Originally Published 2005-01-03 09:28:12 Published on Jan 03, 2005
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, India, Israel, South-East Asia, Russia and the USA would be the main theatres of jihadi terrorism of a strategic nature during the year 2005.There could be sporadic incidents of jihadi terrorism in other parts of the world¿¿such as West Europe and the Central Asian Republics¿¿but they would be more of a tactical than of a strategic nature.
Jihadi Terrorism--2005
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, India, Israel, South-East Asia, Russia and the USA would be the main theatres of jihadi terrorism of a strategic nature during the year 2005.There could be sporadic incidents of jihadi terrorism in other parts of the world--such as West Europe and the Central Asian Republics--but they would be more of a tactical than of a strategic nature. Terrorism of a strategic nature has an enduring impact--short, medium or long-term. Terrorism of a tactical nature has only an ephemeral effect.

The US-led coalition in Iraq has not so far found the right answer to counter the steadily growing strength, solidarity and motivation of the foreign terrorist and Iraqi resistance groups operating there, with increasing lethality and operational efficiency. The performance of the US intelligence agencies continues to be inadequate and the psychological warfare (Psywar) campaign of the US security forces unsatisfactory.

The fact that the terrorists and the resistance-fighters seem to have better intelligence than the US agencies should not be a matter for surprise. After all, the resistance-fighters operate in their homeland and feelings of Islamic solidarity help the terrorists, even if they are from other countries. As an occupying power, the US operates in hostile territory, which limits the prospects for success of its intelligence agencies. Despite the recently initiated reform of the US intelligence community, the performance of the US intelligence agencies in Iraq will continue to be poor during 2005.

The newly-raised Iraqi Army and Police will continue to belie expectations of a better performance in ensuring internal security. Desertions and dangers of many of them facilitating the penetration of the security set-up by the terrorists would continue to remain high. The US finds itself in a dilemma of its own creation with regard to the elections to a provisional parliament due at the end of January, 2005. Having invested much of its prestige in its plans to hold the elections as scheduled, it cannot afford to postpone them as that would provide another morale-booster to the combine of terrorists and resistance fighters.

It is not without significance that almost all countries----even those which were critical of the US-led intervention in Iraq--- have been in favour of going ahead with the elections as planned, however unsatisfactory they may turn out to be. The holding of the elections will not turn out to be the end of or even the beginning of the end of jihadi terrorism, but it will demonstrate to the jihadi terrorists the determination of the international community not to let jihadi terrorism succeed.

Such a demonstration is necessary whatever be the cost of it. It needs to be recalled how India's determination to hold the periodic elections in Jammu & Kashmir in the face of an escalation of terrorist violence by Pakistan-supported jihadi terrorist organisations ultimately broke their morale and made Pakistan amenable to reason.

There are no grounds to doubt the successful conduct of the elections in the Shia and Kurdish majority areas. It seems almost certain that the terrorists and resistance-fighters will be able to disrupt the elections in the Sunni Triangle. The likelihood of this should not prevent the US-led coalition from going ahead with the elections in the Shia majority and Kurdish areas. Ways have to be found for constituting the provisional Parliament--either with the seats in the Sunni majority areas held vacant or filled with nominees willing to serve temporarily till bye-elections could be held.

The other option is to hold the elections in two stages, as we do in India in areas affected by internal security problems. The US-led coalition and the interim Iraqi Government could hold the elections in the Shia majority and Kurdish areas at the end of January as scheduled and those in the Sunni triangle in two stages some weeks later, with the provisional Parliament being constituted only after the elections have been held in the entire country.

In any situation of the kind prevalent in Iraq, intelligently-conceived and executed Psywar operations would play an important role in countering the terrorists. The US and its intelligence agencies, which were so successful in their Psywar operations against international communism, have been fumbling in their operations against international jihadi Islamism in Iraq. "Muslims killing Muslims in the name of Islam", "Iraqis killing Iraqis in the name of Iraq" 'Non-Iraqi Muslims ( Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of the so-called Al Qaeda of Iraq, Abu-Abdullah al-Hassan Bin-Mahmud of the Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah) lording it over Iraqi Muslims in the name of Islamic solidarity", " Threats to Iraq's traditions of secularism", "Dangers of the Talibanisation of Iraq" etc are some of the features of the terrorists-resistance fighters combine over which many Iraqis would be concerned, even though they may not express their concern openly due to their feelings of humiliation at the hands of the US.

The CIA's Psywar operations were effective against international communism because the US was not the occupying power anywhere in the world during the cold war, but are so ineffective in Iraq because it is. The words of an occupying power do not carry weight, particularly if it is as ruthless as the terrorists in the way it operates. Faced with what they perceive as the marauding actions of the US troops on the one side and those of the terrorists and resistance fighters on the other, it should not be a surprise if the Iraqis accommodate themselves to the latter in order to get rid of the former.

Nearly two years after its occupation of Iraq, the USA has not been able to encourage the formation of even a small hardcore of patriotic moderates in the Sunni community because of its dependence on a group of political exiles who were literally carried to Iraq in the haversacks of the Marines and placed in power. It is not surprising that their words carry even less weight than those of the occupying forces. The over-demonisation of Saddam Hussein and his secular Baath Party in the months preceding the invasion and the inability of the Bush Administration to admit and correct its policy errors are standing in the way of letting bygones be bygones and calling upon Saddam and his Baathist colleagues to join the international community in defeating the jihadi terrorists.

