Originally Published 2005-03-14 09:19:22 Published on Mar 14, 2005
9/11 and 11-M (11th March). Two traumatic experiences ---one for the Americans and the other for the Spanish.
9/11 and 11-M (11th March). Two traumatic experiences ---one for the Americans and the other for the Spanish.

The two dates remain etched in the consciousness of the two nations. A day to remember the dead and a day to introspect whether their deaths could have been avoided.

As one had the touching experience of spending five days in Madrid to participate in what was projected as an International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security and other events to pay homage to the dead, one could not help feeling that the high-profile homage to the dead, richly deserved by them, had acquired precedence over the need for an introspection over the causes for their death and the responsibility for the failure to protect them.

Like the 9/11 Commission in the US, a parliamentary commission in Spain too has been enquiring into their national tragedy in an attempt to establish what happened, why it happened and what are the lessons for the future. Its report is expected later this month.

A clinically objective and unpoliticised report would be the real homage to the dead---more than any of the functions organised on 11--M, but the local media reports were already highlighting the apparent politicisation of the proceedings of the commission, with the opposition and the Government, which came to power in the elections which followed 11--M, at loggerheads with each other over what should be the conclusions.

What made the jihadi terrorists target Spain? Their anger over the participation of Spanish troops in the occupation of Iraq? Their claims to parts of Spain, if not the whole of it, as historically belonging to the Islamic Ummah and hence as ought to belong to the Islamic Caliphate which they were seeking to achieve? Or any other reason?

While it seems fairly clear from the investigation made so far that a group of Salafists of Moroccan origin were the masterminds of the terrorist strike, less clear are their links with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and International Islamic Front (IIF). Did they carry out the terrorist strikes at their own initiative and for their own reasons or was their action inspired and commanded by Al Qaeda? Was there any complicity of the Basque separatists?

Whatever be the final conclusion, Muslim anger has been the root cause of all the jihadi terrorist strikes post 9/11----anger over the way the US and other Western powers have been carrying on their so-called war against terrorism. The root cause is no longer the Palestine issue or the American presence in the holy land of Saudi Arabia or poverty or globalisation. It is anger resulting from the manner in which the so-called war against terrorism is being waged under US leadership.

Intervening during a discussion in a group of the summit on the report of the UN Secretary-General's High-power Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change headed by Anand Panyarachun, former Prime Minister of Thailand, I pointed out that the Islamic world is not monolithic, but it could become one due to the widely shared anger over the highly-militarised counter-terrorism methods being followed by the US. Unless and until this anger is acknowledged and addressed, one would be going nowhere in the campaign of the international community against jihadi terrorism. This anger, which manifested itself in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, has been further aggravated by the occupation of Iraq and by the ruthless American military actions not only against the foreign terrorists operating in Iraqi territory, but also against the indigenous resistance fighters.

How can one do justice to any discussion on the root causes of jihadi terrorism without taking note of the counter-terrorism methods of the US and of what has been going on in Iraq in the name of fight for democracy and freedom by the US-led coalition? It was surprising that the Summit and its panels sought to duck any discussion in depth of Iraq, lest the US be provoked.

One wonders whether the Spanish authorities have noticed the reactions from the Islamic world, particularly from the world of the jihadi terrorists, to the way they organised the Summit and paid homage to the 191 persons killed on 11--M last year. They are asking in their writings online and in their mosque sermons---Why no homage to the thousands killed by the US-led coalition in Iraq? Are the lives of 191 Spaniards and others more precious than the lives of thousands of Iraqis killed by the US-led coalition in the name of the so-called war against terrorism?

One of the Muslim critics of the Spanish function wrote: " The apostates, who observed a minute's silence for the non-Muslims killed in the Spanish attack, did not spend probably even two seconds for the 100,000 plus Muslims killed in Iraq. Spain was part and parcel of the Crusade at the time of the Madrid bombing. All countries taking part in the Crusade had been warned of retaliatory attacks by the Mujahideen. If anybody is to blame for the deaths of innocent people in Spain, then it is the Spanish Government for putting their own people in harm's way. "

The widely-publicised statement, described by the media as a fatwa, issued by Mansur Esudero, Secretary-General of the Islamic Commission of Spain, describing bin Laden as anti-Islam has further provoked the jihadi elements and added to their anger against the Spanish authorities. The fatwa said: "We declare that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organisation, responsible for the horrendous crimes against innocent people, who were despicably murdered in the March 11 terrorist attack in Madrid, are outside the parameters of Islam." The Commission, whose members are elected by the local Muslim community, represents them in talks with the Spanish authorities.

In the light of this added anger and the determination of the jihadi terrorists to re-claim Spain to the dreamed of Islamic Caliphate, the threat of another 11--M in Spanish territory and against Spanish interests is very much there.

The Summit as organised by the Club of Madrid, with the co-operation of the Spanish authorities, central as well as regional, and the Government of Norway, was a professional as well as a political exercise. The professional dimensions were predominant on the opening day on March 8 when various Working Groups consisting of serving and retired officers of the intelligence and security agencies and governmental and non-governmental experts on various aspects of terrorism discussed in a thoroughly professional manner behind closed doors the various aspects such as intelligence collection and sharing, the role of the police, non-military approaches in counter-terrorism, human rights, the root causes, the role of the civil society etc. The discussions were rich in analysis and productive in results. The objective was how to promote international solidarity in the campaign against terrorism and the importance of democracy in this matter.

On the second and the third day, there was a dilution of the focus on the professional aspects and an unfortunate shift from the professional to the political, from the substantive to the spectacular. On the third and concluding day, the proceedijngs were largely dominated by political leaders from different countries, vying with each other in making one statement after another reiterating the determination of the international community to fight against terrorism unitedly and to promote democracy. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was repeatedly projected before the audience as the icon of the newly-emerging democratic world in the Islamic Ummah.

As one of the political leaders from an European Union country remarked during an intervention, , the campaign against terrorism could be won only by determined and patient work behind closed doors and not by spectacular declarations. The "International Herald Tribune" (March 12-13) quoted a relative of one of the victims as saying :" This is a very private day for those of us who lost someone. It is nice that people come here and bring flowers and candles. What we don't like is that the politicians are treating the day as a photo opportunity. They look very good in those pictures, but this is not a day for looking good."

As an Indian, one felt disturbed by the absence of any reference to the thousands of Indian civilians killed by terrorists of various hues and the Israelis would be justified in feeling similarly disturbed over the absence of any reference to the hundreds of Israeli civilians killed brutally by Palestinian and other terrorists. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, in his address to the summit on March 10, made a passing reference to the Mumbai (Bombay) explosions of March,1993, in which about 250 innocent civilians were killed, but none of the other foreign political leaders had a thought to spare for the Indians and Israelis killed by the terrorists.

On the second day (March 9), there was a panel discussion titled " From Conflict To Peace: Lessons from the Frontline". An explanatory note for this panel , which was sponsored and probably funded by the Government of Norway, said: " Latin America, Asia and Africa have spawned numerous violent political movements. The experiences of individual nations in dealing with these groups have great relevance to the contemporary debate about political violence. What lessons do they hold? What are successful institutional mechanisms? "

What were the case studies taken up by the panel? Sri Lanka, Columbia and the UK. Neither India nor Israel received the attention they deserved in the format followed by this panel. Aren't their experiences relevant? India, which has achieved the restoration of peace and normalcy in three areas affected by terrorism/insurgency (Nagaland, Mizoram and Punjab) and is trying to achieve similar results in Jammu & Kashmir? Despite over 30,000 innocent civilians being killed by terrorists, India has not resorted to the use of its Air Force and heavy armour against the terrorists. The police still plays in India its role as the weapon of first resort against terrorism.

