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Sino-Indian Co-operation In Counter-Terrorism

During their meeting at London in January 2000, Shri Jaswant Singh, the then Indian Foreign Minister, and Mr.Strobe Talbot, the then US Deputy Secretary of State, decided to set up a Joint Indo-US Working Group (JWG) on Counter-Terrorism. Initially, its task was defined as to bring to book those involved in the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar in December,1999. Subsequently, its charter was expanded to include various aspects of counter-terrorism.

2. It is  jointly chaired by the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India dealing, inter alia, with the diplomatic aspects of counter-terrorism and the Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator in the US State Department. The JWG consists of representatives of the intelligence agencies and security forces of the two countries. Initially, the Indo-US JWG mechanism remained restricted to co-operation between the civilian agencies of the two countries dealing with terrorism. Subsequently, military-military co-operation in counter-terrorism was also agreed upon and a separate bilateral cyber security forum was also set up. The JWG and the Cyber Security Forum meet periodically in the capitals of the two countries.

3. In the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, similar JWGs on Counter-terrorism were set up by India with more than 20 other countries. These were largely patterned after the Indo-US JWG. Navy-Navy co-operation in maritime counter-terrorism became an important component of the counter-terrorism co-operation mechanisms set up with other countries—-particularly in South-East and East Asia. However, Army-Army co-operation in counter-terrorism and co-operation in cyber security have not received the same attention in the mechanisms set up with other countries as it has in the Indo-US JWG.

4. Among the countries with which a counter-terrorism mechanism was set up after December,2001, was China.However, the first open indication of a Chinese readiness to include co-operation in counter-terrorism in the ambit of the bilateral dialogue mechanism with India came even before 9/11 during a visit to India by Mr. Li Peng, the then Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, in January, 2001.  In an interview to the New Delhi correspondent “The Hindu”, the prestigious daily of Chennai, which was carried by it on January 14,2001, he strongly condemned  international terrorism and said that Beijing was “willing to cooperate with India in countering this menace to regional security and stability.”

5. He expressed  Chinese opposition to “terrorism of all descriptions – in any region, any part of the world”— and pointed out that terrorism could not resolve any problem. He then added:  “China is willing to cooperate with all countries which are against terrorism. Of course, India is one of them. China supports every effort to combat international terrorism through the formulation of international conventions and hopes that the international community will take further steps to improve the anti-terrorism international legal framework”.

6.”China has always opposed and condemned international terrorism in any form, and is against any act of terror and violence conducted by any nation, organization, group or individual. China is willing to carry out international cooperation with all countries in the world, including India, to combat terrorism so as to safeguard national interests and regional security and stability,” Mr.Li said.

7. In an interview to the Beijing correspondent of the Press Trust of India (PTI) on January 12,2002, before his departure for India on an official visit, Mr.Zhu Rongji, the then Chinese Prime Minister, said:” China and India have much common ground on counter-terrorism. The Chinese side is ready to step up exchanges and cooperation with India and other relevant parties in this field.”  He described terrorism as the common enemy of  the entire human society and said China’s position against terrorism was consistent and clear-cut.

8. Briefing the media following the talks between Mr.Zhu Rongji and the the Indian Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, on January 15, 2002, Ms.Zhang Qiyue, a spokesperson of the visiting Chinese delegation, said that during the discussions India and China agreed to set up a bilateral counter -terrorism dialogue mechanism.

9. After stating  that Shri Vajpayee had explained  India’s position on terrorism, she added: “We (China) were shocked at the December 13 attack on Indian Parliament and expressed our condemnation.” She further said  that Mr.Zhu expressed the  hope that the disputes (between India and Pakistan) would be solved through peaceful means in conformity with peace in South Asia.

10. The media claimed that she “circumvented” a question, which sought to know whether China had supported India’s stand on terrorism during the talks. She confined herself to saying that during the discussions between the two Prime Ministers, China had declared its support for the international efforts against terrorism.  She added: “China’s position is clear.  It is opposed to terrorism and supportive of international efforts against it.”

11. In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, on Mr. Zhu Rongji’s visit to India,Mr. Omar Abdullah, the then Minister of State For External Affairs, stated, inter alia, on March 6, 2002, that the two Prime Ministers agreed ” to establish a bilateral dialogue mechanism against terrorism. Modalities are being discussed between the Foreign Ministries.”

