Way back, about twelve years ago,
when I wrote a book called Freedom On Trial, I said that
the greatest danger to constitutionalism, to democracy and to
the rule of law in the world, is terrorism.1
At that time, terrorism was only trying to develop and to spread
its wings in our country. But I already felt that constitutionalism
was embattled and would be increasingly embattled by terrorism.
I had also noted that the terror of terrorism is not only in the
act, but in the ideology, the ‘ism’ which is added to terror.
It is in that ideology of terrorism that the greatest threat of
Understanding terrorism requires
a multi-disciplinary approach. A time may come, though Ihope this
does not happen, that terrorism will become a standard part of
the curricula of the world. It can only be hoped that the threat
recedes, and is no longer in such a commanding position that it
should compel such attention. But over the past years, the shadow
of the cloak and dagger of terrorism has become larger and larger.
It has acquired an extended infrastructure; certain ideological
underpinnings and intellectual support.
There are friends who have spoken
of the causes of terrorism, which must command our attention as
a priority. I agree that we must study the causes of terrorism.
But that the intellectual enquiry into the causes of terrorism
ought never to be allowed to be used to condone terrorism, to
become an excuse, a justification, for terrorism.
There is always the abuse, the
misuse of clichés, of ideas, of religious affiliations.
There is always an issue, which lends itself to such intensity
of feeling and such ‘fanaticisation’ that you may decide to look
at it down the barrel of a gun, rather than confront it through
dialogue. That is why the whole thesis that Huntington developed
has a certain relevance, and I recall that, when I me him, he
said, "This is not my prophecy. I pray that the scenario
that I have portrayed will not come to pass." But then as
a scholar he said, "I cannot possibly wish it all away."
To avoid the scenario of the ‘clash of civilisations’ requires
understanding; the carnage can be averted if civilisations begin
to introspect. If civilisations began to understand their own
ethos, they would not allow their adherents to be exploited for
violence. No one particular religion, no one particular nation
alone can be picked out to carry the blame for this. But their
has to be a clear understanding in the world today that civilisation
as we have known it will not survive unless we are able to face
this problem with a sense of solidarity, with the armour and equipment
of an effective international legal framework to fight terrorism,
and with a strong sense of co-operation among the nations of the
world to deal with this problem of terrorism. All this must be
secured without compromising our basic sense of humanity, without
loosing our sense of the ultimate objective of establishing an
abiding and enduring peace in the world.
Terrorism is, first of all, a
problem of the mindsets of individuals who claim to be aggrieved.
In law, an aggrieved person brings his grievance to the court
of law and seeks settlement by an impartial tribunal. A terrorist,
however, is one who has lost faith in all existing systems of
conflict resolution. But terrorism never resolves a conflict;
instead, it creates new conflicts. Terrorism is an ideology that
challenges freedom, the dignity of human beings, and the peace
and order of societies. The possibility of civilisation itself
is endangered by the threat of terrorism in the world.
We are, at this point, still to
approach anything that can be considered a viable world solution
to terrorism. What we do have is a solution offered by one big
superpower, and others that have been articulated by many different
individuals. The viability of these is still to be demonstrated.
What must, however, be understood
and accepted in any effective strategy to confront terrorism is
that the breeding grounds of terrorism have to be dealt with first.
It is through ideology that terror acquires a certain credibility
in the minds of man. This credibility is the source and basis
of the fear that is inspired, the intimidation is inflicted on
society. The acts of violence that are the hallmark of terror
are propelled by an ideology, and this is what makes terrorism
a dangerous weapon, a dangerous phenomenon. The ‘ism’ in terrorism
is the real source of mischief in our time and age.
I think each case of terrorism
is perhaps sui generis. Each area in the world has its
own terrorists, many of whom call themselves freedom fighters.
There is, of course, a valid argument that, sometimes, freedom
requires a certain amount of agitated violence. India’s own freedom
was not won merely by the Gandhian way. It was also won because
people rose in arms against a colonial regime.2
After the second world war, when the United Nations charter was
proclaimed to make the world safe for democracy and for freedom,
it was hoped that the age of violence was approaching its end,
but the United Nations was unable to match its promise with institutional
provisions and modalities of a mechanism for peaceful resolution.
