Introductory Remarks by Shri Pankaj Hazarika, Director (CS), BIMSTEC Secretariat, Dhaka
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  • Shri Rajinder Khanna, Deputy NSA, Government of India,

    Maj. Gen. Alok Deb, Deputy Director General, IDSA,

    Delegates from BIMSTEC countries, members of the audience,

    When the BIMSTEC was established in 1997, the Leaders of the Member States advocated for peaceful and progressive development in the region. Subsequently the Leaders have identified the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime as one of the important prerequisite for sustainable growth and maintenance of peace in the region.

    The First BIMSTEC Summit held on 31 July 2004, at Bangkok, Thailand expressed grave concern at the continuing threat of international terrorism and transnational crime that has adversely affected the economic and social progress of the peoples of the BIMSTEC region and recognized that the solidarity and friendship existing among member states could be utilized as a basis to counter this threat. The Leaders agreed, as an urgent priority, to coordinate efforts to combat this menace; including through the exchange of information among concerned agencies, and other concrete programmes of co-operation, and resolve to continue active co-operation in ongoing efforts of the international community in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, by whosoever it is perpetrated irrespective of its cause or stated rationale.

    Taking note of the emphasis placed by the First Summit on combating terrorism and transnational crimes, the 8th Ministerial Meeting held at Dhaka, Bangladesh on 18-19 December 2005 added Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) as one of the priority sectors of BIMSTEC. India is the Lead Country of this Sector.

    The sector conducts its business through the Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC). The First Joint Working Group Meeting on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (JWG-CTTC) held in New Delhi in December 2004 had decided to establish four Sub-Groups on intelligence sharing, financing of terrorism, legal and law enforcement issues and prevention of trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances and also decided to entrust the task to four Lead Shepherds- Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Myanmar respectively. With addition of Sub-Group on Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration and Sub-Group on Cooperation on Countering Radicalization and Terrorism in 2017 the total number of Sub-Groups now stands at six.

    BIMSTEC Leaders at their Retreat held in Goa, India on 16 October 2016, had recognised that terrorism continues to remain the single most significant threat to peace and stability in the Bay of Bengal region. The Leaders agreed to convene Annual Meeting of National Security Chiefs of Member States on Information and Intelligence Sharing.

    The Government of India hosted the First Meeting of the BIMSTEC National Security Chiefs in New Delhi, India on 21 March 2017. The Meeting noted that BIMSTEC Member States face common security challenges and underlined the necessity of addressing these security challenges to harness economic prosperity and human security in the region in a sustainable and pragmatic manner. The Meeting underscored 2 the importance of recognizing the Bay of Bengal as common security space.

    The Meeting emphasized the necessity of deepening mutual cooperation among the Member States and noted that the BIMSTEC Member States are particularly vulnerable to threats from terrorism, violent and extremist ideologies, narcotic drugs, arms and human trafficking, threats in cyber space, maritime space, natural disasters, sea level rise due to climate change and other non-traditional security challenges. The Meeting noted with concern the emerging trends in cyber space which encourage online radicalisation, cybercrime and threat to the critical information sectors of the economy. The Meeting decided to deepen cooperation among the respective cyber institutions to strengthen cyber security. The Meeting agreed to a Joint Forum to strengthen cyber security among the BIMSTEC Member States. The Meeting decided to establish a Track 1.5 BIMSTEC Security Dialogue Forum to promote and encourage security dialogue among BIMSTEC strategic community.

    The 2nd Meeting of the BIMSTEC National Security (NSA) was held in Dhaka on 28 March 2018. The threat from the cyber space was widely deliberated in the meeting. National Security Adviser to Hon’ble Prime Minister of India spoke about creating a BIMSTEC vision on sharing experience and pooling in resources to deal with cyber security and various other problems and threats. He also recommended creating common platform for research in this area and to enhance capacity building in security related sectors. National Security Advisor of Sri Lanka in his speech stated that cybercrime requires new approaches in combating terrorism. He also stated that cyber security could be achieved through multilateral cooperation and intelligence sharing among the member states. Deputy Secretary General, Office of the National Security Council, Thailand stated that most countries lack capabilities to protect their cyberspace from borderless and trans boundary threats. India proposed in the meeting to organise a three day workshop of technical experts in the areas of IT and cyber security to discuss evolving cyber threat scenario in the region and explore cooperation at the working level to address cyber security issues of the Member countries in the BIMSTEC region. This cyber security conference of the BIMSTEC Member States is being held with this background

