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Welcome remarks by Jayant Prasad, DG IDSA at the 19th Asian Security Conference on ‘Combating Terrorism: Evolving an Asian Response’, March 6, 2017

Hon’ble Raksha Mantri, Shri Manohar Parrikar, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Panellists, Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to welcome you to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and our flagship event, the Asian Security Conference, titled ‘Combating Terrorism: Evolving an Asian Response’.

We are fortunate to have with us our Raksha Mantri, who is opening the Conference with his inaugural address in his twin capacity – as the Defence Minister of India and President, IDSA.

It is also my pleasant duty of record our appreciation to His Excellency, Mr. Haneef Atmar, the National Security Advisor of Afghanistan, for having agreed to kick off the ASC proceedings with his Keynote Address, which will be followed by a brief question and answer session.

The ASC was started at the turn of the century with the intent of beginning an international dialogue on Asia’s increasing centrality in global geo-strategy, and India’s emergence as a factor in Asian security.

The Institute has brought together both the pundits – the thinkers and policy analysts – and public officials and practitioners, from all corners of the world in this exercise.

The audience too has been similarly constituted.

The significant departure this time is the presence of thoughtful media personalities and representatives of civil society representing societies, countries, and regions that have suffered the most from violent extremism, radicalism, and terrorism.

The first Conference, held in January 1999, focused on ‘Asian Security in the 21st Century’.

Since then, the ASC subjects have included peace and security issues, the rise of China, an Asian order, the challenges to multilateralism, international terrorism, developments in Asia’s sub-regions, the changing face of war, the importance of non-traditional security, and imagining Asia’s future.

Last year’s Conference broke new ground with a discussion on Asian and international perspectives on security cyberspace.

We believe this year’s Conference, on combating terrorism, is timely, for the world’s geo-economic pivot has shifted to Asia, but the repercussions of the everyday violence and terrorism are becoming an impediment in the realisation of the Asian Century.

Threats that were earlier contained within national boundaries have now become transnational.

We face 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 how to do so successfully.

A global regime built on a strong foundation of effective regional practices is bound to find wider acceptability.

Over interactive sessions, we will look at:
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. And finally,

V - Debating the absence of effective counter-narratives, and building upon a reservoir of best practices of counter terrorism efforts by countries in the region.

Our first session, debating the norms, will discuss the challenges that constrain the global response to counter terrorism, and its implications for Asian security.

It spotlights the question that has plagued all counter-terrorism efforts – the absence of a basic agreement on a common denominator - the definition of terrorism.

Chaired by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, this panel will hear practitioners like General Mahmud Ali Durrani , the former National Security Advisor of Pakistan. Seasoned commentators will then bring global and regional perspectives on the geopolitics of Islamist extremism and counter-terrorism experts talk on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The second session explores in depth the new actors and drivers of international terrorism.

It grapples with questions on what motivates, lone wolves, foreign fighters and youth to join these violent campaigns.

The brave, Ms Lamya Haji Bashar Taha, public advocate of the Yazidi community, will speak about her captivity in a Da'esh camp, giving us insights about the experiences of women in Da'esh held territories.

Professor Christine Fair adds her perspective to this issue, talking about the role of women in Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group located in Pakistan.

With our Former Home Secretary, GK Pillai, heading this panel, you can be assured of a good discussion, including on terrorism as an industry.

The third session considers the impact of technology on terrorism.

The internet is the largest and most ungoverned space in the world.

Its unprecedented reach, instant connectivity, anonymity, along with low cost of access make it the most potent tool in extremist hands.

This panel has a theme address by Shri Gulshan Rai, Chief of Cybersecurity, Government of India, and is chaired by Dr Arvind Gupta, The Deputy National Security Advisor of India.

This session will have experts talking about online recruitment patterns in India, the use of technology to combat terrorism online, and discussions on the dark net, malicious profiling, and crypto-currencies.

On day two, we shift to regional perspectives, beginning of with West Asia and the Caucuses. We are privileged to have the Advisor to Iran's Foreign Minister, Ambassador Sheikholeslam, starting the morning session in a panel headed by Sanjay Singh, a career diplomat and expert on the region.

This will be followed by a focus on the rise of Da'esh, the role of regional and western powers, the impact of the unprecedented refugee crisis, and the competition between Al Qaeda and Da'esh.

Thereafter, attention will move to the situation in South and South East Asia, where the terrorist threat has never been as acute as it is today.

South Asia - home to a third of humanity, has more terrorist groups and terrorists, than any other part of the world and has suffered the maximum casualties as well. Some states face a threat to their existence if terrorism is not contained.

The panel is chaired by Sanjaya Baru, noted author and journalist, and former media advisor to the Prime Minister.

We are honoured to have senior defence officials from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, who will provide us a feel of the ground realities along with other eminent Asian experts and analysts.

We end day two with an important panel on ‘constructing effective counter narratives’, headed by Syed Asif Ibrahim, Indian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Countering Terrorism.

We explore this theme in great detail with examples from the different parts of Asia where the need for crafting a counter to extremist ideology is most imperative. Presenters will include the Grand Mufti of Syria, His Eminence Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun.

The valedictory session, chaired by Commodore Uday Bhaskar, former IDSA Director, will address the difficult task of assessing the progress we might make over two days of discussions on the various themes.

Together with volunteers from amongst the panellists, and interventions from the audience, we shall attempt to put together a road map for a regional model for combating terrorism, representative of the Asian perspective.

If we are able to accomplish all of what I have outlined, this would be a worthwhile exercise. Thank you very much for being part of this effort.

I now have the pleasure of inviting Hon’ble Raksha Mantri to deliver his inaugural address.