India has the second largest Muslim community in the world after Indonesia. Despite the Muslim anger in different parts of India due to various reasons, the Indian Muslim community has by and large kept away from bin Laden and his Al Qaeda. For an Indian Muslim, his cultural identity as an Indian is as important, if not more important, as his religious identity as a Muslim.

It was, therefore, surprising that its experience in keeping its Muslim community away from the likes of bin Laden and in dealing with terrorism was not considered worth being discussed in detail at the summit. One cannot help forming an impression that the Government of Norway was mainly interested in having its role as the facilitator of peace processes highlighted and it probably felt that a spotlight on India and Israel might draw attention away from its objective.

One of the themes of the Summit was the importance of democracy in dealing with terrorism. And, yet not a word was said by any of the nearly 50 political speakers about the attack on the Indian Parliament in December,2001. Even Kofi Annan did not refer to it in his address. Only a British non-governmental delegate admitted the importance of drawing attention to the attack on the Indian Parliament and promised that she would see that there was a reference to this in the final declaration to be issued by the Club of Madrid after the Summit. She was one of the few participants to have drawn attention to an instance of the violation of the human rights of an Iraqi family by the US troops and urged that the Club of Madrid should refer to this in its final declaration. The Club of Madrid has since issued its final declaration on the results of the summit. One does not find any reference in it either to the attack on the Indian Parliament or the violation of human rights in Iraq by the US troops.

During a discussion with one of the Spanish observers, I remarked: " The Club of Madrid and the Spanish authorities do not seem to be aware of the fact that there is a country called India, that it has been the largest victim of terrorism in the world despite its being the largest and a highly successful democracy and that it is the only democracy to have witnessed a deliberate attack on its Parliament by the jihadi terrorists, in an unsuccessful attempt to paralyse it."

I was told that this was probably because the Spanish authorities and the Club of Madrid feared that if they discussed the experiences of India and Israel, there could be similar demands from others--- for example, from Russia to highlight terrorism in Chechnya, from China to highlight terrorism in Xinjiang etc. I did not find the explanation convincing.

There was no Indian representation at the political level at the summit. I was told by an European journalist that India was invited to send a political representative, but it chose not to. If correct, this was unwise.

Pakistan was represented at the political level by Sher Aga Khan Niazi, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, who made a non-controversial statement giving some details of the action taken by Pakistan against Al Qaeda, the various international and regional conventions relating to terrorism already signed by it etc. He also stressed the importance of a correct definition of terrorism which, he wanted, should exclude legitimate struggles for the exercise of the right of self-determination. While this was an apparent reference to J&K, he avoided mentioning it by name.

Sheikh Hasina, the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, had also been invited, but as a member of the Working Group on Human Rights. She was not invited with other political leaders at the plenaries to make a political declaration, apparently because she does not hold any office in the Government.

The Working Group on Intelligence, which had representatives from amongst serving and retired officers of the intelligence communities of the USA, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Japan, Israel and India (the writer), had very fruitful discussions lasting for over six hours on various suggestions for improving the collection and sharing of intelligence, informal vs formal mechanisms for sharing intelligence, bilateral vs multilateral mechanisms for intelligence sharing, the role of the police in counter-terrorism intelligence collection and operations, the need for a revolutionary change in the intelligence culture, the importance of good analysis, the role of the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL) in counter-terrorism and the importance of parliamentary oversight over the intelligence agencies and how to facilitate it without hampering their normal working etc.

One could discern differing perceptions between Western and non-Western professionals---with the Western professionals stressing the importance of graduating from the bilateral to a multilateral mechanism for intelligence co-operation, a view which does not appeal to non-Western professionals; Western professionals, while conceding the importance of the role of the Police, at the same time, reluctant to accept non-Western arguments for giving the police the leadership role etc.

A point, which I repeatedly stressed, was the presence of large Muslim populations in Asian countries, including India, and their anxiety to ensure that their co-operation with the Western intelligence agencies did not have an adverse impact on the minds of their Muslim population .

The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected].

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1287, March 13, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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