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India must push anti-terror compact

In his address to the 69th UN General Assembly on September 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an appeal for the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). The CCIT is a proposed treaty to “bind together the existing framework (of counter-terrorism agreements) into a single system and deny safe haven to terrorists.”1

India took the initiative to pilot a draft CCIT in 1996, and it was only in 2007 that a draft that was acceptable to most countries emerged. 2 But the Ad Hoc Committee established in 1996 by General Assembly Resolution 51/210 has yet to gain a complete consensus on the CCIT.

This is peculiar, considering the global growth and frequency of terrorist activities over the past two decades. The recent rise of the multinational Islamic State in West Asia, the proliferation of terrorist groups in Africa and closer to home, and India’s own long struggles against Pakistan-sponsored groups, all indicate the rapid global growth of terrorism—which certainly requires a coordinated international response.

The issue is indeed an important part of bilateral and multilateral discussions, and terrorism is now a national security challenge for many countries. Oddly then, the world is still unable to agree on exactly how to define this brutal phenomenon. Perhaps that is inevitable when countries view terrorism through the lens of their own national and sub-national interests, rather than as a global problem.

The 1999 hijacking of IC-814, when India’s then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh travelled to Kandahar in Afghanistan to secure the release of 161 hostages in exchange for three terrorists who were in Indian jails, demonstrated India’s compulsions on the issue. At the time, the Indian government was overwhelmed in a dangerous neighbourhood, militancy in Jammu and Kashmir was at an all-time high, Pakistan was increasingly hostile, and the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Against this backdrop, negotiations on the Indian draft of the CCIT began at the 2000 UN General Assembly. But delegates disagreed on three main points:  the definitions of terrorism and terrorist offences, the role of state and non-state actors, and the scope of the CCIT and its relationship with other conventions that dealt with specific terror acts like bombings.

In the CCIT draft, acts of terror are framed in standard law-and-order terms. But one of the biggest areas of disagreement is the applicability of these definitions to the armed forces of a state or to movements for self-determination. Additionally, areas of overlap with international humanitarian law—which the Convention cannot overrule—further blur the lines, as in the case of the designation of non-combatants and activities undertaken by the military of a state in exercising its official duties.

Ironically, both the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—comprising 57 countries—and Israel are both opposed to the CCIT. While the OIC feels the draft does not adequately distinguish movements of self-determination from terrorism, Israel is against the convention because it opposes the idea of state-sponsored terrorism, perhaps as a result of its own actions.

The Ad Hoc Committee works on the basis of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”3  It rules out any attempt to “pick and choose particular provisions of the elements”4 which may unbalance the text.  As a result, there can be no agreement without a complete consensus on all the provisions of the CCIT.

After the September 2001 attacks in the U.S., and the West’s realisation that terrorism was knocking at its door, the UN Security Council appointed a Counterterrorism Committee (comprising the five permanent and 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council) and ratified conventions for the suppression of terrorist bombings and terror financing—but differences over the CCIT in its entirety remained.

Over the years, some countries have found points of convergence—such as the fact that all countries condemn terrorism—which were eventually encapsulated in the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006.5 The document safely avoids defining terrorism, choosing instead to rely on aphorisms like “terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group.”6

With the growing global footprint of terrorism—for example, 15,000 fighters from 80 different countries have reportedly joined the Islamic State in Syria7 (and India’s  experience with cross-border fighters in Kashmir makes this especially relevant to India), the UNSC on September 24 unanimously passed Resolution 2178.8

The resolution targets financiers—with economic sanctions against the country and use of force if necessary—of terrorist groups and fighters who travel from their own countries to conflict zones anywhere else in the world. Chapter 7 of the UN Charter makes it legally binding on all 193 members of the UN to abide by the Security Council’s resolutions.

Now, with the growing threat of the Islamic State in West Asia, the growth of jihadist groups like Boko Haram in Africa, concerns about Afghanistan falling into the hands of the Taliban after the NATO drawdown at the end of the year, and the U.S. finally naming terrorist groups in Pakistan9, the international community may be amenable to a global consensus on combating terrorism.

This is a good opportunity for India to push for the adoption of the CCIT. However, given the U.S.’s dependence on coalition partners from the OIC to combat the Islamic State, it is likely that the U.S. will share those countries’ reluctance to agree to the terms of the convention.

In the long run it might be more feasible to draft a further set of agreements based on various aspects of terrorism—such as those on bombings, financing and foreign fighters already agreed upon—than holding out for a global consensus in an ever-changing geopolitical matrix

Karan Pradhan is a Senior Researcher at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.

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1. United Nations, Legal committee urges conclusion of draft Comprehensive Convention

on International Terrorism, September 2012 < http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/gal3433.doc.htm>

2. Permanent Mission of India to the UN, India and United Nations Counter-terrorism <https://www.pminewyork.org/pages.php?id=1987>

3. United Nations General Assembly, Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism Ad Hoc Committee established by General Assembly resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996, 24 April 2012 <http://www.un.org/law/terrorism/>

4. United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee established by General Assembly resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996 – Sixteenth session, p.22, 15 May 2013 <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/68/37>

5. United Nations General Assembly, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 8 September 2006, 20 September 2006 <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/60/288>

6. Ibid, p. 2.

7. IIP Digital, U.S. Embassy, White House on Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Syria, Region, 24 September 2014 <http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2014/09/20140924308850.html>

8. United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2178(2014) Adopted by the Security Council at its 7272nd meeting, on 24 September 2014, 24 September 2014 <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2178%20(2014)>

9. Ministry of External Affairs, Joint Statement during the visit of Prime Minister to USA, 30 September 2014 <http://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/24051/Joint+Statement+during+the+visit+of+Prime+Minister+to+USA>