T h e

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Eighth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

December 02'



Romeet K WATT


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Contemplations on terrorism

Romeet K WATT

Once terrorism grows to be more than an annoyance, once the normal functioning of society is affected, there will be an unbearable pressure on the government to trounce the peril by all available means. Hence the ironical deduction that the more successful the terrorists, the closer their eventual defeat. A philosophical debate seems to dictate the policy of democratic societies towards terrorists. As long as terrorism is no more than an annoyance, a democracy will correctly resist any effort to restrain traditional freedoms.


The followers of anarchism practise propaganda by deed. Terrorism - as the turn of events in the aftermath of 9/11, have adequately demonstrated - is no longer an unprecedented phenomenon, and if one takes into account its spectacular rise and growth, the ramifications are far-reaching, which may seriously impede the progress of human growth and development. Rule of law comes under serious threat by this broadly acknowledged predicament. The phenomenon had never assumed trans-national dimensions in the past, as it has now, with the emergence of terror groups like Al Qaeda, who have without doubt caused a substantial damage to the concord of the world-order.


The alarming rise of terrorism may singularly be attributed to state-sponsorship, and many nations are squarely to be blamed, and sooner or later, penalised in most strictest of terms. Should this not have been the case, terrorism would never have been able to assume such diabolic dimensions. And the lesson we have learnt (or not learnt) is that at some point of time, the menace of state sponsored terrorism, out grows its own benefactors, and at some later juncture, the benefactors itself becomes a hapless spectator, and in the long run ends up paying a price, one way or the other. The Indian support to the Tamil rebels in Ceylon (now Sri lanka) against the domination of Singhalese majority is a classic case of point, where the country had to pay price - years down the line - when the same Tamil rebels (now LTTE), brutally assassinated former Indian Prime Minister, and then Leader of Opposition, Rajiv Gandhi.


What is terrorism? Its motivation and rationale, its specific make-up, its method of operation and long-term ramifications, are based on a lucid, precise, and complete characterisation. Most experts concur that terrorism is the use or intimidation by violence, a method of combat or a subterfuge to accomplish certain goals, that it seeks to induce a state of trepidation in the victim, that it is merciless and does not kowtow to humanitarian traditions and that publicity is an fundamental feature in terror strategy. In America – leader of global war against terrorism - the number of citizens killed at home in the pre-9/11 was insignificant compared to the killings that took place abroad. It was only when terrorists - for the first time - attacked American’s on their very own soil that the country finally understood the real implications of what terrorism does to your psyche! And the response was instantaneous and thundering, and intended to be punitive.


Terrorism has appeared in various modes out of inspiration as unlike as political revolt, social uprising, and religious protest. The present spate of violent activities unleashed by Al Qaeda has more to do with its belief that stems from a blend of religo-political issues. It sees America as its enemy number one, accusing US of A of one-upmanship in the world order, and for these reasons desires to polarise the world into Muslim and Non-Muslim blocks, something, which they believe would act as a deterrent to the actions of the lone super-power, America. While they might have achieved trivial success in inculcating some level of sympathy from the Muslim Diaspora world wide, which in some way ensures their longevity, at least for the time being; nevertheless, at the same time it has been unable to garner any effective support even from the Muslim establishments. The reason: they have engaged themselves in the killings of innocent civilians.


The impact of terrorism is measured not only in the number of its victims but in its attempts to destabilise democratic societies and to show that their governments are impotent. This in some ways can be counter-productive for the terror organisation as was amply demonstrated in the elimination of Taliban, the last regime to have openly supported Al Qaeda. It is true that the number of victims and the amount of suffering caused by oppressive, tyrannical governments have been infinitely greater than that caused by small group of rebels, and in this context Taliban is an epitome, with which comparisons are made.


But there are basic differences in motives, function, and effect between oppression by the state (or society or religion) and political terrorism. To equate them, to obliterate the differences, is to spread confusion. Pakistan, is one such state who have been supporters of terrorism in various forms – from Mujahideen who fought the Afghan war to the terrorists who are bleeding Indian through cross-border terrorism – the country because of its inherent fissures among its various sections of its society has experimented with almost all forms of terrorism. Pakistan also derives its importance from the very fact that it is the only Islamic country that is in possession of nuclear arms, which to a large extent, along with its strategic location and proximity to Afghanistan makes it special, and is being dealt accordingly by America. The tacit support by USA to Pakistan despite the obvious is the primary cause of disenchantment of India, who has charged the West of adopting double standards in its fight against terror.


Some of the obfuscation concerning terrorism stems from the belief in some circles that contemporary terrorism is basically revolutionary, a reaction against social and national injustice, and therefore worthy of support or at least understanding. It is in this context that one should analyse the ideology and philosophy of terror groups like Al Qaeda, who have primarily risen to the position opposing the policies of America. There is without doubt a lot of resentment in the Muslim world given America’s prejudiced role in south-Asian crises involving Israel and Palestine, and her singular obsession in going after Iraq, despite growing evidence that countries like North Korea, and even Pakistan have assumed dimensions, which might have a detrimental effect on the world-order, more far reaching, than the weapons of Mass Destruction that Iraq is being alleged to be possession. 


How to exterminate terrorism? Moralists accept as true that terrorism is the natural reaction to discrimination, oppression, and persecution. Hence their apparently obvious deduction: do away with the primary cause and terrorism will shrivel away. The initiatives undertaken by Mufti Sayeed - who assumed the mantle of governance in the Indian state of J&K - as a part of its ‘healing touch’ policy has the same underlying logic. It would be too premature to comment on the success or failure of his holistic approach, though the writer – taking into account all dimensions, internal and external – has reasons to believe that Sayeed’s policy will in the long run, achieve partial success.


The correlation between grievance and terrorism in our day and age is far less obvious. In a model world, each group of people, however small, who claim the right to full independence and statehood, should receive it. However, in some cases, given the lack of national homogeneity and the intermingling of ethnic and religious groups, no basic redress may be feasible. The Kashmir issue, which with out doubt is one of the major problems that India faces stems out of the belief that the grievances that the people of Kashmir had since 1947, were never looked into by the subsequent regimes. And this facilitated a section of hardliners to take to gun, and demand a separate Independent country, which they believe is the optimum way to mitigate their sufferings. However, a majority of the populace still believes that given the precarious position of Kashmir, any demand for cessation from India would not benefit Kashmir in the long run.


On the contrary, there could well be an escalation of struggle among various terrorist groups, between moderates who want to proceed with the business of statehood and radicals who claim that what has been achieved is only the beginning and that the borders of the new state should be expanded. Kashmir is by and large is facing this predicament, where one section believes in adopting a more conciliatory approach, and may settle for larger autonomy within the dominion of India, while the other school though – the radicals aided by Pakistan – refuse to budge from their known stand of secession of Kashmir from India. With the successful elections, many believe that the moderates have an upper hand, and in the long run, they might prevail, but that does not mean that any negotiated settlement with the  moderates will silence the last guns in Kashmir.


The power of state is infinitely greater than that of terrorists, and governments will always prevail, provided there is the determination or the ruthlessness to do so. But can a democratic society subdue terrorism without surrendering the values central to the system? Again, experience shows it can be done but with great difficulty. The Italian authorities defeated the Red Brigades, while acting strictly within the law, by a mixture of political reform, penetration of terrorist ranks and the promise of substantial reduction in prison terms to the penitents. India, one of the epitomes of parliamentary democracies has demonstrated this in the past when she successfully eradicated the menace from its northern state of Punjab, but since then doubts have been raised whether it can do away with the threat of terrorism looming large in Kashmir given the active support – covert and overt – that Pakistan has been rendering. 


Terrorist movements do not have an unlimited life span. If terrorists realise after few years that the murder of a few politicians and many innocents has not brought them any nearer their goals, their resolve weakens. Velupillai Prabhakaran, LTTE supremo, has after two decades of civil war, paved the way for the talks by conceding that Tamil aspirations could be met by self rule and regional autonomy. This is a climb down from the known position of LTTE, who have in the past maintained that nothing short of a separate homeland was acceptable to them, an issue which led to a stalemate for over 19 years.


Nepal the only Hindu country, which has been facing stiff resistance from the Maoist guerrillas is making progress, and if reports are any indication, may be moving towards a historical peace accord. The President of the outlawed Communist party of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda has proposed peace talks with the government of Lokendra Prasad Chand government, a development that has taken many analysts by surprise. The rebels have formed a central level talks committee for a “peaceful, positive and progressive political outlet.”


