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Countering Terrorism : Building a Common Approach in SAARC

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policy brief

About the Project

The objective of the project is to evolve a common policy agenda among leading think tanks in SAARC countries on measures to counter terrorism in the region. It is hoped that consensus will emerge in the form of a broad set of principles and recommendations for action that all states can agree to and take forward through the SAARC mechanism. An agreed document will then be submitted to the SAARC Secretariat prior to the next SAARC Summit in April 2010 to be held in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Since its inception, concern over terrorism and the need for greater regional cooperation has prominently figured in the SAARC agenda. Starting from the signing of the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism in Kathmandu on 4 November 1987 that came into force on 22 August 1988 following its ratification by all Member States, strong consensus existed among the states for regional counterterrorism cooperation. Numerous commitments have since reiterated the political commitment to counterterrorism at the regional level. A Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk was established in 1995 in Colombo to support the implementation of the convention by ‘collecting, assessing and disseminating information on terrorist offences, tactics, strategies and methods’. An Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism was signed in 2002 but which came into force on 12 January 2006 following ratification by all Member States. Finally a Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters was signed in August 2008 but has yet to come into force pending ratification by all Member.

Despite these initiatives however, terrorism continues to be the biggest scourge that afflicts development in South Asia. An effective, common framework of action is fundamental to the process of countering terrorism. The paper will be a set of policy recommendations that the SAARC should adopt in order to effectively address this problem. 

Significance of the Project
In November 1987, the seven SAARC member nations at the time – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka signed the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and agreed to “take effective measures to ensure that perpetrators of terroristic acts do not escape prosecution and punishment by providing for their extradition or prosecution to this end.” The Convention further stated that the member states were “aware of the danger posed by the spread of terrorism and its harmful effects on peace, cooperation, friendship and good neighbourly relations and which could also jeopardize the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”

In January 2004, the SAARC countries also signed an Additional Protocol to the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism. The objective of this Additional Protocol “is to strengthen the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, particularly by criminalizing the provision, collection or acquisition of funds for the purpose of committing terrorist acts and taking further measures to prevent and suppress financing of such acts. Towards this end, State Parties agree to adopt necessary measures to strengthen cooperation among them, in accordance with the terms of this Additional Protocol.”

Ever since SAARC was formed, there have been a total of fifteen summits, in which important declarations and statements were made by heads of states and governments. During the 15th SAARC Summit in 2008 in Sri Lanka, heads of states “strongly condemned all forms of terrorist violence” and “recognized…the value of the proposed UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.” The 14th summit, held in New Delhi, “condemned the targeted killings of civilians and terrorist violence in all its forms and manifestations, wherever and against whomsoever committed.” These statements clearly highlight the consensus that exists within the region on the issue and additionally suggest that definitional problems associated with the term have also been sorted out.

However, an analysis of the present situation in South Asia, two decades after the signing of the Convention, reveals that little has been achieved. There is no country in the region that has remained unscathed by terrorist attacks. Despite this, there has been little coordinated action, intelligence-sharing or any other form of meaningful cooperation. These are major policy lacunae that need to be urgently addressed. Additionally, there have been several developments in recent years that do not augur well for the region.

First, the region has become a battleground for international terrorism, led by the al-Qaeda. The biggest victims of international terrorism - Afghanistan and Pakistan, are situated in South Asia and its reverberations have also been felt elsewhere in the region.

Second, there are numerous regional groups, which are strongly influenced by the al-Qaeda and are waging a war within their own states. The Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban and the HUJI in Bangladesh are groups linked with the al-Qaeda. Although it is too early to link the Indian Mujahideen with the al-Qaeda, other terrorist organizations within the country continue to receive both support and cooperation from it.

Third, within each state there are numerous non-state actors and terrorist organizations, which have been fighting the State, causing the death of innocent men, women and children in addition to damage to state property. From Afghanistan to India’s Northeast to Kashmir and Sri Lanka, these actors are engaged in an ongoing struggle against their states.

Fourth, given the advances in technology and easier access to weapons, terrorist organizations are calibrating  attacks, more lethal than ever before. Additionally, there is substantial fear that these non-state actors, led by the al-Qaeda might succeed in gaining access to nuclear weapons and/or materials. There have also been efforts by these actors to get hold of chemical and biological weapons from outside South Asia. Given the degree of unpreparedness of the States in South Asia, any use of WMDs by these actors will have a devastating effect on the civilian populations within the region.

Fifth, terrorism in South Asia has created a void between communities, through their clever manipulation. For instance, while terrorist attacks in India have increased the divide between Hindus and Muslims; those in Pakistan have led to immense hostility between the Shias and Sunnis; while in Sri Lanka, attacks have created a significant divide between the Sinhalese and Tamils.

Finally, terrorism in South Asia, as demonstrated in the last two decades, has the potential to destroy relations between countries, bringing them to the brink of war. The 2001-02 military confrontation between India and Pakistan started with a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001; a repeat of which has recently been witnessed after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. There have been several other instances of terrorist attacks in India over the last decade, which brought the two countries to a point of suspending all political and diplomatic ties with each other. In present times, cross-border terrorism across the Durand Line, has had serious implications for Afghan-Pak and US-Pak relations. It led the US to carry out unilateral air strikes on Pakistani territory, calling into  question the inviolability of national sovereignty of states and the security of the region.

The IPCS is the nodal think tank for this project. It has constituted a collegium of think tanks from the COSATT and other experts from SAARC countries to undertake the study. The group will deliberate over several issues pertinent to the project , and debate, discuss and chart out a common course of action that the SAARC might adopt to address the issue of terrorism. The objective of this endeavour is to initiate a Track-II dialogue amongst select leading think tanks of the region, produce a consensus document, which will set out a plan of action and other practical recommendations, which can then be presented to the leadership of the SAARC for comprehensive action.

List of Participating Institutions:
1. Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Bangladesh
2. Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Bangladesh
3. Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, Pakistan
4. Department of International Relations, University of Sargodha-Punjab, Pakistan
5. Center for South Asian Studies, Nepal
6. Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, Afghanistan
7. Center for Bhutan Studies, Bhutan
8. Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Sri Lanka
9. Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi, India
10. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, India

The following meetings were held for this purpose:

Planning Meeting, 28-30 January 2009, Kathmandu
A planning meeting with participation from heads of leading think tanks from the COSATT will chart out a course of study of the issue.  This planning meeting will be held between 28-30 January 2009 in Kathmandu. Each think tank invitee will present an outline paper at the conference which will then be discussed by other participants.

The issues that the country papers will address are as follows:
The nature of the terrorist threat in each country; its evolution; major actors involved; and the recent trends in terrorist violence.
The various counter-terrorism policies and strategies followed by respective governments and the impact of these on the conflict; the effectiveness of these measures; and what lessons, if any, may be drawn from each country’s experience.
The impact of the recommendations made at various SAARC summits on tackling country-specific problems relating to terrorism. What measures have respective governments adopted and how can SAARC, as a regional institution, become more effective in tackling terrorism?
What specific measures should SAARC adopt?
Formal papers of no more than 5000 words will be submitted to the IPCS by 15 March 2009.

B. Final Meeting, April/May 2009
The IPCS will then prepare a consolidated paper which will be presented at a meeting of about 25 members of the COSATT and other leading South Asian experts.  It is planned to hold this conference in the second quarter of 2009. This Policy Paper will be submitted to the 16th SAARC Summit.

This project is undertaken by the Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks (COSATT) with support from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF). The first round of dialogue took place in Kathamndu in January 2009, and the final round in Dhaka in 2010, where the COSATT released a book and a short document containing main recommendations.


The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

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