Originally Published 2004-05-26 11:29:40 Published on May 26, 2004
There has rarely been a period in modern history, when the world has not been confronted with terrorism; somewhere or the other, in some form or another, for some reason or the other. As a mean of coercion through violence, terrorism ebbs and flows and keeps undergoing many mutations.
The Global War against Terrorism: Are We Safer Today?
There has rarely been a period in modern history, when the world has not been confronted with terrorism; somewhere or the other, in some form or another, for some reason or the other. As a mean of coercion through violence, terrorism ebbs and flows and keeps undergoing many mutations.

India, like Israel, has faced this menace ever since independence. In October 1947, Razakar raiders from Pakistan---the same people who joined Taliban and Al Qaeda 50 years later--- frustrated because the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir was not willing to merge his state with Pakistan, walked into his territory- looting, pillaging, violating human rights and attempting to coerce his government into submission. That situation led to our first military experience after Independence. Since then, we have faced terrorism in many parts of our diverse country; most of the time exploited, influenced or aided from outside. 

We all know that international terrorism did not start on September 11, 2001. That date, did however, mark the global recognition of this monster. It also heralded the declaration of 'global war against terrorism'. 

But the war on terrorism is only a misnomer, because terrorism is neither state specific nor an ideology. It is a method of employing political violence. As Mr K Subrahmanyam put it "Second World War was not against blitzkrieg, but against Nazism, which used blitzkrieg to overrun Europe". The current war, I believe, is just a mobilizing term. It is tactical, sometimes operational, but it lacks a comprehensive strategy or a grand strategy.

Are We Safe Today?

Of course not! Indeed, the Al-Qaeda has been dented, eroded somewhat through military action. But it has also re-generated. Despite unprecedented military pressure since 9/11, the Jehadis have been remarkably active all over the world. In the last 30 months, they have staged over 30 major attacks. These serious incidents across the world were all directed against democratic or pro-Western interests. The Jehadis have continued to demonstrate a high degree of creativity, resilience and persistence. Osama bin Laden and his disciples, continue to mock, challenge, and give notices. 

In the recent past, there has been at least one statement from Al-Qaeda, about being in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Even if they do not possess one, they have indicated their resolve to get one. 

The Iraq war, unfortunately, has made the situation worse. It validates Jehadis' claim about the US, and many others, being anti-Muslim. It has given them an opportunity to manipulate Islamic sentiments, re-group, and revive terrorist violence. Post 9/11 campaigns against global terrorism may have seen some tactical victories. But a strategic triumph is nowhere in sight. 

Is There a Diagnostic Deficiency?

Let me analyse some of the Jehadi terrorism characteristics. 

First. Jehadi terrorism is part of a movement mobilized by a common stock of rhetorical themes, inspirational imagery, and a dualistic worldview. Key themes of the movement are-- beleaguered state of Islam, indispensability of Sharia for social order and justice, collaboration of infidel anti-muslim states against pure Islam, and importance of Jehad for redressing parlous conditions of Muslim society. It does not accept modern rational society, as practiced by democratic states. As Fareed Zakaria says ' Militant Islam has brainwashed thousands of Muslims around the world who believe it is there duty to fight against the modern world.' Yesterday, Congressman Steve Israel described it as a 'new organism phenomenon'. 

Second. The Jehadi terrorist web, driven primarily by the key drivers mentioned earlier, has become global in nature. You have the Takfir- wal- Hijra) across the Mediterranean, Hamas and Hizbullah in the Middle East, IMU and Hizb-ut-Tehrir in Central Asia, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in South Asia, Jemaah Islamiya, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf in South East Asia, and so on. These are like the Local Area Networks, loosely linked to a Wide Area Network. The Local Networks have their own perceptions, missions, resources, operational doctrines and procedures. But the key drivers are the same. 

Third. The Al Qaeda and its affiliates comprise not just poor, Madrassas- educated operatives, but also well-educated and ideologically indoctrinated senior and mid-level managers. These people can spur operations, have access to funds, know local militant leaders, travel widely, and can provide pre-operational support to local players anywhere in the world.

