Politicization of Terrorism in South Asia: Impact on Counterterrorism Effort

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Politicization of Terrorism in South Asia: Impact on Counterterrorism Effort*


Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal†

*A variant of this paper was read at “The Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE), University of Karachi” during an international conference entitled “Countering Radicalization and Terrorism in Europe, Middle East and South Asia in the wake of international migration Moving Towards Peace and Harmony” on 16-17 March 2017 in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The paper has since been modified and updated, especially after Easter 2019 terror attacks in Sri Lanka.

†The writer is a retired Air Commodore of Pakistan Air Force. He served as its Assistant Chief of Air Staff



(Politicization of terrorism is a universal phenomenon 1: undue claim to victimhood, false  flag  operations,  and  blaming  the  neighbour  for ones own counter terrorism failures are its indicators as well as manifestations 2. Employment of suicide bombers by terrorists and killer drones by counter terrorism forces has dehumanized the conflict. These tools do not incorporate a mechanism to pre-warn the innocent non-combatants. The phenomenon of politicization of terrorism has a snowballing tendency as it waters down counter terrorism efforts by changing focus and direction. Due to mistrust amongst constituent states, South Asia is prone to this prodigy.

 Victimhood to terrorism – both at state and non-state levels – sells  well. It attracts instantaneous sympathy 3. Conversely, being labelled  as a terrorist, rightly or wrongly, is generally sufficient to seriously undermine even a just cause. A state accruing the tag of terrorism loses the moral high ground even while acting meaningfully against organized crime and separatism, as targeted person(s) and or group(s) invariably claim innocence and victimhood.

This paper explores the impact of voids stemming out of politicization of terrorism in South Asia on countering terrorism efforts in the region.

– Author)


 There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism 4. This difficulty comes to play because the “term is politically and emotionally charged” 5. A generally accepted domain of terrorism implies “an operational technique where violence or threat of using violence is used to convey a message to a wider target audience” 6. Another common interpretation of terrorism is “the killing of combatants, civilians, government officials, military commanders by violent non-state actors with the objective of instilling fear in wider society” 7. Both these versions do not mention state terrorism. The current perception of terrorism is opposite of what it stood for during French revolution era: the word “Terrorisme”, was referred to “acts of violence to instil fear amongst the French population by the French government” 8. Notwithstanding these conceptual gaps, the absence of a universally accepted definition of terrorism leaves sufficient space to label any kind of violence as terrorism. Hence, “all stands mixed up, terrorism, legitimate political opposition, struggle for right of self-determination, multi-national crimes, etc.” 9.

The post 9/11 focus on terrorism and counter terrorism has generally been on non-state versus state dynamics 10. Some states become “Machiavellian” by exploiting the hazy divide between political violence and terrorism and labelling political violence with terrorism. The have turned to opportunism by unleashing state security apparatuses, with undue harshness, to suppress the aspirations of the people. Violence by non-state elements is overwhelmingly presupposed as terrorism, and nation states have developed a tendency to justify their harsh actions against political dissidents (even against those individuals and groups whose look alike actions of violence legally fall outside the domain of terrorism) as part of a counter terrorism effort. Contemporary international systems tend to support the State, even at the cost of stampeding Human Rights and the right of self-determination. Moreover, terrorism and counter terrorism have turned out to be a struggle of competing politicized narratives – both actual and fabricated 11. Claiming victimhood of terrorism, while blaming the opponent as a perpetrator and practitioner of terrorism has become an accepted norm.

Terrorism and political violence are not new challenges in South Asia. State level counter terrorism efforts in South Asia are circumscribed by limited state capacity and overlapping geopolitical tensions; this undermines the prospects for regional cooperation to counter terrorism effectively. “Fragility of struggling political systems and stressful nascent democracies” 12 of South Asia have also generated a permissive environment for politicization of terrorism and its counter measures.

Politicization of terrorism is a double-edged sword. This phenomenon has an embedded snowballing tendency; it waters down counterterrorism efforts by changing focus and direction. South Asia  is prone to this prodigy due to the mistrust amongst constituent states. Victimhood to terrorism, both at state and non-state levels, sells well. It attracts instantaneous sympathy.

Claiming victimhood of terrorism, while blaming the opponent as a perpetrator and practitioner of terrorism has become an accepted norm. Conducting false flag operations and blaming these on neighbours, and encouraging neighbours’ separatist elements are increasingly becoming acceptable tools of statecraft – especially in South Asia.

