Asia, with close to sixty percent of the world’s population, has suffered disparate political, nationalist, religious, ideological, ethnic, sectarian, and state sponsored violence for decades, if not centuries. The world’s geo-economic pivot may have shifted to Asia, but the repercussions of every day violence and terrorism are becoming an impediment in the realisation of the Asian Century. Violent extremism comes in the way of socio-economic development and inclusive growth, amplifying and widening fissures caused by failures of governance. Historical roots of militancy (insurgencies, separatist movements, etc.) in many countries of Asia have provided the context for local grievances to be exploited by larger ideological frameworks of global extremist movements.
The resurgence of violent extremist movements we are witnessing today has evolved in sophistica-tion with the advances in technology, communication, and the complicated web of terror finance. Threats that were earlier contained within national boundaries have now become transnational and ideational challenges, which respect neither state sovereignty nor existing governance structures. While the challenges confronting Asia and the global order have multiplied, a cohesive response to them has remained elusive. With countries in the region constructing frameworks of cooperation to combat terrorism, it is time to exchange ideas on countering violent extremism, which will define an Asian approach to this issue. A global regime built on a strong foundation of effective regional prac-tices is bound to find wider acceptability.
Twenty years since it first submitted a proposal for the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT), India has revived its efforts to secure a global consensus in the UN General Assembly in the fight against terrorism. India’s attempts have received traction as the world seems to be in a state of constant terror, with an increase in the footprint of global terrorist groups, especially in the West and South West Asia. Having been subjected to and resisted such acts against humanity, India is engaged in persuading responsible governments across the world to take a more united stand on the matter.
There is a global consensus in principle that there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ terrorist. It is for this reason that India, has through the Convention, sought to identify an acceptable definition of terrorism that all 193-members of the UNGA would be able to adopt legally; to ban all terror groups and shut down terror camps regardless of their objectives; to prosecute all terrorists under special laws, and to make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide. To build an Asian consensus on the issue, India has also repeatedly suggested that violent extremism needs to be delinked from religion, ethnicity or identity. Recognising the trans-national nature of terrorism today, India has been push-ing for a global regime on terrorism that enforces concepts of - assigning responsibility and ensuring accountability.
The inconsistencies in the global war on terror have been exploited by extremist groups to advance their narratives and ideologies and ensured that ecosystems nurturing terror continue to flourish. Ironically, even countries which have been victims of frequent terror attacks have shied away from pushing for a more global response to the threat owing to geo-political pressures and rivalries. The embryo of building such response exists in frameworks like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that sets standards with respect to combating money laundering and terrorist financing, the Egmont Group, which is an informal network of Financial Intelligence Units (FIU) and through instruments such as the ‘United Nations Security Council committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL(da'esh) al-qaida and associated individuals groups, under-takings and entities’. These however, do not yet provide an effective global response for reasons of national expediency. Terrorist groups recruit globally and strike across national boundaries, yet nations have a fragmented approach in meeting this challenge India seeks a more coherent approach on the part of the entire international community.
It with this direction in mind that IDSA aims to take the first step of comprehending the Asian re-sponse to “Combating Terrorism” in the region. In this context the 19th Asian Security Conference will focus on the theme, “Evolving an Asian Response” to this complex issue. We aim to focus on the following themes over multiple interactive sessions:
I . Evaluating the norm building efforts in countering global terrorism, understanding the geo-political realities and defining the Asian and global response to terrorism.
II - Identifying ideologies and drivers fuelling this transnational resurgence of extremist violence, with an eye on the role of terror finance in exacerbating conflict in the region
III - Examining how technology is changing the nature of conflict and the rising challenges there-in to Asian security.
IV - Assessing the threat of terrorism in Asia: From South West Asia, to the extended outposts in South Asia and South East Asia.
V - Forecasting challenges that lie ahead, debating the absence of effective counter-narratives, and building upon a reservoir of best practices of counter terrorism efforts by countries in the re-gion.
II) The conference will explore these subjects through the course of the following interactive sessions.