Fourth. There is no United States of Terrorism headed by President Osama Bin Laden! It would be a mistake to identify Osama bin Laden as the principal or the only source of threat to the international community. The principal threat is the ideology linked global terrorism, as advocated and propagated for the last 20 years by Jehadis from the erstwhile Jehadi Universities of Afghanistan and West Asia. Many people believe that Jehadi terrorism was nourished by Saudi money, Pakistani facilities and US permissiveness. Today you find young, educated British Muslims of Pakistan origin attracted to ideology driven violence. They are not particularly religious. They have no direct links with Al Qaeda. But they are inspired by Al Qaeda's anti Western ideology. The war against terrorism has now to go beyond eliminating Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Fifth. The notion that someone's terrorist is someone else's freedom fighter is puerile. Any pre-meditated and unlawful act of violence against innocent people or non-combatants, irrespective of its cause and motive, is nothing but terrorism. Such notions reflect mischief. They reflect lack of commitment to war against terror. How can anyone share information and intelligence with countries that have joined the coalition but believe in such notions?

After 9/11, the whole world demands dismantling of Jehad machinery. But there is no button to switch off or stop this machinery. There is a design deficiency here. It would stop only when the fuel runs out. It will stop when you eliminate armed Jehadis and alongside prevent other Muslims from becoming Jehadis. There is a need to combat and defeat this menace in all its dimensions and manifestations. Here, I wish to submit a few important points.

At the ideological level, this war is between radical Jehadi Islam---which is still in a minority----and all societies, including Muslims, which believe in modern day values of democracy, multiculturalism and religious tolerance. The current strategy for countering terrorism, with its pre-ponderance of Defeat, Deny and Defend elements, is far too militarist and operationally focussed. It does not adequately cover the ideological milieu. In the worldwide strategy, long term ideologically and politically sensitized counter terrorism elements must play a more dominant role. 

I support those who believe that 'ideologues' should be included in the operational fight against Jehadi terrorism. But a unilateral, heavy military approach, given the fragility of institutional framework in operational areas and volatility of developments, can descend into anarchy. 

We must not apply a rigid military strategy or operational methods everywhere. Counter terrorism strategies must take into cognizance human and local factors. We need to engage each situation in a different way. We need to build on elements of stability, nurture democratic impulses, nudge regimes to provide greater social justice and engage in a dialogue among civilizations. 

Counter-terrorism strategy and cooperation should deal with all aspects of international terrorism: its linkages with transnational organised crime, illicit drugs, money laundering, illegal arms trafficking, proliferation of nuclear, chemical, biological and other potentially deadly materials and their means of delivery. It should also seek a common commitment to meet cross-border threats posed by international terrorism. The strategy should also mobilize the vast moderate Islamic opinion against Jehadis. Liberal minded clergy in Islamic and other countries should be encouraged and, if required, given outside help to come out against Jehadis. It must prevent new people and groups, inspired by Al Qaeda ideology, from coalescing and regenerating.

I do wish to emphasize that terrorism is not just a military problem. It is primarily a socio-political problem. In the worldwide counter terrorism strategy, beside checking violence, we have to isolate and combat an ideology that is irrational, and not acceptable to modern society. We have to stop countries, ethnic groups and societies, who have perfected the art of recruiting even children to fight a Jehad. And we have to use all available means; not just military but political, economic and all kind of persuasion and pressures. For this, we need hard power as well as soft power: hard power to deal with armed terrorists, and soft power to deal humanely with societies, their culture, traditions and ethos. When you deal with Jehadis, other Muslims must be persuaded not to join them.

The whole international community needs to stand together firmly and cooperate; in the United Nations, and as coalition partners. It must not chase short-term goals at the cost of long-term global interests. One or two world policemen impression will not work. 

Role of the United Nations

In the last 40 years, starting September 1963, the UN has adopted 12 conventions concerning counter-terrorism. The number of signatories kept increasing with each successive convention. It shows that when the international community feels a real threat to most of its members, it does unite and finds the best ways to protect the security and well being of the world population.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1373, unanimously and un-equivocally, condemned the attacks on 9/11 and expressed its determination to prevent all such acts. It urged the member states to work together urgently to prevent and suppress terrorist acts. It also decided that member states should 'deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts.' But the global cooperative effort is still born. In Resolution 1373, we have a comprehensive and powerful statement of intent. This has been further reinforced in Resolution 1456. The UN decided to monitor its implementation and establish a committee with appropriate expertise. Regrettably, this Committee and the Monitoring Group have not been able to work purposefully, or get anyone guilty punished, or even censored. No wonder, that Al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorist groups continue to have the ability to finance their activists through charities, drug trade, and gun running. 

