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The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is steadfast in combating terrorism and extremism within the region. The SCO member states have cooperated on counter-terrorism efforts, sharing intelligence and conducting joint military exercises to enhance their collective security. The SCO has established the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) to facilitate information exchange and coordinate joint counter-terrorism operations among member states. The RATS is designed to identify and disrupt terrorist networks and prevent the spread of extremist ideologies. In addition, the group has signed bilateral and multilateral agreements with other international organisations and countries to strengthen its counter-terrorism capabilities. For instance, the SCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNO in 2018 to enhance their cooperation in fighting against terrorism.
The SCO also supports efforts to address the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty, inequality, and political instability. The organisation has called for greater cooperation on economic and social development, education, and cultural exchange to promote regional peace and stability. The SCO’s resolve to fight terrorism is crucial to its mission to advance regional security and stability. The organisation’s efforts to strengthen cooperation among member states and address the root causes of extremism demonstrate its commitment to preventing terrorism and promoting peace.
The latest SCO defence ministers meeting concluded on 28 Apr 2023. After discussions, all the SCO member countries signed a protocol articulating their shared will to make the region secure, peaceful and prosperous. The Hon’ble Defence Minister of India Sh Rajnath Singh stipulated joint efforts to safeguard regional prosperity while dealing with present-day challenges. He stressed the need to make the SCO robust as a more vibrant & active organisation in line with evolving threats. “It is our moral responsibility to start a new journey of development in the region through cooperation, harmony and respect,” he said. Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane reported that all the member nations agreed on several areas of cooperation, including dealing with terrorism, the security of vulnerable populations in various countries, and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). He stated that all were unanimous in their statements that terrorism, in all its forms, must be condemned and eliminated. He expressed confidence that many areas recognised for cooperation will see action in the times to come, and India, as the SCO chair, will lead from the front in ensuring a safe and secure future for the region and the world.
The issue of terrorism also came for discussion during the SCO-NSA meeting on 29 Mar 2023 in New Delhi. While addressing the meeting India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said that terrorism in all its forms and financing is the most severe threat to international peace and security.
Terrorism is one of the most severe challenges to global peace and security. It is a worldwide phenomenon which seeks to disrupt the smooth functioning of societies by demonstrating that governments of the day are not in a position to provide the basic security measures to their citizens.
On 11 Sep 2001, international terrorism traversed the Rubicon and was rendered unrecognisable following the attacks on the US. In the intensity of these terrorist attacks, the target chosen, the boldness of terrorists, the secrecy surrounding the organisers and perpetrators and subtle planning, all conventions and conflict rules were shattered, and boundaries were crossed—all these rendered international terrorism an immediate, tangible, existential threat to the worldwide community. Terrorism is no longer a local problem to be dealt with by one country or another. Instead, it has become an unparalleled danger to world peace and security. This magnified threat left the world divided and confused.
Terrorism has become a common issue with SCO member states. Terrorism remains a security challenge for Central Asia that policymakers must approach critically and take seriously. The widespread corruption among local officials and repressive law enforcement are generating grievances that have fueled extremist recruitment.
India and Central Asia share the common threat of terrorism just by virtue of sharing borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. India has been the victim of cross-border terrorism since the ’80s. Thousands of innocent lives have been lost, and India calls for global action. India has been fighting the outburst of terrorism, concerned mainly about religious extremism, for many years.
Nowadays, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have also begun to feel the heat of a surfeit of terrorism-linked activities. Terrorist groups in these republics have been bolstered by religious extremist infiltrations. Since the USSR’s dissolution, Central Asia has experienced a major rise in fundamentalist activities. All Central Asian republics—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan —have seen a rapid increase in terrorism, especially religious terrorism.
The growing threat of violence has led the CARs to cooperate among themselves and seek the help of like-minded countries to evolve a framework of cooperation to contain the movement of terrorists and arms. In this regard, convergence between India and the CARs could be arrived at on the issue of terrorism led by religious fundamentalists, which is best exemplified by the Afghanistan-Pakistan complex, exporting men and material not only to India but also to Central Asian Republics and the world over. Thus, nations have to look beyond their boundaries with a shared vision to stem the growth of this phenomenon.
The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure was set up to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism on 15 June 2001. RATS is a standing SCO body located in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic. The Executive Committee of RATS of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Its main tasks and duties could be summed as under:
- Maintaining working relations with competent institutions of the member states and international organisations tackling fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism.
- Assistance in interaction among the member states in preparation and staging of counter-terrorism exercises at the request of concerned member states, practice and conduct of search operations and other activities related to terrorism.
- Drafting of international legal documents concerning terrorism.
- Collection and analysis of information coming to the RATS from the member states.
- Joint formation of a system for an effective response to global challenges and threats posed by terrorism.
The world must face the problem. The acid test of the sincerity of purpose is not words but deeds. Terrorism and dialogue do not go together. Countries should cooperate and work closely to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons by adopting an International Programme of Action of Agreed Measures–as outlined by the late Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the UN Millennium Summit. The SCO provides an excellent platform to fight terrorism at regional as well as international terrorism.
Conclusion: The SCO provides a platform for India to highlight the menace of terrorism as India and Central Asian Republics are often victims of terrorism-overtly and covertly aided and abetted by Pakistan. India has civilisational, cultural, and spiritual links with CARs, and they trust India’s soft-power skills.
The RATS of the SCO addresses critical regional security challenges, including terrorism, separatism and extremism. It is already focusing on creating a unified register of terrorist and extremist organisations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of the SCO member countries within SCO RATS. This is a promising start indeed.
India has expressed considerable interest in broadening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), which deals explicitly with issues relating to security and defence.
There is a need to enhance coordination among the SCO-member states to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism, and India can take the lead. Presently. India is holding the presidency of SCO, which is an excellent opportunity to expose countries exporting terrorism and blunt the threat it poses.