Two Years After
The war against jehadi terrorism is far from being won. Even before the US could extinguish the jehadi fire in Afghanistan which it itself started in the 1980s, it has started another in Iraq. India? We are so full of rhetoric.
As the international community observes the second anniversary of the terrorist strikes by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda in the USA on September 11, 2001, it faces the harsh reality that the war against jehadi terrorism is far from being won. Even before the US could extinguish the jehadi fire in Afghanistan which it itself started in the 1980s, it has started another in Iraq.
The international coalition led by the US has definitely scored significant tactical victories during the second year of the war. Amongst such victories, one could cite the following:
- The capture of Ramzi Binalshibh (September 2002), Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (March 2003) and Waleed bin
Attash (April 2003) of Al Qaeda in Pakistan made possible by excellent work by the US intelligence community.
- The arrest of Hambali, of the Jemmah Islamiya (JI) of Indonesia from a hide-out at Ayuthya in Thailand in
August,2003, made possible by excellent co-operation between the intelligence agencies of the USA and some of
the member-countries of the ASEAN. And
- The death of Ghazi Baba, a Pakistani Punjabi, who was co-ordinating the operations of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) of Pakistan, a member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), in Indian territory. He was killed during a raid of his hide-out in Srinagar, the capital of J&K, by India's Border Security Force (BSF) on August 30, 2003. Ghazi Baba had masterminded the kidnapping of some Western tourists in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 1995, the attack on the J&K Legislative Assembly in October,2001, and on the Indian Parliament House in New Delhi in December, 2001.
Amongst the other successes in the war against terrorism, mention may be made of the unearthing of Saudi-inspired jehadi terrorist networks in Cambodia and Thailand while they were still in the process of formation and the vigorous investigation of the cases against the terrorists involved in the bombings in Bali in Indonesia, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Casablanca in Morroco by the security agencies of those countries.
Some convictions of the terrorists involved have already been reported from Indonesia and Morocco within a year of the commission of the acts of terrorism, which redound to the credit of the investigative agencies of these countries, who have been assisted by their counterparts from other countries such as Australia in the case of Indonesia and the USA in the case of Morocco.
Institutionally, while some of the jehadi terrorist organisations, which form part of the IIF, are in disarray, others have shown remarkable resilience despite the set-backs suffered by them. Amongst those in disarray, one could cite the Al Qaeda itself, whose surviving leaders, including reportedly bin Laden himself if he is still alive, are widely scattered in small pockets, and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI) of Pakistan, and the organisations of the Central Asian Republics (CARs). The JEM in Pakistan has suffered a split due to quarrels amongst its leaders over the division of its assets and cash chest.
Still Going Strong
Amongst the organisations, which have shown remarkable unity, operational coherence and resilience, despite the set-backs suffered by them are Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and Sipah-e-Sahaba, Pakistan (SSP), both of which now operate under different names to circumvent the ostensible ban on their activities imposed by Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator, the Taliban and the Chechen terrorist groups in Russia.
To these, one must add the Al Aqsa Brigade of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Hamas and the Hezbollah, which have been causing death and destruction amongst innocent Israeli civilians, but these do not belong to the IIF and have kept away from the Al Qaeda.
The LET and the Taliban, which continue to enjoy the patronage and support of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment with the full knowledge and approval of Musharraf himself and his corps commanders, have not only managed to keep their terrorist/insurgent infrastructure intact, but have also been able to make additional recruitment to their ranks, to have their cadres re-trained, re-armed and re-grouped in sanctuaries in Pakistani territory with the complicity of serving and retired officers of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and to have their coffers replenished despite the international action against terrorist funding.
The Pakistani military and intelligence establishment continues to support the HUM, the HUJI, the LET, the JEM and the SSP, despite the HUM, the LET and the JEM being designated as foreign terrorist organisations by the USA, despite the continued involvement of the SSP in anti-Shia atrocities in Pakistan itself and despite the movement of many trained and well-motivated cadres of these organisations to Iraq to participate in the jehad against the US-UK occupation forces there and their Iraqi collaborators. This continued support is because of the military's dependence on them for keeping alive its proxy war in India.
