By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, April 16: Sri Lanka’s decision to ban 11 militant organizations including the two international Islam terrorist groups, the Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda and nine local religious and social organizations linked to terrorism has been welcomed by many countries in South Asia faced with dire threats from radicals and fundamentalists.
The move, made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), was “in furtherance of the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka made in good faith for the purpose of ensuring the continuance of peace within the country,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.
The Gazette notification stated that any person proven to be linked to such proscribed terrorist organizations would face up to 20 years in jail.
As some of the banned groups have strong links to terror outfits in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Indian law enforcement bodies have taken several precautionary measures to prevent any violent repercussions in India. Heightened security measures have been put in place, especially in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, to prevent possible intrusion of members of the banned religious fundamentalist outfits into Sri Lanka. Security has also been intensified at airports with international arrivals.
Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP) J.K. Tripathy has instructed Commissioners and Superintendents of Police to be vigilant as the banning of 11 terror groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Sri Lanka could have its repercussions in India, especially in Tamil Nadu. Members of the outlawed organizations were extremists or terrorists trained to thrive underground and the likely asylum of most cadres was Tamil Nadu, considering its geographical proximity and willing patronage, he said.
DGP Tripathy said fishing boats could also ferry extremists across the Bay of Bengal. Pointing out that local sympathizers might facilitate logistics for their travel, he said the extremists, after finding shelter in the State, might continue to indulge in nefarious activities against Sri Lanka from Indian soil.
The Tamil Nadu Police Chief directed senior police officers to step up the intelligence machinery and intensify surveillance across the State to prevent religious fundamentalists from setting up bases in Tamil Nadu. A few fundamentalist organizations such as the National Thowheeth Jamath that were earlier banned by the Sri Lankan Government were keeping in touch with the Thowheeth Jamath of India, he said.
Sri Lankan security officials will extend their fullest cooperation to their Indian counterparts as the top professionals in charge of security in the two countries have underlined the imperative need for close cooperation and sharing of intelligence information to curb the common threats of terrorism, religious fundamentalism and drug and human smuggling.
The close collaboration between the intelligence institutions came to light when the Indian intelligence services repeatedly warned Sri Lankan law enforcement authorities about the impending terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists on April 21 2019 Easter Sunday.
It is a fact that intelligence agents of powerful countries often infiltrate underground movements to keep a close tab on their operations and strategies and they share intelligence information when it is necessary to prevent major terrorist attacks that could be detrimental to national interests. Despite the advance warnings by Indian intelligence services, the incompetent Sri Lankan officials failed to take preventive action. The Presidential Commission that probed the Easter Sunday attacks recommended the banning of institutions and organizations involved in terrorism and religious violence and fundamentalism.
A top-level Indian and Sri Lankan security dialogue has been initiated. In the last session earlier this month, the two countries decided to strengthen the existing cooperation mechanisms and designated ‘nodal points’ for timely and effective handling of existing as well as emerging security challenges. The two delegation heads, Director of Indian Intelligence Bureau Arvind Kumar and the Sri Lankan IGP C.D. Wickramaratne agreed to work jointly against the terrorist entities including the global terrorist groups and fugitives, wherever they are present and active.
While appreciating each other’s ongoing action against extremist cells, drug traffickers and other organized criminals operating across the Palk Strait, the two sides emphasized the need for sharing of real-time intelligence and feedback of information on terrorist groups and fugitives wherever they are present and active.
They noted that Sri Lanka’s decision to ban 11 Islamic radical organizations, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda, for their links to extremist activities, was a welcome move. As both countries are faced with a major security risk from Islamic militants, the talks were focused on the need to share intelligence information on radical organizations.
Indian and Sri Lankan security officials also looked into the links between militant groups in the two countries. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other Tamil and Islamic groups had established links with many radical groups in India and other countries. Recently Indian security officials confirmed that Naxalite leader Basava Raju who masterminded an attack on Indian security forces killing 22 soldiers in Chhattisgarh in February 2021, was trained in a LTTE camp in 1987. Although the Sri Lankan armed forces defeated the LTTE in 2009 and killed its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Naxalites are still active in several parts of Central India. Top two leaders of the Naxalite movement Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal died, but the LTTE-trained Basava Raju maintains the militant group as the most powerful rebel outfit in India.
Indian author Kocheri C. Shibu said in a recent interview that the operations of the LTTE were spread well beyond the subcontinent to the far corners of the world. He said that suicide terrorism as a weapon was taken by the LTTE to unimaginable levels by motivating cadres to give up their life for a cause. Islamic terrorists also cause maximum damage by using suicide bombers.
A main hindrance for effective control of cross border terrorism in South Asia is the lack of a regional mechanism due to major political differences between India and Pakistan. Although the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could have developed its own security mechanism to deal with security issues, it did not materialize due to the differences between Islamabad and New Delhi.
A top expert on strategic studies, Professor Amal Jayawardane said South Asia should learn lessons from the experiences of other regions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) provides a model for a comprehensive and common security organization for Europe. Other regions have also developed mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The OSCE has a very complex structure, and as a beginner, SAARC may not yet be ready to have such an elaborate network. However, SAARC can emulate the example of the ASEAN Regional Forum. If such a “formal security mechanism” can be established, it will enhance the operational capability of SAARC to deal effectively with terrorism, Prof Jayawardane stated in his paper “Building Stronger Partnershisp to Prevent Terrorism,” presented at a conference organized by the Centre on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation in Washington DC.
Because of the SAARC deadlock, member countries focus on other regional bodies in which issues such as terrorism, cross border crimes, drug trafficking, and arms smuggling could be dealt with. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are members of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Five South Asian countries (India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka) are members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) whose Chair is currently held by Sri Lanka. BIMSTEC is planning to host its Summit in August, probably in-person.
What is essential is the political desire of the leaders of all major countries in South Asia to cooperate wholeheartedly to eliminate the menace of terrorism in all forms, which is the biggest threat to peace and development of the entire region.