The Lankan lesson
The April 21 attacks in Sri Lanka, which has killed at least 359 people as of this writing, was a brutal reminder, if we needed any, that terrorism knows no bounds. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility. Unconfirmed reports suggest the suicide attacks targeting the Christian community and foreign tourists in Sri Lanka were in ‘retaliation’ for the March 15 killings of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Whatever the case, there can now be little doubt that religious terrorism has become a global menace—and no country can claim to be immune from it.
Why did the Islamic State choose Sri Lanka—a relatively poor country that is not involved in any anti-Muslim mission anywhere in the world—to target Christians, who make up under 8 percent of the Lankan population? Most likely because of its weak security. The small island state could not forestall the suicide bombings even though Indian intelligence agencies had given them ample prior warnings. Perhaps the Sri Lankan authorities felt that in the post-LTTE era they had nothing to fear from terrorists of any kind.
Nepal’s own security status is fragile, what with the open border and various semi-political armed groups operating in the country. An act of international terrorism here is not inconceivable.
During the third SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in 1987, member states had signed the ‘Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism’. Yet there has been little progress in advancing such cooperation, as was made clear by the Lankan bombings. With the SAARC now in a coma, there is little hope of progress. This is dangerous. In this interconnected world, no single country can control the scourge of terrorism on its own, as terror groups use increasingly sophisticated ways to maximize death and destruction. Greater regional cooperation on terrorism has therefore become mandatory. (Perhaps the BIMSTEC provides a better way forward.) Nepal must also strengthen its anti-terror resolve. The 2016 National Security Policy had listed ‘prevention and control of terrorism’ as one of Nepal’s strategic objectives. The public deserves to know if there has been any progress on this front.
There are other risks of taking terrorism lightly. On the pretext of controlling anti-terror activities, big powers may try to muscle their way in. Terror groups may also foment unrest by trying to divide the recently declared secular state along religious lines. April 21 was a wake-up call. It’s a terrible tragedy that so many of our fellow South Asians had to die for it.
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