Sushma Swaraj voices concern over Obor, terror

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New Delhi: Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday took a swipe at Pakistan and China over the former’s sponsorship of terrorism and the latter’s ambitious One Belt One Road (Obor) Initiative that New Delhi says violates Indian sovereignty.

Speaking at the third Raisina Dialogue conference in New Delhi organized by India’s foreign ministry and the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank, whose theme is “Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms,” Swaraj described terrorism as “the mother of all disruptions today.”

“Our attitude towards it has evolved in the last few decades. There was a time when it was seen as other people’s problem or a law and order situation. Not just that, it was also actively utilized as an instrument of statecraft,” Swaraj noted.

“We are all now very clear that terrorism anywhere can threaten societies everywhere. The challenge is even more serious in a digital age, with greater propensity to radicalization,” she said.

“However, there are still old assumptions and established mindsets in this regard. Partly because of the 9/11 precedent, we associate terrorism with ungoverned spaces.

“The more recent example of ISIS has reinforced this stereotype. While not without basis, what is even more dangerous is terrorism from governed spaces; in fact, terrorism actively supported and sponsored by states,” Swaraj said.

India accuses Pakistan of fomenting terrorism against it, a charge the government in Islamabad denies. It however blames “non-state” actors for attacks on India—an argument India refutes saying that groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were supported by sections of the Pakistani establishment like the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. LeT has been blamed for many attacks in India like the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist raids in which 166 people were killed over a three-day period.

In her comments, Swaraj said that to expect terrorism—“an activity which draws on all the ills of the world—fanaticism, crime, bloodshed and illegal trade —will not have a corrosive impact beyond its intended arena is unrealistic”.

“Nor will it spare its originators and practitioners. Ensuring zero-tolerance towards terrorism is the call of the day. The message is particularly to those who continue to believe that it can be an instrument of convenience,” she said in comments seen as directed against Pakistan’s oft-repeated position that it too is a victim of terrorism.

In her speech, Swaraj also took aim at what she described as constraints posed by connectivity that was not planned through a “consultative process.”

“Not just consultative but also one based on norms of transparency, good governance, commercial viability, fiscal responsibility and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said.

The Indian government has voiced its objections to China’s ambitious project —christened the Belt and Road Initiative—that aims to expand links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond, underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment. India says the project violates its sovereignty given that one strand of it—the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—passes through Pakistan- administered part of disputed Kashmir.

Given the many challenges confronting the world currently, “contemporary diplomacy has responded to the limitations of both bilateralism and multilateralism by not only seeking more regionalism but also coming up with innovative and flexible groupings,” Swaraj said.

“The rise of the plurilateral and the minilateral, may well be one of the innovations of this transition. There may even be a new rationale for older groupings such as the Commonwealth,” she added.

In November, India sat down with delegations from Japan, Australia and the US, in a “quadrilateral” format to discuss challenges and possibilities for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the Commonwealth Summit in London in April.