Event ReportsPublished on Dec 27, 2014
The biggest challenge in dealing with terrorism is the 'double-standard' approach that many nations, including the US, at the policy-level internationally, according to Dr K V S Gopalakrishnan, former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
More than 80 percent of terrorist activities are state-sponsored
The biggest challenge in dealing with terrorism is the ’double- standard’ approach that many nations, including the US, at the policy-level internationally, according to Dr K V S Gopalakrishnan, former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

He noted that the radicalisation in Afghanistan was initiated by the US in the Eighties, to confront the erstwhile Soviet Union in the region. As a result, the US pumped in billions of dollars worth of weapons to religiously-motivated militant groups.

"Today, the same groups have evolved as a major global threat to not only South Asia but also the US, where they staged the 9/11 attack", Dr. Gopalakrishnan pointed out while initiating a discussion on "Countering Terrorism" at Observer Research Foundation Chennai Chapter on December 27, 2014.

Terrorism is thus a "Frankenstein’s Monster" which eventually turns up against its creator and there are plenty of examples for this, Dr Gopalakrishnan noted. He also cited the example of Pakistan, which is now facing terrorism by those that it had nurtured and still nurturing under the policy of "good Taliban and bad Taliban". Nearer home, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had initially supported and aided ’Khalistan ’terrorists and the LTTE and eventually both bit the very hand that had once fed them by assassinating of Indira Gandhi (1984) and son Rajiv Gandhi (1991), respectively.

Dr. Gopalakrishnan pointed out that globally, there has been a sporadic increase in the rate of terrorist activities over the last decade, while there have been differences in the definition of terrorism. Studies showed that over 82 percent of the acts are state-sponsored. More than 50 percent of these attacks had no causalities as they were primarily carried out for publicity. Statistically, Iraq leads as the worst terrorism-affected country in 2013, accounting for 35.4 percent of terrorism-related fatalities, mainly owing to the sectarian conflict that was triggered by the US invasion, to topple the regime of President Saddam Hussein. Afghanistan ranks next with 17.3 per cent, Pakistan stands third with 13.1 percent, Nigeria 10.2 percent and Syria 6.

These numbers would have definitely increased several fold in all these five nations with the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria resulting in further intensification of the already prolonged Syrian Civil War, the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in December 2014, the recent attacks in Pakistan, including the Wagah border incident and the Peshawar school shoot-out as retaliation to Pakistan military’s offensive against the Taliban in the North Waziristan. These, as also the abduction of over 200 girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram terror group, clearly showed that the situation in these countries in not likely to improve in 2015 either.

Terrorism and insurgency

Dr Gopalakrishnan also emphasised the difference between terrorism and insurgency. Insurgency is different from terrorism as it is more organised, has a definite area of operation and functions mainly with the support of the local population.

As a result, insurgency mainly arises from the neglect and alienation of the local population. The speaker brought in the example of the insurgency in the North-Eastern States of India with his own field experience in the anti-insurgency operations in the region , where the people felt alienated and saw fellow-Indians from other states as ’outsiders’.

Another reason for insurgency to arise could be ethnic, linguistic or religious separatism that might be prevalent in an area where people belonging to a particular ethnicity or religion may indulge in insurgency. The example of such insurgency is the religious extremism in the Punjab of the Eighties, which was based on a ’radical’ Sikh ideology that sought separation from the nation.

Countering terrorism

The lack of strong policy for countering terrorism both in the international and domestic level was another issue that was discussed. The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 in 1999 showed lack of policy and strategy for tackling such incidents by the Indian government. It should be emphasised that the efforts to counter terrorism should be global and the counter-terrorism policies of all nations should be interlinked. All nations must adopt the policy of ’zero tolerance’ against terrorism.
The biggest challenge at the policy-level internationally is the ’double- standard’ approach that many nations, including the US.

At the regional-level, a counter-terrorism policy framework like in the European Union cannot be replicated in South Asia due to lack cooperation among the nations in the region, especially with Pakistan as a major player, using terrorism as a tool to counter India on the ’Kashmir issue’. Another challenge in framing and enforcing strong anti-terror laws is the undermining of such tough laws by self-proclaimed human rights activists and organisations who frequently "cry wolf" in the name of rights violations.

Women in terrorism

Dr. Gopalakrishnan also referred to the role of women in terrorist activities. He referred to the large number of female suicide-bombers that the LTTE employed, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Today, female suicide-bombers are employed by ’jihadist’ groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. It owes to the denial of political rights for women, which instigates them into participating in such acts of terror to gain greater acceptance in the male-dominated world of politics.

Hence, effective counter-terrorism policies must also focus on empowering women both in the grassroots and leadership level so that they don’t get swayed by the extremist ideologies against the State and the government. At the ground-level, the police force in all major cities in India should have dedicated SWAT teams (Special Weapons & Tactics) team for swift response in case of terror incidents like in the case of 26/11 ’Mumbai’ attacks

Media and psy-war

The complex role of media in the rise of terrorism also came up for discussion. The speaker quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as once saying famously that "media is the oxygen of terrorism’’. It is not a mere coincidence that today the rise in global terrorism parallels the rise of real-time media and the social media.

Terrorism is basically ’psychological warfare’ and it depends on the media to spread its agenda. Today, it would impossible for organisations like the ISIS to function without social media through which it misleads thousands of youth across the globe to join them. Terrorist outfits like Hezbollah are completely a media-oriented group.

The terrorist always plan their attack in such a way that it attracts maximum media attention. Like in 1972 when the pro-Palestine terrorist organisation ’Black September’ chose the Munich Olympics to target the Israeli athletes so that it got maximum publicity. The real-time media in India where there is no proper media regulation policies played an ’anti-national role’ in incidents like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, where the handlers in Pakistan watched the Indian media coverage to instruct the terrorists on the ground.

This has increased the need and urgency for the government imposed strict rules and regulations for media coverage of terror incidents. Going beyond TRP competition, the media should follow some ethics in covering terrorist attacks in the sake of national interest, Dr Gopalakrishnan said.

Ultimately, all counter-terrorism policies and measures should be focused at outwitting the terrorists by effectively identifying and protecting potential targets, effective intelligence and zero-tolerance to all forms of terror by all nations, the speaker added.

(This report is prepared by Vignesh Rajendran, II Year MA, Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, Chennai)

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