Originally Published 2004-02-26 10:58:52 Published on Feb 26, 2004
The threat to regional security is mainly from pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist organisations and not from ideological or ethnic terrorist groups.
Regional Co-operation Against Non-State Actors
The threat to regional security is mainly from pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist organisations and not from ideological or ethnic terrorist groups.

Many of the pan-Islamic jihadi organisations came into existence during the Afghan war of the 1980s against the Soviet troops.They have now been brought together by Osama bin Laden in a united front called the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed in 1998.

Though the IIF and Al Qaeda, which is its leading member,originally projected the US and Israel as the main enemies of Islam, they have since started targeting other countries also which are perceived as supporting the US in what is described as its anti-Islam policies. Amongst such countries are the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Australia

Al Qaeda itself has not so far  targeted India, but four Pakistani jihadi organisations, which are members of the IIF, have been very active in Jammu & Kashmir and other parts of India.They have been responsible for the majority of the terrorist incidents since 1999. These are the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM).The      Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) of South-East Asia, which is seen as allied to Al Qaeda, has also been spreading jihadi terrorism in the region for achieving its pan-Islamic objective of an Islamic caliphate in the region.

Regional peace cannot be ensured unless all the constituents of the IIF are tackled simultaneously and neutralised effectively.The US policy of focussing its action against Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, and not paying equal attention to neutralising the other components of the IIF, is unlikely to restore peace and rid the region of the scourge of jihadi terrorism.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia contnue to be the main breeding grounds of the pan-Islamic jihadi  terrorists.Pakistan is still giving shelter to the dregs of the Taliban, hoping to use them to retrieve the ground lost by it in Afghanistan. It has not been taking effective action against the survivors of Al Qaeda, who have taken shelter in its territory. It had co-operated with the US in the arrest and deportation of four senior operatives of Al Qaeda, including  Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was suspected to have  orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, but many others including Osama bin Laden himself and his No.2, Dr.Ayman Al-Zawahiri, reportedly continue to operate from its territory.

Despite  periodic statements of Musharraf  against jihadi terrorist groups and his pretense of banning their activities from Pakistani territory, they continue to operate against India from Pakistani territory.His proclaimed actions against the madrasas,many of which have been the breeding grounds of jihadi terrorism, have been half-hearted and ineffective.Unless Pakistan is held accountable for inadequate compliance with the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 and made to act effectively against the pan-Islamic terrorist infrastructure in its territory, the fight against international terrorism is unlikely to be effective.

Saudi Arabia, which has been an important source of funds for the pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist organisations, particularly those of Wahabi persuasion,has recently seen an increase in the activities of  Al Qaeda directed against the present ruling regime.If the terrorists succeed in overthrowing the Government and capturing power, it would strengthen jihadi terrorism in the region .It could also  threaten energy supplies to the countries of the region, if the terrorists after capturing power use oil as a weapon to achieve their religious objective.

Mass casualty and WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction) terrorism was born in the Afganistan- Pakistan region. The talk of the religious right and obligation of the Muslims to acquire WMD and use them, if necessary, to protect their religion emanated from this region. In this context, the recent discovery of the proliferation activities of a group of Pakistani scientists headed by A.Q.Khan should be a wake-up call for the international community. It underlines the likely dangers  if immediate and effective action is not taken to prevent the transfer or leakage of WMD material and technology to non-State actors from religious-minded or greedy scientists, with or without the complicty of their government.  Identification of elements in the scientific community from which such leakages or transfer could take place and action against them should be a matter of very high priority in the fight against terrorism.

The post-9/11 international co-operation against terrorism has achieved some results against Al Qaeda and the JI, but the results are not commensurate with the requirements of the situation. The UN Security Council, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of UNSCR 1373, has itself admitted that only a half of the 191 member-countries has sent their compliance reports. Despite claims of millions of dollars in suspected terrorist funds having been frozen, there is no shortage of money with terrorists of various hues. Terrorists#146; infrastructure in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh remain  untouched.

There has been a disturbing increase in opium production in Afghanistan. In this region, heroin has been an important source of funds not only for non-State actors, but also for States such as Pakistan. Till international assistance started flowing again to Pakistan after 9/11, its economy was in a virtual state of collapse for nearly a decade. What prevented its actual collapse was the large flow of heroin money into its economy, with the connivance of the State. Pakistan#146;s acquisition of military nuclearly capability and its sharing of this capability with countries such as Iran, Libya and North Korea would not have been possible but for the flow of money from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya and the availability of the heroin dollars.Action against narcotics production and smuggling has not received the required attention in the so-called war against terrorism.

