European experts and scholars at UNHRC: Terrorism in South Asia poses a threat to Nuclear Security in the region.

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Geneva: March 13, 2019. (PCP) The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) organized a successful Side-event titled, ‘Terrorism and Nuclear Security in South Asia’, during the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. A panel of academics, former diplomats and independent military researchers in the field of Terrorism and nuclear security deliberated upon the growing terrorism in the region and its implications for the nuclear security of South Asia and the world. The event was moderated by Mr. Junaid Qureshi, Director EFSAS, and was very well-attended by scholars, policy advisors, independent researchers, human rights activists, NGO representatives and diplomats.

Dr. Dorothée Vandamme, Research Assistant and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Louvain, Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts, the Genesys Network and EFSAS Research Fellow, analysed the recent terrorist attack in Pulwama in Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir and discussed how this horrendous incident has once again shown that the situation in South Asia is particularly volatile and could bring about irreversible perilous repercussions for the entire Indian subcontinent. According to her, Jammu & Kashmir-based terrorist groups have been used and will continue to be used as strategic assets by and for Pakistan’s asymmetric warfare against India. Dr. Vandamme argued that the links between the Pakistani Military establishment and the terrorist groups its sponsors, have been the result of several phenomena, namely its sympathy for the cause of these terrorist groups, the growing number of extremist elements within Pakistan’s armed forces and the ongoing mainstreaming of terrorists in the Pakistani political life for the purposes of ostensibly diffusing the threat that they represent, when in fact by doing so they are provided with a platform to express their extremist views in an institutionalized way.

Dr. Vandamme further examined the state of nuclear commandant control in Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine. She argued that Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear stockpile in the world today, which is a very concerning trend, since such development places special emphasis on tactical usage and miniaturisation of nuclear weapons. Meantime, it continues to be a very dangerous doctrine, since these battlefield weapons are under the control of theatre commanders, while Pakistan expresses willingness to use nuclear tactical weapons, even in the case of a conventional war with India. Overall, the risk of nuclear exchange comes from the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear structure is vulnerable to elements within the armed forces that have adopted an extremist ideology or those which sympathise with terrorists.

Dr. Antonio Giustozzi, an independent researcher, Visiting Professor at King's College London, Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and Associate Researcher at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, further analysed the ongoing terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the treat to security in South Asia. He provided a theoretical framework to the genesis of state-sponsored terrorism, arguing that internal conflicts are an important drive for terrorists, since in some countries clashes between various social factions and communities could provide fuel, which are used to ignite a spark of initiative for terrorists to penetrate. He highlighted how rival States try to exercise pressure on each other by sponsoring acts of terror, which can be observed both in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the purpose of destabilizing neighbouring States. He added that when jihadi organisations attempt to turn countries into battlefield for their personal and the State’s geostrategic objectives they need to corrupt local causes and jeopardize politics in order to build local constituencies, as the example of Jammu & Kashmir proves.

Mr. Timothy Foxley, an independent political and military researcher, former Senior Analyst for the British Ministry of Defence, the Swedish Ministry of Defence and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute discussed in-depth the future of the Taliban after the US troops withdrawal and the stemming implications for the stability of South Asia. Mr. Foxley explained how the nature of the US departure in 2014 has created an upsurge in fighting while the Taliban continues to benefit from safe havens in Pakistan. He added that while the US is impatient to withdraw, such withdrawal should be done coherently and with a long-term support strategy. Mr. Foxley underlined the fact that there have been numerous talks on the subject, yet they seem to be discussing a narrow slice of the pie: US withdrawal in exchange for the Taliban’s rejection of Al Qaeda and ISIS in the area, while the reality remains much more peculiar.

What happens in Afghanistan has a wider impact on the region; with or without the US, neighbouring countries see opportunities for military, political and economic gain. For example, Pakistan sees Afghanistan as an opportunity to thwart the activities of the other, while its relationship with the Taliban remains complicated, yet Pakistan will continue backing the Taliban as a means to shape Afghanistan into an ally and confront what they see as India’s expansionism. Mr. Foxley’s major concern remained the risk of thousands of experienced fighters suddenly being unemployed and seeking to join other terrorist fractions, moving east into (Indian Administered) Jammu & Kashmir, west into the Middle East and north into Central Asia. While expressing his pessimism about the future, he underlined that the prospects appear negative for Jammu & Kashmir as the region will have to brace itself for increased terrorists activities once the Taliban will find itself unemployed in Afghanistan. 

Mr. Marc Finaud, former French diplomat, former Chief of Staff of the Secretary-General of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and currently a Senior Programme Advisor at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, illuminated the Sino-Indo-Pak Nuclear Arch. He examined the evolution of nuclear weapons in South Asia and argued that the world is witnessing a new form of arms race - not for good or for increasing strategic stability, but on the contrary, to lower the threshold for nuclear war. He discussed the reality of this strategic triangle: India’s nuclear weapons have been in response to China’s nuclear while Pakistan built up its own because of India. In addition he added that while China maintains a no first use policy of nuclear weapons alongside with India, Pakistan imposes an uncertainty, since it clearly support a doctrine of first and even an early use policy in case of a conventional attack, which is a worrying and destabilising risk factor for the region.

The event was followed by a vibrant Q&A session, during which the audience and speakers engaged in a debate on issues pertaining to South Asia, terrorism and nuclear security. During the Q&A Session, Director of EFSAS, Mr. Junaid Qureshi, explained India’s strategic counter-terrorism attacks and the paradigm shift following the recent Pulwama attack. He argued that in the wake of the Pulwama attack and Pakistan’s subsequent airstrikes, it is evident that Pakistan is willing to go to war, and even threaten with the use of nuclear weapons, in order to protect terrorist organisations operating on its soil, which impose detrimental consequences for not only South Asia, but the entire globe.

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