Counter Terrorism Conference 2017: Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region

The third edition of Counter Terrorism Conference (CTC) was hosted in New Delhi from 14th to 16th March 2017, by India Foundation in association with Government of Haryana. Themed on “Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region”, it had speakers from 28 countries and participants from 35 countries. CTC 2017 thus provided a platform to understand the different nuances of terrorism from participants across the globe. The earlier two CTCs were held in Jaipur in 2015 and 2016, and were also conducted at the international level. This has now become an annual event which is much looked forward to, having acquired a truly international character with focus on issues that are relevant across the globe.

Pre-Conference Workshops

Two parallel pre-conference workshops were held on 14 March. These were on “Economic Impact of Terror and Terror Financing” and on “Technological Dimensions of Terrorism.” The former was chaired by Mr Haseeb Drabu, Finance Minister, Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir and speakers were Col Vivek Chadha, IDSA, Mr Karnal Singh, Director, Enforcement Directorate, and Mr. Alexander Evans, Deputy High Commissioner, British High Commission. The latter was chaired by Mr Arvind Gupta, Deputy National Security Advisor, Govt. of India and speakers were Mr Ajey Lele, Senior Fellow, IDSA, Mr Alexander Nikitin, Chief Researcher, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Security, Russia; and Mr Robin Simcox, Terrorism and National Security Specialist, Margaret Thatcher Fellow, the Heritage Foundation, USA.

Inaugural Session

The Pre-Conference Workshops were followed by the Inaugural Session. The dignitaries for this session were M. Hamid Ansari, Vice-President of India, Shri Bimlendra Nidhi, Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal, Shri Suresh Prabhu, Union Minister for Railways, Shri Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana and Shri M.J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs. Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka showcased his presence through Skype. During the inaugural session, a book was released by the Vice President of India. Titled ‘Global Terrorism: Challenges and Policy Options”, the book was a collection of articles, from the distinguished gallery of speakers in CTC 2016, and was edited by Maj Gen. Dhruv C Katoch and Shri Shakti Sinha.

The Chief Minister of Haryana welcomed delegates on behalf of the Government of Haryana, a co-host of the conference. He said that India had been and remains a victim of international terrorism, which had now snowballed into a full blown, multi-dimensional and multi headed global security threat. He further stated that it was indeed an irony and a matter of grave concern, that even though no corner of the world today was free from the curse of terrorism, the international community doesn’t appear any closer to evolving a united stand and strategy against terrorists’ activities and highlighted the failure to make cross border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide, which had made several countries safe heavens for terrorists.

Shri Suresh Prabhu, Union Railway Minister, said that to fight and counter the menace of terrorism, we all need to raise our voice in unison while chalking out any plan of action. He stressed the fact that terrorism was a threat to democracy, a threat to humanity and a threat to human existence itself. He added that over a period of time, terrorism had become a global phenomenon and it was no longer possible to fight terrorism in the confines of one country or any limited geography.

Shri Bimalendra Nidhi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Nepal, stated that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations was a serious global threat to humanity and underlined the need to demonstrate firm commitment at the highest level to stop terrorist acts and bring perpetrators to justice. He said that terrorist activities were against fundamental values of liberty, humanity, freedom and universal brotherhood because terrorism not only causes loss of precious lives of innocent people but also disrupts society’s progress and country’s development.

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, in his Skype address, pitched for closer cooperation among countries of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to combat the threat of terrorism. He warned that maritime infrastructure in the IOR could be a potential target of terror groups. He suggested that terror financing must be disrupted and the response mechanism to deal with the challenge must be robust and effective. He also called for close cooperation among countries of the region to defeat terror and said “one man’s terrorist cannot be treated as another man’s liberator”

M Hamid Ansari, Vice-President of India, stated that in recent years nothing had caused greater pain, disruption and inconvenience to societies, governments and individuals than the phenomenon of terrorism and that security in the IOR was capricious on account of a complex set of problems inherited from its recent past. He said that the most virulent factor fuelling terrorism was state sponsorship of and collusion with terrorists and in this regard, he referred to the case of Pakistan’s use of extremist groups as an instrument of foreign policy which is well documented with the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism for 2015. Some United Nations-designated terrorist organisations continue ‘to operate within Pakistan, employing economic resources under their control and fundraising openly.’ Essentially, the Pakistani military had reared ‘good’ terrorists for cross-border missions while battling ‘bad’ militants that fail to toe its line. The Vice-President categorised the typology of terrorism in the Indian Ocean Rim mainly in four sections as a) Left-wing violence, b) Ethno-political violence, c) Politico-religious violence, and d) Cross-border terrorism. He said that out of these four, the last was perhaps the most abhorrent, of the kind we in India have had to suffer for a number of years. He suggested that the States who sponsor terrorism must be isolated by the international community and forced to abandon the use of terrorism as a tool of state policy and that nations must not distinguish between friends and foes when it comes to identifying terror sponsoring states.

