Originally Published 2005-03-24 09:38:15 Published on Mar 24, 2005
International jihadi terrorism of the Al Qaeda model will continue to pose the most serious challenge to the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies and the police forces of the world in the short and medium terms, that is, for another five to 10 years. It shows no signs of any dilution of motivation and determination.
Future Terrorism
International jihadi terrorism of the Al Qaeda model will continue to pose the most serious challenge to the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies and the police forces of the world in the short and medium terms, that is, for another five to 10 years. It shows no signs of any dilution of motivation and determination. There has been no dearth of volunteers. The more the number of terrorists killed or captured by the security forces, the more the number of volunteers for suicide and other terrorist missions. Their ability to learn from their successes and failures, to profit from the advances in science and technology and from the inadequacies in the intelligence and security set-up of the State, their spirit of innovation and their resilience remain impressive and even forbidding.

The end of the jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan led to a crop of terrorists of Afghan vintage, with their morale strengthened by their successes against the troops of the Soviet super-power, spreading across to other States and creating havoc. They commonly came to be known as the Afghan alumni. The end of the current jihad in Iraq against the US could result in a similar spread of terrorists of Iraqi vintage (the Iraqi alumni) to other countries and their creating a new wave of violence and destruction. Suicide terrorism through human bombs, car bombs and other means will continue to be their main repertoire. The States confronting them will continue to face difficulty in finding an effective response to suicide terrorism.

The ability of small cells to operate autonomously of each other without over-dependence on a centralised command and control and, at the same time, to effectively network with each other is a defining characteristic of the jihadi terrorists coming out of the Iraqi school. This will continue to be so in the years to come in other countries too.

The ease with which they have been able to expand their areas of operations circumventing the counter-terrorism firewalls built by the states of the international coalition led by the US is a cause for worry. Examples of such expansion could be seen in the recent incidents in Kuwait, the Lebanon and Qatar.

Anti-US anger is a common motivating factor of all international jihadi terrorist groups belonging to the International Islamic Front wherever they be operating from. They may talk of their ultimate objective of forming regional Islamic Caliphates, but their short and medium-term objective is to punish the US and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq wherever they can, whenever they can and in whatever manner they can. They have no qualms over killing innocent civilians in whatever number they have to and over collateral deaths of the members of their own community as a result of their operations directed against their perceived adversaries.

Since reprisals and the urge to humiliate the US and force it to leave the Islamic world are their basic motivating force, there is little scope for political and economic approaches for dealing with them and little possibility of countering them intellectually and ideologically and of winning their hearts and minds. The campaign against international jihadi terrorism will, therefore, have to depend on a basket of professional, operational and psychological measures such as better collection, analysis and use of intelligence, better physical security, better scientific and technical means, better arms and ammunition, better tradecraft, better tactics, better PSYWAR etc. Since the terrorists' modus operandi keep changing fast, the counter-terrorism techniques of the State agencies have to change fast too. The campaign against jihadi terrorism will be long and hard before jihadi fatigue and the weakening of the will triggers off the process of their withering away.

Just as there has been what has been projected as a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and a Revolution in Intelligence Affairs (RIA), there has also been a revolution in the unconventional way non-State actors, particularly domestic and international terrorists, operate against the State. Even while confronting what they see as the evils of globalisation such as the dilution and distortion of religious values and the religious conviction of the communities to which they belong, Westernisation or Americanisation of their way of life and culture etc, they have shown a remarkable capability for adapting very effectively the scientific and technological advances made by a globalised world for making their terrorist operations more lethal.

They often network better than the agencies of the State. While operating in wide areas as in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have been remarkably able to avoid more successfully than the security agencies of the State pitfalls of intense and swift operations such as killings due to friendly-fire. They have not allowed the absence of air cover and armour support to affect their morale and mobility on the ground. Their PSYWAR and counter-PSYWAR methods have considerable sophistication as seen from their ability to break the will of those captured by them without resorting to the kind of brutal methods such as those adopted by the US forces. Allegations of misbehaviour towards the local population, particularly women, are more common against the security forces than against the international jihadi terrorists.

Two examples of their ability to adapt modern technological innovations for improving their operational capability can be found in their use of the Internet for clandestine communications, networking ,command and control, virtual training and PSYWAR and in their use of the mobile phones for detonating explosive devices on the ground as well as in the air, as was seen during the reported blowing up of two Russian passenger planes by the Chechen terrorists from the ground in August last.

The question before the international community in its fight against international jihadi terrorism will continue to be not how to wean the terrorists away from the path of violence. This is unlikely unless and until their will is broken. The real question is how to wean their own community and co-religionists away from the terrorists. For this to succeed, it is important to contain the spread of anger in the Islamic world and to remove the causes of anger. The dilemma faced by the international community in this task is due to the fact that only the USA, because of its material and technological resources, has the ability to lead the international coalition in the so-called war against terrorism, but its over-militarised approach, its inability to understand the Muslim mind and the Islamic culture and its insensitivity to what hurts the Muslim pride are aggravating the Muslim anger, instead of making it subside. Its counter-terrorism methods, with the use of the Air Force and heavy armour, are themselves becoming an important root cause of terrorism.

