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    Front Page
     Mar 8, 2005
Counter-terrorism revisited
By B Raman

To mark the first anniversary of the spectacular terrorist strikes in Madrid by jihadi terrorists with definite sympathy for al-Qaeda, even if not satisfactorily proven links to it, the city is hosting what has been projected as an international summit on democracy, terrorism and security from this Tuesday to Thursday to discuss, inter alia, the causes and the underlying factors of terrorism, methods of confronting it and the democratic responses available for confronting it.

It is widely accepted that the participation of Spanish troops in the US-led coalition, which invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, triggered the terrorist strikes in Madrid last year. So long as the widespread anger in the Arab world over the continued US-led occupation of Iraq continues, the world is unlikely to see any respite from jihadi terrorism of the kind inspired by the likes of Osama bin Laden, his No 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which calls itself the al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

In its "war against terrorism", the US is following a three-pronged operational strategy based on strengthened physical security to deny major successes to the terrorists, whether in the US itself or elsewhere; a high level of military pressure with no holds barred on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to bring about a non-reversible decimation of the rank and file of the terrorists; and third, to keep up its hunt for bin Laden and al-Zarqawi.

An apparent premise underlying the US strategy, which may or may not be proved correct, is that the capture or physical elimination of these two leaders would accelerate the achievement of the other two objectives. Many, including this writer, do not subscribe to this view. They hold that the elimination from leadership of these two may cause a temporary setback to the terrorists, but not an irreversible one. Arab anger over the US-led occupation of Iraq would continue to fuel jihadi terrorism, definitely in the Arab world and, most probably, in the rest of the world too, even in the absence of these leaders.

Conventional wisdom that progress toward finding a solution to the Palestine problem and the introduction of democracy in the Muslim world would set in motion the withering away of jihadi terrorism is unlikely to be proved right. Possibly, if a solution had been found to the Palestine problem before the US-led invasion of Iraq, that might have had a decisive impact on the "war against terrorism".

For the new breed of jihadi terrorists volunteering for suicide missions in Iraq in increasing numbers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and other Muslim countries, the objective is no longer freedom for the Palestinian people, but to avenge the humiliation inflicted on a proud Arab people and the desecration of their culture by the US-led coalition.

If democracy combined with military pressure can turn the tide against jihadi terrorism, how can one explain the increasing number of Kuwaitis volunteering for suicide missions in Iraq? Everybody admits that of all the countries in this region, Kuwait has registered the greatest progress on the road to democracy and modernization. And yet its perceived democratic progress has not been able to prevent the emergence of a growing number of pro-al-Qaeda cells in its territory and their success in recruiting volunteers for suicide missions in Iraq.

The root cause of the continuing jihadi terrorism is no longer just any territorial issue, such as an independent Palestine, but it is the widely perceived humiliation of the Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular by the US-led coalition in the name of the "war against terrorism". The counter-terrorism techniques followed by the US, with its heavy reliance on the air force and heavy armor, which have been killing more civilians than terrorists, have become the real root cause of terrorism, relegating Palestine and other issues to the background.

India and other countries that have been fighting jihadi terrorism for many years even before September 11, 2001, always keep in mind the fact that many of the terrorists are their own nationals. When one is fighting against one's own nationals in one's own territory, one observes considerable restraint in the techniques and arms used. Even though thousands of Indians have been killed by jihadi terrorists since 1989, when terrorism broke out in Jammu and Kashmir, India has never used its air force and heavy armor against the terrorists, choosing to fight them mainly with small arms and ammunition, even at the risk of its security forces incurring heavy casualties in the process.

As against this, the US is fighting its "war against terrorism" in foreign territories and against foreign nationals - mainly Muslims, and Arabs in particular. The kind of restraint one would normally follow in one's own territory and against one's own people is not followed in foreign territories against foreign people of a different culture.

Unfortunately, there is no realization either in the policymaking circles or in the circle of non-governmental counter-terrorism experts in the US that what fuels jihadi terrorism more and more is no longer any of the traditional issues, such as Palestine, but the widespread anger caused by the US.

There has been a plethora of analyses since September 11 on various aspects of terrorism, but there has been very little introspection on the counter-terrorism techniques followed by the US since September 11. What one needs is a little less beaten-track analysis and a little more introspection. If the Madrid summit paves the way for such introspection, it will contribute greatly to the campaign against terrorism.

B Raman is additional secretary (retired), cabinet secretariat, government of India, and currently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and distinguished fellow and convener, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com.

(Copyright B Raman, 2005)


Black holes and rogue states
(Mar 2, '05)

The remaking of al-Qaeda
(Feb 25, '05)

Jihadi terrorism, from Iraq to Kuwait
(Feb 24, '05)

Saudis grapple with terrorism
(Feb 4, '05)

 
 

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