In the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Summit held in Jakarta in March 2017,the Jakarta Concord which was arrived at during the Summit, committed IORA to countering terrorism in the region and establishing an IORA working group on maritime safety and security. The growing geo-political, geo-strategic, and geo-economic importance of the Indian Ocean Region. is well known. To many, the future of Asia lies in Indian Ocean, which is a rising giant, home to three billion people. Half of the world’s container ships travel through the Indian Ocean. It is the vital energy link between the Middle East and Asia. It is also the main shipping route between Asia and Europe. Therefore the global economy depends on the free flow of Indian Ocean traffic. Hence the security of Indian Ocean is of concern to all.
The greatest security challenge the region faces today comes from non-state actors, who engage in terrorism, both on land and at sea. We are witnesses to terrorist activities from the East African coast to South East Asia. Either terrorist groups are engaged in battles or attacking civilian target centres or others. During the last one and half decades, the threat has also spread to the maritime domain. This is a real threat in the Indian Ocean where maritime terrorism is now on par with land based terrorism. Maritime terrorism also has the capacity to disrupt global economy. Indian Ocean is well known for its choke points and a disruption in two chokepoints simultaneously will have far reaching consequences throughout the world.
Sri Lanka has been a victim of terrorism, and has witnessed terrorist attacks on its cities, conventional fighting in the North and the East and maritime terrorism. Thankfully, we brought terrorism to an end. We know how powerful non-state actors can be. Since the end of Sri Lanka’s terrorism, the technology used by terrorism has been upgraded and the number of non-state actors has multiplied. We are all familiar with the nature of terrorist threat on land. We must also recognise the importance of threat to the maritime security.
These non-state actors use the most modern technology in their attacks, a recent example being a small unmanned remote controlled boat being used against a Saudi Arabian warship by a group of Yemeni militants. Terrorists have also attached maritime infrastructure and in future, logistics of maritime infrastructure may face more frequent attacks.
The possibility of non-state actors hiding among the civilianmaritime traffic is a nightmare which we prefer not to think of. The complexities of maritime terrorism thus requires navies to rethink their roles on how to respond effectively and adequately against these non-state actors.
Systems destruction and the potential for deploying digital systematic terror is another growing threat in the Indian Ocean region commons. The digital sector is an emerging threat that needs careful study and smart solutions, whether it be in traditional terror financing or the encryption of messaging technology, which is emerging as trolls for terrorist organisations. Furthermore, the processing of global financial transactions, especially the billions of dollars of diaspora and global remittances which are transacted to their home countries around the Indian Ocean region, are replete with vulnerabilities of the electronic payment systems and their operators. Analysts demonstrate that these digital networks are beyond national control and are easily deployed for digitally enabled disruption associated with weapons of terror.
Counter-terrorism therefore needs close cooperation by all the states. One man’s terrorist cannot be treated as another man’s liberator. IORA’s declaration on preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism, is a good starting point for you all. The resolution requires the states to support each others’ efforts in countering terrorism and violent extremism to include enhancing cooperation and coordination of efforts, dialogues and sharing of information, expertise, best practices, lessons learnt and stemming the financing of terrorism. This must be done within the framework of UN resolutions against terrorism, ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism, and the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism. Close cooperation between regional countries is the only way in which counter terrorism measures can succeed.
(This article is a summary of the address made by H.E. Shri Ranil Wickremesinghe, Hon’ble Prime Minister of Sri Lanka at the inaugural session of Counter Terrorism Conference on 14th March, 2017 at New Delhi)