For the first time, India hosted[i] diplomats and representatives from all 15 UN Security Council members, including the P5, for a special summit on terrorism in Mumbai and Delhi on 29 October 2022. The member states unanimously adopted the Delhi Declaration, reaffirming “zero tolerance” towards terrorism. The main focus of the meeting was on the misuse of new technologies by the terror organization. India has been the seventh most terrorism-affected State in the world as per the 2022 Global Terrorism Index report[ii]. Terrorism is an issue which has impacted millions around the world. Unfortunately, to date, there is no consensus on a unified global approach to countering terrorism.
The main issue obstructing the formulation of a global strategy remains to define[iii] the term ‘terrorism’. The absence of a universal definition of terrorism for legal purposes has resulted in a range of implications, for instance, the violation of the rights of Citizens by the State in the course of their counter-terrorism efforts. As Robert Kupperman and Darrell Trent stated, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” the majority of researchers tend to believe that there will never be an objective, universal definition of what constitutes terrorism. Boaz Ganor, on the contrary, argues[iv] that an objective definition of terrorism is not only possible; it is also indispensable to any serious attempt to combat terrorism. Defining terrorism remains a challenge, and until a common definition is established, one country’s terrorists will continue to be freedom fighters for the other, depending on the political interests.
There are wide ranges of laws that are seen as operating in the direction of tackling terrorism, such as the international law on financial transactions, the refugee laws or the use of force by armed forces and assessing such use of force. At this point, there is no overarching international law against terrorism. Ireland and Norway were among the countries that brought up the topic of surveillance[v] and privacy at the meeting and explained how these could be violated in the name of counterterrorism. The US, on the other hand, denounced the “excuse” of counterterrorism being used to shut down communication networks. For the past many decades, India has witnessed[vi] incidents of terrorism. In this article, an attempt is made to understand the changing dynamics of terrorism and India’s strategy for combatting terrorism.
Given India’s experiences in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and North Eastern states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland for the last several decades, apart from security measures, it has incorporated social and economic measures as part of the larger counter-terrorism strategy. The way India sees security problems has changed over time; insurgency in J&K has evolved to be identified as terrorism, while in North East, the word insurgency is still used. India’s strategy[vii] has primarily emphasized the political dimension and has never been the exclusive domain of the military. India’s counterterrorism strategy has never sought[viii] the annihilation of the enemy, and its politico-military behaviour has been Clausewitzian at all times. India has a long history of using political discourse as a means to tackle separatism, extremism and terrorism. N S Jamwal, Additional Director General (ADG) Border Security Force (BSF) Western Command, suggests[ix] that the military option, wherever taken, has been utilized to instil a sense of security among the impacted population, wear down the rebels, and bring them to the negotiating table so that a political resolution could be reached.
India has a unique issue that is much more severe and acute than what other nations deal with, i.e., terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Pakistan uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy, maintaining it and resorting to violence against India. India has consistently argued that Pakistan-based terrorist training facilities and groups should be banned, and any form of cross-border terrorism must be an extraditable offence. Pakistan has been soft on these terror groups which target India. These groups, particularly LeT, have modules across countries like India, Bangladesh, and Borders of India and Myanmar. There has been an increasing footprint[x] of anti-India groups gaining momentum in Afghanistan as well. Groups like JeM, LeT, Al-Badr, who earlier had fought along with the Taliban against the Afghan forces. Now, with the Taliban in power, these groups may leverage the already existing bonhomie with the Taliban against India. Thus, the degree of threat to India has increased.
Recognizing the importance of emerging technological trends in counterterrorism strategy, delegates at the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee meeting[xi] , including the UN Human Rights envoy, brought up the issue of human rights in the context of the use of emerging technologies against terrorism. Among the main issues highlighted[xii] at the UNSC’s Counter-Terrorism Committee(CTC) meeting in 2022 were the threats posed by drones, funding for terrorism through cryptocurrencies, and the use of the internet by terrorist organizations. Websites and online[xiii] media outlets hosted by radical outfits frequently disseminate hate speech and instigate violence while also being extremely perverse, negative, and far from the truth. Online platforms[xiv] have created a new dimension that is driving young minds to subscribe to fundamentalism and feel positive about extremist groups.
