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How to win the war on terror

Last updated on: February 20, 2006 22:22 IST

Let me start by paying homage to the over 2,000 brave members of the US security forces who have sacrificed their lives in the fight against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, on board the USS Cole, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere as well as to the over 3,000 innocent men, women and children of different nationalities brutally killed by the terrorists in the US homeland on 9/11.

India has lost thousands of innocent civilians and members of the security forces in the fight against terrorism since it became independent in 1947. So too Israel. So too Russia and other countries, which form part of the international coalition against terrorism.

Every death -- whether of a civilian or a member of the security forces or the unknown warriors of the intelligence agencies of this coalition-- is a matter of common sorrow shared by all of us, whatever be our nationality or religion.

America's war on terror

We owe it to the honoured memory of these brave people to ensure that the international coalition against terrorism prevails in this war and that the terrorists are eliminated -- wherever and against whomsoever they may be operating.

At the outset, certain general observations on counter-terrorism would be in order. These are based on the Indian experience in countering terrorism of various hues -- domestic as well as international, ethnic, ideological (Marxist) and religious -- but they are of universal applicability.

First, counter-terrorism requires time to produce positive results. It took us 19 years to deal effectively with the situation in Nagaland and Mizoram and 14 years in Punjab. We have started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir after 17 years. We have been fighting Marxist terrorism for 59 years.

Second, successful counter-terrorism depends on the political leadership -- in seats of power as well as in the Opposition -- the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies and different sections of public opinion opposed to terrorism thinking and acting in unison. The political leadership should not exercise undue pressure on the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies for quick results. Such pressure could lead to over-reaction and the use of disproportionate force and thereby aggravate the situation.

Third, terrorists seek to intimidate the State and the civil society and to cause serious dislocation in the functioning of the State and the economy. The effective answer to them is to refuse to be intimidated and not to allow them to cause such dislocation.

India's unending war against terrorism

Not a single election in India was ever postponed in the terrorism-affected areas due to intimidation. India has emerged as an exporter of foodgrain, as the leading information technology power and as the holder of foreign exchange reserves of over US $140 billion and has achieved a seven per cent plus growth rate in its economy without allowing terrorism to come in the way of its expected emergence as a major power of Asia and possibly of the world tomorrow.

Nothing demoralises terrorists more in the long-term than the sight of a State, which keeps growing from strength to strength despite their worst acts of terrorism.

Four, terrorists are serial killers, who try to confuse public opinion by rationalising their serial killing as a justified ideological or freedom struggle and to demoralise it by spreading a feeling of defeatism. The political leadership and the civil society should not fall a prey to their machinations and unwittingly spread a feeling of defeatism and despondency.

On the trail of terrorists

Losses, however unfortunate, there will be in the fight against terrorism. Such losses reflect not the invincibility of the terrorists, but the bravery and the determination of our security forces in fighting against them relentlessly.

Five, the tactics and the modus operandi used by the terrorists have been constantly evolving. They have shown themselves to be adept in the use of modern innovations in science and technology and of the technological fruits of globalisation.

To be able to counter them effectively, there is a need for a similar, constant evolution in the thinking of the political leadership and the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies. The agencies cannot be expected to prevail over the terrorists of today with the legal powers and technological capabilities of yesterday. Technical intelligence -- TECHINT -- is an important component of counter-terrorism today. How to enable the government and the agencies to have greater flexibility in the use of their TECHINT capabilities without leading to civil right abuses is a question which needs constant attention.

Six, suicide terrorism continues to be the most worrisome strategic weapon at the hands of the terrorists. The counter-terrorism agencies are yet to find an effective answer to it, but it would be a fallacy to think that by conceding the demands of the terrorists one can stop the flow of volunteers for suicide terrorism.

The New Terrorists

And seven, terrorism is an unconventional warfare. The progress made by the State is often invisible and hence not spectacular, but the setbacks caused to the State by the terrorists are visible and often made to seem spectacular by sections of the media and the defeatists.

The objective in counter-terrorism should be constant denial of tactical victories to the terrorists through better intelligence, better physical security, better coordination, better investigation and better crisis management.

Every time the State denies a tactical victory to the terrorists, it takes one step forward for achieving a strategic victory over terrorism.

