Homeland Security

A Future View of Terrorism
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 21 Nov , 2011

We can no longer overlook the fact that terrorism has come to stay in our midst and that the actors of terrorism are none other than some of us who suddenly decide to step out and move away from the rest to meet their needs differently in a different method and thus become different. Acknowledging the fact will help the state understand the causative factors of terrorism and its long-term effect on society. What is needed is a holistic approach to this phenomenon and developing strategies to reduce, if not prevent, the massive human and economic losses inflicted on society.

“¦certain parts of the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan are turning out to be the main power centres for terrorism. Decades of lawlessness and corruption have seen Islamist terrorist groups fill the power vacuum in this region”¦

Thinkers in the academic circles are pondering the lifespan of terrorism, and some believe that terrorism will become an accepted fact of contemporary life—commonplace, ordinary, banal and, therefore, somehow tolerable. Jenkins1 made alarming forecasts that terrorists will escalate their violence and their attacks will become more indiscriminate. Terrorism will become institutionalised as a mode of armed conflict for some, no less legitimate than other modes of conflict. The media will increase its ability to cover terrorist incidents; we will see even more terrorism. Besides, the extraordinary security measures to combat terrorism will become an integral part of our life style. Jenkins believes that a time will come when terrorism will no longer attract comment.

In spite of all these assumptions, it is difficult to predict the time and the manner of occurrence of the next terrorist incident. Terrorism knows no boundaries. It can happen any time at any place. Terrorists are fond of inflicting surprises on the public with the help of the media, which every morning carries the news of innocent people being held hostage even at places of worship, on vehicles or at market places, where people and even the security personnel are caught unawares. Should we call them dissidents, rebels or terrorists is anybody’s guess. The terrorists call themselves freedom fighters and friends of the wronged.

The magnitude of the impact of terror is so intense that it eludes simple analysis. Day after day, when the early news talks of nothing but the next terror attack in one country or another, public anger and despair turns towards what is felt as the failure of the government. On the other hand, countermeasures always carry with them the ominous possibilities of compromising civil liberty and dissent is repressed, often ruthlessly, by unscrupulous governments. Even for their well-meaning counterparts, each terror attack calls for higher allocation to step up security, thus diverting much-needed funds from development efforts like healthcare, education, food security and the like in poor countries. It is everybody’s dream and hope to stay away from the war of terror and live peacefully, but the future remains uncertain.

Each country has its own perception of terrorism moulded to classify and present it to its own political convenience.

Thus, when we talk of the future of terrorism, it is necessary to concentrate on the salient features which may determine the type and pattern of terrorism of tomorrow, i.e., its aim and intention to destabilise a system; we need to understand terrorism in totality to arrive at a definite conclusion as to where exist the lacunae and the cause of our failure to prevent this war of terror and give the right to life to the common man.

Introduction

Rebels, insurgents, separatists, guerrillas, insurrectionists, freedom fighters, fundamentalists . . . who among them are the terrorists? Or does terrorism occupy its own exclusive niche? These are questions many people—victims and victimisers—alike ask. It is a global question that has remained unanswered because the countries have failed to come to a common definition. The UN has been striving for decades to find a definition to narrow “all its forms and manifestations” into specific circumstances that can be labelled as terror. In the absence of a universally accepted definition of terrorism, the possibility of getting it tried in the international court gets blocked. Each country has its own perception of terrorism moulded to classify and present it to its own political convenience. There are instances when seizing on the absence of such a definition of terrorism, governments have waged with impunity the relentless repression of political opponents, ethnic minorities and oppressed groups’ legitimate aspirations in the name of counterterrorism or national security.2

Terrorists are often integral players in local and, sometimes, global politics. Hence, when the local, regional and international contexts change, so does terrorism.