The result has been that many
people develop a distorted, perverse view of what they believe
is injustice. They lose their faith in the fabric of society,
and this leads them to take up arms. When their actions acquire
an ideological edge, when funds, training and arms are easily
forthcoming, then the picture becomes more and more gloomy for
I have studied many cases of terrorism
in several countries, as also the various legislative provisions
that have been enacted to come to grips with this menace. Legislation
in countries like the United Kingdom have been made more and more
stringent over the years. When the laws enacted in the early seventies
were found to be unequal to the task, a new law was passed in
the year 2000, and this British law is even more stringent than
recent Indian ordinance, the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance,
This is certainly something that
concerns me, as one who has spent almost thirty-five years in
the defence of human rights. But we must, first and foremost,
understand that terrorism is the greatest violation of
human rights. Many of us naively and mistakenly rose to the defence
of the would-be terrorist and even of the terrorists, because
we thought – mistakenly – that these were cases of human rights
violations by the state. But this was far from the case, and as
I went deeper and deeper into these issues, I found that there
are certain aspects that every nation and the international community
will inevitably have to address. The first relates to the problem
of organisations that speak in the name of a religion or a political
cause. But everyone can build up a fantasy world, based on various
presuppositions and assumptions. Unfortunately these groups are
not amenable to reason or to dialogue. Nevertheless, a world wide
dialogue is constantly necessary to defeat the premises of terrorism,
to challenge its assumptions and to belie it at every possible
forum. Unless this is done, the ideological base of terrorism
becomes stronger and stronger. This effort must also be accompanied
by a comprehensive mission for the redress of real grievances.
It is possible to look at situations of violence in a way that
allows for the resolution of such problems, not on the basis of
the propaganda that terrorist organisations unleash on the community,
but on the basis of all the values in the civilised community
places its faith, and which the terrorists reject. In this, however,
we must guard against the danger of the terrorists using and abusing
the machinery and freedoms of a civilised society to further their
This is a persistent problem.
These people speak in the name of ‘freedom’ though they violate
the freedoms of others, and this needs to be acknowledged by the
international community. Freedom is a beautiful word. It is a
poetic, evocative word, one that captures the imagination, seizes
the human mind. Byron says it beautifully: ‘Freedom’s battle once
begun, bequeath’d from bleeding sire to son, baffled oft, is ever
won.’ But the battle for freedom is the battle against terrorism.
Terrorism has become Enemy Number One of freedom in every sense
of the word. It is the greatest challenge today for humankind,
for human dignity, and for justice. And there is not a single
example in the entire world, of terrorism having resolved a problem,
or having expanding the sphere of freedom
I recall that, when I negotiated
a treaty of extradition with the United Kingdom, I told them that
if they wanted to provide an exception in the name of those who
are purportedly fighting for the cause of freedom, they might
as well forget about the treaty, because it would be nothing more
than a piece of paper, of no use in any given situation. Any one
can claim to be a freedom fighter. It is easy. But freedom itself
has to be protected from some of these freedom fighters. Eventually,
the United Kingdom came around to accepting the exclusion of this
alibi, excuse and defence against extradition in cases relating
to terrorism and drug related offences. It is, indeed, now time
to create one international convention of extradition, which should
become the jus cogens3 of International
Law, and which should be binding on all nations. This is one of
the first imperatives for a comprehensive legal framework in the
global war against terrorism. Unfortunately, there have been many
obstructions, and we are yet to move significantly forward in
For years the International Law
Commission struggled with the semantics of the definition of terrorism.
Strange as it may seem they spent many hours, not very fruitfully,
on something that is not all that complex and difficult. I have
had discussions in Universities in America, in Britain and in
India, and I can say this: lawyers and academics have one thing
in common – we are experts at making simple things far more complex
than they are. We refuse to see the realities of the ground situation,
and as long as we persist in these attitudes, and deny the operative
realities of terrorism, we will never arrive at a reasonable solution
to the problem of evolving an international code against terrorism.
Three years ago I spoke at the
United Nations General Assembly – it is a daunting experience
to speak in that hallowed hall - and I said that if the problem
of terrorism is not addressed at an international and global level,
it will spread to countries that still remained blissfully oblivious
to the dangers of terrorism for civilisation as a whole. The extraordinary
and tragic events of September 11, 2001, have brought this reality
into the reluctant consciousness of the world. Ours is a media
driven society, and the media have now brought to the world’s
attention the excesses, the atrocities, the inhumanity, and the
indiscriminate brutality of terrorism. We cannot mince matters
merely because there are ‘causes’ of terrorism – some assumed
and some real; these cannot be accepted as justifications. The
world will have to set its face against terrorism.
But the war against terrorism
must be fought, not only with violence, but also with understanding.
We must establish what the UNESCO Charter spells out: the defence
of peace in the minds of men, women and children. The rising tide
of violence in the world today is a result of our failure to do
this. What has been done to create awareness among the people
of the world, in whose name the United Nations Charter was proclaimed,
and to prevent the world from being engulfed again in the scourge
of war? What has been done to educate the minds of men and women
during the fifty five years of the existence of the United Nations?
