39th Session UNHRC: Side-event organized by EFSAS on 'Preventing and Combating Growing Terrorism in South Asia'
The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) organized a unique and very well-attended Side-event titled, ‘Preventing and Combating Growing Terrorism in South Asia’, during the 39th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. A panel of academics and experts in the field of Terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies highlighted the growing phenomenon of extremism in South Asia and discussed measures necessary to prevent this menace. The event was moderated by Mr. Junaid Qureshi, Director EFSAS, and was attended by scholars, experts, human rights activists, NGO representatives and diplomats.
Dr. Paul Stott, Lecturer at the University of Leicester and in the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London and Research Fellow of EFSAS, discussed a range of issues primarily focusing on Pakistan’s strategic interests and the flaws of the recent report on Jammu & Kashmir by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). He argued that Pakistan has always viewed India as an everlasting enemy, while also trying to create the impression that the country itself does not face any challenges, and maintain its influence over the government of Afghanistan. Dr. Stott discussed many of the analytical and methodological flaws found in the recently published report and the implications that had not been expressed, as well as the fact that the Report only covers the situation in Jammu & Kashmir during the period of June 2016 till April 2018. One key error highlighted was the lack of evidence based on physical ‘on the ground’ evidence, as the author did not visit any part of Jammu & Kashmir, while he focused his report very much towards picking out issues in Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir while virtually disregarding issues in Pakistan Administered and Chinese Administered Jammu & Kashmir. Dr. Stott argued that it was very easy to launch a remotely monitored report on the countries that are easiest to criticize, as there is a flow of information from Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir while on the other side in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir, such a flow of information is non-existent as it is harder to ask questions and develop intelligence in Pakistan, where civil society and democratic institutions are weaker.
Another key issue raised was lack of appropriate terminology used for Terrorist organizations in the report. According to him, this issue is prominent in the OHCHR report on Kashmir where terrorist groups have been mischievously referred to as ‘armed’ groups. He highlighted this reference as an immense understatement of the differing groups’ actions in the region and stressed that ironically the UN OHCHR report referred to groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taibah and Jaish-e-Muhammed as ‘armed’ groups, which are designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations, thereby erroneously neutralizing and pacifying the language of terrorism. In order to illuminate the role of these groups in Jammu & Kashmir, Dr. Stott quoted General Musharraf’s (Former President of Pakistan and Retired Army Chief) admissions made in November 2017, in which he said that the Lashkar-e-Taibah was involved in Kashmir and that the war in Kashmir was between Pakistan and India, while the General admitted that he had always been in favour of action in Kashmir and that the Lashkar-e-Taibah was the biggest force who could suppress the Indian army in Kashmir. Dr. Stott stressed that the conflict in Kashmir was Pakistan’s proxy war and this should have been identified as such in the said Report, whereas the OHCHR recommendations avoid this subject. Dr. Stott also explored the fundamental omission of the involvement of China in Jammu & Kashmir in the Report. He emphasized how China growing influence in Jammu & Kashmir and the wider region carries negative implications to the resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir conflict. Dr. Stott concluded by stating that the real winner from the OHCHR Report are not the people of Jammu & Kashmir, but the Pakistani State.