As a conflict method that has survived and evolved through several millennia to flourish in the modern information age, terrorism continues to adapt itself to meet the challenges of emerging forms of conflict and exploit developments in technology and society. Terrorist groups have shown significant progress in outgrowing subordinate roles in nation-state conflicts and becoming global threats in their own right. They are becoming more integrated with other substate entities, such as criminal organisations and legitimately chartered corporations, and are gradually assuming a measure of control and identity with national governments. To counter antiterrorist operations, terrorists are well advanced in their preparation with sophisticated weapons and are in control of modern technologies. This is facilitated by the heavy funding by kindred groups. Future will see them more capable of combating any strategy formulated by a government.

Understanding Terrorism

Terrorism is a big business today. Huge money is involved in recruiting young boys, training them to operate modern weapons and motivating them to risk their lives. This is all done with expert planning and foresight. A small mistake will damage or destroy the whole operation. However, while predicting terrorism as a highly speculative business, there are ways of identifying certain long-term causes and driving forces and their links with society. Terrorism is a product of hate, and the hatred is usually so ingrained that people who feel they are wronged lose their tolerance and get obsessed with the idea of taking revenge. Lately, another dimension that has added to the cause of terrorism is money. People, particularly the young generation of lower economic strata, get induced by money to join the terrorist organisations. They are willing to adopt any step to become instantly rich.

Editor’s Pick

Terrorists are often integral players in local and, sometimes, global politics. Hence, when the local, regional and international contexts change, so does terrorism. This is what Brynjar Lia3 thinks. The dilemma for the international community lies firstly in assessing whether a cause is “just” and, therefore, capable of being remedied by political negotiation and secondly in identifying which “terrorist” organisations can be trusted to participate in the legitimate political process. After all, an ordinary person deserves to remain free from the fear and threat of terrorism.

The recent and most popular event that has taken the whole world instantly by alternate exhilaration and resentment is the death of Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist, in a haven. This leads us to provoking questions that relate to the future prospects of global terrorism.

The media’s role must not be ignored or underestimated. It enables the terrorists to know their strengths, at the same time motivating them to exercise their activities more fiercely. The stage is set for the drama, and the actors of violence perform their acts fearlessly and dangerously, attracting more attention. Players in the media, thereafter, compete among themselves with their information. The ratings and the subsequent revenue realised by them from increases in their audience size, in turn, produce pressures on terrorists to increase the impact of their actions and take advantage of the sensation they create in society.

It has been common knowledge that governmental machinery and the media will always see terrorist events from differing and opposing perspectives. Such contradictory perceptions result in tactical and strategic gains, or losses, to the terrorist operation and the overall terrorist cause. The challenge to the governmental and press community is, therefore, to understand the dynamics of the terrorist enterprise and to develop policy options to serve governments in their campaign against terrorism and to serve social interests. In the recent past, a series of incidents have thrown new challenges for the media. The media becomes all the more free to exercise its thoughts when no terrorist organisation comes forward to claim responsibility for a heinous act. The media’s speculations sends wrong signals to the society, thereby removing the bases of charges and reducing the responsibility of a terrorist outfit, making it all the more courageous and dangerous.

Raphael4 explains that three new trends are emerging in the future that are likely to influence the relationship between the media, the terrorist, and the government: anonymous terrorism, more violent terrorist incidents, and terrorist attacks on media personnel and institutions. So, the healthy strategy of the government should be to prevent the media from furthering terrorist goals as a by-product of vigorous and free reporting.

Today, experts5 believe that certain parts of the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan are turning out to be the main power centres for terrorism. Decades of lawlessness and corruption have seen Islamist terrorist groups fill the power vacuum in this region and continue to turn out an alarming number of religiously motivated terrorists.

The recent and most popular event that has taken the whole world instantly by alternate exhilaration and resentment is the death of Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist, in a haven. This leads us to provoking questions that relate to the future prospects of global terrorism. The imminent questions disturbing everyone’s mind are: What next? Who will succeed Osama? What would be the reaction of the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups to this incident? The answers to these questions are anyone’s guess, but in the meantime, every country is mobilising its strength to defend itself from haunting fear and threats to its security. The one picture that emerges is that a powerful country can use its intelligence setup to extricate terrorists from their havens with or without the consent of the government concerned.