The UN must play a more assertive role. It is crucially important to fully implement the provisions, and punish those who finance, sponsor and harbor terrorists. The Counter Terrorism Committee in the United Nations must get more teeth to enforce implementation and to deal with non-compliance. 

Role of Democratic Nations

It is a recognized fact that more likely targets of global terrorism are the democratic societies. That is so because pluralism, peaceful co-existence, dialogue as the basis of resolution of differences, adult franchise as the optimal means of organizing internal affairs of the nations: these are an anathema to the terrorist groups. Such democratic societies and practices challenge the very cause and rationale of terrorists' existence.

Democratic nations have a more significant role than other members of the existing heterogeneous coalition. They would more naturally develop multi-lateral institutions, and multi-national coordination, required to counter terrorism. They would not get bogged down in definitional arguments. Blocking financial support, disrupting networks, sharing intelligence, and simplifying extradition procedures: these are measures, which can only be effective through international cooperation based on trust and shared values.

Our Experience in India

India is a hugely diverse country; of over 1 billion people spread over 3.1 billion sq kilometers. We have people speaking 16 major languages and 200 dialects. There are a dozen ethnic groups, eight major religious communities with several sects and sub sects, and 68 socio-cultural sub regions: all part of a developing, semi-literate society. There are rapidly rising social, political and economic aspirations of groups in our multi ethnic, lingual, cultural and communal social structure. 

We have been one of the longest victims of terrorism. But we have also handled terrorism successfully in many parts of our country. Most importantly, we have not allowed terrorism to destabilize our nation, politically or economically.

India adopts a comprehensive approach to counter terrorism. We believe that counter-terrorism can be effective only if there is a multi-pronged approach based on a national consensus. Our approach treats terrorism as a phenomenon with political, economic, social, perceptual, psychological, operational and diplomatic aspects. All of these need equal and simultaneous attention. Our policy seeks a holistic approach to all these dimensions. 

We also believe in a healthy, well-functioning democracy, a secular and liberal mind-set, which makes no distinction between the majority and the minority, and treats everyone equal in the eyes of the law. Firmness and determination in action, tampered by a civilized, democratic and patient behavior by the State. This has been the hallmark of our counter-terrorism policy.

The aim of security operations is only to isolate, arrest or eliminate the hardcore terrorist and militant elements and to deter their supporters. We use a stick and carrot approach, and employ the principle of 'use of minimum force' during such operations-not the overkill required in a war. Security forces fight militants and anti-social elements, but also reassure innocent people feeling insecure or neglected due to inadequate civil administration. Tough measures lead to increasing alienation. Conversely, attempts to appeasement carry the risk of being read as a sign of weakening resolve. We try and find the right balance.

With experience, we have realized the need for specially organized, equipped, areas-oriented security forces to deal with insurgencies and terrorism. These forces, and those who work alongside, take training for local terrain, people, their language, customs, and traditions. Special training schools are established for this purpose. During sustained operations, the security forces involve senior and respected citizens, and professionals, as a link between them and the locals. They also form citizens' committees to learn about their difficulties, and hold meetings with them as frequently as possible. Along with sustained operations, small and large-scale civic action programs are undertaken. Often, the Army forms the Army Development Group and launched Operation Goodwill for this purpose. The ultimate aim is to win the hearts and minds. It is counter productive to alienate hundreds and thousands, in order to kill a suspect.

We also believe that at no stage can any nation afford to give a full licence to the security forces to operate freely. Their responsibility, authority, legality, and accountability have to be defined clearly.


Let me repeat, there are no quick-solutions to counter terrorism. It is a long process. In the current situation, we are not only fighting Al Qaeda and its affiliates but also an ideology. The global war on terrorism needs a comprehensive strategy that encompasses political, economic, social, psychological, operational and diplomatic issues---at global, regional and national levels. The operations have to be primarily regional or country specific with local players. It requires all countries, particularly genuine democracies, to work together.

Presentation at the 98th Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee in Washington DC on May 7, 2004 by General V P Malik, Former Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee and Army Chief of India and currently, President, ORF Institute of Security Studies, New Delhi.

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