Mr M.J.Akbar, in his vote of thanks, said that India had the strength and conviction to eradicate the menace of terrorism because it also had an ideological answer to this menace – a democratic polity and modernity to counter regressive jihadism and terrorism. He underlined that the world could not have prosperity without peace and the principal threat to peace was terrorism.

Special Plenary: Ministers’ Panel

The Ministers Panel comprised of Gen. Wiranto, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security, Government of Indonesia, Mr Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Deputy Foreign Minister, Government of Afghanistan, Mr Asaduzzaman Khan, Minister of Home Affairs, Government of Bangladesh, Mr Sagala Ratnayake, Minister for Law and Order and Southern Development, Government of Sri Lanka and Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs, Government of Singapore.

General Wiranto, explained how the Indonesian government responded to the threats of terrorism through hard and soft approaches. He spoke of the need for an effective narrative to counter the propaganda of terrorists and the imperative of international cooperation, stating that  “The threat of terrorism will always be there. Therefore, all countries need to strengthen cooperation, bilaterally, regionally and globally to fight the terrorist threat”.

Mr Hekmat Khalil Karzai was focussed on Afghanistan and the surrounding region and explained why the region was undergoing serious security challenges related to terrorism. In large measure this was due to States in the region that supports terrorist groups and who use terrorism as an instrument of their State policy. These States distinguish between‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists, the ‘good’ terrorists being the ones who such states use in furtherance of their foreign policy. They provide sanctuary and support to such terrorist groups and use their military to fight those they consider to be ‘bad’ terrorists. Many of the terrorist groups also benefit from the proceeds of narcotics. They have a symbiotic relationship with the people involved in drug trade because terrorists provide security to drug dealers and the drug dealers provide resources to terrorists. He also pointed to the difficulty in dealing with terrorist financing, which has enabled terrorist groups to receive funds from various parts of world.

Mr Asaduzzaman Khan, re-emphasised Bangladesh government’s “zero tolerance” to terrorism and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s declared stance against any sort of terrorism and violence extremism. He spoke about the counter terrorism strategy of Bangladesh which is primarily based on 4 pillars: prevention, disruption, capacity building and upholding respect to human rights.

Mr Sagala Ratnayake spoke on ‘Post-Conflict Sri Lanka: Rebuilding Peace and Confidence among people severely affected by Terrorism and War”. He emphasised the fact that “Sri Lanka was, is, and continues to be a multi ethnic country; rich in diversity and rich in tradition”. He said that it was of prime importance to build the confidence in all people and that was what the Sri Lanka government was doing, to safeguard the country from the recurrence of conflict.

Mr K. Shanmugam stressed on building the capacity for a Direct Kinetic Response to the threats of terrorism along with psychological strengthening of the population. He also emphasised the need for international cooperation in various related aspects adding that the matter of terrorism being fuelled by ideology and money from outside the country required serious consideration. He suggested that the government, religious leaders and community groups, all need to work in a much more synchronised manner in today’s time to halt and push back the waves of terrorist ideology sweeping the region. He stated that the ideology of ISIS had to be countered doctrinally and said that religious leaders had a role to play in the same.

CTC 2017: Day 2

Tackling Terror Through Good Governance

This special session was chaired by Shri N.N. Vohra, Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The speakers were Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Shri Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. Both these states are seriously impacted by terrorism and they continue to devote considerable time, effort and resources in combating terrorists. In this session, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Shri E.S.L. Narasimhan, delivered the keynote address.

Mr Narasimhan said that the only objective of terrorists was to cause physical destruction and destabilisation of an established government. He stressed the need to look at the root causes of terrorism and what motivated people to join terrorist organisations for only then could measures be formulated to eradicate this menace. He also stressed on the need to look at how effective governance can be used as a means to counter terrorism.

Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, shared her personal experiences as an administrator of a State where development and good governance were the biggest victims of the menace of terrorism. She said that terrorism was the biggest threat that entire world was facing today but unfortunately all the countries who were fighting terrorism, were not fighting it together. She said that governance can be a very effective tool in countering terrorism but governance alone cannot fight terrorism because, as per her own experience, governance is the first casualty of terrorism. In fighting terrorism, the states energy gets concentrated on security instead of development and the focus of good governance shifts to law and order. The counter terrorism strategy must hence be a multi-pronged strategy, with redressal of grievances at right time being a part of such strategy.