Terrorism like tactics have long been used, in South Asia and elsewhere by groups espousing a wide variety of causes. Guerrilla warfare or revolutionary wars have some interesting similarities with contemporary terrorism, at least at the tactical level. The increasingly transnational nature of terrorism is playing a significant role in developing a puzzling counterterrorism environment. Moreover, political relationships amongst South Asian states are characterized by suspicion, mistrust and, often, outright hostility. This has prevented the evolution of strong and effective regional cooperative mechanisms to counter terrorism in South Asia. Convergence of “limited institutional capacities in governments and law-enforcement agencies with grievances about widespread corruption, underdevelopment, socioeconomic marginalization, and, sometimes, problematic role of the state, make South Asia an attractive operating base for terrorist groups” 13 and constrain the capacity of states to respond.

Pointing fingers towards neighbour state(s) for political expediency and to cover-up the inefficiency of their own state’s law enforcers is also a popular approach with some countries of South Asia.

Terrorism ferments and manifests at four tiers – global, regional, state and sub-state level. Therefore, the necessity of mounting multitier counter terrorism efforts. Of these tiers, the nation-state is the ultimate legal entity to enact counter terrorism at state and sub-state levels. The regional approach is important with respect to containment of terrorism, and global efforts help in legitimacy and resource augmentation for states countering terror. Interestingly, none of the international and regional military interventions to contain and or combat terror in any state or region have yielded the desired outcome. No such international counter terrorism campaign – like Tony Blair’s “wrong wars” – has come to a happy ending. Some state level efforts have, however, been successful.

Due to the fragility of political order, regional counter terrorism tier of South Asia has not been able to come of age. This inadequacy undermines global, regional and domestic level counter terrorism efforts. It also leaves South Asian States vulnerable to spillover effects of terrorism from adjoining areas. Unless the regional connect is adequately strengthened, counter terrorism efforts in South Asia are likely to remain patchy.

Rise of terrorism in South Asia

Two contemporary conflicts in South Asia have had casting  effects on the region’s overall terrorism mosaic: the Soviet invasion   of Afghanistan and the launching of the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE) in Sri Lanka 14. These conflicts set into motion the genie of terrorism, which incrementally acquired an ubiquitous dimension and is now difficult to control. In both these conflicts, two principal countries of South Asia – Pakistan and India – chose opposite sides. This, along with other factors, led to the politicisation of what is and what is not terrorism. This fault line severely eroded counterterrorism efforts.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan remained committed to the aspirations of the Afghan people. During the Sri Lankan civil war 15, Pakistan remained committed to the Sri Lankan government’s war against the LTTE terror. In fact, Pakistan played an important role in restoring peace in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. When India took a policy decision to back off from its terrorist proxy – LTTE – Sri Lanka was quickly able to uproot Ironically, the Sri Lankan government continues to face criticism on account of excessive use of force 16.

Former Indian Foreign Secretary, JN Dixit, is on record as having said that the two foreign policy decisions on which Indira Gandhi could be faulted are: “her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants” 17.

One cannot have a better case study than the “Indian terrorist project in Sri Lanka” to fix the international community’s culpability to this great tragedy. International institutions and major world powers looked the other way as India employed terrorism as a state policy resulting in one of the goriest conflicts since the Second World War. India’s creation – the LTTE 18 – was as powerful as Al-Qaeda. During the heydays, LTTE was the only terrorist group in the world that possessed its own ‘Military’: comprising of an army, a navy and an air force.  The Navy of the LTTE had the capability of disrupting international trade, the Air Force could deliver attacks well into the capital and the army gave an exceedingly tough time to government forces. The LTTE fought ferociously for nearly three decades. JN Dixit, who was India’s High Commissioner in Colombo at the height of the Indian military intervention, has revealed, in his memoirs, that Sri Lanka was “plunged into a destructive war in accordance with India’s foreign policy” 19. Sri Lanka had been a major preoccupation of India’s foreign policy in terms of its ill-conceived security concerns due to “Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US, Pakistan and Israel” 20. This paranoid Indian policy approach is a glaring example of misplaced obsession – triggering colossal “death and destruction” 21. At a national level, Sri Lanka is yet to identify the causes and events leading to this horrible war. In the broader context, there is a need to study this conflict. The lessons learnt could help the international community realise the dangers of state sponsored terrorism.

It is also interesting to examine India’s position vis-a-vis the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In spite of Western pressure, India refused to join the powerful coalition against the Soviets. India strongly asserted that it could not upset its main weapons’ supplier – the erstwhile USSR. Counter terrorism policy makers of South Asia should study these two conflicts to analyse the impacts of invasion and proxies on the genesis and perpetuation of terrorism, as well as their harmful effects on counterterrorism efforts.

Easter 2019 Terror in Sri Lanka

 The Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka (April 21, 2019), killed at least 253 people and injured some 500 at churches and top-end hotels across Sri Lanka. Besides Sri Lankans, at least 40 foreigners were also killed, including British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Most of the foreigners were tourists, sitting down to breakfast at the high end hotels when the bombers struck. Various countries have warned their nationals to avoid Sri Lanka unless it was absolutely necessary. It will take a long time to revive the tourist industry to pre-Easter level 22.