Similarly, the Pakistani establishment continues to provide funds, sanctuaries and arms and ammunition to the Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (HEI) in order to use them to recover its lost influence in Afghanistan. The continued terrorist activities of the HUM, the HUJI,the LET and the JEM in Indian territory and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the help of the HEI, would not have been possible but for the Pakistani support.
As a result, the LET has emerged as the most well-motivated, well-organised, well-funded, well-armed and well-led terrorist organisation of the region today and as the standard-bearer of the IIF. Its presence and activities extend as far east as Indonesia, to the whole of the Indian sub-continent and the Gulf. It has managed to set up a presence even in the USA, as revealed by the recent detection of an LET cell there. Prof.Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, its Amir, reportedly enjoys the full trust of bin Laden and is deputising for him to keep up the morale and the fighting capabilities of the jehadi terrorist groups in different countries allied with the Al Qaeda in the IIF.
Afghanistan and Iraq
On the ground, while there has been no qualitative change in the situation in the Indian sub-continent, South-East Asia, West Asia and Chechnya in Russia, despite the above-mentioned successes, with hundreds of innocent civilians continuing to die at the hands of terrorists, it has taken a turn for the worse in Afghanistan; and Iraq has emerged as the new battle-field of Pakistan-based jehadi terrorists in their jehad against the USA.
The return of the Taliban from the cold after 18 months of re-grouping, re-training and re-arming in sanctuaries in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan and the rapidity and the frightening effectivenes with which a plethora of Iraqi resistance groups, aided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia-based jehadis, have struck back at the US dramatically illustrate the inadequacies of US intelligence collection and assessment capabilities despite the successes mentioned above, its inability to evolve a coherent strategy to deal with jehadi terrorism, the persisting gaps in international co-operation which continues to be inhibited by political considerations and the painful consequences of failing to identify and act against the state-sponsors of jehadi terrorism.
Due to the USA's mistakes of judgement and acts of commission and omission, what started as a war against terrorism in Afghanistan finds itself transformed into a national liberation struggle against the US in the eyes of growing sections of Afghans in the Pashtun belt and what was projected as a war against a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) wielding tyrant in Iraq has resulted in the near-destruction of a modern, secular and anti-jehadi state in West Asia, despite its being ruled by a tyrant who was no different from similar tyrants enjoying US benediction elsewhere in the world. Iraq, which was a rare beacon of secularism in the Islamic Ummah, has overnight become a cauldron of jehadi terrorism.
The war against jehadi terrorism cannot be won without the US leadership and resources. But even under US leadership, it is unlikely to be be won so long as the US continues with its misguided policies and views the war merely through the narrow prism of its interests and the lives of its citizens. A few tactical victories will not ensure a strategic triumph unless the misguided policies are admitted and discarded.
How to restore Iraq to the genuine control of its secular-minded elite as rapidly as possible has to be the first priority in any policy review. Action against Pakistan and other State-sponsors of jehadi terrorism has to be the second. Neutralisation of the terrorist infrastructure and sanctuaries, wherever they may be located, has to be the third. As I have been repeatedly pointing out, action against terrorist funding alone will not produce enduring results unless accompanied by action against sanctuaries and infrastructure.
The New Jehadis
The new terrorism of the jehadis defies conventional wisdom, which attributes terrorism to economic and social causes such as unemployment, social injustice, economic deprivation, perceptions of persecution of the community of the terrorists etc. Conventional wisdom also holds the madrasas or Islamic religious schools to be the spawning ground of jehadi terrorists.
But a study of the social profile of the jehadi terrorist leaders shows that the conventional wisdom does not hold good in their case. Many of them come from middle-class or even affluent families, were well-educated and well-placed in their society and are not products of the madrasas. Their terrorism is motivated by sheer murderous anger and is unrelated to any particular political, economic or social cause. The need for a new psychological approach to prevent this anger from aggravating and spreading further has to be the fourth priority. Countering the new terrorism is as much a psychological problem as it is a political, economic, social and operational problem.