    The Leaders of the BIMSTEC Member States in the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit held at Kathmandu, Nepal on 30-31 August 2018 reiterated strong commitment to combat terrorism and call upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach in this regard which should include preventing financing of terrorists and terrorist actions from territories under their control, blocking recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, Countering radicalization, countering misuse of internet for purposes of terrorism and dismantling terrorist safe havens.

    Out of the six BIMSTEC CTTC Sub Groups, which I have stated earlier, the Sub Group on Anti Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism has been deliberating on the issues of cyber security in its meetings. ln the Ninth Meeting of the Sub Group held in Yangon Myanmar in April 2017, one of the Agenda was presentation of case studies by the Member States on the Emerging Cyber Threats on Financial Sector.

    The issues of Cyber security were extensively deliberated by the First BIMSTEC 1.5 security Dialogue Forum held in this same venue on 21 September 2017. With the increasing technological up gradation and expansion, the world is witnessing a surge in cyber security threats that can affect individuals, organizations as well as the states. The case of Cyber Robbery that happened in Bangladesh in February 2016 where the hackers made fake transactions to Bangladesh Bank through a Bank in New York wherein certain amount was diverted to Sri Lanka and Philippines was an important case of cyber war which makes a compelling case for greater cooperation to meet such challenges in the future. Another related issue in this context is sharing of data with other stakeholders and countries and the extent of data sharing. The Forum made these recommendations:

    • Set up a joint BIMSTEC countries’ forum for deepening cooperation in the area of Cyber security and regular meetings of this forum should be held to tackle all the emerging issues. CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) to CERT cooperation Forum may be set up with holding of regular meetings.
    • Create a Task Force that would do diagnostic study and prepare country reports (on each country's capacity and vulnerability) on cyber threats. Capabilities of each Country are to be mapped. 5
    • Partnering with each other to enable innovation and growth in digitization; strengthening investment cooperation in cyber area; and encouraging partnership among industries/organizations for capacity enhancement of SMEs in cyber-security.
    • Government, Think Tanks may be encouraged to take initiative to create citizen awareness on cyber security & legal frameworks for cooperation may be decided.
    • increase cooperation between citizens of the BIMSTEC countries which would bring together professionals of different countries and would also help common people of all the countries in the grouping and enhance law enforcement cooperation to address cyber-crimes.
    • More focus may be given on capacity building and skill development. Member States may work together to formulate common position on cyber security issues at various international forums.

    Joint Working Group on CTTC held at Dhaka, Bangladesh on 13-14 August 2018 agreed that the Secretariat will segregate the recommendations of the Track 1.5 security Dialogue Forum subject wise and will include the recommendations in the agenda for deliberations by the CTTC Sub-Groups and various Expert Groups that have been constituted to deal with various non-traditional security issues. As the first measure the Secretariat has proposed the recommendations pertaining to countering radicalization as one of the Agenda of the upcoming Sub Group Meeting on Countering radicalization and violent extremism. However, as there is no formal mechanism e.g working group, expert group established to deal with cyber security issues, the recommendations haven't been further discussed.

    Combating international terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking remain the core of security cooperation among the BIMSTEC Member States. BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking was signed in 2009. So far six Member States have ratified the Convention. Once ratified by the remaining Member State, which we are expecting soon, this convention will be the basis for future cooperation in the CTTC Sector. Cooperation in the three specified areas i.e. international terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking will now naturally involve cooperation in cyber security due to use of IT platforms, tools and social media in propagating these crimes. Further, the Convention also provides for cooperation in any matter as mutually agreed upon between the State Parties.

    With increasing focus on digital connectivity, which has become a necessity to promote other forms of connectivity including trade and transport connectivity, cyber security has become and will continue to be the vital area necessitating cooperation among the BIMSTEC Member States.

    We hope that the deliberations in this conference amongst the experts on the subject will bring out concrete and pragmatic suggestions which can be recommended to the Member States for consideration.

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