War against Terrorism: Its Fuller Dimensions

21 May, 2002    ·   757

PR Chari argues for a multi-dimensional approach to deal with the problem of terrorism

Why did the United States stitch together an international coalition before launching its war against terrorism in Afghanistan ? The short answer is that the U.S. is aware that international terrorism reflects the downside of globalization, and the war against it cannot be waged unless the cooperation of the international community is procured. 



The bombing of a church in Islamabad and the suicide attack upon the French technicians in Karachi dramatically testifies to the al Qaeda presence in Pakistan . Their network extends across 50-60 countries. Terrorist organizations are flourishing in several other parts of the world. It would be impossible to counter them unless the international community unites to address this problem. Some immediacy is therefore required to urgently address the draft comprehensive international convention against terrorism placed before the United Nations; hopefully the compromises needed for its adoption will not eviscerate its basic content. The working document submitted by India enjoins State Parties to include the causing of death or serious bodily injury, and damage to State facilities, public transportation systems, communication facilities or infrastructure as criminal offences under their domestic laws, irrespective of their purported political, ideological, ethnic or religious nature.  Significantly, if an aggrieved State Party makes such a request, the State Party in which the suspect is residing is obliged to weigh the evidence and prosecute offenders under its domestic laws, unless it decides to extradite them in terms of any prior agreement subsisting between two or more State Parties. 



It bears reiteration that a convention to tackle international terrorism must be anchored on State Parties enacting domestic legislation to deal with the criminal offences listed therein, with additional provisions to either prosecute or extradite identified offenders against whom a prima facie case is made out. Thus far nations have not undertaken these seemingly non-controversial measures. On the contrary, the aiding and abetment of cross-border terrorism has become an instrument of foreign policy in South Asia, despite the fact that these countries have suffered grievous loss of lives and property due to terrorism – domestic, cross-border and international. Aware of its threat to national security, however, they had concluded the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism in August 1988, which incorporated several of the general principles listed in a UN General Assembly Resolution passed as far back as December 1985. The SAARC Convention established a mutually accepted code for dealing with transnational political terrorism. But its failure to achieve any tangible results over the years is traceable to the lack of political will in the South Asian countries to act either unilaterally or bilaterally or multilaterally, despite the knowledge that cross-border terrorism can be greatly exacerbated by external manipulation. Several of these countries have yet to bring their domestic laws into conjunction with the provisions of the Convention although more than a decade has passed since it was adopted.



There are many other concrete steps that the South Asian countries could take at the declaratory and substantive levels to deal with the problem of terrorism in the region. This would include: unequivocal condemnation of terrorist activities; harmonization of domestic legislation dealing with terrorism; intelligence-sharing by exchanging “look-out lists” of wanted terrorists fleeing across national frontiers; and sharing experience about anti-terrorist operations and techniques. The recently concluded SAARC Summit declaration in Kathmandu has pledged them to fight terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations including by increased cooperation and full implementation of the relevant international conventions relating to terrorism”, and “to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts by criminalizing the collections of funds for such acts and refraining from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts in States or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission  of such acts”. These pious declarations will remain empty rhetoric unless credible steps are taken by the SAARC countries to implement them.



The history of the last decade has shown that, with the passage of time and availability of foreign assistance, a steady improvement has occurred in the competence of terrorist groups. This makes their suppression by State entities, acting individually, increasingly difficult. Besides a nexus gets established between terrorism – national and international – and plainly criminal activity like human trafficking, extortion rackets, kidnapping for ransom and so on. International terrorism is also linked with, but also exacerbates, the allied transnational problems of small arms proliferation, drugs trafficking, money laundering and organized international crime. All these nefarious activities must be proceeded against if the war against terrorism is to succeed. The root causes underlying terrorism, however, lie in various protests against injustices in national and international polity. They need being seriously addressed in the war against terrorism, instead of dealing only with its outer manifestations.