Intelligence And Security
Have the intelligence and security agencies and the political leadership of the victim states learnt the right lessons during the first two years of the war against terrorism? To a limited extent, yes; to a large extent, no. The importance of an effective and performing intelligence set-up has been recognised, but not much has been done to make it so. The even greater importance of an effective physical security set-up, which will deny repeated successes to the terrorists has also been recognised, but the follow-up has been poor. The political leadership in many countries, including India, continues to think that it can deal with jehadi terrorism through rhetoric and bravado alone.
Four major terrorist successes with car bombs in Baghdad (3) and Najaf within a few weeks show how poor physical security is there despite the concentration of US troops and their ruthless methods of operations. How merrily the jehadi terrorists have been penetrating into one security establishment after another in J&K by just wearing army or police uniform does not reflect well on India's physical security. In one instance at Akhnoor, they managed to kill a Brigadier in his den and almost succeeded in killing two Lieutenants-General.
India: Rhetoric and Bravado
If rhetoric and bravado alone can crush terrorism, there should have been no terrorism in India by now. No Government in India has indulged in more rhetoric and bravado than the present one, but no government has paid as little attention to improving the nuts and bolts of counter-terrorism management as the present one. Intelligence and security agencies cannot be effective in dealing with terrorism unless there is a political consensus on the necessary nuts and bolts of the job. Such a consensus is all the more necessary since the country is ruled by a coalition since 1996 and since different parties are in power at New Delhi and the victim-States, but no effort has been made either by the ruling coalition or the opposition to work towards such a consensus. As a result, counter-terrorism has been largely politicised.
In national security matters, the present Government came to office with new ideas, but they have not been satisfactorily implemented. It set up a National Security Council (NSC), but it has hardly met twice or thrice. It set up a non-governmental National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Three Boards have come and gone. The fourth one is presently in office. Their reports and recommendations do not appear to have received the attention they deserved.
The NSC Secretariat, which replaced the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in 1999, has hardly any experts with experience in counter-terrorism analysis. Before 9/11, the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Centre had reportedly 400 analysts. Their number has been doubled since then. The Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Indian external intelligence agency, has just four. That in a country which has suffered the largest number of civilian casualties at the hands of terrorists since 1981.
Terrorism has been the most important national security problem of India since 1999 and will continue to be so till jehadi terrorism is vanquished. One would have, therefore, expected that counter-terrorism professionals would be occupying the commanding heights of the newly-created national security management infrastructure in the country. But, this is not so.
Successful counter-terrorism also means intelligent psychological warfare (PSYWAR). Its objective is to strengthen the credibility of the state and weaken that of the terrorists. Principle No. 1 of counter-terrorism PSYWAR is, never project a terrorist, however dreaded, in a larger than life measure. Never make him appear to his community as a hero worthy of emulation. Project him as a contemptible serial murderer, who deserves to be ruthlessly eliminated and speedily forgotten. Look at the way our security agencies have been projecting Ghazi Baba in a larger than life measure using expressions similar to those used by President Bush with reference to bin Laden in the early months of the war. The US has since realised that by projecting him so they were only creating in others the urge to follow on his foot steps. Other States have modified their PSYWAR techniques, but not our security agencies.
Look at the way the Mumbai Police carted around a suspect last year, projecting him as an Al Qaeda man who had undergone flying training in Australia. How badly this weakened their credibility when they could not prove it.
Look at the way they have been coming out with one contradictory version after another in relation to the investigation of the Mumbai blasts of 25/8. Terrorists too indulge in PSYWAR to weaken the credibility of the security agencies.
When our security agencies themselves are so adept in weakening their own credibility through their ill-advised and hasty claims and statements, what is the need for the terrorists to have their own PSYWAR apparatus?
Is there any introspection in New Delhi about our counter-terrorism capability? One hardly finds even the
weakest sign of it.
(B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter)