The Global Fight Against Terrorism
On October 7, 2001, the United States launched its armed attack on Afghanistan as a part of its war against global terrorism. This is the only positive fallout of September 11, 2001, which took a heavy toll of human lives in New York and at the Pentagon, most of them lives of the American people, though citizens of some 60-odd nations who worked in the World Trade Center also perished.
The United States had taken a few hits from the terrorists even before September 11, including one to the World Trade Centre; but since the targets were mostly U.S. missions and installations abroad, the hurt, it seems, was treated as being within the ‘acceptable limits of tolerance’. Of course, there was retribution on every occasion, but the core issue of terrorism did not climb high on the agenda. Nearly 4,000 people had to die in two gruesome incidents for the US leadership to acknowledge that their tolerance level had been breached, and a decisive response was called for.
The United States has succeeded in lining up a large number of nations to endorse, if not join it, in the inevitable fight against terrorism. Ironically, Pakistan
– which has been among the countries that not only harboured terrorists, but took pride in training them to mount terrorist attacks in India for over a decade now – has turned out to be the most loyal ally of the United States, next only to the United Kingdom, in the global action against terrorism.
Perhaps, there is some sort of poetic justice in this turnaround. It was the United States that collaborated with Pakistan in creating the Taliban militia to fight against the Russians and oust them from Afghanistan. Now, it is again Pakistan that has become the cat’s paw for the United States to destroy the Frankenstein they jointly fathered. For Pakistan, which used the Taliban to pursue its own nefarious designs in India, this is perhaps the most bitter pill it has had to swallow in its 54 years’ of existence. This role, thrust on it by the United States while cashing the IOUs secured over these 54 years, may create civil and military disturbances in Pakistan, and may strike at the very foundations of its nationhood. This should be a cause for worry not only for the leadership of Pakistan, but also for India. Any break-up of Pakistan will jeopardise the stability of the sub-continent, with consequences that defy imagination.
The US has set two main objectives in its crusade against the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan. One, the capture of Osama bin Laden, (in the words of President Bush) “dead or alive”. Two, overthrow of the Taliban regime and installation of a government that will re-establish democratic rule in the country. The first task may end up as an unfulfilled wish. The second will be a long-term gamble.
That Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are partners in a joint venture to conduct terrorist activities is an undisputed fact, never mind what their benefactors and beneficiaries may swear. But, to believe, that the physical annihilation of Osama bin Laden and a part of the Taliban militia will put an end to global terrorism, is to deliberately overlook the very dynamic of terrorism.
India’s experience in fighting terrorism for the past twenty and more years provides conclusive evidence that while a state (in this case Pakistan) can sponsor terrorism against another state (India), the fight against such terrorist action is a long-drawn exercise which can test a nation’s patience.
Pakistan has been the driving force behind every terrorist action on Indian soil. The naked dance of terrorism that took innumerable lives in Punjab in the 1980s was sponsored and sustained by Pakistan. In his book Strangers of the Mist, Sanjay Hazarika observes, “Over the years, the ISI had stirred the Punjab insurrection, arming and training Sikh extremists, until a ruthless police official named Kanwar Pal Singh Gill crushed them with an iron hand.”1 Thousands of misled Sikh youth lost their lives in this dance of death.