UNESCO, indeed, was defunct for many years for want of funds.
The United Nations is, for most of the time, deadlocked in fruitless
semantic debates – the time I spent in the United Nations was
really like going through a maze. Being a lawyer I enjoy mazes
– we create our own where none exist. But being a citizen of the
world, I found that we were overlooking the most pressing imperatives,
ignoring challenges that confronted the world for years.
For the last nearly twelve years,
I have raised my voice at human rights fora, arguing that we need
a better reconciliation between human rights and the rule of law,
on the one hand, and the battle against terrorism, on the other.
I must say, there is now increasing understanding and appreciation
of this point among human rights organisations. We must join forces.
Civil society has a vested interest in both these objectives –
the preservation of human rights and the battle against terrorism.
And if we cannot provide a foundation – an ideological foundation,
a conceptual foundation and an operational foundation – for such
reconciliation, we will continue to remain bogged down in the
semantics of terrorism, and will fail to deal with the problem
We need to go back to the roots
of our respective civilisations, and to provide a massive cultural
and educational plan for the world. All the relief camps and efforts
that are being organised in Afghanistan cannot suffice – and some,
at least, have suggested that part of the assistance that is being
provided is in danger of being diverted into training camps for
terrorists. The gigantic aid packages that are currently being
devised may end up nurturing another Taliban. I say this not merely
as an Indian citizen, but as a student of terrorism. A study of
the anatomy and genesis of the Taliban, their organisation and
operation, underline this danger.
It was not by Pakistan alone that
the Taliban was conceived and delivered. This was the region that,
at one time in recent history, had been transformed by the ‘Frontier
Gandhi’, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, into a different kind of society,
one that had completely rejected fundamentalism and communal politics.
Yet, it was here that the Taliban were eventually reared and nurtured.
Who did this, and why? Let us face the truth squarely. The Taliban
is the child of two parents, the United States and Pakistan. It
was one short-sighted, ad hoc policy devised by the US
that created the Taliban. The United States had sown the wind;
they have reaped the whirlwind.
The audacity of Taliban came later;
it was their ideologies, their training and their camps that were
set up long before. The harm these did can only be understood
in personal histories, very few of which have actually been documented.
I remember the case of one young student who had been admitted
to the London School of Economics, a very bright student – to
be admitted to the London School of Economics is itself a measure
of your merit. This young student was born in Great Britain to
Pakistani parents, whom I knew well. It was at the London School
of Economics that the terrorist recruiters got to him. They took
him to Bosnia, not so much to see the human conditions there,
to understand the human predicament and tragedy, but to prepare
him for training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The boy’s parents
were deeply distressed that he had been recruited by the terrorists.
Nevertheless, after being indoctrinated and trained, he flew from
Karachi to Delhi, where he was able to induce a few foreign visitors
to accompany him to a house that he had rented with money he received
from the ISI. He travelled and I am speaking on facts which I
know personally, which can be documented. This young man was trained
in Pakistan was sent to Afghanistan, was Talibanised. and they
were distressed that their son had been recruited by terrorists.
After having been indoctrinated
he flew from Karachi to Delhi on a British passport. He was able
to induce a few young foreign visitors to accompany him to a house,
which he had rented with money he had received from the ISI. After
this, he raised demands that the government should release some
other terrorists then in custody if it sought the safe release
of these foreigners. On this occasion, fortunately, the police
– which is not usually credited with any great efficiency – was
able to locate the house, free the hostages, and arrest the young
Here we see this young man taken
by ISI on its payroll, given a ‘cause’ to fight for, provided
training and resources. His imagination was fired. He thought
he had become a soldier of a religion, which I respect very much,
which is a part of the religions of my country. But this young
man was recruited in the cause, not of religion, but of terrorism.
I related his story in Britain, at London during a Press Conference.
The London School of Economics4 was ‘hurt’. I
was on their board of governors, and they communicated to me that
the incident was giving the School a bad name. I told them it
was not the School’s fault. It was important to disclose to the
world how the recruiters work, how deep is their penetration,
how money plays a part, the role of religious and ideological
indoctrination, how networks of training, the supply of arms and
resources have been established, and how our silence allowed a
whole army of terrorists to be raised.
It is necessary to return, again
and again, to the urgent need for a massive international initiative
to reach the mindsets of people, to overcome intolerance and hatred,
to neutralise the processes of ‘fanaticisation’ that increasingly
afflict religions, and create the breeding grounds of terrorism.