Soon after, President Sirisena vowed to “meet the challenge and defeat terrorism” in the country 23. There are four probable streams that could have propelled the Easter attacks: reaction to the state run anti- drug campaign, Daesh fighters, India or a combination of these 24. Though Daesh has accepted the responsibility, Indian state terrorism cannot be overlooked. From a geostrategic point of view, the Sri Lankan decision to lease out the Hambantota port to China for 99 years, in December 2017, in exchange for offsetting its debt taken from China, had upset India beyond redemption. Though China and Sri Lanka maintain that the Hambantota port was purely a commercial project, India and its anti- China allies think otherwise.

In 2014, Chinese submarines reached the port the same day that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was visiting Colombo. This was viewed as an ominous signal from China 25. India views the Indian Ocean as its national lake, so it couldn’t have stomached this easily. Though the final lease agreement forbids military activity there without Sri Lanka’s invitation, Indian officials, and some Sri Lankan analyst fear that the Chinese government may be able to dangle debt relief in exchange for its military’s use of assets like the Hambantota port. “The only way to justify the investment in Hambantota is from a national security standpoint – that they will bring the People’s Liberation Army in,” said Shivshankar Menon, India’s former national security adviser 26. In an interview with The Times, Nihal Rodrigo, a former Sri Lankan foreign secretary and ambassador to China characterized the Chinese line as, “We expect you to let us know who is coming and stopping here.”

Soon after coming to power, President Sirisena showed keen interest in reorienting Sri Lanka towards India, Japan and the West, but soon realized that no other country could fill the economic space that China held in Sri Lanka. So India may have lost the patience and reembraced the erstwhile Indra Ghandi Doctrine to keep Sri Lanka destabilised.

Maria Abi-Habib reported for New York Times on June 25, 2018, in a piece titled: “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port”: “This transfer gave China control of territory just a few hundred miles off  the shores of a rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway”. Handover of Hambantota to the Chinese has kept alive concerns about its military use.

Investigations into war-time rights abuse allegations had weakened Sri Lanka’s security mechanism. The President blamed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government for weakening the intelligence system by focusing on the prosecution of military officers over alleged war crimes during an India sponsored decades-long uprising by Tamil separatists 27. Military officials faced trial for alleged “abduction and murder”. Hence there came a “serious lapse” in intelligence sharing.

President Sirisena said that top defence and police chiefs had not shared information with him about the impending attacks. Opposing factions aligned to Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have often refused to communicate with each other and blame setbacks on their opponents. He further said that the planned attack could have been a response to his campaign against illicit drugs. “There is a nexus between international terrorism and international drug trade,” he said.

International media, especially that of India, were in the forefront in naming a local Islamist extremist group called the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ). Sri Lankan authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links of the two domestic groups they believe carried out the attacks – the NTJ and the Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. The Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaath (SLTJ) is an associated arm of Indian Tamil Nadu Tawheed Jamaath (TNTJ) 28. Its other branches are in the Middle East, US, UK, France and Australia 29. Zahran Hashim, who is believed to have masterminded the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, had spent substantial time in southern India 30.

Nine homegrown and well-educated suicide bombers carried out the Easter Sunday attacks. Eight of them have been identified. One was a woman. After the attacks, Daesh released a video showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic State flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. “We are looking into the Islamic State angle. We also suspect that some of those radical youth were indoctrinated and trained in India, possibly Tamil Nadu,” a senior Sri Lankan official said 31.

Underscoring Pakistan’s support to the war on terror, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Colombo may seek Islamabad’s help to trace terrorists. In a written interview to the Hindustan Times, Wickremesinghe said Pakistan has fully supported Sri Lanka’s war   on terror. “If necessary, we will seek their help to trace the terrorists and eliminate them.” He dismissed Hindustan Times’ insinuation connecting Pakistan to the bombings. “Pakistan has extended all out help and support to Sri Lanka,” he stressed.

Pakistan has condemned these terror attacks. “Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with Sri Lanka in their hour of grief,” said Prime Minister Imran Khan in a message offering condolences and support 32.

SAARC and counter terrorism

There was such acute awareness and concern amongst the South Asian countries about the impending fallout of terrorism emanating out of these two conflicts that fourteen years before 9/11, member states  of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) signed the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism (SCST) in November 1987 33. In 2002, an additional protocol was added to the Convention 34 to make it compatible with UNSC Resolution 1373.

