September 18, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ B Raman

B Raman on combating the jehad
'Don't send an army of elephants to kill a cockroach'

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 new kind of international terrorism as advocated and propagated by the so-called jehadis from Pakistan and Afghanistan for the last 20 years.

The advocates of jehadi terrorism hold that the jehadis have an extra-territorial right and obligation and a religious duty to wage jehad anywhere in the world against any nation, Muslim or non-Muslim, and against any government. They also hold that they recognise and respect only the frontiers of the Ummah and not national frontiers.

These were the most pernicious ideas to have come out of the human mind after World War II. Unless these ideas are countered and its advocates in Pakistan and Afghanistan defeated by the international community, more September 11s are likely. Bin Laden is a product of these ideas and a leading terrorist, who seeks to have these ideas enforced, but there are many others who have taken to terrorism for the same purpose, with equal cunning and ferocity. Unless they are neutralised too, the battle would have been vainly fought.

This is the time to show solidarity with the US and its people and not the time to analyse why September 11 happened and apportion blame. Yet, it needs to be said that September 11 was made possible, not by the failures and negligence of the US intelligence and national security establishments alone, but also by the failure and reluctance of the American political leadership to recognise the force of this new evil and to counter it effectively and in time. The coming war has to be a war against international jehadi terrorism, and not just against bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation.

One should not overlook Pakistan's role as the nursery and cradle of this new evil, in one's anxiety to secure its co-operation in waging this battle. Using a criminal to catch a criminal may help in dealing with a single crime, but not in wiping out crime as a menace. Using and rewarding one evil (Pakistan) to end another evil (bin Laden and the Taleban) may help the US in avenging September 11, but will not prevent more September 11s unless the evil itself is eliminated wherever it is present (Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere) in whatever form.

One should not overestimate the capability of the US armed forces, with the most powerful weapons in the world, to overcome this evil. The US intelligence and security establishments with financial, human, technical and technological resources the like of which no other country in the world can dream to have for another 50 years were unable to anticipate, smell, sense, detect and neutralise the insinuation of this evil into the vitals of America. This was because they deliberately closed their eyes to the evil for political reasons and failed to analyse and realise its true dimensions.

This is an unseen, elusive evil, which insinuates itself with stealth and strikes with cunning and ruthless ferocity. The war against this evil has to be equally stealthy, invisible, cunning and ruthless. This is not a war to be fought by uniformed soldiers of the armed forces before the television cameras. This is a war to be fought by the cloak and dagger men of the intelligence services of the world, who must be able to strike ferociously without anyone being able to identify the hand that held the dagger.

One should not overestimate one's capability to smoke out bin Laden and his followers and arrest them and to dislodge the Taleban from power. Post-World War II produced two terrorists with a legendary reputation for their cunning, ferocity and stealth -- Carlos, now in jail in France, and bin Laden.

Carlos headed a small cell with not more than 30 members. All of them came from well-to-do elitist middle or upper middle class families. They thought they were waging their battle of terrorism for the rights of the Palestinians and for the underprivileged and downtrodden people of the world. But, coming from bourgeois families, they felt uncomfortable in the company of the underprivileged and downtrodden. They kept them out of their closely-knit circle. They led a luxurious lifestyle with a weakness for expensive cars, women and wine. Consequently, the poor and the downtrodden, though fascinated by Carlos, were not prepared to die for him. He had practically no popular support base. Despite this, it took the world 29 years to neutralise him and his cell.

Bin Laden, on the other hand, comes from a very rich family of Saudi Arabia with an estimated personal wealth of about US $ 300 million, a large part of which he has either given away to the poor Pathans in Afghanistan and in the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan or spent on his cause. Even though he lives in a big house at Kandahar, specially constructed for him by the Taleban very near the home of Mulla Mohammad Omar, the amir of the Taleban, he leads an austere life.

He is easily accessible to the poor people and eats with them and his aides from the same plate as is the normal Pathan custom. He has thus a very large following in the Pathan community, particularly amongst the poor people, many of whom are prepared to die for him. He lives in Pathan country and would be able to take shelter in no time -- if he has not already done so -- in the FATA where he is worshipped almost like God.

Even the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence don't know the area well. Sending in over-equipped and over-confident Marines and Green Berets to catch bin Laden would be like sending in an army of elephants to catch a cockroach. One must use a cockroach to catch a cockroach.

When one reads the rhetoric coming out of President Bush and his aides in Washington, one feels uneasy that they don't understand the real nature of the evil confronting the world and the man in bin Laden. No other people in the world understand the machine as well as the Americans do and no other people in the world understand the human being as little as the Americans do. Bush and his aides seem to think that bin Laden and the jehadi hordes must be shivering in their salwar-kameezes because of their sabre-rattling. They would only be laughing up their sleeves.

Bush wants the other nations of the world to co-operate with the USA in this war, but the language which he has been using should be anything but reassuring for potential allies. The agencies have quoted him as saying: 'We will not only deal with those who dare attack America, but we will deal with those who harbour them and feed them and house them.' The war against them is not because they pose a threat to humanity and the world, but because they dared to attack the US in its territory. His objective is to weed out threats to US nationals and interests and, thereafter, the Marines will go home.

The fact that these jehadi terrorists have also killed over 15,000 innocent Indians since 1989 and hundreds of others in other countries is of no consequence to Bush. His apparent aim is not making the world safe from terrorism, but making the US safe from terrorism and to prevent an encore of September 11.

Bin Laden's operational methods are totally different from those of Carlos. Carlos operated through his small 30-strong cell. He involved himself in each and every terrorist operation -- choosing the target of attack and the weapon to be used; repeatedly casing the area; pre-determining lines of escape etc. He did not believe in suicide terrorism.

Bin Laden, on the other hand, heads a large set-up of about 4,000, of whom only 10 per cent live in Afghanistan. The rest are scattered in about 20 countries -- Muslim and non-Muslim. Many of his cadres have never met him or personally seen him. They worship him like one worships a God that one had never seen. They are prepared to die for him and the cause as determined by him. Practically, all his operations were carried out by suicide bombers.

Bin Laden does not get involved in the nuts and bolts functioning of his supporters. He is not at the head of a pyramidal hierarchical structure, giving orders and getting them obeyed. Instead, he is at the centre of a circle, surrounded by about 12 concentric circles, each representing one of the organisations constituting his International Islamic Front For Jehad Against the US and Israel. He gives them total autonomy of functioning, without interfering in the planning and execution of the operations.

He and the heads of these organisations based in Kandahar jointly decide their target and which organisation will carry out the task and how. Thereafter, he leaves it to the chosen organisation to plan and implement. While, in the long term, the neutralisation of bin Laden and his hard core in Afghanistan might make their organisations wither way, in the short and medium term they could be expected to hit back with ferocity.

Strengthening of protective measures in the countries joining the US counter-offensive should be a priority. Uniting the intelligence agencies of victim-States and letting them loose amongst these cockroaches is another.

B Raman, former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, is currently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Madras.

Also see:
Terrorism in America: The complete coverage

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The Rediff Specials

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