Originally Published 2004-07-06 05:07:44 Published on Jul 06, 2004
For their survival and success, terrorist organisations need recruits, sanctuaries from which they could operate, funds and arms and ammunition, explosives and other material required for their acts of terrorism. Where, in addition, sponsorship by a State is available, it adds to their strength and to the difficulties of the counter-terrorism agencies in dealing with them.
Promoting Effective Collective Action to Counter Terrorism -I
For their survival and success, terrorist organisations need recruits, sanctuaries from which they could operate, funds and  arms and ammunition, explosives and other material required for their acts of terrorism. Where, in addition, sponsorship by a State is available, it adds to their strength and to the difficulties of the counter-terrorism agencies in dealing with them. 

Where terrorist groups enjoying foreign sanctuaries and State-sponsorship are deprived of them, they tend to wither away.  The most notable example is the withering away of the group led by Carlos and those associated with it after they lost the support of the Communist States of East Europe and Syria. 

Terrorist groups operating in the South-Asia-Afghanistan region enjoy the optimum conditions required for their survival and success--sanctuaries, recruits from amongst landless labour and unemployed youth in the case of ideological groups and from madrasas in the case of religious groups, funds from religious charities and the large heroin production in Afghanistan and the easy availability of arms and ammunition and explosives and State-sponsorship. Unless all these conditions are tackled effectively, the counter-terrorism campaign is unlikely to make significant headway. 

The so-called war against terrorism after 9/11 under US leadership in Afghanistan has introduced an additional aggravating factor. In the countries of the South Asian region, counter-terrorism  was and even now continues to be seen-and rightly so--- as a largely police problem. They view the police as the weapon of first resort in the campaign against terrorism and the Army as the weapon of last resort to be used only when the Police are overwhelmed. 

In the counter-terrorism campaign as waged under the US leadership in Afghanistan, the Armed Forces have  been sought to be used as the weapon of first resort; that too, a coalition of foreign armies. Result: A perception of an  increase in human rights violations and aggravated anger due to what is seen as military suppression by foreign armies. 

Neither foreign armed forces nor foreign police can be effective in counter-terrorism. On the contrary, they could make the problem intractable. Counter-terrorism has come to be viewed by large sections of the people in Afghanistan and Iraq as nothing but a campaign of military suppression by foreign armies. Consequently, support to the terrorists is increasingly coming to be viewed by large sections of the people in countries where the US is in the forefront of the counter-terrorism campaign as an act of patriotism. 

Non-State actors such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda are no longer terrorist organisations in the conventional or classical sense. They have become guerilla groups using terrorism as a weapon of intimidation. In some countries of the region such as Afghanistan, even if the primacy of the Police in counter-terrorism operations is restored, it is doubtful whether hereafter the police alone would be able to deal with the problem. 

A certain measure of continued military involvement cannot be avoided and that involvement has to be by the army of each country within its borders and not by a foreign army. How to reduce and ultimately eliminate the role of the US army in the counter-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan and how to give the Afghan Army and Police the required capability to deal with the terrorist entities--that is the most important question facing the region today. The spill-over of the anti-US anger across the borders of the region has been aggravating the problem. 

Al Qaeda is the only terrorist organisation in the region which openly advocates the acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Outside the region, the various Chechen terrorist groups have the required motivation and ruthlessness to use WMD if they manage to get hold of them. The other members of the International Islamic Front (IIF) are presumed to be in favour of WMD, but they have not come out with any open statement in this regard. Before 9/11, Al Qaeda was also alleged to have experimented with the production and possible use  of chemical and biological weapons. 

The ideological and ethnic terrorist organisations of the region do not advocate the acquisition and use of WMD. WMD has been the preoccupation of mainly religious terrorist groups. From their statements and other evidence, it would seem that they would be prepared to use WMD against the USA and Israel and in their territory and not elsewhere. The Chechens might try to use them against Russia in Russian territory outside the Caucasus.In the case of other countries such as India, a cause for concern is not from the actual use of WMD, but from a threat to use them if their demands are not met, thereby creating public pressure on the Governments to concede their demands. 

