards. It habitually covers up for Pakistan on its links with terrorism, lauds its role in combating it, and has prevented attempts to designate several Pakistani nationals as global terrorists by the UN 1267 Committee at India’s initiative, even when China is concerned about Uighur “terrorists” receiving support from Pakistani soil.

India has done well to expose the Counter-Terrorism Committee to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, reminding its members to bring to justice the perpetrators who remain protected and unpunished (read Pakistan) and the inability of the UN to act in some cases because of political considerations (read China). Appropriate messages were conveyed on issues that still need addressing: Terrorism still receives financial resources to thrive, UN efforts need to be coordinated with the FATF and the Egmont Group, and that the UNSC sanctions regime should function transparently and effectively on the listing of terrorist groups.

India has underlined that despite the UN and other mechanisms, the threat of terrorism is expanding, particularly in Asia and Africa. The misuse of the emerging technologies by non-State actors and “lone wolf attackers” have thrown up new challenges for the governments and regulatory bodies, that the internet and social media platforms have become potent instruments in the toolkit of terrorist groups along with the use of unmanned aerial systems against strategic infrastructure and commercial assets.

All these concerns have been elaborately expressed in the Delhi Declaration on October 29 on countering the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes. While recognising their efforts towards the CCIT, the Declaration encourages all UN member-States to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. Good declarations, experience shows, emerge from the UN system but don’t always get translated into action.

Terror challenges and ways for nations and global bodies to fight will remain a grey area.

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