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Border Control Agency needed to combat regional terrorism

2014 May 06

 By  Deepal Warnakulasuriya

Border Control Agency needed to combat regional terrorism

In the wake of the arrest of suspected Sri Lankan Islamist terrorist Mohammed Zakir Hussain in Chennai last week, Terrorism Expert Dr Rohan Gunaratna warned such terror cells were operating in several countries throughout the South Asian region. He called on Lankan authorities to work with their counterparts in the region to dismantle such groups, who are posing a severe threat to the region. In an email interview with The Nation, Dr. Gunaratna also detailed how the government and citizens could work best to tackle the rise of extremism in the country

Q. What kind of terror protection system do you suggest?

The building blocks of strong regional security cooperation is building strong inter and intra agency collaboration within Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Government should replace its Department Of Immigration and Emigration with a powerful Border Control Agency. With the essential requirement for multilayered security screening of those entering and departing Sri Lankan ports, Sri Lanka Border Control Agency should draw staff and expertise from customs, narcotics, police, military, and intelligence. The police should provide a real-time link to screen passengers against criminal databases and intelligence should provide real-time link to screen passengers against terrorism databases. With staff from these agencies working under one roof, the Border Control Agency should envisage seamless collaboration. They should also have powers to investigate arrest and prosecute offenders.

Q: Are there enough strong regional security systems against terror activities and groups?

(1) As a nation that defeated one of the most ruthless terrorist groups, Sri Lanka should work with the rest of South Asia to build a multi-modal biometric system (which includes ultra-sound fingerprint, iris scan, and facial recognition technology).

(2) As a nation that is ahead of others in embracing technology, Sri Lanka should build the best Border Control Agency. The first step is for Sri Lanka to integrate its comprehensive criminal and terrorist databases to screen passengers entering and exiting the country.

(3) South Asia should link real-time existing systems to Interpol’s lost and stolen travel document database that will flag passports used by others than the user. As several tens of thousands of passports in South Asia are lost and stolen every year, such a system will be capable of detecting forged and tampered passports.

(4) By scanning passengers every time they enter or exit the country. That will deter Sri Lankans not only from engaging in crime and terrorism and also those linked to criminal and terrorism activity from traveling back and forth.

Q: How should such systems be developed and are there any obstacles?

 Firstly, the greatest obstacle constraining the transformation of Sri Lanka from a third world to a first world nation is the Sri Lankan mindset. Most Sri Lankans are still living in the pre-May 2009 mindset. They must embrace each other’s communities and create a Sri Lankan nation. We cannot live apart as Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and expect harmony to prevail. By restructuring the education system, Sri Lankans must shed racial suspicions and prejudices, start to think and function as Sri Lankans. The TNA and BBS should be relegated to Sri Lanka’s history not be a feature of its future. Secondly, South Asians in general suffer from the third world mentality. As one of world’s fastest growing regions, all South Asian ports of entry should leapfrog into the latest global technology of ultra-sound fingerprinting which has significantly superior accuracy over existing optical systems. Such a second generation system can be installed without additional costs to government by including in the flight ticket a security screening fee of USD 10 per passenger.

Q: Can the terror groups be autonomous or developing a life of their own, unless they are supported by the governments or organizations?

 India and Pakistan has been supporting each others terrorist groups since their independence. Arming, training and financing each others terrorist groups is a cheap way of advancing each others foreign policy agendas. For example, India’s foreign intelligence agency financed, armed, trained, and directed the LTTE transforming a rag tag group into a monster. Rajiv Gandhi’s killer Thenmoli Rajaratnam alias Dhanu was trained in Sirumalai, Thindugal in Tamil Nadu, a state that has yet to take an unequivocal stand against racism and terror. Terrorist and extremist groups either supported or tolerated by government develop a life of its own and become a threat to everyone! By enacting a Harmony Act, Government of Sri Lanka must take a decisive stand on racial extremism by TNA and religious extremism by BBS. Ideological extremism if tolerated and when heightened will lead to extremism.

Q: Do you see any reluctance from any neighbor country to assist terror-related investigations?

 India and Pakistan will not cooperate to build a safe and a secure region because of their historical grievances. With BJP coming into power it may even worsen. Superpower and regional geopolitics continue to divide South Asia. India is pro-US and China is pro-Pakistan. As it failed to be sensitive to the global and regional realities, Sri Lanka itself became a victim of geostrategic politics. With NATO forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, the leaders of India and Pakistan should move forward to build a strong partnership to fight a common threat, terrorism. With NATO failure to restore stability in Afghanistan, the terrorist and insurgent groups on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border will reconstitute its sanctuary in Afghanistan. The entire South Asian region will be affected by religious extremism and terrorism. This will include Sri Lanka, unless the Sri Lankan government works with responsible Muslim leaders to prevent the radicalization of the Sri Lankan Muslim community. Until now the Sri Lankan Muslim community has been a model community but this is likely to change unless its own leaders work with government to protect their cultural and religious heritage. Sri Lankan Muslims must not embrace Saudi or Pakistani models of Islam but perpetuate its own rich traditions and age old customs. External influences will make them vulnerable to extremist ideas. Muslim elders must guide the younger generation to ensure that they too remain committed to moderation, toleration and coexistence. Traditional Islam practiced in Sri Lanka for generations should not be sacrificed.

Q: Who is this Hussain according to information which you have gathered?

Sri Lankan authorities should work with their security counterparts to dismantle the regional terrorist and criminal network. Like the LTTE this network was engaged in human smuggling, drug trafficking, and violence. Mohammed Zakir Hussain, a Sri Lankan from Kandy, was misguided by his recruiters into waging a holy war against western targets. Hussain’s associates are still active and they present a growing threat to the entire region including to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Sri Lankan Muslim leaders must play a decisive role through their religious and educational institutions and protecting their faith and heritage from extremist ideologies originating from overseas. Unlike the way the current generation of Sri Lankan Tamil leaders failed to protect their youth from separatist ideas from Tamil Nadu politicians, Sri Lankan Muslim leaders should nurture in Muslim youth greater understanding and living harmoniously in a diverse society.

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