International security experts carried out intensive discussions in the "Chiefs of Police Conference of South Asia and neighbouring countries'', held in Dhaka from March 12-14, on several aspects and facets of terrorism and their effect on the geo-strategic paradigm. A comment by security expert Rohan Gunaratna that the ISIS had presence in Bangladesh and that it carried out the Holey Artisan Gulshan attack on July 01 last year - something the Bangladesh authorities have repeatedly denied - created some conroversy. The latest addition in this dynamics has been the cliam made by the US-based SITE, which monitors jihadist activities, that one terrorist of Bangladeshi origin, Neaz Morshed Raja, recently died in a suicide bombing terrorist attack in Tikrit, Iraq. His name was apparently in the missing list of 262 people prepared by RAB last year.
Our State Minister for Foreign Affairs and Inspector General of Police have both refuted the statement made by Gunaratna. They thought that Gunaratna, an academic, lacked practical information and had made his assumption on the basis of unverified facts. They pointed out that members of the militant groups, who had been taken into custody in Bangladesh, had indicated that they were followers of the new JMB. The IGP said that the homegrown militants, who had been involved in terrorist attacks within Bangladesh, had received militant training within the country.
Such controversies notwithstanding, the international conference of the poice chiefs has been an educational experience. Yu Chengtao, the DDG International Cooperation Department, MPS, China made some interesting observations. He said in a statement "ïn recent years, international counter-terrorism efforts have experienced a complicated situation. There has been an expansion of violent and extremist ideology in the world, showing a globalised, localised and networking trend. Terrorism has entered into a new period of low cost, high frequency with big casualties - across countries and regions in an organised form. Terrorist organisations with IS at the core are interacting and coordinating their criminal acts in the world."
Other participants also stated that while international terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda are still occupying space in the mainstream, self-radicalised terrorists are increasing in number. This is being facilitated through digitalisation and use of the social media. It was noted during discussion that there has been a gradual transformation in the methods adopted by terrorists in their attacks. Instead of bomb attacks, killing by firearms and hostage taking, emphasis is now increasingly given on slashing by knives and using of vehicles to crush innocent passers-by on roads. There has been an evolution in the creation and focusing on soft targets. Civilian targets like churches, mosques and airports are also being attacked. This is done to create panic and also to draw immediate media attention.
Such a dynamics was being assisted through the backflow of terrorist views from unstable Middle East. It was generally agreed that the ideological root cause of such violent extremism has been the effort by terrorist organisations to distort religious concepts for propagating violent extremist ideology through the social media. This process of misinterpretation is being partially helped by geopolitical conflicts as well as economic and social conflicts.
The Chinese government appears to have undertaken some practical steps in this regard. They have started a natioanl deradicalisation programme in China. Existing government organs, social organisations and religious groups have been made responsible for inter-active efforts towards economic development, amelioration of social life, reduction of poverty, ensuring basic education and promoting national religious harmony. This is being done to eradicate extremism from the roots. Such an approach is apparently paying dividends in rural China. In view of the success within the Chinese paradigm, it was suggested by Yu Chengtao that the international community "needs to be more determined to join hands, learn from each other's experience and enhance practical law enforcement cooperation to counter this threat".
The Chinese delegation suggested to the Interpol, whose Secretary General was present in the meeting, that it should further consolidate international cooperation through a General Assembly Resolution that would deal with "the making and spreading of violence and extremism through audio and video means". It was proposed that the Interpol General Secretariat seek cooperation with other organisations, particularly the Internet Cooperation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This would enhance the possibility of putting an end to the internet dissemination of violence and terrorism inciting programmes from its source. This would also encourage law-enforcement agencies in the member-countries to provide relevant information to the IPSG (. IP Source Guard) for necessary verification by the ICANN. This, in turn, would help to prevent malicious materials from being released in the internet.
The Dhaka Declaration issued on March 14 after the conclusion of the conference underlined the important objectives of the meeting: (a) strengthening existing relationship among law-enforcement agencies and relevant organisations of the world, (b) crafting of a regional strategy to combat violent extremism and other types of transnational crimes, (c) increasing the practice of exchanging information and sharing of best practices among law enforcement agencies and (d) developing a common platform to cooperate in prompt, effective and prolific manner at times of need to fight terrorism and transnational crime.
It appears that these objectives were chosen becasue of the need for countries within the sub-region, the region and also in the broader context to develop actionable strategies and integrated approaches that would usher in more professionalism and efficiency in the common fight against transnational crimes. This effort would also target the problems associated with human trafficking, financial crimes, offences related to terrorist financing, drug and illegal small arms smuggling.
These facets gain in importance because transnational organised criminals act conspiratorially in their criminal actvities and posses certain characteristics, which according to analysts may include, but not be limited to: (a) the violent activities that they commit or acts which are likely to intimidate, or make actual or implicit threats to do so; (b) exploiting differences between countries to further their objectives, enriching their organisation, expanding its power, and/or avoiding detection/apprehension; (c) attempting to gain influence in government, politics and commerce through corrupt as well as legitimate means; (d) economic gain as their primary goal, not only from patently illegal activities but also from investment in legitimate businesses; and (e) attempting to insulate both their leadership and membership from detection, sanction and/or prosecution through their organizational structure.
Transnational organised crime has been identified as one of the ten threats and challenges to international peace and security by the United Nations High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. An Ad-hoc Committee has been established by the United Nations General Assembly to deal with this issue through the adoption of regulatory arrangements aimed at identifying, defining and linking them to domestic criminal offences. This prospect includes the possibility of mutual legal assistance, extradition, law-enforcement cooperation, technical assistance and training.
Aside from mechanisms for the return of fugitives, states have also developed mechanisms for requesting and obtaining evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions. When evidence or other forms of legal assistance, such as witness statements or the service of documents, are needed from a foreign sovereign State, the requesting States may attempt to cooperate informally through their respective police agencies or, alternately, resort to what is typically referred to as requests for "mutual legal assistance". This process has developed from the comity-based system of letters rogatory, but presently it has become more common to make mutual legal assistance requests directly to the designated "Central Authorities" within each State. This is normally done on the basis of reciprocity but may also be made pursuant nto bilateral and multilateral treaties that obligate countries to provide assistance. We in South Asia can also benefit from the manner in which Europe and Latin America are slowly solving their challenges.
Consequently, it was encouraging to see that the Dhaka Conference was able to agree on various areas of cooperation among the law enforcement agencies, including (a) promoting cooperation among respective investigators and prosecutors with a view to prosecuting offenders involved in terrorism and transnational crimes; (b) establishing IT network with the relevant countries for sharing information on how to curb violent extremism and transnational crime; (c) promoting cooperation among forensic science laboratories and training institutions; (d) strengthening and enhancing capabilities on how to act against money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, cybercrime and financial crime; (e) enhancing cooperation to prevent smuggling of illegal arms from being obtained by terrorist groups and other criminal networks and (f) organising joint training programmes for sharing best practices and exchanging ideas among law enforcement agencies.
One can only express satisfaction with the efforts undertaken during the meeting. One hopes, however, that in the future the relevant authorities will also give additional attention to (a) initiating dialogue towards the stemming of the flow of dangerous counterfeit products and (b) urging the United Nations to not only promoting quicker and more effective implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime but also developing an appropriate review mechanism.
The writer, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information
and good governance.