Dr. Dorothée Vandamme from the University of Louvain, the Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts and Research Fellow at the Genesys Network, discussed thoroughly the influence of the Pakistani Army in politics and the mainstreaming of terrorist organizations in the electoral framework. According to her, the military power was engrained since the formation of the country in the 1940’s, thus ratifying the establishment as the only institution which supposedly could hold the country together, resulting in the military remaining the strongest entity within the State. She emphasized the proximity between Rawalpindi and Islamabad, which illustrates how the Military establishment has an easy physical access to political decision making institutions in Pakistan, which subsequently results in the Army’s direct control of State affairs. She further argued that in order to grasp more power, the military has felt it necessary to enter mainstream politics through mainstreaming Terrorists resulting in a ‘softer’ approach to power, rather than violence and enforced control. Nevertheless, she stressed the fact that mainstreaming those terrorists does not make them less radical, on the contrary, they maintain their violent extremist ideologies, while Pakistan provides them with a stage for action. Therefore, one should be aware that Pakistan is a country, where radicalization and extremism is very much present and giving more space to these extremists voices will increase the risk of radicalization. Ms. Vandamme afterwards discussed the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, stating that though he first was critical of the military regime in Pakistan, he quickly realized that if he wanted to gain a momentum, he would need the backing of the military, which eventually has resulted in him becoming a marionette of the Army. Dr. Vandamme asserted that his election will not change the context in Pakistan, including the region of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir as it is the Pakistan’s Army’s vested interest to remain the strongest institution in the country. She elaborated her stand by saying that Jammu & Kashmir based terrorist groups will continue being used by the Pakistan Army as strategic assets in Pakistan’s asymmetric war against India. Dr. Vandamme concluded her speech by explaining the complex and strange relation between China and Pakistan, saying that China is vying to be a superpower and is now Pakistan’s next lifeline which will result in the Chinese exerting pressure as due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and the growing tension in Xinjiang, both China and Pakistan have a lot to lose in Pakistan. This has resulted in the fact that China provides funds to Pakistan, which has deeply intertwined the future of Pakistan, Beijing and the wider region of South Asia.
Mr. Jason Wiseman, Special Advisor to the Committee on Terrorism in the EU Parliament, Research Analyst at the NATO Association of Canada and Former General Secretary of the Atlantic Treaty Association, described in-depth the counter-terrorism strategies that the EU member States need to deploy in order to combat the spread of violent extremism. He highlighted three main topics throughout his speech: "the approach that member States adopt against terrorism, the current threat environment in Europe, and the actions the EU and NATO undertake in order to address this threat". According to Mr. Wiseman, the terrorism phenomenon carries two main factors, namely the motivational and operational capabilities necessary to commit terrorist activities. Therefore, in order to be effective in countering terrorism, countries and counter-terrorism strategies need to counter both the motivational and operational capacities of terrorist groups and individual terrorists. Mr. Wiseman further argued that combating terrorism should happen preemptively and preventively, since the deterrent factor is essential to ceasing extremist groups’ mission. He reiterated that the centralization of information and coordination are essential elements, as otherwise military establishments, law enforcement agencies, criminal justice bodies and politicians would fail to respond to the devastating repercussions of terrorism and radicalization. Another major concern discussed by Mr. Wiseman was the disperse of foreign fighters and the setting up of new safe heavens and war zones. He proposed that European counter terrorism officials need to re-orientate their strategies and tactics to address the rise of terrorism, which takes place across the globe. Mr. Wiseman also explained how NATO and the EU are currently working on combined political, financial, operational and logistical programs in the prevention, containment, joint training exercises, reintegration, penitentiary system reforms and deradicalization efforts. He argued how the primary long-term strategic objectives for NATO and the EU is the projection of stability, both within, and beyond the transatlantic community. Mr. Wiseman concluded by putting forward numerous recommendations for strengthening EU’s counter-terrorism capacity, among which he highlighted the intelligence sharing by national security agencies, the formulation of joint investigation teams, the initiation of regular joint training exercises and the establishment of joint procurement funds aiming at outfitting, modernizing and training counter terrorism units while he emphasized that EU nations should adopt counter-terrorism strategies, which strengthen the EU members cooperation and enhance their operational capabilities in order to disrupt terrorist activities and apprehend terrorist operatives themselves.
The event was followed by a vibrant Q&A session, during which the audience and speakers engaged in a debate on issues pertaining to South Asia and Terrorism. During the Q&A Session, Director of EFSAS, Mr. Junaid Qureshi, thoroughly discussed the OHCHR Report on Jammu & Kashmir and explained its methodological, factual and analytical errors, alongside with making recommendations for required steps that the EU and UN should undertake to counter growing terrorism emanating from Pakistan in the region.