India and the multilateral challenge to countering terrorism

By hosting a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) on 28and 29October 2022, a week after hosting the annual conference of Interpol, India has made it clear that it stands in the forefront of the global fight against terrorism. In the two-day rendezvous, the Committee adopted the “Delhi Declaration” on countering the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist activities. India is also the first UN Member State to put forward the draft of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN General Assembly, long back in 1996.

Unfortunately, the CCIT is still not adopted by the UNGA due to differing perceptions on acts of ‘terrorism’ among certain UN Member States, leading to a complicated legal puzzle. India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for more than three decades now and the country has also lost two of its former prime ministers in acts of terrorism. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had set up a dedicated Counter Terrorism (CT) Division in 2003, where I was attached as an intern about a year ago, with a Joint Secretary-ranked officer at its helm.

Levels of response

When a terror incident occurs, while the security establishment of respective countries step in to act timely and effectively in a post-incident intervention to mitigate its impact, multilateral diplomacy has to take pre-emptive moves to prevent the incident itself in the first place. What multilateralism strives to do is to cut-off the roots of terrorism, which entails incapacitating the sources of terror funding, the channels of radicalisation and state support provided by certain actors who use terrorism as a political tool, for which countries should support each other.

The Government of India’s Counter Terrorism Doctrine is based on the principle that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is a criminal activity and should not be justified on any ground, whether it is “political, religious, ethnic or social”. Radicalization of the cyberspace and the use of emerging technologies for terrorist activities using globe-spanning networks, have complicated the global multilateral mechanisms on counter-terrorism.

State actors and intergovernmental organisations need to cooperate in the sharing of critical information on the location and activities of terrorists, training and capacity-building of security personnel and intelligence gathering, offering mutual legal assistance to extradite terrorists across national borders, and bolstering agency-to-agency synergy.

Persisting hurdles

India is ranked 12th in the latest Global Terrorism Index (2022), which measures the impact of terrorism on 163 countries of the world, and is placed under the ‘High’ category. For the past several years, India has been championing her cause at global multilateral bodies such as the Paris-headquartered Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that acts as a global watchdog on money laundering and terror financing. But, Pakistan was de-listed from the “grey list” in late October 2022, after four years, which has risen the prospects of more terror incidents in India.

An important hurdle in effective global response to terrorism is the support of powerful countries to the perpetrators of terrorism. China, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the veto power, has a history of regularly blocking proposals by India and the United States in blacklisting masterminds involved in barbaric terror attacks such as 26/11 and 9/11 via the Sanctions Committee. Designating specific individual as “global terrorists” would mean freezing their assets, enforcing travel bans and embargos on weapon sales. In the last five months, China has blocked such designations of Pakistan-based terrorists thrice.

Pro-active participation

To strengthen bilateral cooperation on countering terrorism, India has set up joint working groups (JWGs) at the level of senior officials with twenty-six countries and three regional organisations, namely the European Union, BRICS and BIMSTEC, with meetings held on a regular basis. New Delhi is also part of the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and is also party to 14 of the 19 international counter-terrorism treaties and conventions. Moreover, there are about a dozen or more separate international legal instruments and sectoral conventions that deal with various aspects of terrorism such as the hijacking of aircrafts, holding hostages, nuclear material protection, and so on.

However, the world still lacks a single comprehensive convention that covers all the aspects of terrorism. Noting this absence in mind, India put forward the draft CCIT in 1996. Even after the conclusion of negotiations about a decade ago and making new changes to the draft about six years ago, several outstanding issues still remain. India should now follow up on persuading UN Members States to reach a majority on an early adoption of the CCIT, which could potentially absorb or succeed all the existing sectoral conventions on terrorism and strengthen the existing global counter-terrorism efforts at multiple levels.

Bejoy Sebastian
Bejoy Sebastian
Bejoy Sebastian writes on the contemporary geopolitics and regionalism in eastern Asia and the Indo-Pacific. His articles and commentaries have appeared in Delhi Post (India), The Kochi Post (India), The Diplomat (United States), and The Financial Express (India). Some of his articles were re-published by The Asian Age (Bangladesh), The Cambodia Daily, the BRICS Information Portal, and the Peace Economy Project (United States). He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi, where he acquired a post-graduate diploma in English journalism. He has qualified the Indian University Grants Commission's National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) for teaching International Relations in Indian higher educational institutions in 2022. He holds a Master's degree in Politics and International Relations with first rank from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala, India. He was attached to the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India) in New Delhi as a research intern in 2021 and has also worked as a Teaching Assistant at FLAME University in Pune, India, for a brief while.