December 2016
REGION: South Asia

The Global Center on Cooperative Security’s publication, “Strengthening Regional Cooperation to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism in South Asia: What Role for Civil Society?” by Rafia Bhulai and Naureen Chowdhury Fink, examines the threat of terrorism in South Asia. In particular, the publication looks at how civil society actors might identify and address the multitude of challenges presented by the transforming terrorism landscape. The content of the report stems from outcomes of the “civil society and experts process” of the Global Center for Cooperative Security’s work with the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate to enhance cooperation among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation states. After identifying local and regional drivers of terrorism, the authors examine the effect civil society engagement has on combating and responding to terrorism. They also discuss four thematic workshops and how the workshops facilitated dialogue, narrowed the countering violent extremism (CVE) knowledge gap, and helped establish an informal network of experts and practitioners on CVE in South Asia. Finally, the authors make specific recommendations for CVE, including strengthening regional and international cooperation, providing tailor-made support to civil society actors combating terrorism, and advancing women’s participation in CVE programming and policy.

The Transforming Threat of Terrorism

The “shifting dynamics in the global jihadist landscape” of recent years has increasingly complicated how actors and organizations respond to extremism and terrorism in South Asia. Jihadist networks are progressively becoming more decentralized, allowing the terrorist organizations to operate and recruit across borders. ISIL’s growing influence and interest in South Asia, coupled with the evolution of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, shows the range of challenges faced by stakeholders such as civil society actors.

The Value of Civil Society Engagement

Civil society actors, in conjunction with other practitioner experts and governmental efforts, play a crucial role in confronting the ever shifting extremist threat in South Asia. The media, though necessary for the dissemination of information, need not deliberately craft a narrative that promotes one specific agenda. Setting reporting guidelines for terrorist attacks will help protect the privacy of the victims and their families. Women should be considered a key ingredient in challenging extremism, and using the experiences of women-focused organizations will not only provide valuable knowledge, but promote female education and employment opportunities. Changing the gender perspective will also help develop female practitioner networks. Additionally, the presence of a civil society organization in a local community will help facilitate dialogue, and the organization’s role in rehabilitation and reintegration efforts will help such practices spread to even more appropriate platforms.

Challenges to CVE

South Asia faces significant challenges in countering violent extremism, chief among them the lack of a mutual understanding of what violent extremism actually means. Political divisions between both people and regions only exacerbate attempts at a collective response. External threats (like drones), limited research, lack of resources, security threats, and limited local trust also must be considered before developing a collaborative response to extremism. The lack of gender perspective also constrains the effectiveness of any potential CVE responses.


The collaboration of civil society actors and experts in the four workshops helped facilitate dialogue, further narrowed the knowledge gap in CVE, and helped establish an informal network of nongovernmental experts. Dialogue between regional partners will help strengthen CVE efforts, and the adoption of a multidisciplinary approach to confronting terrorism could help confront the evolving landscape of terrorism. Providing the media with training courses will not only help prevent local or regional incitement (after a terrorist attack), but will help media platforms put forth “sensitive counter narratives.” The authors also recommend advancing women’s participation in counterterrorism to help decrease the gender disparity in CVE policy.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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