Another aspect is that the concerned nations sometimes find it convenient to credit non-state actors for terrorism. This is an escapist approach. When tackling a problem as complicated as this, the devil is often in the details. For instance, without financial backing, access to weapons, and logistical assistance, no terrorist organization could last for a prolonged period. Terrorists need money and other resources to train, travel, and accommodation as they organize themselves and plan and carry out their assaults. One of the best strategies to combat terrorism is to obstruct[xv] and stop these financial transactions and flows associated with terrorism. The transnational terrorist organizations are well-funded, act faster than any unified force and have the ability to strike anywhere in the world. This gives them the element of surprise to be on their side. Mere military response alone is no longer sufficient or enough to prevent terrorism. Almost all realms of this activity —social, cultural, religious, economic, and political—need to be eradicated and deradicalized.
There is a need for global cooperation and global convergence to fight terrorism effectively. In 1996, with the objective of providing a comprehensible legal framework for counter-terrorism, India proposed to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) the adoption of the “Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism” (CCIT). It remained in discussion for some time but could not make headway because the US wanted the draft to exclude acts committed by military forces of states during peacetime. The US seems to be worried about the application of the CCIT to its own military forces, especially with regard to interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another roadblock has been from the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), which wants the exclusion of national liberation movements, especially in the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Even in nations with ample resources and well-experienced security apparatus, preventing terrorist strikes is a difficult task. Realistically, the majority of countries are unable to follow the extensive list of guidelines and measures outlined in the global strategy and the Security Council resolutions. It was argued that there is a need to distinguish acts of terrorism from movements for self-determination so that legitimate movements are not labelled as criminal acts of terrorism. India has repeatedly tried to have a consensus on CCIT, but it seems it is going to take some time before there is some sort of understanding among countries. Terrorism should never be used as a means of expressing one’s grievances; instead, constitutional procedures and other peaceful mechanisms of resolving disputes must always be employed.
[ii] “Global Terrorism Index 2022”. Institute for Economics and Peace. Available at https://www.visionofhumanity.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/GTI-2022-web-09062022.pdf. Accessed on 01 November 2022.
[iii] “Counter Terrorism Module-Defining Terrrorism”. UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Available at https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/terrorism/module-4/key-issues/defining-terrorism.html. Accessed on 02 November 2022.
[iv] Boaz Ganor. “Defining Terrorism: Is One Man’s Terrorist another Man’s Freedom Fighter?” Police Practice and Research. Available at. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1561426022000032060?src=recsys. Accessed on 03 November 2022.
[v] Deeptiman Tiwary and Shubhajit Roy. “UNSC meet: Must protect rights in terror crackdown, says Declaration”. Indian Express. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/must-protect-rights-in-terror-crackdown-says-declaration-8237617/. Accessed on 03 November 2022.
[vi] “Annual Report 2004-2005”. Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI. Available at https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/AnnualReport_04_05.pdf. Accessed on 04 November 2022.
[vii] R Bhanu Krishna Kiran. “Counterterrorism Strategies in India and Israel”. IPCS. Available at http://www.ipcs.org/focusthemsel.php?articleNo=2647. Accessed on 04 November 2022.
[ix] N.S. Jamwal. “Counter terrorism strategy”. Strategic Analysis. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09700160308450074?needAccess=true. Accessed on 04 November 2022.
[x] “Pak’s terror groups join Taliban war, India wary”. Hindustan Times. Available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/paks-terror-groups-join-taliban-war-india-wary-101625948635708.html. Accessed on 05 November 2022.
[xi] Shubhajit Roy. “In a first, UNSC’s Counter Terrorism Committee to meet in India this week”. Indian Express. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/in-a-first-unscs-counter-terrorism-committee-to-meet-in-india-this-week-8232075/. Accessed on 03 November 2022.
[xii] Mahender Singh Manral and Deeptiman Tiwary. “US, UK, Russia, China to France, countries flag use of drones, cryptocurrency”. Indian Express. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/world/us-uk-russia-china-to-france-countries-flag-use-of-drones-cryptocurrency-8237538/. Accessed on 02 November 2021.
[xiii] Farah Pandit. “Teen terrorism inspired by social media is on the rise. Here’s what we need to do”. NBC. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/teen-terrorism-inspired-social-media-rise-here-s-what-we-ncna1261307. Accessed on 02 November 2022.
[xiv] G S Bajpai and Ankit Kaushik. “India needs a policy solution for the problem of radicalisation”. Indian Express. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/india-needs-a-policy-solution-for-the-problem-of-radicalisation/. Accessed on 03 November 2022.
[xv] “FATF’s global efforts on combating terrorist financing”. Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Available at https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/fatfgeneral/documents/terroristfinancing.html. Accessed on 04 November 2022.