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Home > News > Columnists > Vikram Sood

Democracy vs terrorism

August 25, 2006

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In the second part of his column, former R&AW chief Vikram Sood explains why there can be no final victory in any battle against terrorism.

Part I: Capitalism vs Global Islam

Post 9/11 and particularly post-Madrid 2004, events have led to a hardening of positions in Europe among the majority population and, at the same time, there are more second and third generation Muslim youth finding their way to jihad. The stereotype of the jihadi coming from the Arab world is changing. Post-September 11, recruits are just as easily to be found in poly-techniques, high schools and university campuses in Europe.

Hundreds of European youth, mainly second generation immigrants, have found their way to Iraq to fight in the Sunni triangle. There were reports of a two-way traffic between West Asia and Europe of illegals coming in to Europe and legals going to perform jihad in faraway places. Three of the July bombers  in London were young second-generation youth of Pakistani parentage. The youth in the UK have been increasingly under the influence of the Deobandi mosques, where al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Hizbut Tehrir activists have been active.

In Europe, intelligence and police officials from the UK, Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands meet in state-of-the-art environments to exchange information and data, reports and wiretaps that would help follow leads in their anti-terror effort. Cooperation on this scale or even at a much lower scale is unthinkable on the Indian subcontinent, as this would be counterproductive to policies followed by the Pakistani establishment. Indo-Pak talks on curbing terror are more a dialogue of the deaf than a purposeful discussion.

Post-World War II European liberalism, that had tolerated other religions and political beliefs, is today threatened with an immigrant Muslim population that constitutes four to five per cent of the population (European census usually does not ask for religion). This is expected to go up to ten per cent by 2025, and the indigenous population is expected to decline.

So long as multi-culturalism did not affect Europe's way of life, immigration was acceptable, but once it became clear that this being taken advantage of by the immigrant and seen as encouraging terrorism, restrictions have begun to be applied. This push of immigrants from Asia brings its own social problems. This aspect is going to be a major cause for concern in Europe in the years ahead.

The ferment in the entire Muslim world creates the impression of a monolith with one common remedy or a set of common remedies to the problem. The Muslim ummah did get together in the Afghan jihad, and now seems to be getting together again post-Iraq, and even more strongly should there be a post-Iran, but there are continuing differences and Muslims still kill Muslims in defence of the same religion.

It is also assumed that Osama is the symbol of this ferment. He has been glorified into a cult figure, but he is not really the single unifying factor in the Muslim world. There are many who are anti-US and anti-Israel, but who feel that al Qaeda over-reached by attacking the US, which invited massive US military retaliation and the occupation of Muslim lands.

A new ideologue for the Islamists seems to have been active in recent years. Born in Syria and hiding in Pakistan, 48-year old Mustafa Setmariam Nasar turned out volumes on the Net arguing that with the Afghan base having been lost, Islamic radicals would have to revise their approach.

His thesis, in a 1600-page work called The Call for a Global Islamic Renaissance, has been in circulation on the Internet for 18 months, and its thrust is that a truly global conflict should be on several fronts, carried out by small cells or individuals rather than traditional guerrilla warfare. Nasar was arrested in Quetta last October and handed over to US officials, but his creed continues to be assimilated and followed.

The problem is not in the Pakistani madrassas alone. Jihad continues to be taught in mainstream schools even today. Hatred towards other religions and towards India is a common diet. The worry is that while most of the madrassa alumni end up in the caves of Tora Bora or the heights of Parachinar, those from mainstream schools go to mainstream colleges and end up with main line jobs at home or abroad. Assuming that three million school children are added to Pakistan's schools every year, an unknown number of the 70 million young persons have already imbibed jihadi leanings in the last 25 years.

The centre of jihad at the time of September 11 was in Afghanistan, specifically in the Pushtoon belt between Kandahar and Jalalabad. Since then, in the face of the American onslaught, the epicenter for international jihad for the rest of the world (except West Asia) is now in Pakistani Waziristan.

The Taliban, resurgent in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in the turbulent Waziristan of Pakistan, have been sending their volunteers to Iraq for training in suicide terrorism and arms. Waziristan is also a sanctuary for Chechens and Uzbek Islamic insurgents. The recent spectacular comeback of the Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, operating from their sanctuaries in Pakistan where they have declared an Islamic Republic of Waziristan, has been achieved with help from al Qaeda operatives, Gulbuddin Hikmetyar's Hizb-e-Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

It is probably more accurate to say that today, Mullah Omar commands more dedicated battalions than does Osama, whose followers are dispersed in concept, space and even ideology.

More dangerous than al Qaeda in the Indian context are the activities of the International Islamic Front established by Osama in February 1998. Five Pakistani terrorist organizations are signatories to this IIF � HuM, LeT, Harkat-ul-Jehadi-ul-Islami , JEM and LeJ � all Sunni, all anti-Christian, anti-Jew and anti-Hindu, and all continually exhorting the destruction of India and prophesying victory over Jews and Christians.

Another centre is Bangladesh, where jihadi organizations propagate jihadi terrorism in India and South-east Asia. The location of the continuing jihad against Christians, Jews and Hindus can be anywhere. It will be where the jihadis feel that it would be easier to operate and have the maximum impact. This obviously makes the US and Europe the most likely targets.

Groups like al Qaeda and LeT cannot be controlled by a purely non-military response because they seek the establishment of Caliphates, through violence if necessary, and this is not acceptable in the modern world. It is necessary to militarily weaken these forces, starve them of funds and bases and then to tackle long-term issues by providing them better education, employment and so on.

