Let me thank the Government of Tajikistan, the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union for organizing this conference on terrorism. Such has been the rise of this viral menace to our lives and values that this gathering would be considered necessary almost anywhere on the map. But Dushanbe carries a special relevance. Tajikistan has successfully fought, defeated and reversed the brutal tide of terrorism, and it did so during what I would describe as the most dangerous of decades, the 1990s.
It was a time when powerful interests, often backed by a state, mobilized to train and arm groups like Taliban, Al Qaeda and affiliates to spread havoc across targeted regions. Tajikistan, facing its own challenge, subdued the so-called United Tajikistan Opposition, among which was Islamic Rebirth Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). We must recognize and acknowledge the meaning of that achievement. Tajikistan thereby prevented a contamination that could have, perhaps would have, infected the whole of Central Asia, and linked with ideological partners upto the Caspian and Black seas, and into Levant and Iraq. I am not being fanciful. History teaches us a stern lesson: when things go wrong, they can spin viciously out of control.
We must congratulate the leadership of President Emomali Rahmon, the valour of his security forces, and the spirit of the Tajik people, who made enormous sacrifices to prevent a critical challenge from becoming an unmanageable catastrophe.
Equally, we must recognize that while a great battle was won two decades ago, the war is not over. New groups have appeared on the vanguard. A vortex of this global conflict remains Afghanistan, whose people display, daily, the courage of heroes, in incident after relentless incident, as they fight against adversaries in a merciless war of attrition, enemies who get succour and sanctuary from neighborhood mentors. The world must stand by those who are defending the world with their blood.
The long war against terrorism must be fought along three dimensions. The first is familiar; the battlefield, I can add with confidence that the security and intelligence services of every right-minded government are engaged in this field to the best of their abilities.
The second dimension is more subtle. This is the battlefield within the mind, where seeds of radicalization are being planted with profuse abandon by misleaders posing as leaders. We have to answer these advocates of suicide missions and champions of chaos with the courage of our convictions. Evasion, compromise or even a muffled voice only feeds into false justifications for terrorism. Let me offer an example, once again from the experience of our hosts, who have, displayed exemplary clarity in their thinking and conduct.
Tajikistan has banned the Rebirth Party as a terrorist organization, without ifs and buts. Let me scale this decision into a dialectic response. What do the ideologues of this party mean by ‘rebirth’? As a Muslim I believe in the birth of Islam, because the birth came from God. This fake rebirth is the work of misguided men. God made Islam a message of peace. These malevolent men have turned Islam into an instrument of war. God made Islam into a faith of pluralism: the Holy Quran says, “La qum deen o qum wa il ya deen” [Your faith for you, and my faith for me]. The rebirth misleaders have distorted faith into a reason for oppression against people of other faiths.
The third dimension is economic. The central aspiration of the young in the 21st century is equitable prosperity. If there cannot be economic equality, there must at the very least be economic equity. This is a defining answer to radicalization; phrased in the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas” [Together we stay, together we prosper]. This philosophy applies to our external policy as well. We fight terrorism in Afghanistan in many ways – but chief among them is people-oriented development. Our assistance to Afghanistan is over three billion dollars and includes, at the moment, 116 new projects in 31 provinces.
There are no short cuts. Terrorists and their sponsors attract the economically vulnerable into their suicide factories through lies, distortion, illusion and what I have described in an essay as the ‘romance of regression’.
We in India face and blunt the threat of radicalization through our shared cultural ethos and an abiding commitment to equality of faith and equitable economic opportunity. In India, every morning begins with the azaan, followed by the temple bells of a mandir, followed by the recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib in a gurdwara, followed, on a Sunday, by the peal of church bells. And because it is India, it is audible.
We are gathered here, friends, to unite and defend our very lives and civilization. We must identify not only the frontline enemy but all its support systems. We must have honest answers to candid questions. Where does terror financing come from? We must follow the drug money. Steps currently being taken by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are most welcome, and we cannot falter in our pursuit of terror financing. We must cooperate to eliminate cross-border terrorism; indeed, terrorists do not believe in a nation state or nationalism. They believe in faith-based space.
We sit today at the frontiers of humanism. Barbarians are at the door.