Take for instance the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). There are truckloads of evidence to prove that these terrorists are recruited, trained, equipped and paid with money raised through the narcotics trade by Pakistan through its undercover agencies. The number of civilian and military lives claimed by these terrorists in J&K would be, perhaps, nearly ten
times than those lost on September 11 in Manhattan and at the Pentagon. Punjab,
and J&K have been in the public eye the world over for reasons we need not
dwell upon here. The world has had either no time or no inclination – for obvious
reasons – to take a look at Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India’s North Eastern
states. It is again Sanjay Hazarika who got a first hand report on Pakistan’s
involvement in the insurgencies in the North eastern states, which is narrated at
length in his book. One episode, I shall quote here. In 1988, Munim Nobis made the organisations (ULFA) first effort to internationalise their campaign. That year, he travelled with a Bangladeshi businessman, who was well-connected to the political-military establishment in Dhaka as well as to the Pakistanis, to Karachi. He hoped that through the businessman, he would establish contacts with Pakistani intelligence agents, especially the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), charged with creating unrest and trouble in its larger neighbour.2
According to Hazarika, The Indian Government prepared its crackdown against ULFA in 1990, the top political leadership and one senior army commander was in Pakistan, having flown there on a Bangladesh Biman flight. Met by ISI agents at the airport, the men were taken from Karachi to Islamabad and kept at a sprawling safe house. There were two days of sightseeing before the group was taken to Peshawar, headquarters of several Afghan mujahideen groups. The meetings at Peshawar included one with Gulbuddin Hekmatyr, the chief of the Hezb-i-lslami, which was patronised both by the Pakistanis and the Central Intelligence Agency. The ULFA delegation included Arobindo Rajkhowa, Hirakjyoti Mahanta, the deputy commander of ULFA’s military wing, Pradip Gogoi, the vice-president, Arup Chetia, the general secretary, and Manoj Hazarika. All except Rajkhowa, ULFA’s Chairman, took intensive training conducted by Pakistani operatives which lasted nearly a month in strategy, tactics, counter intelligence, disinformation and, of course, use of weapons. But Islamabad was not yet going to give them arms. They needed one more round of talks to convince themselves of the commitment of this potential ally. The next to travel to Pakistan was a two-man team. Paresh Baruah, the commander-in-chief, and Sunil Nath, ULFA’s publicity secretary.3
After tempers had cooled, the Pakistanis took the ULFA men to Darrah, the hill town in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that is one of the world’s biggest, open, illegal arms bazaars. Here, visitors
can pick up Chinese – or Russian – Kalashnikov rifles, mortars,
handguns (locally made or from the best European and American
companies), grenades and anti-tank guns shoulder-fired. All for a price.
(This bazaar at Darrah did flourishing business during the Afghan
mujahideen war against the Soviet-backed regime of President
Najibullah. Now it supplies arms to groups fighting each other in the
chaos of post- Najibullah Afghanistan.)
The Pakistanis were keen for a large-scale operation in Assam that
would use high-powered explosives and strategic attacks on top officials
and politicians as well as strategic locations, such as oilfields and
At the time that ULFA was forging its Pakistani links, the Nagas of the Thuengaling Muivah faction were also active. The capture of a National Socialist Council of NagaIand (NSCN) leader, simply called German, gave intelligence officials in the Northeast a wealth of material. From German’s diaries and interrogations, emerged more proof of ISI involvement. In this case, German and others simply walked to the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka – in much the same way as Munim Nobis had surprised a police station in Karachi – and asked to meet with people who could help their cause and renew old relationships. That took place in 1990. More meetings followed in Dhaka, Kathmandu and in Islamabad.
It is basically a war of attrition: you kick us, we kick you, was how one intelligence official in the Northeast described the situation. These days, the Islamic connection has become a major factor in Kashmir with hundreds of fundamentalists from Afghanistan, battle-scarred veterans of the long fight against Russia and its puppets in Kabul, targeting army officials, ambushing and capturing paramilitary troops and using a range of weaponry and tactics that has shaken the Indian defence and intelligence establishment.
The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 184 from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Afghanistan was a joint exercise in terrorism by the ISI and Taliban. One passenger was killed in cold blood by these hijackers to send a chilling message to the other passengers of the fate that would be theirs if their demands for the release of Pakistani terrorists, who were in India’s jails, were not met. Within and outside the country, the Indian government was subjected to a lot of derision for releasing the jailed terrorists to save the lives of more than a hundred passengers of more than one nationality who were on board that flight.
India has been shouting itself hoarse at Pakistan’s crimes from every global platform, including the United Nations. But no nation thought that a global war will have to be waged against Pakistan or that Pakistan’s leadership should be
captured dead or alive, or that India should assemble an international force to bomb terrorist training camps in Pakistan. No nation could have thought on these lines. And for good reasons.
Terrorists live and operate in conditions where massed armed forces cannot play any role. If they could, the Indian Armed Forces would, long ago, have decimated the various terrorist outfits operating in J&K. India has scrupulously avoided even targeting the terrorist training camps, which are not far from the country’s border with Pakistan. For the simple reason that, located as these camps are around or beside civilian population centres, any strikes on them will claim the lives of innocent people, including women and children. If dealing with clusters of terrorists is fraught with undesirable consequences, the plan to hunt down a single terrorist located in Afghanistan must be accepted as a gargantuan task, even with a prize of US $ 25 million on his head.
Though the US and its allies have taken care not to give a communal colour to the fight against global terrorism, there has been a display of amateurism by some highly-placed leaders of the Occident To brand terrorism as an Islamic evil that has to be fought and defeated, is to overlook the reality that terrorism, like any other criminal activity, has neither religion nor race nor caste. A terrorist is a terrorist, just as a criminal is a criminal. There is hardly any country in the world, which does not have its quota of terrorists. A terrorist is simply ‘a person who uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’;5 and terrorism is “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce especially for political purposes.”6 Giving new meanings and interpretations to terrorism to suit the occasion will only help in obfuscating the issues that are figuring on the agenda of the US-led alliance against terrorism.
Because of Osama bin Laden, who leads a band of terrorists, or the Taliban which believes in terrorism as its state policy, and, for that matter, because Pakistan’s leadership trains, equips and exports to India an unending stream of blood-thirsty terrorists, to brand Islam as a doctrine of terrorism and point an accusing finger at Muslims is to exhibit either a prejudiced mind or unpardonable ignorance of both the history of religions and the history of the wars fought over the last two millennia – and that are even now being fought If such crass ignorance or misplaced prejudice is not overcome, it will only exacerbate the alienation that has already overtaken the Islamic world. On last count (in 1996), Muslims numbered 1,126,325,000, which was 19.4 per cent of the total world population of 5,804,120,000. The war in Afghanistan is bound to raise the level of this alienation. To add more fuel to it could only mean laying the foundation for more future conflicts.
Already there are fears of the likely use of chemical and biological weapons by the terrorists, which has created unprecedented panic in the United States and in European countries. There is even talk of some nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. So while the United States and its allies can pulverise Afghanistan beyond recognition, a desperate act by the terrorist groups may annihilate entire populations elsewhere.
Any thought that a war will end the problem of terrorism for the United States, or for other nations now under terrorist attack, is best given up before it gets entrenched in the mind. The ultimate answer to terrorism is a just world in which:
must collectively put their finger on the hurts nursed over the centuries within nations and between nations, and draw up a plan for global peace by bringing about reconciliation on all these issues.
Among the more significant steps taken to de-fang the terrorists in the aftermath of September 11, one was to freeze their funds in banks, all or most of which would have come from narcotics and other similar clandestine deals. It cannot be that information relating to such deposits in various countries of Europe and some remote Islands which have banking institutions that launder money generated from narcotics, was not available to those governmental agencies that were fighting against the narcotics trade. In fact, some of those countries that are now freezing the accounts of the terrorists, are themselves guilty of using these offshore and other similar banks to park secret funds for their own clandestine activities.
What should have been done, and must now be done immediately, is to bring transparency in world banking by getting the Swiss to open up all numbered and other secret accounts. Similar action must be taken in respect of all offshore banks and other agencies that hold secret accounts consisting of money secured through questionable means. The money thus unearthed must be allowed to be confiscated by the country whose citizens had laundered it.
The US Senate, just the other day passed a bill with 96 voting for it and one against, which has been hailed as the toughest attack on money laundering in years. According to one writer, if the bill is ratified by the House, it would make it easier to nail all kinds of criminals – drug kingpins, tax cheats, mobsters, and corrupt dictators – who have stashed money in countries with strict bank secrecy laws. The article discloses that, “U.S. banks, which have billions in highly lucrative high-net-worth accounts offshore, have generally opposed strong anti-money-laundering measures as burdensome, anti-competitive, and intrusive – arguments that few now find compelling.”7
If the U.S. has such high stakes in offshore banking, then there is not much hope that the flow of money to global terrorists will come to a standstill.
One great tragedy that preceded September 11, 2001, was the assassination of General Ahmed Shah Masood, Military Chief and guiding light of the Northern Alliance. It was he who kept the otherwise divided Northern Alliance together. Between leading his troops in military operations against the Taliban forces, he visited countries that helped him with money, weapons, ammunition and other forms of support. A fatal attack was made on his life on September 9, three days before the World Trade Centre was targeted, and he died of his injuries on September 15. Two Arabs claiming to be journalists sought an interview with him. In the event, they happened to be human bombs sent to kill him, and they accomplished their mission.
If bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there is no reason to doubt that he did mastermind the assassination of General Masood as well. The timing of the assassination is the proof that bin Laden could not have been unaware of the fallout of his savage act. He would have foreseen not only the US response, but he would have known how the entire civilised world would have reacted. He would have known that, apart from military action against the Taliban, the US and its allies would dismantle the Taliban government. And he would have also seen, not just the possibility, but the certainty of General Masood, leader of the Northern Alliance, leading his troops into Kabul to set up a government with all those forces who have been fighting the Taliban. Osama bin Laden was not going to tolerate such a denouement. Therefore, General Masood had to be assassinated. The void created by the death of General Masood is not going to be filled in the near future. There is no one in sight who can take his place….
Where does India stand in all this? A difficult question to answer, in such circumstances. India has offered support to the US in its mission to defeat terrorism wherever it may show up in the world. Till September 11, if terrorism was indeed on display, it was Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in J&K and in other parts of India. There is yet no commitment made by the US to be a part of the war that India has been fighting against this terrorism for over a decade. One should not, therefore, rule out the likelihood of India having to fight its own war
against terrorism on its border, once the US- led alliance calls off its engagement in Afghanistan, and goes back to its five-decade-old cosy relationship with Pakistan.
In the post-Taliban arrangement in Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and, may be, even the Russian Federation will have a significant part to play, besides Iran and Pakistan. All these countries, except the Russian Federation, share their borders with Afghanistan. India has played a major role in helping the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban militia, a role, by all accounts, bigger than that of any other country.
India and Afghanistan have had a relationship that goes back into the millennia. If India had not been partitioned in 1947, Afghanistan and India would have been partners in a common endeavour to build an economically strong, politically stable, and militarily formidable, alliance that would have been the cynosure of all the nations of the world. India must, therefore, insist on having a major role in helping in the reconstruction of Afghan polity and in reviving the country’s economy, apart from restoring the cultural and political relationship between the two countries, which had been based on secular principles.
In the aftermath of the massacre of 18 Christians who were at prayer in the Roman Catholic Church in Bahawalpur, Pakistan’s President General Musharraf said that initial investigations into the attack indicated the involvement of ‘trained terrorist, organisations’ which wanted to create communal discord in the country. “The methods used and the inhuman tactics employed clearly indicate the involvement of trained terrorist organisations, bent upon creating discord and disharmony in Pakistan, where Christians and Muslims have always lived in peace with mutual respect for each other,” he said in a condolence message to the families of the victims.
Was there a confession of guilt in this, or was it a Freudian slip? Perhaps, there is a moral to be learnt in the ‘immoralism’ of the sponsors of terrorism: If you sup with the terrorist, you won’t live to have breakfast.