SAARC also created a “Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk” (STOMD) in Colombo 35 to collate, analyse and disseminate information about terrorist tactics and strategies. Other key counterterrorism initiatives included setting up of an “Expert Group on Networking Among Police Authorities” (NAPA) 36. There are proposals to set up    a “SAARC police” (SAARCPOL) 37, an Interpol-like entity, and a “SAARC Institute of Criminology” 38. Unfortunately, most of these counter terrorism initiatives haven’t moved beyond drawing board.

Two reasons for the failure of SAARC counterterrorism initiatives need close examination. Firstly, the SCST laid undue emphasis on military means to contain terrorism without resolving the fundamental question of how such operations could be executed without infringing the sovereignty of nations; and secondly, collective political leadership neither exhibited any foresight nor any determination to effectively implement the agreements in letter and spirit. This dilemma became more glaring when countries treated terrorist incidents as internal matters or accused neighbouring countries of supporting terrorist groups.

Glimpses of Bilateral Cooperation

However, a comparatively healthier supplement to regional effort has been some fruitful elements of bilateral cooperation amongst South Asian States. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh shared their experiences in tackling crime and terrorism. Bangladesh offered to run a programme on tackling organised crime. Sri Lanka offered a training programme on the “Strategic Management of Counter Terrorism” at the Sri Lankan Police College. In 2010, India had extended a similar offer of training programmes at the “National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science”, New Delhi. Another good example was the cooperation extended by Bhutan to India in dismantling the “United Liberation Front of Assam” (ULFA) safe houses and training camps. In 2003, the Royal Bhutanese Army not only targeted the group’s infrastructure in Bhutan but also arrested several Bhutanese for supporting and aiding the front.

The inclusion of a “Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism” in the “Composite Dialogue” between India and Pakistan in 2006 was a major step towards countering terrorism at a bilateral level. However, since 2008, India has been avoiding dialogue on one pretext or another.

Broader context

By the end of 2001 a global consensus evolved for mobilization of a mammoth military effort for countering terrorism 39. It was widely predicted that days of terrorism were numbered, however, now after a lapse of more than a decade and half, analysts wonder whether terrorism is melting away into its fag end or is it still in its formative stages and evolving.

During recent years, there has been unprecedented hype with regard to major terrorist attacks across the world 40. The phenomenon perceived as transient in character, has demonstrated a  remarkable  resilience and versatility to morph from one brand to another. More worryingly, terrorism has been able to acquire further sophistication and sustain a near perpetual manifestation.

Wilderness of counterterrorism effort

The aforesaid however does not mean that global, regional and domestic counterterrorism efforts have been entirely useless and ineffective; the point that needs attention is  that  terrorism  has,  by and large, been able to outsmart, out manoeuvre and outpace counter terrorism efforts at multiple levels. After every major terrorist attack there is a new concocted story, more bombs are dropped, more innocent lives are lost and more non-combatant properties are destroyed, yet there is no closing of terrorism in sight. Sixteen years is not a small period – 6 years longer than World Wars I & II combined.

What happened? Both terrorism and counter terrorism have become politicised. They have evolved into mutually perpetuating and self- generating industries. Both appear to fight each other while ensuring that both survive each battle to fight the next one, some other day.

Terrorism and counter terrorism have also become the accepted tools of statecraft and are employed as vehicles to achieve undeclared strategic objectives 41. If one digs a little deeper, both terrorism and counter terrorism are found joined at hips with regard to resource mobilisation and facilitation. Cooperation  between  lead  champions of counterterrorism and Al-Qaida in Libya, Syria and other places as well as unearthing of a billion dollar scam of fake explosive detectors in Britain 42 are indicators that counterterrorism efforts, even though unwittingly, are being constrained lest terrorism is incapacitated in toto.

What led to this sorry state of affairs? May be lack a of sincerity. Immediately after 9/11 the counter terrorism effort became expediency driven and politicised. Henry Kissinger withdrew from the headship of the 9/11 Inquiry Commission 43, saying that he was not available for a cover-up job as he had a responsibility towards History. And now, after sixteen years, none of the citizens of the countries chosen by President Trump for his flagship “travel ban” and “enhanced scrutiny” have been involved in any terrorist attack inside the United States!

 A unanimous definition of terrorism is still not in sight. This has pushed counter terrorism into the wilderness, as there is an uncalled for leeway to declare or not to declare anything as terrorism. This has had its impact in South Asia, may be more than any other region. Limited institutional capacities in governments and law-enforcement agencies with grievances about widespread corruption, underdevelopment, socioeconomic marginalization, and sometimes, the problematic role of the state, make South Asia an attractive operating base for terrorist groups. Pointing fingers towards neighbour state(s) for political expediency is also a popular approach in South Asia. Some South Asian states have become dishonest in labelling legitimate political dissent as terrorism as is the case in Bangladesh; and equating the legitimate right of self-determination of Kashmiri’s with terrorism by India.