While discussing the roots of terrorism in his book No End to this War, Walter Laqueur says Muslims have had a problem adjusting as minorities, be it in India, the Philippines or Western Europe. Similarly, they find it difficult to give their own minorities, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, a fair deal in their own countries � the Berbers in Algeria, the Copts in Egypt or the Christians or Shias in Pakistan or Sudan being examples.

This has in turn led to what Olivier Roy calls globalized Islam � militant Islamic resentment at Western domination or anti-Imperialism exalted by revivalism. State sponsorship of terrorism, as an instrument of foreign policy and strategy to negate military and other superiority, has been another facet of this problem.

There is a naive assumption that if local grievances or problems are solved, global terrorism will disappear. The belief or the hope that, if tomorrow, in Palestine, or Kashmir or Chechnya or wherever else, the issues were settled, terrorism will disappear, is a mistaken belief. There is now enough free-floating violence and vested interests that would need this violence to continue. There has been a multifaceted nexus between narcotics, illicit arms smuggling and human trafficking, that seeks the continuance of violence and disorder.

Modern terrorism thrives not on just ideology or politics. The main driver is money, and the new economy of terror and international crime has been calculated to be worth US $1.5 trillion (and growing), which is big enough to challenge Western hegemony. This is higher than the GDP of Britain, and ten times the size of General Motors.

Loretta Napoleoni splits this money into three parts. About one-third constitutes money that has moved illegally from one country to another; another one-third is generated primarily by criminal activities and called the Gross Criminal Product; and the remaining is the money produced by terror organizations, from legal businesses and from narcotics and smuggling. Napoleoni refers to this as the New Economy of Terror.

All the illegal businesses of arms and narcotics trading, oil and diamonds smuggling, charitable organizations that front for illegal businesses, and the black money operations form part of this burgeoning business. Terror has other reasons to thrive. There are vested interests that seek the wages of terrorism and terrorist war.

Narcotics smuggling generates its own separate business lines, globally connected with arms smuggling and human trafficking, and all dealt with in hundred dollar bills. These black dollars have to be laundered, which is yet another distinctive, secretive and complicated transnational occupation closely connected with these illegal activities, and is really a crucial infusion of cash into the Western economies.

The '90s were a far cry from the early days of dependence on the Cold War sponsors of violence and terrorism. In the '70s, terrorists began to rely on legal economic activities for raising funds. The buzzword today is globalization, including in the business of terrorism. Armed groups have linked up internationally and, financially and otherwise, been able to operate across borders, with Pakistani jihadis doing service in Chechnya and Kosovo, or Uzbek insurgents taking shelter in Pakistan.

In today's world of deregulated finance, terrorists have taken full advantage of systems to penetrate legitimate international financial institutions and establish regular business houses. Islamic banks and other charities have helped fund movements, sometimes without the knowledge of the managers of these institutions that the source and destination of the funds is not what has been declared. Both Hamas and the PLO have been flush with funds, with Arafat's secret treasury estimated to be worth US $ 700 million to US 2 billion.

It is not easy, but the civilized world must counter the scourge of terrorism. In a networked world, where communication and action can be in real time, where boundaries need not be crossed and where terrorist action can take place on the Net and through the Net, the task of countering this is increasingly difficult and intricate.

Governments are bound by Geneva Conventions in tackling a terrorist organization, whatever else Bush's aides may have told him, but the terrorist is not bound by such regulations in this asymmetric warfare.

The rest of the world cannot afford to see the US lose the war in Iraq, however ill-conceived it might have been. If the US cuts and runs, then the jihadis will proclaim victory over the sole superpower. If the US stays or extends its theatre of activity, this will only produce more jihadis. That is the dilemma for all of us.

Unfortunately, given the manner in which the US seeks to pursue its objectives, one is fairly certain that the US cannot win. What one is still not certain is whether or not there is a realization of this in Washington, or whether there is still a mood of self-denial and self-delusion.

It has to be accepted that there can be no final victory in any battle against terrorism. Resentments real or imagined, and exploding expectations, will remain. Since the state no longer has monopoly on instruments of violence, recourse to violence is increasingly a weapon of first resort. Terrorism can be contained and its effects minimized, but it cannot be eradicated, anymore than the world can eradicate crime.

An over-militaristic response or repeated use of the armed forces is fraught with long-term risks for a nation and for its forces. Military action to deter or overcome an immediate threat is often necessary, but it cannot ultimately eradicate terrorism. This is as much a political and economic battle, and also a battle to be fought long-term by the intelligence and security agencies, increasingly in cooperation with agencies of other countries.

Ultimately, the battle is between democracy and terrorism. The fear is that in order to defeat the latter, we may be losing some of our democratic values.

Vikram Sood is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing, India's foreign intelligence agency. The above is excerpted from his article in the Indian Defense Review (Vol 21.2), and is reproduced here with the author's permission.


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Number of User Comments: 8




Sub: well said

a very good would really like to know if our govt. has any plans to combat this scourge. kapil


Posted by kapil





Sub: Democracy vs terrorism

The projected figures for the increase in Muslim population in Europe also holds good for India. If the 25% rises to 50% (it would because ...


Posted by nagender





Sub: Democracy vs terrorism

Main factor in increasing terrorism is money.Any state which wants to curb this should amend their law to confisticate this money by first sealing the ...


Posted by Abbas Igatpuriwala





Sub: Will this lead to the War of Civilization

What the world politics currently is run on, including in India is thru fear pyschosis. As far as the whole world scenario is concerned \"Muslims\"...let ...


Posted by Human





Sub: Alarming future!

I must appreciate author, for presenting the, the biggest threat of our times.....the Terrorism in comprehensive manner. There will be many noises around the world,against ...


Posted by neo




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