Terrorism in South Asia

This session was chaired by Shri Rajiv Mehrishi, Home Secretary, Government of India and speakers in the session were Hein Kiessling, author, Germany; Yuan Zhibing, Director General, 1 Bureau, IDCPC, China and Mr Vivek Katju, former ambassador.

The session primarily focused on the South Asian Region which generally evokes the image of a region that was plagued by violent religious extremism where groups like the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were active. All the speakers agreed that terrorism had imposed heavy economic costs on most of the South Asian nations. The speakers were of the view that terrorism in South Asia could be defeated by exploiting the ideological, doctrinal and sectarian differences existing among terrorist groups and dealing holistically with all aspects of international terrorism. The general opinion was that a collective strategy and action plan at the regional and international level was required to achieve the desired objective. The session also focused on al Qaida and Daesh, which were seeking to impose their presence, not just in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in the rest of South Asia too. Confronting terrorism in South Asia was thus no easy task as various regional and domestic parties were engaged in cross purposes for their own ends. The situation remains fraught with danger and no early solution as of now appears in sight.

Terrorism in Africa

The session was chaired by Lt Gen. K.T. Parnaik, Former GOC-in-C, Northern Command, Indian Army. The two speakers in the session were Dr. Ruchita Beri, Senior Research Associate, IDSA, and Mr. Simon Allison, Africa Correspondent, The Daily Maverick; Consultant, Institute of Security Studies, South Africa.

Dr. Beri’s presentation focused on maritime violence off the Horn of Africa which has been the focus of global attention over the past decade or so, with piracy in the IOR being the most prominent threat. She stressed that it would be wrong to assume that Africa’s insecurity was only an African problem. Africa’s internal problems had repercussions beyond its natural borders; piracy in the IOR being just one example of this malaise. Thus, it was imperative that each stakeholder, both inside and outside the continent, be involved in resolving these insecurity issues.

Simon Allison pointed out in his presentation that by any measure, Africa’s fight against terrorism had been a failure because footprints of militant groups had expanded in a broad arc in the African continent. Groups such as al-Shabab, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda etc. continue to flourish despite repeated military onslaughts, and both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) have made a concerted effort to expand their presence on the continent, both directly and via proxies.

Terrorism in South East Asia

The session was chaired by Mr Takeshi Kohno, Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Toyo Eiwa University, Japan and the speakers were Mr Bilveer Singh, Adjunct Senior Fellow, RSIS, Singapore;  Mr Dam Phu Cuong, Chief of Asia and Oceania Division, General Department of Security, Vietnam and Mr Hamidin, Director for Prevention, National Counter Terrorism Agency, Indonesia. The panelists agreed that despite many decades of counter-terrorism measures in the Southeast Asian Region, especially since 2001, the threat of terrorism remains serious and in some ways, may have even been exacerbated. The speakers raised concerns of the dual terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda and IS in Southeast Asia and opined that there is the situation of flux as to which jihadi group is the key terrorist threat in the region.

Bullet to Ballot

The session was chaired by Shri Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Government of India. The keynote speaker in the session was Mr Baburam Bhattarai, former Prime Minister of Nepal. The panelists were Mr R. Sampanthan, Leader of Opposition, Sri Lanka; Mr Sajad Lone, Minister of Social Welfare, ARI & Trainings and Science & Technology, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, and Mr Hagrama Mohilary, Chief Executive Member, Bodoland Territorial Council. In this session, each speaker shared his own journey of transformation.

Mr. Rijiju said that election results might not be in our hands but getting the electoral process itself was a great success. Many groups in various parts of India have shown a great example in this regard because in past those groups were on the side of bullet but with passage of time, they realised that it was impossible to break India and democratic process was the only way out to get heard and recognised. So these groups also joined the mainstream politics and became part of Indian democratic process.

Mr Bhattarai discussed the theme of the session in context of Nepal and Nepalese Maoists and how the armed struggle in Nepal transformed and switched to constitutional mechanisms. Mr Sajjad Lone narrated his personal experience by highlighting a story of three individuals who were tipping points in his own transformation from side of bullet to ballot. He was of the view that the path of violence leads people nowhere, but opined that there were a lot of impediments or problems like ideology and perception at time of transition from the bullet to the ballot, which the government must understand and should walk extra mile to bring everyone into the fold of ballot.

Special Address: Mr Avi Dichter

A special keynote address was delivered by Mr Avi Dichter, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Israel, which was chaired by Gen. V.K. Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, India. Mr Dichter said that both India and Israel had been victims of terrorism, so in current context, the counter-terrorism cooperation was the need of the hour within the larger security cooperation. He opined that the growing threat of the Islamic State (IS) in India, would necessitate greater emphasis by both countries to expand the cooperation. Chairing the session, Gen. V.K. Singh reiterated India’s stand that there were no good and bad terrorists. He called upon the global community to support India’s proposal at the United Nations for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).

