PARTICIPATING in a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) discussion on terrorism, organised at India’s initiative on December 15, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said, ‘Last year, the world faced more than 8,000 terrorist incidents, across 65 countries, killing more than 23,000 people….’ These chilling statistics show that terrorism is a contemporary scourge, and India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for at least three decades. It was therefore appropriate for India to make counter-terrorism a significant theme of its membership of the UNSC for its two-year term that concludes at this month’s end.
More and more countries are now showing sympathy with the need to address the ‘root causes’ of terrorism.
To profile the importance India attaches to counter-terrorism, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar travelled to New York to preside over the December 15 UNSC meeting on ‘Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts’. He invited ‘high level’ representatives from the UNSC member states — normally he would have sent invitations to his counterparts — to the meeting. Ireland was represented by its foreign minister while some others, including Britain, sent junior ministers or senior officials. The lukewarm response to Jaishankar’s invitation was an indication that while all major powers assert the importance of eliminating terrorism, they have really moved on to other issues concerning international peace and security. Consequently, for these powers, the salience and profile of the terrorist threat in their security calculus has diminished.
Jaishankar said in his speech, ‘Terrorism is an existential threat to international peace and security. It knows no borders, nationality or race and is a challenge that the international community must combat collectively’. Sadly, the presidential statement issued by the council, which was initiated by India on November 29 (and did not have a smooth passage), contains elements which demonstrate the ‘ifs and buts’ that now govern the global fight against terrorism. One clear evidence of the downgrading of the terrorism as a threat is provided in the presidential statement: instead of endorsing Jaishankar that terrorism is an existential threat, it calls it ‘one of the most serious threats to international peace and security’. Also, while Jaishankar called for terrorism to be fought collectively by the global community, the sad truth is that all countries follow a segmented approach towards it.
At a conceptual level, India has never wanted to go into the ‘root causes’ of terrorism. It has believed that idea to be a slippery slope which could lead to the justification of terrorism. However, it is clear that more and more countries are showing sympathy with the need to address ‘root causes’. This was reflected in Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney’s statement. ‘The most effective way to tackle terrorism is to prevent it in the first place… we know that communities affected by conflict, poverty, inequality, poor governance and human rights violations are more vulnerable to radicalisation and recruitment’.
The presidential statement does not directly enter this contested arena. It does, however, emphasise the need to follow humanitarian law and a ‘whole of government and society’ approach to combat it. Thus, the international community is now asserting that terrorism cannot be eliminated by force alone; that issues relating to human rights and justice and economic and social development have to be taken into account to meet its challenge. It will be prudent for India to note how international thinking on terrorism has shifted during the past two decades. Fortunately, the need to stop the flow of funds and weapons as well as the free movement of terrorists is still emphasised by the global community and is reflected in the presidential statement.
This shift in thinking is no doubt a consequence of the greater assurance in the West of its ability to prevent major terrorist attacks against its interests. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the West paid scant attention to human rights issues that are now being increasingly associated with preventing terrorism. It sought to crush terrorism with the use of force and dismissed the death of innocent people as collateral damage. This was most vividly seen in Afghanistan. This reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of the international system where the major powers never practice what they preach when their national interests come into play.
There was one more aspect of the presidential statement which revealed a shift in India’s position. On December 9, the council approved Resolution 2664 by a vote of 14-0; India was the only country which abstained. This resolution, according to a UN media release, ensures ‘that the provision, processing or payment of funds, other financial assets or financial resources or the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance or to support other activities that support basic human needs are permitted and are not a violation of the asset freezes…’ put in place by the UNSC or its sanctions committees. Hitherto, such issues were dealt on a case-by-case basis. Now, the council created a general mechanism so that ordinary people did not suffer on account of sanctions imposed against terrorist groups or regimes. India’s reservations stemmed from the fact that such carve-outs often benefited the terrorist groups or organisations they had morphed into, often with official support such as in Pakistan.
However, the presidential statement ‘reaffirmed’ the resolution and noted that member states ‘when designing and applying methods to counter the financing of terrorism (need) to take into account the potential of those measures on exclusively humanitarian activities’. India obviously went along with this formulation and, hence, it may have been better for it to go along with the resolution and spell out its misgivings in an ‘explanation of vote’ statement instead of abstaining. This would not have been in conflict with the objectives of the No Money for Terrorism ministerial meeting it hosted in November. India has to maintain its anti-terrorism actions to defend national security, but it must back it up with smart diplomacy.
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