The dilemma before the international community is: It cannot prevail over the international jihadi terrorists without the US leadership and assistance. At the same time, it cannot prevail with the US leadership and assistance either, unless and until the US realises its mistakes, has the humility to admit them and changes its methods.

Weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption (WMD) terrorism will continue to be the likely threats of the future against which the State has to be well-prepared. Weapons of mass destruction or the threat to use them to achieve demands or objectives need not necessarily aim to cause actual destruction. They could also aim to cause mass panic and demoralisation and consequent public pressure on the state to bend to the will of the terrorists, by claiming to have smuggled in WMD and threatening to use them if their demands are not met. It would be difficult for the State to verify their claims of having smuggled in WMD and to reassure the public that it has nothing to fear. Effective physical security for establishments producing and storing WMD material and a crisis management drill for dealing with different scenarios involving the use or threatened use of WMD material will continue to require high priority in the short and medium terms.

Amongst the possible mutations of weapons of mass disruption terrorism are attacks on economic targets such as the tourist industry, capture and/ or destruction of oil and gas production and distribution facilities, capture of power in key oil-producing states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq and the use of the oil weapon to achieve their objectives and maritime terrorism. As one saw at Bali in Indonesia and Mombasa in Kenya towards the end of 2002 and in Casablanca and Madrid subsequently, disruption of tourist economies through well-planned attacks on soft targets is easy to plan and achieve.

The fact that they succeeded in the places mentioned above spoke poorly of the physical security set-up in those countries. The fact that they have not succeeded in similar measure subsequently shows how effective physical security and international co-operation in investigation can prevent terrorist attacks against physical targets. On the negative side, there are so many such physical targets available to the terrorists that it would be very difficult to provide equal physical security to all of them. Effective physical security need not necessarily be in the form of static security for physical targets. Vigorous investigation, surveillance and law enforcement to detect and neutralise sleeper cells as they are getting ready for a terrorist operation can help in preventing such attacks even on soft targets not having physical protection.

The possible use of oil for causing massive disruptions in the world economy has been receiving increasing attention from the international jihadi terrorist elements. The need for attacks on oil installations is a frequently occurring theme in the messages of Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. Till now, the attacks on the oil industry have been in the form of one reported attack on a oil tanker at the Aden port, attacks on the foreign experts working in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and the blowing-up of oil pipelines in Iraq. The attacks, though spectacular, have not had a sustained effect. The oil industry, like the tourism industry, has shown itself to be resilient despite its vulnerability. Both the tourism and oil industries have so far been able to recover from the sporadic attacks on them fairly quickly. The economic disruption, though considerable, was temporary and did not have a serious effect on the availability and affordability of oil. This should not lead to any feelings of complacency that attacks of a more disastrous nature are unlikely. Counter-terrorism techniques tailor-made for the energy sector need urgent attention.

The terrorist situation in Saudi Arabia should be a cause for great concern in this connection. Till now, the Saudi security agencies have been able to absorb the sporadic terrorist strikes in the country without the terrorists being able to cause serious political or economic destabilisation. At the same time, despite the successes of the Saudi security agencies in detecting and neutralising many terrorist cells in the country, the motivation and determination of the terrorists remain high.

The international jihadi terrorists look upon Iraq and Saudi Arabia as the key elements in their grand strategy for bringing about the defeat and humiliation of the US forces and their withdrawal from the Islamic world and for disrupting the oil economy in order to disrupt the economy of the Western world. If they manage to capture power in Saudi Arabia or seriously disrupt its oil industry, the Western economies would not be the only one to suffer. The aspirations of India and China to emerge as major economic powers of the region, if not the world, could equally receive a set-back.

India's plans for ensuring the supplies of energy to fuel its expanding economy through a network of pipelines from Turkmenistan and Iran via Pakistan and from Myanmar via Bangladesh would remain a pipedream till the already-established international jihadi terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the fast emerging one in Bangladesh are neutralised by the international community through appropriate pressure on these countries.

The surviving terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan continues to pose a threat to peace and security and economic prosperity in South, West and Central Asia. The emerging one in Bangladesh has serious implications for South and South-East Asia.

International threat perceptions of maritime terrorism are high and will continue to remain high in the foreseeable future. The fact that till now there has been no major terrorist strikes in the high seas except a claimed, but unproved one by the Abu Sayyaf last year in the waters off the Philippines should not lead to a feeling of complacency that the international jihadi terrorists feel more comfortable operating on land and are, therefore, unlikely to expand their operations to the high seas. The fact that the Malacca Straits and other areas in the South-East Asian region continue to witness a large number of piracy attacks in the high seas despite the temporary set-back to piracy operations caused by the recent Tsunami disaster and that some of the terrorist groups operating in the South and South-East Asian regions such as the LTTE of Sri Lanka and the Free Aceh movement of Indonesia have proved seafaring capabilities would make this region particularly vulnerable to the emergence and growth of maritime terrorism.

Despite the rapid development of the technological element, the human element will continue to be the most important factor in determining the outcome of the campaign against terrorism. In spite of the superiority of the State in numbers and material and technological resources, the international jihadi terrorists do not show as yet any signs of withering away. The quality of the human element they have at their disposal would substantially account for this. The quality of the human element available to the security and counter-terrorism agencies should surpass that of the terrorists if the State has to ultimately prevail.

With only mediocre human element, even the best of technological capability cannot produce adequate results. The best of human element can ultimately prevail even if the technological capability is not up to the mark. The human element is very important at every stage of counter-terrorism---intelligence collection and analysis, use of the intelligence for prevention, neutralisation of the capability of the terrorists, investigation of terrorist strikes and successful prosecution. How to develop an unbroken chain of human competence of high quality? That is a question which would continue to need attention in the years to come.

There has to be a revolution in the intelligence culture and tradecraft or operating techniques in order to be able to prevail over the terrorists. The existing tradecraft served adequately the purpose of the penetration of the State adversaries in order to collect human intelligence (HUMINT). It has been found to be inadequate, if not unsuited, for penetrating the set-ups of non-State actors, particularly the terrorists, who operate on the basis of the principle of autonomous cells. The progress towards the evolution of new tradecraft and new techniques has been unsatisfactory.

A revolution in the intelligence culture also calls for effective networking of national and foreign intelligence agencies and the sharing without inhibition of all relevant intelligence. The intelligence and counter-terrorism networking has to be as effective as the networking by the terrorists. Such networking was found difficult even in days when the number of intelligence agencies in each nation was small and manageable. How to ensure this in an era of mushrooming agencies is another question which needs urgent attention.

There has been some progress towards international intelligence co-operation at the bilateral level, but the progress towards multilateral co-operation is still years away. Since the US is and will continue to be a predominant player in all intelligence co-operation networks, suspicions of its real intentions and fears of its using such networks for serving its hegemonistic and strategic interests would continue to dog any progress towards multilateral co-operation.

There is an equally urgent need for a revolution in counter-terrorism training methods with an emphasis on joint training in specialised counter-terrorism schools for the officers and staff handling counter-terrorism in all intelligence and security agencies and police forces and the improvement of language capability. The training should develop in the officers an ability to think and act unconventionally with the help of suitably devised counter-terrorism games similar to the war games.

It has been seen from the experience of the ideological terrorist groups of West Europe of the 1970s and the 1980s, which withered away after the collapse of the USSR and other Communist States of West Europe, that trans-national terrorist groups cannot survive without the sponsorship and complicity of another state in matters such as sanctuaries, training, supply of funds and arms and ammunition. If international jihadi terrorism continues to thrive despite the united action of the international community, it is largely because of the continued availability of sponsorship and complicity from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. The provision in the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 calling upon all member-countries to stop providing direct or indirect assistance to terrorists remain unheeded by these countries. Unless and until these three States are called to account by the international community, it is unlikely to prevail over international jihadi terrorism.

Despite the improvement in the atmospherics in Indo-Pakistan relations since November,2003, there is no evidence to show that Pakistan has given up the use of terrorism as a weapon for achieving its strategic objectives vis-a-vis India. It is unlikely to do so, so long as it remains reassured that the US will continue to close its eyes to its use of terrorism against India if it helps in putting an end to terrorism threatening American lives and interests. India's victory over jihadi terrorism emanating from Pakistan and Bangladesh is, therefore, not for tomorrow or the day after. This is a campaign which we have to fight with very little prospects of significant assistance from the US and the rest of the world. We have fought it for decades at tremendous human sacrifice, without letting it affect our emergence as a major economic and technological power. We can continue to do so in the future too provided we continue to learn the right lessons from our successes and failures and keep our counter-terrorism methods constantly evolving to meet the needs of the situation.

Despite our having the second largest Muslim community in the world, we have managed to keep the Al Qaeda out till now. The jihadi terrorism in our territory is largely due to pro-Al Qaeda jihadi organisations from Pakistan, which have joined bin Laden's International Islamic Front. In the past, their members used to consist largely of Pakistanis. The investigation into the twin Mumbai blasts of August 25,2003, and the recent unearthing of some cells of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), which were reportedly planning terrorist strikes in Dehra Dun and Bangalore, indicate a disturbing trend of elements from our Muslim community in growing numbers volunteering their services for organisations such as the LET aligned with Al Qaeda. This is a trend, which needs to be checked through better attention to the grievances of the Muslim community and other appropriate measures. 

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].

(Text of a paper presented at a seminar at the United Service Institution (USI) of India, New Delhi, March 22, 2005)

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