Defeated they should be and in Iraq. This would be possible only with the co-operation of the Baathists. Not otherwise. If they are not defeated and if events in Iraq result in a denouement similar to what happened in Afghanistan when the Soviet troops were forced by the Mujahideen to withdraw unceremoniously, the consequences for those, such as India and the countries of South-East Asia, which are confronted with jihadi terrorism, would be unpredictable. There would be a real danger of the Iraqi terrorist alumi replacing the Afghan terrorist alumni of the 1990s vintage in the vanguard of jihadi terrorism.

The success of the jihadi terrorists in December, 2004, such as the incidents in Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Mosul in Iraq, and the high profile role once again being played by bin Laden show that the command and control of Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF), which had been disrupted, has been revamped and is functioning again with some efficiency.

The ground situation in Saudi Arabia is far from satisfactory and should be a cause for concern to the international community, including India. The situation in the Saudi Arabia-Iraq region is comparable to the situation, which prevailed in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region pre-9/11 and which continues to prevail to some extent even today---with the situation in one country feeding terrorism in the other and vice versa and with the suspected complicity of some sections of the military-intelligence establishment in Saudi Arabia apparently providing oxygen to the terrorists.

The ultimate success of the terrorists in Saudi Arabia, whether in overthrowing the regime or in disrupting the flow of oil to the outside world, could be a major blow, if not catastrophic, to the economies of many countries, including India. The increasing jihadi terrorism in Saudi Arabia has to be confronted with determination and effectively by the Saudi authorities. There is very little role that the outside world, including even the USA, can play in the matter--- except to share intelligence and counter-terrorism expertise.

It would be wishful-thinking to believe that accelerated political reforms in Saudi Arabia, however necessary and desirable in the medium and long terms, would bring about an end of jihadi terrorism of the Al Qaeda kind. It would not. Only effective counter-terrorism in the region as a whole would help. That means particularly , effective counter-terrorism in Iraq and Pakistan. The decapitation of the al-Zarqawi- bin Mahmud combine in Iraq and of the bin Laden-al-Zawahiri duo in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, if it could be brought about, could disrupt seriously the re-established command and control of Al Qaeda. It would not be the end of jihadi terrorism, but could mark the beginning of it, if the sequel is handled intelligently.

The events of December, 2004, and the increasing audibility and authority of bin Laden show once again that the GHQ of international jihadi terrorism continues to function from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. The so-called anti-Al Qaeda operations of Gen.Pervez Musharraf in the South Waziristan area have proved to be a farce.

The greatest beneficiary of the continued activity of bin Laden and the IIF has been Musharraf. Under the pretext of helping the US in its operations against Al Qaeda and bin Laden, he has been able to get out of it one package after another---economic and military. The end of Al Qaeda and bin Laden would reduce his importance in the eyes of the US and the rest of the international community. The US policy of carrots all the way with no sticks has failed so far to pressurise and motivate Pakistan to be more serious in the hunt for bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. It is time for a mid-course correction in the policy.

As I keep pointing out time and again, there is no such thing as a definitive moment of victory over terrorism. It can only be made to wither away over the course of time by a well-considered and well-executed counter-terrorism policy. One had seen many terrorist groups, which were once considered formidable, wither away without any trace of some of them now. Examples: the Baader-Meinhof, the Red Army Faction and the Action Directe of West Europe, the Carlos' group, the Al Gama Al Islamiya in Egypt and the Sikh terrorist groups in Punjab. When the Sikh terrorists stopped operating in Punjab in 1995 as a result of sustained counter-terrorism pressure by the Punjab Police, aided by other agencies, we did not realise that the terrorism has ended. Only much later we realised that it has withered away, thanks to our security forces, the low profile heroes of our campaign against terrorism in Punjab. But it took them 14 years of intelligent and sustained campaign to bring about this happy result.

Al Qaeda and the IIF are much stronger organisations than those of Punjab. The kind of funds, technical expertise and transnational networking they have at their disposal, none of the terrorist organisations of Punjab ever had. It should not, therefore, be surprising that the fight against Al Qaeda and the IIF is proving to be more difficult than any other counter-terrorism campaign in the world, except Israel's against jihadi terrorism. But I am confident they can be made to wither away if we are relentless in our campaign against them and against States such as Pakistan which are beneficiaries of their activities.

Can India play a role in the campaign against jihadi terrorism at the international level, including in Iraq? India, which has successfully kept the Al Qaeda out of its territory so far and whose Muslim population, the second largest in the world after Indonesia's, continues to treat the Al Qaeda with disdain, can and should play a low-profile, indiscreet and behind the scene role in helping the US, provided the US genuinely wants to be helped and accords greater importance to the views and concerns of India than it has been doing hitherto. It has to be a partnership against pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism on an equal basis, between the two greatest democracies of this world. However, such a partnership will not work if Washington keeps looking over its shoulders all the time to see what its effect on Pakistan could be. The need of the hour is an International Democratic and Secular Front against the International Jihadi Terrorist Front of bin Laden. al-Zarqawi, bin Mahmud and their Pakistani jihadi cohorts. Are India and the US ready for such a partnership? 

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. 1207, December 31, 2004.

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