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Dealing with Terrorism

(1) Asia: Beyond Statist Discourses edited by Imtiaz Ahmed; (2) Responding to Terrorism in South Asia edited by S D Muni; Manohar, New Delhi, 2006;

Dealing with Terrorism

Understanding Terrorism in South Asia: Beyond Statist Discourses

edited by Imtiaz Ahmed; Manohar, New Delhi, 2006; pp 418, $ 50.

Responding to Terrorism in South Asia

edited by S D Muni; Manohar, New Delhi, 2006; pp 542, $ 55.


he Encyclopedia of Social Sciences has defined “terrorism” as the method or theory behind the method whereby an “organised group or party seeks to achieve it’s avowed aims chiefly through systematic use of violence”. Brian Jenkins, an acknowledged authority on terrorism, calls it “violence for effect”. International terrorism has been defined in a CIA publication as “the threat or violence for political purposes when such action is intended to influence the attitude and behaviour of a target group other than its immediate victims and its ramifications transcend national boundaries”.

Terrorism is frightening because the violence unleashed by the terrorists is unpredictable and this unpredictability of danger as a psychologically damaging factor is amenable to manipulation by the terrorists. Another unique feature of modern terrorism is its flexibility. Anyone can use it and anyone can be its target. Many governments are using the terrorist groups as an arm of their foreign policy. Nations unable to mount a conventional military challenge have looked upon terrorism as an alternative. Many state governments tolerate and even exploit terrorism in the manner similar to how European powers in 17th and 18th centuries combated as well as exploited Mediterranean piracy.

However, postmodern terrorism is no longer limited within the boundaries of a national state. The whole world is now its field of operation. Such terrorist groups support apocalyptic movements and millenarian goals and the weapons used by them are far more lethal. Postmodern terrorism is, as stated in the 9/11

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007 Commission report “sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal”. While the traditional terrorist movements historically consisted of very large number of members, the new terrorist groups can be small, consisting of a few people or sometimes even one individual. The smaller the group, the more radical it is likely to be, more diverted from rational thought, and also more difficult to detect. Compassion and ethical considerations in the past did exert some influence on the operations of the terrorists and they refrained from indulging in indiscriminate killings. These moral scruples do not weigh at all with the contemporary terrorists who are turning into cold-blooded liquidationists for whom there are no “innocents”.

Inadequate Strategies

The two books Understanding Terrorism in South Asia: Beyond Statist Discourses edited by Imtiaz Ahmed and Responding to Terrorism in South Asia edited by S D Muni contain a number of perceptive and thought-provoking articles by eminent scholars and experts on responses to terrorism by different countries of south Asia and their political, economic and social consequences. South Asian countries have been facing up to the challenge of terrorism through various strategies but the challenge continues to remain serious and forbidding. There have been some successes in combating terrorism, but the very persistence of terrorism in its various forms and dimensions underscores the fact the strategies fashioned by south Asian countries to cope with the challenge have been inadequate.

In south Asian countries one important causative factor behind terrorism is the failure of the state apparatus to deliver good governance. The states have not been able to cope with, as Muni says in his introductory remarks “triple explosion of information, aspirations and identity”. The problems have been further compounded by the failure of the state agencies to pay adequate attention to the problems of the deprived and marginalised sections of the society. There is no doubt that the Naxalite movement in India has largely resulted from years of exploitation and deprivation of the rural poor and the failure of the state governments to protect and uphold their human rights.

Again, in many of the south Asian countries there has been improper or excessive use of force, creating anger and revulsion among the innocent victims. Responses have been ad hoc and there has been absence of a well-coordinated and well-considered strategy to deal with the issue. There are analysts and policymakers who do not attach much weight to the “root causes” aspects when it comes to dealing with terrorism and insurgency. They are of the view that if the structure, resources and capabilities of the terrorists groups are destroyed by the use of force, terrorism will be crippled down.

Echoing the same view Ajay Sahani in his piece on ‘Responding to Terrorism in J&K and Punjab’ has strongly advocated the need for a consistent and clearly stated policy and held the view that in the absence of a clear sanction from the political leadership, counter-terrorism initiatives have very little chances of success. He is sceptical of discussions with the terrorist groups and feels that the present peace processes in Jammu and Kashmir are not reality-based and will ultimately end in fiasco because good intentions and desires in favour of peace are no substitutes for its ultimate realisation. But for repelling terrorism and not suppressing it temporarily mere military and security action will not suffice.

Again, almost all the south Asian countries have been victims as well as culprits of cross-border terrorism in relation to their neighbours at one stage or other. Pakistan’s total involvement in fomenting insurgency and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and also in the north-east is a classic example.

In the article on ‘Pakistan’s Response to Terrorism’ Samin Ahmed highlights the fact that Pakistan has become the epicentre of regional terrorism and the military regime’s response to homegrown terrorist networks has been inadequate. Pakistan’s military government has taken action against Al Qaida elements with a view to enlisting support and assistance from its allies, particularly from US but has covertly or overtly encouraged homegrown militants, products of Pakistan’s mushrooming madrasas, to carry on a proxy war against its main regional rival India. And most of these indigenous terrorist elements have linkages with extra-regional terrorist networks.