Action to thwart the acquisition of WMD by terrorists calls for strengthened physical security at the sources of raw materials and  places of production and storage and for effective surveillance over the possible means of clandestine transport (Example: container security). However, these alone may not be sufficient. 

In an interview given to an Indian newspaper before his visit to New Delhi last year, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said his concerns were not confined to the physical security of WMD material alone. He was equally, if not more, concerned over the dangers of religiously-motivated scientists making their knowledge and expertise available to terrorist groups on grounds of religious solidarity. That this danger is real was seen from the case of two nuclear scientists detained and questioned in this region in 2002 because of suspicion of their contacts with bin Laden and the recently-exposed instances of some nuclear scientists actively involved in nuclear proliferation to Iran, Libya and North Korea, allegedly due to greed. Even if greed is accepted as their only motive, it needs to be underlined that terrorists, with unlimited heroin and other  money at their disposal, will be able to offer as much as States, if not more. 

Action to counter criminal proliferation to and by non-State actors has thus become an important component of counter-terrorism. This task is presently performed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). How effective is it or will it be in detecting and frustrating attempts at WMD acquisition by non-State actors? How to create the required capability against non-State actors? Should that capability be created in the IAEA or in a separate and new organisation? 

The success of collective action against terrorist organisations depends on the following:

     A common data-base at the regional and international levels to which all countries have equal access. Who will be responsible for building and maintaining this data-base? A regional counter-terrorism centre in which counter-terrorism experts of different countries would  work under a common umbrella could be considered. 

    Intelligence sharing, multilaterally and bilaterally. While bilateral sharing should pose no problems, multilateral sharing could be tricky. How to do it? Or, is it advisable at all? 

    A mechanism for joint interrogation of terrorist leaders and suspects. In all the important arrests made since the s-called war on terrorism started in October,2001, the US has reserved to itself the right of first interrogation without associating experts from other countries from the very beginning. It decides what intelligence from its interrogation it will share with other countries and what it will not. This is not a desirable and co-operative  way of dealing with the problem. By doing so, the US has been denying to itself the benefit of the experience, insights and judgement of  other countries, with better experience. 

    Effective action against terrorist-funding and narcotics production and smuggling. The USA's pre-occupation with bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri has led to a slackening of the war against narcotics since it needs the narcotics producers and smugglers, who know the topography of Afghanistan, in its hunt for them. As a result, heroin production and smuggling have again shot up. 

    Effective mutual legal assistance in matters relating to investigation and prosecution. Mutual legal assistance continues to be as unsatisfactory as it was before 9/11. India has been a particular victim of the reluctance of some countries to co-operate in this matter. 

    Action against sanctuaries in foreign territory and against States sponsoring terrorism. This has been unsatisfactory except in the case of States sponsoring terrorists against US nationals and interests. This double standard has to go. 

While pre-emptive action against terrorists within the territory of a country by the Government of that country poses no problems, pre-emptive action against terrorists operating from sanctuaries in the territories of other countries bristles with difficulties. Does the right of active defence against terrorists extend to pre-emptive action in foreign territory? Against whom will the pre-emptive action be taken---against the terrorists or the States using them? Who will decide that pre-emptive action in a foreign territory would be justified in some cases? What would be the criteria for such justification? Are there circumstances which could justify unilateral pre-emptivie or punitive strikes? If the strikes have to be multilateral, under whose leadership and supervision would such action be taken? All these questions have to be carefully considered. 

Is the institutionalisation of multilateral counter-terrorism co-operation feasible? If so, what could be the ideal model of such institutionalisation? Would such models work in the case of terrorist organisations motivated by religion? These are questions which need to be addressed in a professional and down-to-earth manner. 

Counter-terrorism at the international level is a specialised subject, calling for professional expertise and experience. Neither the UN Security Council nor the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL) is professionally equipped to play this role. The time has come for the creation of an International Counter-Terrorism Organisation. (2-7-04) 

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

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

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