Grappling with security challenges posed by terrorism and transnational crimes, the seven member countries of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) are working out the nitty-gritty of building a common database.
For now, BIMSTEC members are busy thrashing out issues such as where the database will be based, who will have control of it and how access will be given to important and sensitive information. “The aim is to provide easy access to countries to enable them in their efforts to counter terrorism,” said sources.
The group dealing with the creation of this database is one of the many sub-groups that come under the ambit of the BIMSTEC Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (JWG-CTTC) that last met in Dhaka on August 13 and 14 this year.
The sub-group on intelligence sharing which is working on the creation of a database has Sri Lanka as its lead shepherd. The group is headed by the Chief of National Intelligence in Sri Lanka. Formed in 2013, the group has met at least three to four times in recent years. It’s slated to meet again in February next year.
The challenges posed by terrorism, extremism and radicalisation are among the regional security-related issues that are being discussed among member countries. The seriousness with which this issue is being dealt with is reflected in the regular meetings the national security chiefs of BIMSTEC countries have had in recent times.
They met for the first time on March 21, 2017 in New Delhi and during its discussions the importance of information and data sharing to address common security threats in the region from both the traditional and non-traditional areas was emphasised. The national security chiefs met again on March 28 this year in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The once-moribund regional grouping has not only been revived in the last two years after India hosted a BIMSTEC leaders retreat in Goa but it’s also spread its wings to encompass areas far wider than its nomenclature suggests. Indeed, counter-terrorism is among the 14 sectors that BIMSTEC has identified for cooperation among member states. In the process of reviving the bloc and its increasing focus on countering terrorism, India has managed to achieve one of its goals—isolate Pakistan.
The importance New Delhi attaches to the role BIMSTEC can play in the area of regional security was highlighted on Tuesday by deputy National Security Adviser Pankaj Saran. Speaking at the inauguration of the BIMSTEC Think-Tank Dialogue on Regional Security organised by the Vivekananda International Foundation, Saran said BIMSTEC was uniquely positioned to offer its own model of cooperation in the security arena. He further said that all member countries had been victims of terrorism and therefore needed to work together to “insulate ourselves from terrorism”.
Speaking at the Dialogue, Sumith Nakandala, additional secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs of Sri Lanka, noted that the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Trans-National Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking would have no legal effect unless it was ratified by member countries. He also drew attention to the Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters that is yet to be signed.
“We need a sufficient and implementable legal framework for BIMSTEC members and for this political will and commitment is important,” said Nakandala. He also emphasised the need for a “firm structure on intelligence sharing in order to respond to the threat of terrorism collectively”.
Retired Major General Abdur Rashid who is now executive director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies called for BIMSTEC nations to act together to counter terrorism particularly as “terrorist ideology has mobility”. General Rashid also called for efforts to curb funding for terror outfits. In Bangladesh, for instance, he noted that there is a huge growth in Islamic seminaries with funding coming from the Sunni monarchies of West Asia.
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