Samin Ahmed’s article, however does not fully explain the reasons and compulsions behind the “entente-cordiale” between the army and the mullahs. The hard fact is that the Pakistan army still views India as a threat and its policy towards India is not going to change soon. Opposition to India and obsession with Kashmir goes at the heart of the official identity of Pakistan as promulgated by the army for the last 50 years, and it is doubtful if the army can be induced or pressurised to change the policy easily.

No Solidarity against Terrorism

There has been very little cooperation among the countries of south Asia in jointly tackling terrorism. Though SAARC assumed a role for itself in the suppression of

Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007

terrorism as early as in 1987, and adopted a regional convention on the subject, very little was done to implement it. The convention has, by and large, remained a dead letter. For many years the member-countries did not ratify the convention or made necessary domestic laws. But after 9/11, and with growing international pressure a decision was taken at the SAARC summit at Kathmandu (January 2002) to revamp the convention on Suppression of Terrorism, but the hard fact remains that many south Asian states look upon conflict and terrorism in a neighbouring country as a political and a strategic opportunity rather a security concern.

With the emergence of an uni-polar world and the cascading impact of 9/11, suppression of terrorism has become a very important item in the global security agenda. Many donor countries increasingly play the role of peacemakers. The offer and denial of military and financial assistance is being used to pressurise the parties in dispute to peace processes, and the parameters of the peace processes are now increasingly being laid down by the donors. US, Japan and the European Union have taken important peacemaking initiatives in Sri Lanka and Nepal. There is also intervention by third parties to facilitate peace processes. Since 2002 Norway has been playing an important role in facilitating peace between Sri Lankan government and LTTE. The ceasefire brokered by Norway lasted since February 2002 but now with the resumption of hostilities between LTTE and Sri Lanka government it is crumbling. Though India has been somewhat averse to the involvement of third parties in any conflict involving itself, it approved and encouraged Norway’s facilitatory role in Sri Lanka. It is also now trying through various means to mobilise US pressures on Pakistan for reduction of cross-border terrorism. The coming years will witness greater involvement of international community in responding to the challenges of terrorism in south Asian countries.

Terrorism has also seriously affected economic development of the countries rocked by it. It has taken a terrible toll. Mahendra P Lama in his article on ‘Political and Economy of Terrorism – Sustenance Factors and Consequences’ mentions that in south Asia most of the violent movements have a strong economic context in terms of the triggering factors, instruments of sustenance and long-term consequences. The economic cost of terrorism and insurgencies can be frightening. But for the crippling effects of the 18-year old civil war, Sri Lanka would have been one of the south Asia’s top performers in the sphere of economic development. Its military budget shot up from Rs 52 billion to a record Rs 83 billion. Many development projects had to be put on hold. Similarly, in Nepal the nine-year conflict has not only caused loss of lives and properties but also enormous destruction of physical infrastructure. In India the People’s War Group (PWG) acts of violence and vandalism have seriously hindered developments in Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, it is estimated that almost a quarter million of human lives have been lost during the past 55 years as a result of insurgencies in the north-east.

While analysing the state’s response to insurgencies in the north-east, V S Jafa brings out the interesting point that many of these insurgencies have become intractable because of complex and collusive arrangements between the administrators and officials on one hand, and militant factions on the other. In some of the states militants are now virtually running the show. A large proportion of development resources flow directly or indirectly to the militants. The terrorists have also adopted diverse modus operandi. They do it in the name of cleansing the system, getting rid of corruption, etc. However, it is also a fact that most of the incidents of terrorist violence have taken place in areas where there is marked decay in political culture and erosion of faith and confidence of the people in the system of governance.

The two books contain a number of perceptive and analytical articles covering different forms of response of south Asian countries to terrorism and throw revealing light on many facets of terrorism and insurgencies in these countries. From being a footnote in history, terrorism has now become a hydra-headed monster. However, one wishes that there were papers analysing the nature of terrorism to come in future in south Asian countries and project some futuristic trends. Today the world is on the threshold of mega terrorism. There is the ominous possibility that soon the terrorists will have in their possession weapons of mass destruction. Thus for the first time in human history very small groups will have the potential to cause immense destruction. The character of terrorism is thus fast changing, and above all, the threat to human life has become infinitely greater than it was in the past.

There are also no papers with indepth studies of jihadi terrorism which is spreading its tentacles in south Asia. In many south Asian countries Islamic radicalism is on the rise. After the Taliban regime’s ouster from Afghanistan it was felt that Al Qaida’s influence will gradually decline but this has not happened. Instead of being on the run, it is on the march. Recently Negro Ponte, America’s outgoing Intelligence chief, in his annual Threat Assessment has said that Al Qaida’s leadership is “resilient”, its hiding places in Pakistan are “secure” and it is developing stronger operational connections and relationships with affiliated groups. Pakistan, an important US ally in the war against terror, has become “a major source of Islamic extremism”. Al Qaida now represents an ideological movement and not a finite group of people. It has transformed itself to a decentralised force. In its second coming as a standard bearer of extremist ideology Al Qaida is scoring nightmarish successes and inspiring generations of embittered Muslim youth.

Articles in both these books also carry a clear message and warning that the use of force alone will not repel terrorism. For repelling, and not merely suppressing it, we need to reach out far wider than military and security action alone.



Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics

Pune – 411 004

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Economic and Political Weekly August 18, 2007

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