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An Idea is Enough

The long-held distinction between 'domestic' and 'international' terrorism has now become meaningless. This much is clear from the linkages of the terrorist conspiracy uncovered in the United Kingdom, which involving potential suicide attacks targeting as many as ten airliners on London-USA routes.

This reality acquires a peculiar urgency for India, because the control mechanisms of this terrorist plot link back, once again, inevitably and inexorably, to Pakistan—even as India comes under a heightened terror alert as Independence Day celebrations approach. India's anxieties are aggravated by the fact that one of the conspirators arrested in London, Amin Asmin Tariq, whose ethnicity and country of origin are yet to be identified, was an employee of the Indian Jet Airways group.

Though terrorism has never recognised international boundaries, state responses continue to be tied down by self-imposed constraints based on the imaginary barriers of the state’s territorial frontiers, and ‘sovereignty’. Vast spaces for free terrorist operation have also emerged from the international community's 'tolerance' of terrorism where it appears to have a 'domestic' profile, as against a purported 'international' mandate. Thus the constant effort to discover 'Al Qaeda' links to various acts of terrorism, without any effort to clarify what Al Qaeda is and how it currently operates; and then of course, there's the million dollar question: Does Al Qaeda operate in India?

These lines of inquiry produce altogether contradictory responses, because little conceptual clarity has been brought to the fundamental nature of Al Qaeda, and its continuous organisational and ideological reinvention in the post-9/11 era. Before 9/11, it had been a clearly defined hierarchical entity operating out of identifiable geographical loci on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It is useful to first recognise that organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami are all part of the International Islamic Front set up by Osama bin Laden. While the 'Arab Afghans' who form the original core of Al Qaeda may not operate in India, these organisations, as well as a number of their affiliates, have long operated not only in Jammu & Kashmir, but across the country. Hundreds of terrorist modules linked with these groups — and with their affiliates — have been identified and neutralised over the past years by enforcement agencies. These organisations share Al Qaeda's ideology and strategic objectives and are known, at the leadership level, to be clearly linked with Al Qaeda's control centres, even as they continue — apparently paradoxically — to operate under the evident protection of Pakistani state agencies. Arrests across the world, including in Europe and the US, have repeatedly traced back linkages to Pakistan.

Al Qaeda has created one of the most sophisticated global corporate structures ever imagined. For years now, certainly since 2002-03, widely dispersed Islamist terrorist leaders and ideologues have been exhorting followers and sympathisers to join the jihad, not by going to the various sites of 'oppression of Muslims', such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya or Kashmir, but by engaging in the jihad wherever they were, targeting the 'enemies of Islam' — the Christian-Jewish-Hindu 'conspiracy' — in their own countries. Within this evolving structure, minimal, and at times no operational linkages with the command structure, no process of recruitment, and no ceremonies of allegiance are required. In accepting Al Qaeda ideology and objectives, and acting to further these, a group or individual automatically 'becomes Al Qaeda'. A 'virtual organisation' of global dimensions has been created, with terrorist operational manuals and technical information relating to bomb-making, planning, and executing attacks readily available on the Internet.

It is necessary to come to terms with the essentially ideological nature of contemporary Islamist terrorism, and its acceptance of terrorism as a legitimate method of war. An ideology exists wherever it has believers; a method will be employed wherever it has likelihood of success. Unless the sources of this ideological mobilisation and the possibility of terrorist 'successes' become the principal targets of an international and non-discriminatory counter-terrorism effort on both, the political-ideological and intelligence-enforcement planes, the dangers of international Islamist terrorism will only continue to escalate.

(Published in Daily News & Analysis, Mumbai, August 13, 2006)






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