Inaugural Session: Special Address
It has taken the world decades of terrorism and insurgency to understand that escalation of vio-lence is linked in a large part to failed politics, governance, and economic development. The set-backs of the global war on terror and the rise in the number vulnerable and failing states since 9/11, have shown that the civil causes of violence are so deep that no defeat of extremist movements alone can hope to bring any lasting form of security and stability. It has been argued that if extrem-ist violence and its many manifestations are to be defeated then states need to be accountable to both their people and the global order. This lack of accountability, coupled with the absence of clarity, consistency, and enforcement in global norms to tackle terrorism have been impediments to an effective response. In addition, shifting goalposts and the pressures of geopolitics have proved to be counterproductive to efforts aimed at building a global counter-terrorism regime. Since September 11, international terrorism has emerged on the top of national and international security agendas necessitating international alignment and cooperation on an unprecedented level. Yet, the question that has plagued all counter-terrorism efforts since has been the viability of this cooperation in the absence of a basic agreement on the common denominator - the definition of terrorism. This inaugu-ral session seeks to address the following questions :
Terrorism is a dynamic phenomenon that develops over time, gradually changing its shape and man-ifestations. It is carried out by various organisations in the service of different ideologies. There is growing recognition now that the dominant form of transnational terror today is not motivated by nationalist grievances or separatist goals. Instead, the current threat confronting the world today is of terrorism motivated by political objectives that uses religion as an instrument to justify violent activities against civilians. These groups are motivated by what they perceive as a divine command and apocalyptic world view. Religious appropriation of the recent wave of attacks across the world, by the current poster child of extremist violence, the Islamic State or Da’esh and its many imitators globally is case in point. Fuelling this resurgence is the many reincarnations of the means of terror finance, taking refuge sometimes in the guise of state sponsored policy or enjoying the patronage of non-state actors .This session will take on these challenging questions and identify:
The most lethal weapon in the arsenal of extremist groups today is technology. The internet is the largest and most ungoverned space in the world. Its unprecedented reach, instant connectivity, ano-nymity, resourcefulness, and interactiveness along with low cost of access make it the most potent tool in extremist hands. Innovations in technology and the advent of social media have furthered the scope of instant dissemination of propaganda, strengthened informal networks of online recruitment and radicalisation and worryingly made brutal violence a fashionable tool to install fear in the hearts and minds of a global audience. Social media feed into 24x7 global news cycles, which amplify these messages further and inadvertently end up endorsing and branding these extremists groups as the face of global terror. This session will seek to address the questions on :
The rise of Da’esh has been an unprecedented event in the geopolitics of the West Asian region, de-spite the region being a being a burning cauldron for many terrorist movements for the last several decades. Having captured territories in Iraq and Syria, Da’esh has challenged the existing regional political order by trying to redraw boundaries in the volatile region. It has spread its tentacles far beyond its captured borders, subsuming terror groups across the world eager to bandwagon with its brand of terror. With the conflict spilling over to many countries, it has instigated an unparalleled refugee crisis that the world is still trying to grapple with. Regional actors have taken initiatives, but there is an absence of a collaborative action on the ground strong enough to defeat the terror group .The existing unease, competition, and rivalry among the countries of the region and the interests of extra regional powers have been a hindrance in building up a united front against Daesh. The activities of the United States and Russia have a critical bearing on the geopolitics in West Asia. This ses-sion will explore the West Asian conundrum in all its complexity and assess the impact on the global war on terror.
The terrorist threat to South and South East Asia has never been as acute as it is today. South Asia - home to more than one-third of humanity, has more terrorist groups and terrorists, than any other part of the world. More lives have been lost in this region to terrorist attacks than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, South East Asia since the 1990s, is battling the residual challenge posed by sub-state militant extremism which has risen in reaction to both the force of modernization pursued by many Southeast Asian governments and the political influence of radical Islam. Some states in both these regions face a threat to their existence if terrorism is not contained. The developments in Afghanistan-Pakistan and West Asia will have complicated the situation further The story of coun-ter-terrorism efforts so far have been that of individual countries crafting distinct strategies to deal with a problem which has long ago gone trans-national. Attempts at crafting a regional approach have been few and ineffective. This session will examine national and international government responses to extremist movements in the region, expanding terrorist sanctuaries and homegrown ter-rorist networks, funding and support from international organisations and governments, military and policing strategies, and the success and failures of hearts-and-minds campaigns.
The field of counter terrorism has expanded from the traditional focus on covert action to preventive measures that dissuade individuals from subscribing to arguments of violent extremists. To that end, states have developed tools to prevent radicalisation of vulnerable populations in an effort to win hearts and minds. These include promoting interfaith dialogue and breaking down cultural bar-riers between communities. Although attempts have been made by several governments to develop a credible narrative to prevent international terrorism, there has been a failure to thwart the appeal generated by violent extremist groups. This session will address the following questions:
(Panel Discussion and Scenario Forecasting)
Co-ordinator 19th Asian Security Conference
Associate Fellow, Military Centre
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
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