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Home > News > Columnists > B Raman

9/11: Looking back and moving forward

September 11, 2007

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Today, September 11, the international community completes six years of the so-called war on global terrorism being waged separately and jointly by the countries of the world affected by the scourge of terrorism.

The war has had a mixed record -- positive as well as negative. The most positive ;has been the acceptance by the international community that terrorism is an absolute evil and cannot be justified whatever be the cause. Old cliches of one man's terrorist being another man's freedom-fighter and one nation's State-sponsor of terrorism being another nation's frontline ally against terrorism have not disappeared from common lexicon, but do not now carry the same conviction as in the past.

The second important positive outcome has been the acceptance of the need for international co-operation in dealing with terrorism. There has been a greater co-operation since 9/11 and greater transparency in relation to the co-operation. The fact of such cooperation is no longer treated as a classified secret, but the operational details are -- for valid reasons. The international community has realised the importance of letting the terrorists know that the intelligence and security agencies of the world are acting together to crush terrorism.

The conference of intelligence chiefs of the Asia-Pacific region held recently at Kuala Lumpur at the joint initiative of the US and Malaysia is a good illustration of the way the cooperation has developed.

The cooperation has not only been at the level of intelligence-sharing. It has also been at the operational level where counter-terrorism agencies come in. Before 9/11, such operational cooperation existed only among ideologically like-minded countries such as the members of NATO, the Commonwealth, former members of the Warsaw Pact etc.

Now, one sees instances of operational co-operation against terrorism even among countries with no ideological convergence. Examples of the growing operational cooperation are the joint counter-terrorism exercises at the bilateral and multi-national levels, the frequent brain-storming at regional and international levels by governmental and non-governmental experts, etc.

The growing international cooperation in matters such as intelligence-sharing and action against terrorist funding and gun running has already had beneficial side effects in helping in the campaigns being waged by different countries against purely indigenous terrorism without any links to Al Qaeda [Images].

As examples of such beneficial side-effects one could mention the decision of the Irish Republican Army, the Basque separatist movement in Spain and the Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia to give up terrorism and seek a political solution to their demands. The non-countenance of terrorism by the international community has also contributed to the difficulties faced by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in its clandestine procurement and smuggling of arms and ammunition from abroad.

The international community could also draw satisfaction from the fact that Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations aligned with it have not so far succeeded in organising any successful catastrophic act of terrorism against maritime and energy security, the critical infrastructure, including the information infrastructure, and the global economy.

The global economy, including in Asia, the region most affected by terrorism of various hues, has continued to progress despite sporadic acts of terrorism directed against certain sectors of the economy such as tourism. International co-operation has prevented so far any act of terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction or weapons of mass disruption.

Regional and international cooperation to enforce maritime security has not only prevented so far any catastrophic act of maritime terrorism, but has also helped in bringing trans-national piracy in the South-East Asian region under control.

The number of major attacks by pirates in the South-East Asian region declined from a high of 70 in 2001 to 28 in 2003, 18 in 2005, and 10 in 2006. In the second quarter of 2007, no major pirate attacks were reported from this region.

The damage in men and equipment suffered by pirate gangs during the tsunami of December 2004 did contribute to some extent to this fall, but increased maritime security cooperation with measures such as coordinated patrolling of the Malacca Straits by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia played an important role in bringing about this decline.

India has also been playing a discreet, but significant role in contributing to a strengthening of maritime security without giving rise to fears of any ulterior strategic motives. The growing Indian naval capabilities reassure the nations of the region unlike the Chinese naval power, which unnerves.

Concerns of the international community over the dangers of the jihadi terrorists succeeding in getting hold of WMD led to vigorous action against a group of nuclear scientists of Pakistan headed by Dr A Q Khan, who were indulging in large-scale clandestine nuclear trade with impunity till 2003. There is now a recognition that if there is an act of catastrophic terrorism involving the use of WMD, this would most probably originate from Pakistan. Hence, the increased focus on Pakistan in this regard.

Cooperation to prevent cyber terrorism has also made headway despite concerns aroused in the minds of many countries over attempts made by the US intelligence agencies to exploit this cooperation for penetrating sensitive government departments of some countries.

India itself was a major victim of this penetration. US intelligence exploited the joint Indo-US Cyber Security Forum, which came up in the wake of 9/11, to penetrate the National Security Council Secretariat which comes under the Prime Minister's Office.

The US has been the driving force behind the counter-terrorism co-operation infrastructure, which has come up after 9/11. It has the human and material resources. It has the know-how and technology. But the US never fights shy of exploiting international cooperation to achieve its own national strategic objectives -- whether in terms of penetration of other governments, securing a military presence for it in foreign territories, pushing through its own ideas etc. The activist role of the US in building the cooperation architecture has had beneficial as well as harmful effects. How to take advantage of the benign dimensions of the US capabilities and role while avoiding being hurt by the malign dimensions is a question, which has to engage the attention of national security managers.

The US has successfully managed to prevent so far a repeat of 9/11 in its homeland. While the tightening of the laws relating to terrorism and strengthened homeland security measures have contributed to this, one should also underline the role played by non-governmental groups and even private individuals in the US in monitoring the Internet-related activities of jihadi terrorist groups, which has helped the government in its counter-terrorism preventive measures.

US citizens have provided a very good example of the useful role, which alert and well-motivated individual citizens can play in counter-terrorism. This is worthy of emulation by citizens of other countries, including India.

Victim and citizen activism in fighting terrorism in the US is a matter for admiration and emulation by other nations and societies. One saw the way the relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist strikes mobilised themselves to ensure that the government took the necessary follow-up action -- whether it be in the matter of the inquiry into the failure to prevent 9/11, the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on 9/11, strengthening counter-terrorism laws and capabilities or strengthening the political will to fight terrorism.

Thanks to this activism, no political leader in the US today can afford to take a soft stance on terrorism and survive.

The lack of citizen and victim activism continues to be the bane of the Indian counter-terrorism scene despite the fact that more innocent civilians have died at the hands of trans-national and indigenous terrorists in India than in any other country of the world.

This is largely responsible for the weak political will to counter terrorism in India and the inadequate response to terrorism. Unless and until the day comes in India when politicians start losing elections because the voters perceive them as soft in dealing with terrorism, our counter-terrorism reflexes would continue to be unsatisfactory.

There has been admiration in India and the rest of the world over the determined manner in which the US has strengthened its homeland security and led the global war against terrorism. But one has reasons to be concerned over some aspects of this admiration in our policy-makers and strategic community in New Delhi. The admiration has to be guarded and not unadulterated. The US has been fighting foreign terrorists in foreign territory. Its counter-terrorism is, therefore, largely militarised and with no holds barred.

Its counter-terrorism methods, marked by a willingness to use the air force and heavy weapons and by a disregard for civilian casualties, in Iraq and Afghanistan have become an important root cause for the aggravation of the scourge of jihadi terrorism and its spread to West Europe since March, 2004, when the Madrid blasts sounded the wake-up call.

India, which has to fight a mix of indigenous and foreign terrorists in its territory, will be extremely unwise to emulate the militarised approach of the US. One notices with concern that in the name of strategic cooperation, the US has been trying to influence the minds of our security forces and agencies with its ideas of counter-terrorism, many of which have no relevance to India.

Our counter-terrorism has always been based on the principle that the police is the weapon of first resort and the armed forces are the weapon of last resort except in the border areas where cross-border terrorism calls for a more direct role for the armed forces.

There are many aspects of US counter-terrorism which India can emulate with benefit. Examples: Giving police and counter-terrorism agencies a free hand in dealing with terrorism without seeking to politicise their response; giving them the powers and the capacities they need; strengthening physical security; greater investment in research and development of appropriate homeland security technologies etc. But there are other aspects, which we should shun such as the over-militarisation of counter-terrorism.

The Asian region continues to be the most affected by the scourge of global terriorism followed by North Africa. It will continue to be so for some years to come. West Europe is becoming a new battle field for jihadi terrorism since the Madrid blasts of March, 2004.

The recent arrests of three jihadi terrorists in Germany [Images], who were trained in Pakistan, and the search for seven more, who are absconding, and the arrests of some in Denmark indicate that the seepage of jihadi terrorism into West Europe has been gathering force and momentum.

The jihadi terrorists of today are not the conventional or classical brand of terrorists of yesterday. They come from affluent and not deprived families. They come from the educated classes. Ignorance, economic deprivation and social injustice are not the root causes of their terrorism.

A certain pernicious view of history, of what was the role of Islam and Muslims in the world and of what ought to be their role in future is their motivating factor.

Their ideology is revanchist in nature. It is no different from the ideology of the Nazis. They want to establish an Islamic Caliphate. They want to change the map of the world. They make no secret of their aspiration to 'liberate' what they look upon as territories lawfully belonging to Muslims from the control of non-Muslims and merge them into this Caliphate. They want to avenge what they look upon as wrongs done to Muslims. They are indifferent to the impact of their actions on public opinion.

They are innovative. They have shown a highly-disturbing capability for adapting the advances in science and technology to kill their perceived adversaries and to network among themselves. They have turned globalisation into a double-edged weapon. They are making a better use of the Internet to achieve their destructive objectives than the intelligence and security agencies have been able to do to destroy them.

The jihad being waged by them is multi-dimensional -- real as well as virtual, psychological as well as physical, conventional as well as unconventional. They have converted suicide terrorism into a weapon without an effective counter.

The international community has to prevail over them. It will if it does not allow its determination and motivation to be sapped by those, who do not understand the nature of the threat faced by the world today. How the world deals with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq will ultimately determine how long it takes to prevail over the terrorists.

An important outcome of 9/11 was the UN Security Council Resolution No 1373 which called upon member-countries of the world to act jointly and energetically against terrorist funding and sanctuaries. Funds and sanctuaries are the oxygen of any terrorist organisation.

While the rest of the world has acted sincerely in implementing the resolution, the implementation by Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Syria has been far from satisfactory. Any jihadi terrorist act anywhere in the world has had its roots in Pakistani territory. Pakistan has acted against some notorious terrorists of Al Qaeda, but it has not acted against the Pakistan-based infrastructure of Al Qaeda and the neo Taliban.

Global jihadi terrorism cannot be neutralised without a neutralisation of its sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. Jihadi terrorism in Indian and Thai territories cannot be ended without a neutralisation of its sanctuaries in Pakistani and Bangladeshi territories.

The international community and the elected Afghan government cannot defeat the Taliban without a neutralisation of its sanctuaries in Pakistan. The US-led coalition in Iraq cannot prevail without a neutralisation of the sanctuaries in Iran and Syria. The flow of funds to terrorists cannot be stopped without effective action to reverse the re-emergence of Afghanistan as the world's leading supplier of heroin.

US President George W Bush [Images] is right in saying that if the jihadi terrorists are not neutralised in Afghanistan and Iraq, the security of the US homeland cannot be guaranteed. It is equally so for other countries. The homeland security of many other countries, including India, will depend on the outcome of the campaign against jihadi terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The time is not to be defeatist, but to be even more determined than ever to ensure that the terrorists do not prevail. Results in counter-terrorism take long in coming. Impatience for quick results will prove counter-productive. Those US Congressmen and analysts, who keep taunting Bush for his failure to neutralise Osama bin Laden and other senior leaders of Al Qaeda, have probably not heard of Carlos, who was as legendary for the wrong reasons in the 1970s and the 1980s as bin Laden has been since 1998.

Like bin Laden, Carlos skilfully built up an international network of like-minded terrorists. He spread destruction and havoc across the world, but not on the same scale as Al Qaeda today. He did not have the same following in the world as bin Laden reportedly has today.

The French led the campaign against Carlos and his brand of terrorists as the US is leading the campaign against Al Qaeda's jihadi terrorists. Just as bin Laden formed his International Islamic Front in 1998, Carlos had formed his International Revolutionary Front in 1975 with organisations such as Baader Meinhof of West Germany, the Red Army Factions of West Germany and Japan [Images], the Red Brigade of Italy [Images], the Action Directe of France [Images], the Revolutionary Communist Cells of Belgium, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine of George Habash.

Where are Carlos and his revolutionary horde today? In jail or dead -- except Habash -- whom even the Palestinians have forgotten. They thought history will remember them with admiration and gratitude. Only their jailors remember them today.

What happened to the USSR, East Germany and Yugoslavia, which sponsored and funded them and gave them safe sanctuaries? Disappeared from the map of the world.

What happened to Libya and North Korea, which too supported them? Licking their self-inflicted wounds today.

Do you know how many years it look for the French and other nations supporting them to ultimately get at Carlos and his network and neutralise them?

19 years. Yes, 19 years.

The French showed determination and stamina and they prevailed ultimately. There is a need for the international community to show similar determination and stamina against the jihadi terrorists of today. The fight against jihadi terrorism is not for the faint-hearted, feeble-minded and impatient.

B Raman