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Terrorism in South Asia

The domestic and regional political and geopolitical environment of South Asia and the world as a whole has become highly volatile. With each passing day, new problems are constantly emanating and disturbing peace within societies and their surrounding regions, thus going beyond their respective boundaries and regions. These violent and aggressive challenges are forcing governments to reshape their policies. The reason for this instability is terrorism, which is quite a complex phenomenon. Now, with more terrorist activities, conventional warfare is going out of vogue and political violence and terrorism have instead taken its place. This plague of terrorism has had an adverse impact on not only domestic political and social structures in South Asia, but also has heavy economic costs.
In direct terms, there are high human casualties, destruction of infrastructure, factories and standing crops, and stoppage of economic activities, but the indirect costs are even higher. It also has an impact on education, and the consequent inability to attract foreign investment, brain drain, enhanced military expenditure, high transaction costs, which leads to economic distortions.
The cause of persistent existence of terrorism is all due to the substantial difference in the living standards and the varied cultures, ethnicity or religion. Most of the internal security crises that plague South Asian states have a cross-border dimension, and many are inter-related. However, what is important is to note that each one of them has an India-centric dimension. The Maoist insurgency in Nepal, the persistent ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, the increasing use of Bangladeshi territory by Islamist extremists, the proliferation of small arms, and the danger of drug trafficking, each has significant transnational dimensions. Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal also continue to engage with the problem of having to deal with terrorist and extremist organizations, as well as revolutionary elements based on their soil, which are all operated against India. The region, therefore, remains politically volatile. There are ethno-religious problems in India, in particular in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Maoist insurgency in Nepal, Tamil problem in Sri Lanka, series of bomb attacks in Bangladesh, each with a set of different security implications for the region. All these have drawn attention in recent times. The regionís proximity to Afghanistan is also an important factor to be considered in this regard. Taliban and al Qaeda cadres in Afghanistan move across their countryís frontier at will.
Some groups have shelters across the frontiers. Insurgents in Indiaís northeast frequently escape through porous borders into Burma or Bangladesh. Sri Lankan Tamil militants cross the narrow Palk Straits separating their island from south India in boats, despite Indian naval patrols. In J&K, hilly and difficult terrain has been exploited for years for trans-border movement of terrorists and militants. The growth of trans-border terrorism in South Asia carries an inherent danger of extremists inflicting casualties on people of different nationality or ethnic identity.
Unfortunately, besides the non-state actors, state terrorism is another form of terrorism in South Asia. Separatist violence in Occupied Kashmir has increased in recent months. New Delhi consistently blames Pakistan-based militant groups for lethal attacks on Indian civilians, as well as on government security forces, in both Kashmir and in major Indian cities. India holds Pakistan responsible for providing material support and training facilities to Kashmiri militants.
South Asian countries have used military forces to deal with terrorism. This is shown by the use of force by all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations troubled with terrorism at different times. India uses military force to contain terrorism. It used uneven force in terms of heavy weapons or air power to deal with different insurgencies. Mizoram and the Chittagong Hill Tract accord are two recent examples of it. A number of ceasefires in India and other SAARC countries with the militant groups took place, but it failed to bring sustainable peace to the region.
Norwayís mediation in the Sri Lanka peace process is another example. Norway was invited as a mediator by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The intervention, however, failed to produce any tangible result. In 2001, Norway was re-invited as a third party mediator by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe. The peace dialogue continues, the strands of which have been picked up by President Chandrika Kumaratunga under the Tsunami relief plan. Although many rounds of peace talks have been held with representatives both from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government; the process has failed to produce lasting results.
Quite dismayingly, the governments in South Asia have taken very little initiative to combat terrorism in their respective countries, either individually or collectively. Use of military force alone will not be sufficient, as this issue needs to be addressed collectively. A common strategy is suggested as the countries of South Asia share many commonalties with respect to history, tradition, culture, religion and other spheres of life and they can share their experience within the framework of SAARC. In South Asia, over the years, the media has played a negative role in fuelling various kinds of political violence, communalism, jingoism and terrorism through propaganda and publicity. Identifying the root causes of negative perceptions about various ethnic groups and religions through creating new ideas and avenues may help the South Asian region to make a concerted effort to fight terrorism and religious extremism.
Moreover, it can be stated that states in most of the South Asian countries have failed to ensure the basic needs of their citizenry, which has resulted in the creation of several dissatisfied groups in their respective societies.
Whatever the causes, the international system has come under great stresses, strains and uncertainties. Political violence and its adjunct, terrorism, is a complex global phenomenon with tangled factors at play. In the aftermath of September 11, the focus of the international community has shifted to this region due to an increasing influence of numerous religious extremist and terrorist activities in the region.
The 9/11 events should not sidetrack or detour genuine and legitimate political movements around the world. On this pretext, Pakistan is fully cooperating with the international community to tackle the deadly threats of terrorism and violence.
As a leading country in a just war against global terrorism, Pakistan believes that larger cooperation in security and defense with other countries and regions, with tolerance and enlightened moderation, with the strengthening of democracies and human rights, with the minimization of political differences and with the maximization of economic benefits, we can overcome this deadly inhuman threat of terrorism and violence.
South Asia has failed to emerge, even after half a century of independence, from catastrophic intra-national divisions and conflicts. The people of South Asia need to engage urgently in this exercise. SAARC can play a vital role in this regard where it can work on firm bases and by doing this the South Asian region can make its way towards progress.

Posted on 29 Aug 2006 by mah123

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