12. A comprehensive enunciation of China’s counter-terrorism policy was given by Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, the then Chinese Foreign Minister,while briefing the media in Beijing on Marrch 6,2002, during the fifth  session of the 9th Chinese National People’s Congress. He stated as follows with reference to Sino-Indian co-operation in counter-terrorism: “At my invitation, Mr. (Jaswant) Singh (the then Indian Foreign Minister) is going to visit Beijing at the end of this month. In January this year, Premier Zhu of China paid a very successful visit to India and as a result, relations between our two countries have made significant progress forward. I expect that the visit will provide us with a new opportunity to bring China-India relations to a new phase of development. Indeed, on many important issues such as counter-terrorism and other multi-lateral issues as well as bilateral cooperation on economic matters, trade issues, science and technology, our two countries share a lot of common interests. It is true that we do not always see eye to eye concerning certain international and regional issues. Yet I have to say that we have more common ground than differences. Our positions are indeed very similar and close to each other. This is the most important aspect of our relationship.”

13. Shri Jaswant Singh visited China from March 29  to April 2, 2002. Briefing the media after his talks with his Chinese counterpart and before calling on Mr.Zhu Rongji, Shri Jaswant Singh, inter alia, made the following observations on March 29, 2002: “We have gone beyond the definition of terrorism. The fact that China and  India are now sitting      together to talk about counter-terrorism and that the  Chinese side is willing to talk on terrorism and about UNSCR 1373 and other efforts to counter terrorism is significant. I am quite confident about the progress.The first meeting of counter-terrorism talks in April 2002 shall be led by Joint Secretary (East Asia)  of Ministry of External Affairs and Director  General on the Chinese side. JS(EA) is free to have in his  team whoever he feels is necessary to facilitate talks. He can have agencies, MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs), etc.”

14. His visit to China was followed by the first meeting of the bilateral dialogue mechanism on counter-terrorism at New Delhi on April 23, 2002, which was attended by the counter-terrorism experts of the two countries.Since April 2002, the Sino-Indian Counter-Terrorism Dialogue Mechanism has been meeting once a year  alternately in the capitals of the two countries.A  Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China issued at the end of the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China from June 22 to 27, 2003, said:” The two sides recognized the threat posed by terrorism to them and to global peace and security. They resolutely condemned terrorism in any form. The struggle between the international community and global terrorism is a comprehensive and sustained one, with the ultimate objective of eradication of terrorism in all regions. This requires strengthening the global legal framework against terrorism. Both sides shall also promote cooperation on counter-terrorism through their bilateral dialogue mechanism.”

15. A Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr.Wen Jiabo to India  from April 9 to 12,2005, said: “The two sides, aware of the threats posed by terrorism to the peace and security of the two countries and the whole world, resolutely condemn terrorism in any form. The struggle between the international community and global terrorism is a comprehensive and sustained one, with the ultimate objective of eradication of terrorism in all regions. This requires strengthening the global legal framework against terrorism. Both sides noted the positive outcome of the meetings held so far of their bilateral dialogue mechanism on counter-terrorism and agreed to further strengthen and consolidate their discussions and cooperation. It was agreed to hold the next meeting of the dialogue mechanism on counter-terrorism later this year.”

16. A Joint Declaration issued on November 21,2006, at the end of the visit of  the Chinese President Mr.Hu Jintao to India said: “The two countries condemned all forms of terrorism and agreed to broaden and deepen the China-India Dialogue Mechanism on Counter Terrorism, as well as strengthen bilateral and international cooperation to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism.”

17. A significant addition to this Declaration was “separatism and extremism.” When the Chinese talk of “separatism and extremism”, they have in mind the activities of the Dalai Lama’s followers and those Uighur groups, which call for independence for the Xinjiang Province, but which do not support the pan-Islamic objectives of Al Qaeda. When they talk of terrorism, they have in mind the activities of Al Qaeda and the Uighur organisations supporting Al Qaeda’s pan-Islamic objectives.

18. While the Chinese condemn the pro-Dalai Lama Tibetans and the Uighurs as separatists, splittists and extremists, they are disinclined to similarly condemn the organisations indulging in terrorism and extremism in India’s Jammu and Kashmir State. So far as jihadi terrorism affecting India is concerned, the Chinese perceptions and formulations broadly tally with those of Pakistan.While the Chinese have no problem in characterising the acts of violence of jihadi groups in other parts of India outside J&K as terrorism, they are not prepared to concede that there is terrorism in J&K. They do not describe it as a freedom struggle as Pakistan does. At the same time, they are not prepared to condemn it as terrorism either. At two meetings of non-governmental groups on counter-terrorism attended by me in 2003 and 2004, the Chinese experts said: ” We sympathise with the loss of lives in J&K. But we do not agree that it is due to terrorism.” This position continues even today.

19. Even in the deliberations of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) of which India is an observer, the Chinese have managed to introduce their formulation of “terrorism, separatism, splittism and extremism” to suit their problems without showing any sensitivity to the similar problems of others.

20. Despite the working of the Dialogue Mechanism on Counter-terrorism between India and China, Beijing’s policy, like that of the US, shows a marked disinclination to hold Pakistan accountable for the jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory. Two examples of the Chinese ambivalence on counter-terrorism can be cited: Firstly, during the investigation into the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, the Indian investigators recovered a number of AK-47 rifles and ammunition of Chinese make. It was established by the investigators that these were supplied to the terrorists by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While the Chinese admitted that these were manufactured in China,they took up the stand that they had sold these rifles and ammunition to many countries without keeping proper records and that the terrorists could have got them from any of those countries and not necessarily from Pakistan.

21. Secondly, after the US declared the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation under a 1996 law and after Gen.Pervez Musharraf banned it in January 2002 under US pressure, the LET changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD). The Pakistani contention since then has been that the LET is an Indian and not a Pakistani organisation and that the JUD is a humanitarian relief organisation, which has nothing to do with the LET. The US has not accepted this position. It looks upon the JUD as the political wing of the LET. The US Government has ordered the freezing of the bank accounts of the JUD as a terrorist organisation. The Musharraf Government has refused to freeze its bank accounts in Pakistan on the ground that it is a humanitarian relief and not a terrorist organisation. The question of freezing the bank accounts of the JUD as a terrorist organisation came up twice before the UN Security Council’s mechanism for the implementation of UNSC Resolution No.1373. On both the occasions, China supported the Pakistani contention that there is no evidence to prove that the JUD is a terrorist organisation. Since the mechanism works on the basis of decisions by consensus,the accounts of the LET under its changed name of JUD have remained unfrozen so far.

22. Gen.J.J.Singh, India’s Chief of the Army  Staff (COAS), is presently on a visit to China since May 20,2007.The Indian media has quoted him as saying that India and China may soon hold their first-ever joint military (Army-Army) exercise which would be an anti-terrorism manoeuvre.”In principle, the Chinese have agreed to holding of such an exercise,’ he said. ‘But during the visit, we hope to work out the details and whether such a first-ever exercise would be held on Chinese or Indian soil”, he added.

23. The Navies of the two countries have already held exercises having a bearing on maritime security. Co-operation between the navies of the two countries in maritime counter-terrorism would make sense provided such co-operation relates to ensuring the security of the oil supplies through the Strait of Hormuz on which both India and China are dependent. However, till now there is no talk of Navy-Navy co-operation in the waters to the West of India. The exercises are confined to the waters to the East of India. Earlier this year, the Pakistan Navy had organised a maritime counter-terrorism exercise in the waters to the West of India. It invited the navies of China and many other countries to join the exercise, but the Indian Navy was not invited.

24. It is not yet clear what would be the purpose and scope of the proposed Army-Army exercise in counter-terrorism. China has been having such exercises with the Armies of the Central Asian Republics in order to prevent cross-border terrorism by the Uighurs. What kind of common threats and common non-State adversaries India and China can have across the land borders or in their land territory. India’s Army-Army co-operation in counter-terrorism with the US apparently covers aspects such as the  prevention of WMD terrorism and crisis management  relating to WMD terrorism. Is there a scope for such co-operation between the armies of India and China? (25-5-07)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com )

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