Though there has been some progress in Counterterrorism cooperation in South Asia, albeit at snail’s pace, there have, primarily, been inordinate delays and unbridgeable differences in achieving consensus. This has undermined the principal objectives of preventing terrorist attacks and degrading and dismantling terrorist infrastructure. This failure has made the challenge of addressing the present nature of terrorist threats even more difficult. There is indeed a requirement of   a comprehensive framework for cooperation for countering terrorism. Piecemeal and ad hoc arrangements are likely to remain counter- productive. The silver lining is that all countries in the region, without exception, realise the need for capacity building in the counterterrorism domain – individually as well as collectively. Yet, it is easier said than done!

Home-grown terror poses an equally complex challenge to most of the countries in the South Asian region 44. There are domestic as well as transnational factors sustaining home-grown terror. The dynamics of such terrorism in the region call for a faster and more effective response from the states.

Two discernible patterns emerge from the cases of terrorism in South Asia. The first involves indigenous uprisings that turned to the use of terrorism. Secondly, in almost every case there was external supportive intervention – frequently accentuating the original conflicts, prolonging their duration, and dramatically expanding their scope 45. Some South Asian states have been more prone to using terrorist proxies to achieve foreign and security policy goals rather than offering a meaningful willingness to engage in viable inter-state counterterrorism cooperation at the regional level.

The prospects of counterterrorism cooperation in South Asia are distinctly limited 46. The worrisome point is that no South Asian state, can singularly devise a mechanism to overcome the challenges of regional terrorism.

To illustrate the dynamics of domestic political behaviour, the example of an incident in Bangladesh is reflective of the behaviour of other South Asian states. The “Holey Artisan Bakery” attack on July 01, 2016 brought forth the lesson that “heavy-handed, indiscriminate and politicized police and paramilitary operations are not only likely to fail but also more likely to breed more resentment against the state” 47. During the crackdown, civil society groups alleged massive police extortion and abuse, and the opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-i-Islami, claimed that their activists had been the primary targets 48. Even as the Prime Minister condemned the attack, she pointed a finger at those who “have resorted to terrorism after failing to win the hearts of people democratically” – an implicit reference to the BNP. This zero-sum rivalry has so far yielded a single winner – extremism, creating an environment for groups like Ansarul Islam and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to grow.

Terrorism is an issue that is usually taken quite seriously in India. However, India itself nurtures separatist elements in neighbouring countries. It has offered asylum to Brahmdagh Bugti 49 and also extended an electronic visa to Uighur separatist leader Dolkan Isa, a leader of the US-based “World Uighur Congress” who is on Interpol’s Red Corner Notice 50. He was invited to attend a large gathering of anti-Chinese groups in India’s northern city of Dharamsala. Though the visa offer  to Dolkan was reversed on Chinese protest, anti-China gatherings did take place. In addition, India routinely hobnobs with the Dalai Lama to ferment trouble in Tibet, an integral territory of China. Instead of treating Pathankot air force base as a domestic or bilateral matter, India internationalized it by involving the UN 51. Now responsible voices are rising from within India, saying that there was no evidence of Pakistan’s involvement. Moreover, for nearly half a year, India blockaded Nepal and emboldened the violent terror of its ethnic Madhesi kin 52.

Moreover, terrorism and counter terrorism has turned out to be a struggle of competing narratives – both actual and fabricated. Claiming victimhood of terrorism, while blaming the opponent as a perpetrator and practitioner of terrorism has also become a norm. Conducting false flag operations and blaming it on neighbours is yet another facet of politicization of terrorism. Within minutes of a violent occurrence it is attributed to a neighbour.

Pakistan is consistently highlighting India’s role in subversive and terrorist activities in Pakistan. In 2016 Pakistan apprehended a RAW operative Kulbhushan Yadev who confessed to the Indian government’s role in terrorist activities in Pakistan especially in Balochistan and Karachi.  A  provocative  statement  by  the  Indian  Prime  Minister  on the Independence Day of India on August 15, was an explicit acknowledgement of Indian involvement in perpetrating terrorism and terror financing in Pakistan 53:

“Today from the ramparts of Red Fort, I want to greet and express my thanks to some people. In the last few days, people of Balochistan, Gilgit, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have thanked me, have expressed gratitude, and expressed good wishes for me. The people who are living far away, whom I have never seen, never met – such people have expressed appreciation for Prime Minister of India, for 125 crore countrymen. This is an honour for our countrymen”.

The Samjhauta Express terrorist attack of 2007 is another example. India was quick in blaming Pakistan for the incident, but eventually tables turned when in 2010, the leader of their extremist and terrorist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Swami Aseemanand, confessed that he was the mastermind behind the terrorist attack. He also publicly stated that Colonel Parohit, an active service Indian Army officer, along with other army personnel, and Abhinav Bharat, were also a party. Both, Aseemanand and Parohit have been acquitted by the trial courts 54.

There are many other such terrorist incidents, which India blamed on others and later it turned out to be its own handiwork: the Chattisinghpura incident of March 2000, the Maachil 2010 episode of extra-judicial killing of three young indigenous Kashmiris blamed as infiltrators, the Makkah Masjid blast and the Malegaon attack, etc.

Indian media has also embarked upon a spree to link any violence taking place anywhere in the world with Pakistan. At times, this is done while the event is still taking place. Indian media even routinely distorts the statements of leaders of regional countries to implicate Pakistan 55. Some examples are: the Nepalese Prime Minister’s statement during his visit to India 56 and the Bangladeshi Minister, Prof Gowher Rizvi’s remarks 57. Both governments issued rebuttals. But the  difficulty  is that while truth is still busy putting on its boots, falsehood has already covered half of the globe and made its lasting impact.

The way Forward

Notwithstanding the inadequacies, there is a way forward to reinforce counter terrorism efforts in South Asia. One such approach  is presented by the “UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy” adopted with consensus by the UNGA in 2006. This strategy offers an important foundation for South Asia and helps to recalibrate its efforts to combat terrorism. The strategy’s broad-based framework includes measures: (1) to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; (2) to prevent and combat terrorism; (3) to build states’ counterterrorism capacities; and (4) to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law in the fight against terrorism 58.

Broad contours of the terrorist landscape in South Asia point towards a serious inadequacy of the domestic counter-terrorism strategies adopted by individual countries. In case of Pakistan, the findings and recommendations of Justice Qazi Faez Isa on the terrorist attack in Quetta 59, politics played about extension of military courts tenure and politicization of provincial law enforcing entities tell it all. The trans- national character of contemporary terrorism has made individual or bilateral efforts ineffective in many ways. Traditionally, countries in the region have tackled terrorism by strengthening internal counter- terrorism mechanisms. Instances of bilateral cooperation have been few and far between, and at best have had mixed results. Meaningful cooperation between the counterterrorism agencies of India and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan seem, realistically speaking, only marginally attainable.


The terrorism mosaic of South Asia is highly politicised, and hence quite complex. South Asia also has a history of some states employing this menace as a tool of foreign policy. This has distorted the perceptions as to what is and what is not terrorism. This, by default, makes formulation of a collective regional counter terrorism strategy almost a non-starter. No single state has the capability of tackling terrorism on its own. Unless the regional connect is adequately strengthened, counter terrorism effort in South Asia is likely to remain patchy. Due to its location, South Asia is often exposed to spill over effects of what is happening in its adjoining sub-regions like the Middle East, Central Asia and South East Asia. To offset this the leadership of South Asia has to rise to the occasion and take charge of a collective South Asian approach towards countering terrorism. Nonetheless, this is easier said than done, even though there is an acceptance of the necessity at the highest level of political echelons of all member states of South Asia. The silver lining, however is that, given the collective political will, the task is doable.


1-Amy Zalman, D., “What’s So New about the “New Terrorism”?” ThoughtCo, October 30, 2014. https://www.thoughtco.com/whats-so-new-about-the-new- terrorism-3973557

2- “Countering     Violent Extremism       Narrative”        National           Coordinator     for Counterterrorism,,   https://www.scribd.com/document/57749366/Countering-Violent-Extremist-Narratives-PDF

3- “Cult of Victimhood: Two Studies”, Shadow Tibet, Jamyang Nordu’s blog, March 31, 2010. http://www.jamyangnorbu.com/blog/2010/03/31/cult-of-victimhood- two-studies/

4- U. S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation(Counter Terrorism Division): Reports and Publications “Terrorism 2002/2005”, https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005

5- Hoffman, “Inside Terrorism” See review in The New York Times (1998),

6- Schmid, Alex “The Definition of Terrorism”. The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research. (Routledge: 2011) 39.

7- Hoffman, “Inside Terrorism”, 23.

8- Dr Myra Williamson, “Terrorism, War and International Law: The Legality of the Use of Force Against Afghanistan in 2001”, (Ashgate Publishing:2013), 1-10.

9- Dr Shabir Choudhry, “Is it struggle for independence terrorism or a proxy war?, Sri Lanka Guardian, December 13, 2008, Sec. G. http://www.slguardian.org/2008/12/is-it-struggle-for-independence-terrorism-or-a-proxy-war/

10- Jahangir Arasli , “States Vs. Non-State Actors: Asymmetric Conflict And Challenges To Military Transformation”, Eurasia Review, March 13, http:// www.eurasiareview.com/13032011-states-vs-non-state-actors-asymmetric- conflict-and-challenges-to-military-transformation/

11- Timothy Rooke, “The Contemporary Terrorist Threat and the Attribution Requirement: In Search of a New Standard”, The Student Journal of Law, https://google.com/site/349924e64e68f035/issue-6/the-contemporary-terrorist-threat-and-the-attribution-requirement-in-search-of-a-new-standard

12- Mely Caballero-Anthony, ed. “Political Change, Democratic Transitions and Security in Southeast Asia”, Tyler & Francis eBooks, June 2009). http://www.tandfebooks.com/isbn/9780203867495

13- Eric Rosand, Naureen Chowdhury Fink, and Jason Ipe, “Countering Terrorism in South Asia: Strengthening Multilateral Engagement” Center for Global Counterterrorism Cooperation International Peace Institute, (IPI Publication: May 2009),2-8.

14- “Interstate Conflicts in South Asia”, South Asian Media Net, March 06, 2016. http://documents.tips/documents/07-interstate-conflicts-in-south-asia.html

15- Ambika Kaushik, “Sri Lankan Civil War: What If the Tamil Tigers Weren’t Labelled as ‘Terrorists’?”, The Diplomat, July 24, 2015. http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/sri-lankan-civil-war-what-if-the-tamil-tigers-werent-labelled-as-terrorists/  

16- “Why hasn’t the Sri Lanka government not been punished for committing war crimes during the last stages of the final war ?”, Quora, https://www.quora.com/Why-hasnt-the-Sri-Lanka-government-not-been-punished-for-committing-war-crimes-during-the-last-stages-of-the-final-war

17- B.S. Jeyaraj, “The ‘Intermestic’ Tamil issue in Indo-Lanka Relations”, 4 June 2010. http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1454

18 J.N. Dixit, “Indian Involvement in Sri Lanka and the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement: A Retrospective Evaluation,” in Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons, ed. Kumar Rupesinghe (London: International Alert Publication, 1998).

19-Shamindra Ferdinando, “Sri Lanka – War on Terror Revisited”, The Island, June 30, 2015. http://slwaronterror.blogspot.com/2015_06_01_archive.html

20- Ibid.

21- Ibid.

22- “Sri Lanka attacks: What we know about the Easter bombings,” BBC, April 28, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48010697

23- Iqbal Khan, “Terror in Sri Lanka: who did it?”, Pakistan Observer (Islamabad), May 08, 2019. pakistan-observer/iqbal-khan/terror-in-sri-lanka-who-did- it/36111004

24- Ibid.

25- Abi-Habib, “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port”, New York Times, June 25, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri- lanka-port.html

26- Ibid.

27- Iqbal Khan, “Terror in Sri Lanka: Who did it?” The Frontier Post, May 07, https://thefrontierpost.com/terror-in-sri-lanka-who-did-it/

28- “Sri Lanka attacks: Who are National Thowheed Jamath?” BBC, 28 April 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48012694

29- Ibid.

30- Meera Srinivasan & Suhasini Haidar, “Sri Lanka Easter blasts: Suspected mastermind Zahran Hashim spent time in south India, says top military source”, The Hindu, April 27, 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri- lanka-easter-blasts-suspected-mastermind-zahran-hashim-spent-time-in-south- india-says-top-military-source/article26959549.ece

31- Ibid.

32- “World leaders send messages of support to Sri Lanka following bombings”, Israel Hayom, April 21, 2019. https://www.israelhayom.com/2019/04/21/world-leaders-send-messages-of-support-to-sri-lanka-following-bombings/

33- “South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism”, Council on Foreign Relations, November 4, 1987, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism-and-the-law/south-asian- association-regional-cooperation-saarc-regional-convention-suppression- terrorism/p24779 . “This SAARC convention was signed on November 4, 1987 and entered into force on August 22, 1988”.

34- “Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism”, Stap, January 06, 2004, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/southasia/documents/papers/SAARC_pak.htm  . “On  January  6,  2004,  Member-States of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) signed    an Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism in Islamabad, Pakistan”.

35- Vijaita Singh, “Rajnath to press for SAARC terror desk”, Hindu, August 03, 2016 http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Rajnath-to-press-for-SAARC- terror-desk/article14547728.ece

36- Abdullah Al Arif and Md. Ershadul Karim, “A Research Guide on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)”, GlobalLex, June, https://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/SAARC.html

37- Anshuman Rawat, “Struggling SAARC Goes for the Lofty Again, Proposes SAARCPOL”, Foreign Policy Association, July 25th, 2011. http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2011/07/25/struggling-saarc-goes-for-the-lofty-again-proposes-saarcpol/

38- R. K. Radhakrishnan, “Top SAARC police officers discuss drug trafficking and terrorism”, Hindu. April 06, 2011, sec.I., http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/Top-SAARC-police-officers-discuss-drug-trafficking-and-terrorism/article14671814.ece  

39- Air Commodore(R) Khalid Iqbal ,“Countering Regional Extremism and Terrorism: Pakistan’s Perspective”, Criterion Quarterly, Vol 10, No 3, July- September 2015, http://www.criterion-quarterly.com/countering-regional- extremism-and-terrorism-pakistans-perspective/

40- “The Global Regime for Terrorism”, Council on Foreign Relations, Issue Brief, June 19, 2013. http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/global-regime-terrorism/p25729

41- “Article 51 and the convenient use of the self-defence argument”, International Observatory on Stability & Conflict, January 5, 2016. https://oisc.wordpress.com/tag/counter-terrorism/

42- Yue Wang, “British Millionaire Convicted of Selling Fake Bomb Detectors”, Time, April 26, 2013, http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/04/26/british-millionaire- convicted-of-selling-fake-bomb-detectors/

43- “Kissinger resigns as head of 9/11 commission”,CNN, December 13, 2002, http://edition.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/12/13/kissinger.resigns/

44- “Terrorism Threat Assessment”, RAND Corporstion, http://www.rand.org/topics/terrorism-threat-assessment.html

45- Sumit Ganguly, “Counterterrorism Cooperation in South Asia: History and Prospects”, The National Bureau of Asian Research, December 2009. http://nbr.org/publications/element.aspx?id=412

46- Ibid.

47- Meenakshi Ganguly ,“The Dhaka Attacks Were A Product Of Bangladesh’s Fractious Politics”, Quartz, July 11, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/11/dhaka-attacks-were-product-bangladeshs-fractious-politics

48- Ibid.

49- Syed Sammer Abbas, “Brahamdagh’s asylum request indicates India involved in terrorism in Balochistan”, Dawn, Updated Sep 22, 2016. https://www.dawn.com/news/1285402

50- Andrew Korybko, “India: ‘Politicizing Terrorism’ in Order to Pressure  China”, Global Research, April 28, 2016. http://www.globalresearch.ca/india-politicizing-terrorism-in-order-to-pressure-china/5522241?print=1

51- “India : Politicizing Terrorism For Ulterior Gain”, The Sikh Archives, Featured, GeoPolitics, July 23, 2016. http://www.sikharchives.com/?p=24271

52- Ibid.

53- “Narendra Modi’s speech on Independence Day 2016: Here’s the full text”, Indian Express, August 15, 2106, sec,TN., http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/pm-narendra-modis-speech-on-independence-day-2016-here-is-the-full-text/

54- Pawan Sharma and Rezaul H Laskar ,“Aseemanand acquitted in Samjhauta Express blast case”, Hindustan Times, (Panchkua/ New Delhi),  Mar  20,  https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/aseemanand-acquitted-in-samjhauta-express-blast-case/story-hyDkLfB633GfU4blhpytxM.html

55- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, “Record of the Press Briefing by Spokesperson on 22 September 2016” , http://mofa.gov.pk/pr-details.php?mm=NDI5OA

56- “[“Indian media attributed to the Nepal’s Prime Minister a statement in which he made negative remarks about Pakistan’s alleged involvement in terrorism. Let me share with you Nepali Spokesperson’s Press Release, which reads: “The attention of the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers Government of Nepal has been drawn to the reported misinterpretation of the interview of Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ with the NewsX channel of India taken during his recent State Visit to India. During the interview, the Prime Minister talked about the matters relating to the cooperation in security issues between Nepal and India and effective implementation of the policy already derived. The interviewer unnecessarily drew the reference to alleged third country support to terror networks. What the Prime Minister said in reply was only meant to refer to the support of the Government of Nepal in controlling Nepal-India cross-border criminal activities. He did not intend to acknowledge the involvement of any third country whatsoever. The Government of Nepal dissociates itself from any wrong interpretation of the interview. Nepal enjoys friendly and cordial relations with its neighbours based on goodwill, friendship and mutual understanding that have grown over the decades to the mutual satisfaction. You may recall that after Dhaka Bakery attack also, it was Indian media, which quoted Bangladeshi Minister Prof Gowher Rizvi that he made remarks about Pakistan’s involvement. Prof Rizvi personally refuted Indian media claim as ‘utter nonsense.’”]”

57- Ibid.

58- “UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”, United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force,

59- Saleem Shahid, “Judge terms Nacta’s performance unsatisfactory”, Dawn, November 01, 2016. https://www.dawn.com/news/1293584