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SAARC NEEDS TO PUT ITS ACT TOGETHER TO ADDRESS THE SCOURGE OF TERRORISM IN THE REGION

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(Manoj Karki)

Kathmandu, Nov 19: Terrorism today has become a common problem for most of the countries in South Asia. From Afghanistan to Bangladesh to India and to Pakistan, all suffer from terrorist attacks almost every day. These attacks include both internally and externally generated and orchestrated.

Sri Lanka and Nepal too have had their share of facing terrorist activities resulting from a bloody internal armed conflict. Though the armed conflict has for now subsided in these two countries, the root causes of the conflict are yet to be fully addressed, leaving ground for the possibility of similar uprising in the days to come

.The September 2007 Sultan Park bombing in Male put the Island nation of Maldives into the group of South Asian countries facing the challenge of terrorism. The volatile political situation in the country gives room for terrorist groups operating in the region to expand their base in the archipelago.

Though the kingdom of Bhutan has not faced any domestic incidents of terrorism, many insurgent groups from neigbouring India like the ULFA, NDFB and BLTF operated from the country in 2000. The insurgent groups and their bases were, however, flushed out by the Bhutanese Army in December 2003.

Probably envisioning the rising threat of terrorism in the region, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC member states agreed to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism way back in 1987.

The preamble of the Convention recognizes seriousness of the problem of terrorism as it affects the security and stability of the region, while also agreeing that cooperation among SAARC States was vital if terrorism was to be prevented and eliminated from the region.

It may also be noted that the UN Resolution 2625 (XXV) requires that each member state should refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in acts of civil strife or terrorist acts in another state or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts.

It may also be noted that the UN Resolution 2625 (XXV) requires that each member state should refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in acts of civil strife or terrorist acts in another state or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts.

After the Convention came into force a year later in 1988, it was backed up four years later with the Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism in 2002. The additional protocol that came into force in January 2006 strengthened the Convention 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.

However, the Convention and its optional protocol have failed to bring any substantial gains in the fight against terrorism in the region, which is an increasing threat to the stability and security of the region as a whole.

The ‘SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk’ set up in Colombo in 1990 under the Convention was to collect, analyze and disseminate information about terrorist tactics and strategies and methods. But it has failed to meet its goal due to indifference of the member states.

Thus the Convention remains limited to paper only as no concrete steps were taken to put it into practice, with the member states continuing to indulge in a blame-game for abetting terrorism in one another country. This is now increasing among the newest member Afghanistan and archrivals India and Pakistan, as well as Bangladesh.

It will be back to square one when the member states meet in Kathmandu in less than a week and review the progress that they have achieved since agreeing to the Convention on Suppression of Terrorism at the same venue a long 27 years ago.

Regional engagement has been non-existent as far as suppressing terrorism is concerned while the spate of terror continues to rise in the region.
The Global Terrorism Index, by the Australia and US-based Institute for Economics and Peace, for 2014 released on Tuesday lists Afghanistan and Pakistan in the top three, after Iraq in the first position. India follows in the 6th position. The Index of countries affected by many terrorist incidents with a strong impact in terms of fatalities, injuries and damaged property puts Bangladesh in the 23rd and Nepal in the 24th position. The kingdom of Bhutan is ranked 109th in the GTI.

Furthermore, the South Asia fatalities as compiled by the South Asia Terrorism portal show that 112,437 people died in South Asia in terrorism-related incidents between 2005 to November 16, 2014. The fatalities included 40,249 civilians, 13,424 security personnel and 58,764 terrorists.

The damage caused to physical infrastructure in course of the terrorist attacks that led to such fatalities would be worth billions of dollars while its impact on socio-economic development of the region would be incalculable.

As a result, there is an urgent need for the regional bloc to bring its act together and address the scourge of terrorism in a concrete manner not through tall promises limited to Summit Declarations only but through a South Asia regional action plan involving a multi-pronged approach.

Article 10(2) of the SAARC Charter excludes bilateral and contentious issues from the deliberations in the Summit, but given the commonality and inter-linkages of the problem of terrorism in almost all the member states, the 18th SAARC Summit must take up the issue and come up with a more comprehensive and region-specific policy to break the vicious cycle of terror in the region.

As the real problem with SAARC is political and not institutional, the member-states must keep aside their political differences for a common cause in their quest for speedy socio-economic development in the 21st century.

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