Terrorism in West Asia

The session was chaired by Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain, former GOC 15 Corps. The three speakers in the session were Mr Daniel Pipes, President, Middle East Forum, USA, Mr. Ilan Berman, Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, USA and Mr. Vladimir Evseev, Deputy Director of the Institute for Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia. Daniel Pipes covered various aspects of Islamist terror ideology which is moving from West Asia to South Asia and which people are facing today. He also opined that there is no co-relation between good governance and terrorism. Ilan Berman talked about the Islamic State (ISIS) that has captivated the global imagination. He said that the group’s rapid military advances, coupled with its unbridled brutality, have made it global public enemy number one and as a result, the organisation has become the near-singular focus of Western counterterrorism policy. Gen. Hasnain, spoke about history of terrorism since 1928 when the term ‘Muslim brotherhood’ was coined in Egypt, till 2014 wherein al Baghdadi and ISIS emerged and propounded the same. He said what was happening in West Asia was serious question for all of us.

At the dinner hosted by Mr. Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor of India, for all the delegates, Mr. Doval made a strong pitch for a common definition as well as a global convention on terrorism. He said, “The nature of terrorism is constantly changing in the backdrop of technology and social media. It has changed in the past, it will change in future. We all are actually into fourth generation warfare.” He further stated that despite this, there was inadequate cooperation among the international community and there was no common definition of terrorism. Some countries still try to justify terrorism by saying that the “cause meets the ends”, which further highlights the need for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).The Guest of Honour on this occasion was Maj Gen Mahad Mubarak al Mesheikhi, Secretary General for Military Affairs and Head of CT Committee, Royal Office of Oman, who spoke of the CT effort in his country.

CTC 2017: Day 3

Mechanisms for Countering Terror in IOR

The session was chaired by Ms. Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and speakers in the session were Mr Boaz Ganor, Founder and Executive Director, ICT, Israel; Vice Admiral G. Ashok Kumar, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy and Vladimir Milovidov, Russia. Ms. Saran spoke about the initiatives of Government of India for strengthening the counter terror mechanism. She also stressed that the new methods and techniques should be adopted by the world community to tackle terrorism. The speakers thereafter gave out their views on the subject.

Problems of Left Wing Extremism in IOR

The panelists discussed the various aspects of Left Wing Extremism (LWE), also known as Naxalite or Maoist movement which has been the most prominent violent movement that India has been exposed to continuously for the last four decades and more. The panelists agreed that the success of counter-terrorism strategy would require a carefully balanced military offensive, backed by civil administration moving into the area to provide governance, justice and development, thereby winning over the vast majority of people and eliminating the support base of the Maoists.

Role of International Institutions in Countering Terrorism.

The session was chaired by Mr. Martin Kimani, Director, National Counter Terrorism Centre, Kenya and the speakers in the session were Mr. K.V. Bhagirath, Secretary General, Indian Ocean Rim Association, Ms. Elizabeth Joyce, Chief of Section, Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, UN and Mr. Asoke Mukerji, former ambassador. The panelists discussed the growth of terrorist activities, especially after the end of the Cold War in 1989 that led the UN to adopt Conventions setting up a robust international legal architecture to counter terrorism to suppress specific acts of terrorism, like terrorist bombings, financing of terrorism and nuclear terrorism. Speakers also discussed how the UN’s attempt to adopt an international legal convention remains gridlocked till today, although India had proposed the first draft of such a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in 1996. The CCIT would oblige member states to implement the legal principle of “prosecute or extradite” to deal with terrorism through international cooperation.

Valedictory Session

The Valedictory Session of CTC 2017 was chaired by Shri Kaptan Singh Solanki, Governor of Haryana and the dignitaries who graced the occasion were Shri Rajnath Singh, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Government of India and The Rt. Hon. Sir Anerood Jugnauth, GCSK, KCMG, QC, Minister Mentor, Minister of Defence, and Minister of Rodrigues, Government of Mauritius. Shri Rajnath Singh said that international co-operation was an imperative for the law enforcement agencies of different countries for post-event investigations. International co-operation is also needed to build popular opinion and pressurise the countries that use terrorists as their strategic assets. He also said that “Terrorism knows no boundaries and doesn’t respect nations’ sovereignties. They have become trans-national in character. They use modern technology to propagate their ideology and perpetrate violence. Since terrorist outfits do not recognise national boundaries and acts of terror are executed often through networks spread over several countries so that’s why there is no alternative to forging international cooperation to effectively counter it.”

At the end of the three day conference, Capt. (IN) Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation,  delivered the vote of thanks.