We have already witnessed the creation of Taliban I in the border
areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today, with large amounts of
money are flowing into the same region, all the guns and arms
that are still there – and may in fact be turned against India
at a later date. I recall that Lord Tebbit, a member of the British
House of Lords told me that his nurse, a young Afghan lady, told
him that she began to handle a Kalashnikow at age thirteen. She
had received the weapon as a gift from her father because it was
very cheap – almost as cheap as a toy.
All those guns which were distributed,
all those funds which was given by the United States at the time
of its fight against Russia, have boomeranged today. But the writing
on the wall seems to be illegible to American policy makers –
and it is crucial to note here that the US is not only its own
policy maker, it has become the policy maker of the world. I have
spent many years of my life in that country and deeply admire
it; I share their sorrow over the events of September 11. But
when I see their policies, which threaten to carry the world to
the brink and precipice of destruction, that encourage and nurture
terrorism, my conscience revolts. Even now, it seems, they are
unable to see that they are launching a new project that could
breed Taliban II in Pakistan.
True, Pakistan is a ‘frontline
state.’ The US needs Pakistan, and consequently gives it support.
But Pakistan itself has been ‘Talibanised’ as a nation. This is
unfortunate. These are my kith and kin, we share the same blood.
But, willing or unwilling, they have become victims of these processes
and have been Talibanised. As for General Pervez Musharraf, he
is no longer in charge of public opinion. He leads a nation, he
leads a military coterie, but he does not lead the nation today.
A greater fanaticism has taken root in Pakistan, and while the
very attractively packaged gifts and aid that Pakistan is receiving
from the US may, in the short run, appear justifiable, the truth
is, short run strategies are often short sighted.
We cannot win the battle against
terrorism if we give up the long-term view, if we are unable to
devise a common strategy to fight the ideologies of terrorism
in the minds of men women and children. For this, we will have
to develop a deeper understanding of terrorism and to learn from
its recent history, particularly in this part of the world (South
Asia). Unfortunately, it appears that the historians lament, "the
only lesson of history is that we never learn any lessons from
history’ is uncomfortably close to the truth.
This is a danger signal and a
warning, not only for India, but for the entire world that is
now being mobilised to join the coalition against terrorism. This
coalition must have a framework, it must create a consensus. It
will have to define a consistent short and long term agenda that
is clearly committed to the creation of a lasting peace and global
justice. Tribunals of adjudication will have to be established
at the same time, to set the face of the world against terrorism
in an unequivocal way.
It is imperative, finally, that
the Muslims of the world are made to understand their own best
interests, and, equally, that others are able to see current grievances
and conflicts in a perspective different from the clash of civilisations.
A dialogue of civilisations is the only alternative. But that
dialogue will have to wait until some kind of peace is re-established
in Afghanistan. The Pax Americana is still to crystallise,
and the situation is far from clear. There were some who were
talking of a ‘moderate Taliban’, a contradiction in terms that
is laughable. But there is no dearth of the credulity in the department
of state and the department of defence in the United States. Sadly,
those who do not read the writing on the wall, pay a heavy price.
Having paid the price, it is hoped that they will also learn the
||Inaugural address delivered by
Dr. L.M. Singhvi, on October 29, 2001
||Dr. L.M. Singhvi
is a distinguished Jurist and Member of Parliament. He served
as India's High Commissioner to UK between _________ etc.
- L.M. Singhvi, Freedom on Trial,
New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1991, p. 11.
- Principles of international
law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt
to contract out of them through treaties. For example, genocide
and participating in a slave trade are thought to be jus cogens.
Quoting intelligence sources
a news report has indicated that at least three persons linked
to the Al Qaeda had studied at the London School of Economics
(LSE). While two of the men are at large, the third was arrested
in New Delhi in December 2001 for his alleged involvement
in the December 13 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.
The most prominent of the three is Omar Sheikh, who was released
by the Indian government in the hostage swap in December 1999
consequent to the hijack of Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu,
Nepal, to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is now reported to be
linked to the January 22, 2002 terrorist attack on the American
Centre in Kolkata. Omar Sheikh, a Mathematics student at the
LSE is also reported to have been one of the main financiers
of Mohammad Atta, who piloted one of the aircraft that crashed
into the World Trade Centre Towers on September 11, 2001.
The other terrorist with an LSE background has reportedly
been arrested by the Delhi Police in connection with the terrorist
attack on Indian Parliament on December 13. Although his name
is yet to be released but according to media reports quoting
intelligence sources, he used to lecture Muslim students in
1993. The third man had reportedly enrolled for a computer
course at the LSE in 1992. He allegedly recruited students
for the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed.
(Ed). Source: “Kashmiri militants find a haven in LSE”, The
Times of India, New Delhi, January 27, 2002; “Kolkata attack
accused were active in LSE terror hub”, The Hindustan Times,
New Delhi, January 27, 2002.