The rise of ISIS has exponentially increased the threat of terrorism, with significant domestic security consequences for both countries.
Brookings India in collaboration with the Australian High Commission hosted a private roundtable discussion with the Australian Attorney General, Senator George Brandis QC on October 27, 2015. The lunch discussion was moderated by Dr. W.P.S. Sidhu, Non-Resident Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings India.
The roundtable discussion, held at the Australian High Commission, also featured Member of Parliament Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Senior Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation, Sushant Sareen, and the Prime Minister’s especial envoy on Countering Terrorism and Extremism, Asif Ibrahim, as guest speakers.
The discussion focused around the converging strategic outlook of Australia and India and shared challenges such as counter-terrorism, countering radicalisation and the rise of the Islamic State and foreign fighters. The roundtable was attended by senior journalists, academics and members of the diplomatic and intelligence communities.
India and Australia have both grappled with domestic terrorism for decades now. The rise of the deadly Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has exponentially increased this threat with significant domestic security consequences for both countries.
Australia has been more affected by the rise of ISIS and its propaganda efforts in comparison to India. According to Australian government sources, at least 150 Australians are fighting alongside ISIS in the Middle East, while about the same number are believed to be supporting ISIS from within Australia. In contrast, only about 20 Indians have been reported fighting for ISIS, despite India’s considerably larger Muslim population.
Terrorist groups have traditionally found it difficult to recruit in India. Even at the height of terrorist activities in the South Asian region in the 1990s, very few Indian Muslims were reportedly fighting in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nevertheless, the rise of ISIS presents significant unfamiliar challenges for both India and Australia.
ISIS has managed to make effective use of the internet and the media to penetrate into households and recruit sympathisers to its cause in large numbers. An important departure from an earlier trend has been the exodus of educated youth from middle-income groups joining terrorist groups like ISIS. The economic argument for terrorism which claims that disenchanted youth from lower income groups are more prone to terrorist acts, is fast being shattered by the Islamic State’s recruitment patterns.
During the discussion there was a general consensus that the counter-terrorism response by governments should not only consist of law enforcement and hard security measures. The strategy of “degrade and destroy” is unlikely to be effective in the long run because terrorism is inherently a political problem with ideological roots and not just an instance of criminal behaviour.
Therefore, counter-terrorism efforts need to include a combination of conscious political decisions, social engagement as well as law enforcement. An example of positive social engagement by local community and religious leaders were the fatwas or edicts issued against terrorism in 2008 and again in 2013 by over a thousand Muslim clerics in India. There is some debate on the direct impact of these fatwas and their effectiveness in directly discouraging youth from joining terrorist groups. However, these fatwas are generally observed to have a positive impact on the public discourse against terrorism, while also encouraging positive interpretations of theological and religious texts which in turns prevents radicalisation of youth.
The international response to countering terror has largely been concentrated on the law enforcement aspect. Along with that, bilateral and multilateral cooperation on intelligence sharing can be an effective solution in dealing with cross-national threats. There are several joint working groups on terrorism that many countries around the world participate in. However, their effectiveness so far has been uncertain.
There is also a comprehensive convention on terrorism being debated at the United Nations but there has not been much progress, given the slow nature of UN processes.
In conclusion, a stronger bilateral intelligence sharing mechanism and greater exchange of social engagement strategies to counter radicalisation can form the basis of the Australia India Strategic Partnership announced in 2014 and can strengthen both countries’ responses to terrorism.
Brookings India in collaboration with the Australian High Commission hosted a private roundtable lunch discussion with the Australian Attorney General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC.
As senior Cabinet Minister, Senator Brand is the leader of the Australian Government in the Senate and has portfolio responsibility for national security and law enforcement. The discussion was chaired and moderated by Dr. WPS Sidhu, Non-Resident Senior Fellow on Foreign Policy, Brookings India.
The Australia India Strategic Partnership, announced in 2014, continues to deepen. Shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region are a platform for enhanced cooperation in the defence, security and strategic space. The lunch discussion focused on the converging strategic outlook of Australia and India and shared challenges such as counter-terrorism, countering radicalisation and the rise of the Islamic State and foreign fighters.
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