State-sponsored terrorism is primarily the mechanism of dictators with aspirations far in excess of their sphere of influence. A protagonist of this kind of terrorism in 80’s was General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, who used various groups of radical Islamic terrorists to destabilise neighbouring countries such as India and Afghanistan, and in this endeavour of his was supported by America, who had its own interests to protect in south-Asia. And General Pervez Musharraf, the present junta ruler is by and large, despite pressure from the West pursuing the same policy.


Appeasement of terrorists is not reprehensible per se; at one stage or another, all countries have made concessions on terrorists. If appeasement had worked, a good case could be made in its favour. The release of five Islamic terrorists including the dreaded chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Masood Azhar by the Indian establishment to facilitate the release of passengers and crew of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane is a classic case, when concessions were made, and the effects it has had in boosting the morale of terrorists is clearly reflected in their emboldened attacks in India. On the contrary the punitive action taken by the Russian authorities against the Chechen rebels who had taken over 700 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, despite considerable casualties, has merit, which will go a long way in establishing that authorities, if pushed against the wall, would pay the terrorists in their own coin.


For a country or a groups of countries under attacks by macro terrorism, there are broadly speaking, three approach’s to respond and counter. Given the torpor of democratic governments and the complexities involved, the obvious reaction is to denounce the attack but to desist from any physical act of retribution. So long as these attacks happen seldom and if causality rate is not high, this is a practicable guiding principle. On the other hand, lack of response is more often than not construed as a symbol of powerlessness, in which case the attacks will become more recurrent and brutal. India, who has borne the brunt of cross-border terrorism for over two decades has, despite and overwhelming domestic pressure, chosen to condemn terrorism, but has stopped short of taking any action against the fundamental source – the terrorist infrastructure existing in Pakistan and Bangladesh.


If an intensification in macro terrorism attacks does take place, the palpable way to strike back is to pay back the benefactors in their own coin. Democratic countries are by and large handicapped by its limitation to undertake covert action. Even if they have a wherewithal of this variety, they possibly will find it not easy to use, because terrorists acts are much easier to carry out in open societies than in dictatorships. The punitive action against Al Qaeda and its terror network across the length and breadth of the globe is a model case, wherein the international community have joined hands to defeat the evil and nefarious designs of Al Qaeda and its terror network.


On the other hand in some case diplomatic action may have some success; on the occasions sanctions may have a definite impact, but only if there is a general consensus among the major countries. Of late despite an overwhelming pressure on Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism by the Western countries including America has had little or very marginal impact, as is evident from the unrelenting attacks on Hindu temples, and scores of killings of innocent civilians in India.


The last resort – retaliation, takes in the form of military action. Such escalation involves perils: innocent people are likely to get killed, and those who strike back will be blamed for creating a new dangerous situation. Those who retaliate become attackers, and there will be a great deal of rhetoric’s and dire warnings. No government will without due consideration take such a course of action. It will do so only if it has reasons to believe that the choice – refraining from counteraction – would have fateful consequences and if public opinion at home is so strongly in favour of retaliation that it cannot safely be ignored.


Thus the preference would be to wait and watch. Terrorism may perhaps not outgrow the annoyance phase, but if it does, a one-time, limited application of military force may be sufficient to drive the lesson home. In the aftermath of attack on the Indian Parliament last year there was an overwhelming domestic pressure to strike the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, but then Pakistan engaged its state machinations in threatening with a nuclear blackmail, something which eventually acted as a deterrent in the whole scheme of things.


Unfortunately, it is not certain that rational behaviour will always prevail on part of terrorist organisations, and their think-tanks. In the present context, the terror network of Al Qaeda have succeeded in provoking democratic institutions, changing the political calculus, and are certain to be defeated in a confrontation with a much more powerful nation(s). The danger of terrorist provocation - leading well beyond the confines of mere terrorism and counter terrorism – has assumed diabolical dimensions, and will have unprecedented ramifications for the world order, and in the aftermath of this confrontation, the new order that may emerge will without doubt be polarised, more or less on the religious lines. Terrorism, in other words, may not have been very important, in the past, but as has the turn of events established, it can have unpleasant and even dangerous consequences if disregarded.

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