The traditional counter-terrorism techniques such as economic packages, removal of unemployment, winning the hearts and minds of the people etc would not pay against the pan-Islamic jihadi terrorists, who have taken to terrorism partly out of a desire for vengeance and partly to achieve objectives such as the creation of Islamic Caliphates, which  no State can concede. Moreover, many of the terrorists are educated and do not belong to the so-called deprived classes.The traditional arguments of identifying and removing the root causes of their resort to terrorism would be meaningless. They have to be put down through effective police action. Over-emphasis on the military approach would ,however, be counter-productive.

Anger against the US, justified or unjustified, is one of the factors fanning international jihadi terrorism and its occupation of Iraq at the head of a coalition has added to this anger. This is threatening to make Iraq, which was a secular country till last year, another hotbed of international jihadi terrorism. Even if it is not possible to reduce this anger in the short-term, it is important at least to ensure that the US does not add to it through similar ill-advised actions elsewhere.

Bilateral co-operation against terrorism has improved since 9/11. Multilateral co-operation at the regional level has also improved in Nort America, Europe and South-East Asia. This is mainly because none of the countries of those regions use terrorism as a weapon for achieving their strategic objectives against other States. Unfortunately, regional co-operation against terrorism has not made much headway in South Asia because of the use of terrorism and/or terrorist organisations by Pakistan and Bangladesh in order to achieve their strategic objectives against India.

Of the various kinds of terrorist organisations active in the region--- ethnic, separatist, ideological, religious and sectarian--- only the pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist groups operating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia region have taken to mass-casualty or catastrophic terrorism. Other terrorist groups do not advocate it because they cannot afford to create feelings of revulsion against them in the community from which they have arisen and for which they claim to be fighting. They are still sensitive to public opinion. The pan-Islamic jihadi terrorists, many of whom operate from the territories of third countries and against third countries, are not worried over the impact of their masss-killings on public      opinion. Moreover, they look upon terrorism not only as a means of achieving an objective, political or religious,but also as a way of punishing perceived enemies of Islam. They are prepared to use any weapon of punishment, whatever the number and nature of casualties.

The mass casualty terrorist groups would continue to use explosives and resort to unconventional use of conventional means such as hijacked aircraft for giving vent to their anger and in their reprisal attacks. Air-borne terrorism has a fascination for these groups and would continue to be a major source of threat. Sea-borne terrorism for achieving similar spectacular attacks is another threat which has to be taken seriously. The large-scale movement of container traffic due to globalisation could provide the mass-casualty terrorists with an opportunity for spectacular action by using conventional explosives or even radiological weapons (the so-called dirty bombs) if they manage to get hold of them.Mass disruption of regional and world economies by targeting nerve centres of the economy and through cyber terrorism      are other likely dangers of the future. The nexus between trans-national terrorists and criminal mafia groups also needs increased attention.

These dangers require a global and regional response. Such a response would be possible only if all      the countries agree that no State should exploit or use non-State actors for any purpose. There has to be effective sanctions against States using them.

The increasing resort to suicide terrorism by pan-Islamic terrorist groups poses a dilemma to physical security agencies.Peaceful sections of the Muslim communities in many countries are hesitant to come out openly against mass-casualty and suicide terrorism. How to isolate the jihadi terrorists through the co-operation of law-abiding Muslims and how to have jihad as a cover for terrorism and the resort to suicide terrorism  for killing innocent civilians condemned through social reformers in the Muslim communities are important aspects in any long-term counter-terrorism strategy.

India has the second largest Muslim community in the world after Indonesia. Despite the      anger of sections of the Indian Muslims over the periodic communal riots, the Indian Muslim community as a whole has kept away from Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism.The indigenous terrorist groups in J&K and organisations such as Al Ummah in Tamil Nadu have taken to terrorism purely for domestic reasons and not for any pan-Islamic objectives.The equal opportunities to all religious groups in India, the availability of an alternate non-religious educational system of excellence to the Muslims and the examples of many Muslims rising to the highest positions in different walks of life have given the Muslim community a stake in the stability and prosperity of India, of which they are as much beneficiaries as any other religious community , and kept them away from groups such as Al Qaeda.

The region has historically inherited many border or territorial disputes such as those in the South China Sea, between India and China and between India and Pakistan. Attempts for a peaceful resolution to the dispute in the South China Sea and to that between India and China are making progress. The recently-initiated composite dialogue between India and Pakistan bodes well for the future, provided Pakistan adheres to its commitment not to allow the territory under its control to be used for terrorism directed against India.

Despite positive signs of improvement in State-to-State relations in the region, the problems created by non-State actors, whether they be the pan-Islamic jihadi groups, narcotics smuggling organisations, trans-national criminal mafias, smugglers of weapons and explosives of various kinds etc, would      continue to pose the greatest challenge to the national security managers of the countries of the region in the short and medium term.How to promote regional co-operation against such non-State actors should be a matter of the highest priority. (26-2-04)

(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, Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected] )

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