How would I characterise international jihadi terrorism as personified by Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front formed by it in 1998, which pose the greatest threat to international peace and harmony?

It is revanchist in character, medieval in its objectives and modern in its methods of operation.

It wants to avenge through mass killings the imaginary wrongs which, according to it, were done to the Muslims of the world over the ages by the rest of the world. It is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash between savagery and civilisation. Civilisation has to prevail over savagery and it will. It wants to take the Islamic world not forward into the modern world of democracy, prosperity and enlightenment, but back to the days of the Islamic Caliphate. It has mastered or is trying to master modern means of destruction in order to achieve the destruction of modernity and take the Islamic world back to its dark ages.

Don't glorify terrorists, Pak media warned   

International jihadi terrorism has only pretexts for its actions. It has no legitimate root causes. In its revanchism, it is like the Nazism of the past.

Imagine what could have happened to the world if leaders such as President Franklin Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Gen. de Gaulle and others had said "let us first address the root causes of Nazism before we eliminate Adolf Hitler and his cohorts." Where would the world be today?

It would be equally absurd for us to say "let us first address the root causes of Al Qaeda and the IIF before we eliminate the leaders of Al Qaeda, the IIF and their cohorts." They have to be eliminated first by all of us thinking and acting in unison.

What progress have we made so far in our fight against them? Gains there have been in plenty, but their significance is not sufficiently realised by the critics and skeptics. The gains have been in our ideological, political and operational confrontation with the international jihadi terrorists.

What ideological and political gains have we made?

The growing acceptance that a liberal democracy is the best antidote to extremism and terrorism; three elections in Iraq and two in Afghanistan despite the most brutal kind of intimidation and terrorism; the coming into office of leaders owing their position not to the gun but to the ballot box; a new political leadership which abhors the misinterpretation and misuse of Islamic concepts such as jihad by the terrorists; and functioning, elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, which try to govern as effectively as they can, though not as effectively as we would have liked them to.

'We have an upper hand over terrorists'   

What are the operational gains we have made so far?

A growing acceptance by the international community that terrorism is an absolute evil and cannot be justified, whatever be the cause; the realisation that terrorism has to be fought jointly through intelligence and operational co-operation; the destruction of the pre-9/11 terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan; the arrests or elimination of a number of leaders of Al Qaeda and the IIF; the weakening of their command and control; the growing awareness of the need for preventive co-operation against new terrorism such as maritime and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism, terrorism directed at energy security and critical information infrastructure etc.

There is a greater awareness of the importance of joint preventive action today than there was before 9/11 and there is a greater willingness to act jointly against new terrorism.

India to help Afghanistan deal with terror   

Amongst other operational gains one can mention the strengthening of intelligence and counter-terrorism capabilities, the focus on the development of new technologies for homeland security, the action against the flow of funds to terrorists through the freezing of suspected bank accounts etc.

These are the initial building blocks on which our ultimate strategic victory against terrorism will depend.

Unfortunately, the set-backs continue to be equally plenty: 

  • The spectacular come-back staged by the Taliban in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan in recent months from sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of Al Qaeda, Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e- Islami (HEI) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU);
  • The increasing number of acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan, which had seen very few instances of suicide terrorism by the Afghans before 9/11; the growing activities of the Hizb ut Tehrir (HT) in Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics;
  • The continuing terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory directed against India as well as the other members of the international community; the increasing flow of heroin money into the coffers of the international jihadi terrorist organisations;
  • The continuing failure of the efforts to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri; the escape from custody of important arrested members of Al Qaeda from detention centres in Afghanistan and Yemen, which would not have been possible without the complicity of local officials; the continuing flow of Arab volunteers to Iraq for indulging in acts of suicide terrorism;
  • The increasing role of Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the co-ordination of the operations of the IIF to make up for the loosening of the control of Al Qaeda;
  • The gravitation of the Muslim youth of the diaspora in Europe towards jihadi terrorism, organised either autonomously or in co-ordination with others;
  • The emergence of Bangladesh as a new safehaven of jihadi terrorists and the beginning of suicide terrorism there; the uncontrolled activities of jihadi terrorists in Southern Thailand; and
  • The continuing vitality of the Jemaah Islamiya of South-East Asia, etc etc.

These set-backs would not have been as serious as they seem to be but for the lack of sincere co-operation from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Syria. The Kandahar-Jalalabad area of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan was the epicentre of the pre-9/11 international jihadi terrorism.

India's counter-terrorism strategy   

The various terrorist acts, including the strikes of 9/11, were planned and got executed by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri operating from this Afghan epicentre and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad operating from Karachi.

The Kandahar-Jalalabad jihadi epicentre has been shifted after the US-led intervention in Afghanistan in October,2001, to the Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. We had two epicentres of international jihadi terrorism before 9/11-- in Afghanistan and in the PLO-Hamas controlled territory in the West bank and Gaza. We have four today.

The epicentre in the Waziristan area of Pakistan is coordinating all international jihadi terrorist activities in Afghanistan, India and the rest of the world except Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That in the PLO-Hamas controlled territory focusses on Israeli and Jewish targets. The post-2003 epicentre in the Iraq-Syria border region is concentrating on keeping the US security forces and their allies bleeding in Iraq and on its efforts, not successful so far, to deny the world the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia. The fourth in Bangladesh provides oxygen to jihadi terrorism in India and South-East Asia.

I would not go so far as to say that the authorities of Pakistan, the PLO-Hamas controlled territory, Syria, Iran and Bangladesh are acting in tandem in their sponsorship and fattening of terrorism of different hues, but they follow in parallel similar policies, characterised by open condemnation of terrorism to please the international community and secret sponsorship of it to serve their respective agendas.

Foreign State sponsorship, external sanctuaries and funds are the three major sources of oxygen for any terrorism, including the jihadi kind. I have already referred to State sponsorship and external sanctuaries. Let me make a brief reference to funding.

World Bank, IMF to fight terrorist funding

Post-9/11, the international community took vigorous action to identify and freeze suspected bank accounts of different terrorist organisations. Millions of dollars were frozen and made unavailable to the terrorists. In our euphoria over the millions frozen, we overlooked a basic reality. While Al Qaeda might have used formal bank transfers for funding 9/11, historically terrorists have used more informal, deniable cash flows than formal, traceable bank transfers for funding their operations.

Heroin production and smuggling has been a major source of informal cash flow not only for terrorist organisations, but also for States that sponsor terrorism and have been the targets of international economic sanctions for some reason or the other. 

Drugs fund Kashmir terrorists

The Pakistani economy might not have survived the pre-9/11 international economic sanctions but for the informal cash flows from the State-sponsored heroin trade. Similarly, as I had pointed out in the past, the military dictatorship in Myanmar would not have been able to withstand the international economic sanctions for so long but for the informal cash flows from the heroin trade.

Last year, the world failed to notice a seeming economic miracle. The Pakistani economy, despite the continuing state of instability in the country, registered the second largest GDP growth rate in the world after that of China -- eight per cent plus. Pakistan is awash with informal cash flows today. You add up all the money you, other Western Governments and the international financial institutions have given to Pakistan since 9/11.

Does it all add up to the tremendous cash flows being seen in Pakistan today? No.

Where is the extra cash coming from? From the revived heroin trade.

The international action to stop the revival of the heroin bonanza is directed mainly against Afghan farmers. It has to be directed with equal firmness against the Pakistani owners of heroin refineries and the Pakistani heads of the smuggling cartels. When informal cash flows are plenty in Pakistan, terrorists do not have to worry about depleting coffers.

The US and the rest of the international community are rightly concerned over the dangers of an act of WMD terrorism. Iran, North Korea and Libya are the external manifestations of a WMD cancer the roots of which lie in Pakistan. A Q Khan was only one such root. There are many others. By focussing only on the external manifestations and by avoiding action against the roots, we are only making an act of WMD terrorism a greater probability.

Pakistan's nuclear bazaar

I am not a pessimist. I do not agree with the critics and sceptics who say that the international coalition against terrorism is doing badly.

It is doing better than before 9/11, but not as well as required by the circumstances prevailing in the world today.

B Raman delivered this keynote address at a conference on terrorism organised by the International Intelligence Summit at Washington, DC from February 18 to 20.

B Raman