The threat of home-grown terrorism is looming large. How dangerous are home-grown radicals? Will the United States, like Europe, become more susceptible to native radicals rather than terrorist plots hatched abroad by organised groups like al-Qaeda? Terrorism specialist Marc Sageman claims that we are facing a “leaderless jihad.’’ Al-Qaeda central is not an operational machine of terrorism, but its ideology serves as an inspiration for local groups to organise themselves to carry out their own attacks. But other experts, including Bruce Hoffman, maintain that it is the established organisation like al-Qaeda that remains the dominant threat and that we must focus more on the organisation and its capabilities rather than on random, radicalised individuals.

Bin Ladens death has been accepted with joy as well as with apprehension. It is too early to conclude that terrorism will end with the death of bin Laden. On the contrary, there is fear of the possibility of more terrorist attacks in retaliation to the slaying of bin Laden.

The pattern of terrorism-related arrests since 9/11 seems to support the argument that home-grown radicalism is the greatest threat the United States faces. Former CIA director  Michael Hayden called home-grown terrorism the more serious threat faced by American citizens today. England, likewise, considers home-grown terrorism to be a considerable threat. On 6 June 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a wide-ranging strategy to prevent British citizens from being radicalised into becoming terrorists while at university. The strategy looks to prevent extremist speakers or groups from coming to universities.

The recent planned series of attack once again in the financially sensitive areas of Mumbai makes one think that home-grown terrorism should not be underestimated; it is incorrect to believe that these home-grown plots have been all talk and little action. Even if the plots were executed, they would have been limited in scope. Mumbai is still to recover from the loss of lives and property. Indian Mujahedeen is seen to receive support from Pakistan outfits for their operations. But what about Pakistan, which itself is becoming frequently the target of the terrorists?

India has long faced attacks from Pakistan-based militant outfits, but the involvement of home-grown Islamist groups is now adding a “new dimension” to the problem, says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said certain suggestions were being considered, including the setting up of dedicated antiterrorism agencies and tougher laws.6 The Oslo incident where a Christian maverick killed scores in a terrorist attack professed to be in revenge of Islamist terrorism may be indicative of the height of a directionless desperation against the mindless terrorist brutality the world over.

The pattern of terrorism-related arrests since 9/11 seems to support the argument that home-grown radicalism is the greatest threat the United States faces

Home-grown terrorism is the greatest threat. Home-grown terrorists have a unique advantage in that they face less logistical problems such as entering the target nation as well as familiarity with society and customs and greater ease in identifying targets. This makes them lucrative assets to international terrorist organisations. But Lydia Khalil7 thinks differently. To the debate as to how dangerous the home-grown terrorist is, the author thinks that many of the home-grown plots have been all talk and little action. Even if the plots were executed, they would have been limited in scope—small explosives and ambush attacks or targeted killings. They lack the capability to inflict any real damage.

Writing on the impact of globalisation on the future pattern of terrorism, Brynjar Lia8 states that there are ways of identifying certain long-term causes and driving forces and their links with society. Terrorists are usually integral players in local and, sometimes, global politics.

Bin Laden’s death has been accepted with joy as well as with apprehension. It is too early to conclude that terrorism will end with the death of bin Laden. On the contrary, there is fear of the possibility of more terrorist attacks in retaliation to the slaying of bin Laden. The Los Angeles Times concurred with the Globe that the fight against global terror must remain a top U.S. priority. “Bin Laden’s death will not end terrorism, do away with Al-Qaeda or conclude the global war that began after 9/11 because too many people in too many nations accept his delusion that the United States is implacably at odds with the values of Islam,” the paper’s editorial board wrote, adding that the aftermath of the al-Qaeda leader’s death presents U.S. leaders with thorny new challenges. The Detroit Free Press wrote that global terrorism’s most iconic figure is now gone but stressed that the al-Qaeda leader’s demise should not be viewed as a purely symbolic event. “Bin Laden’s death should mean a palpable disruption to the operation of Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the attacks and remains one of the most pernicious global threats,” stated the Free Press. The international community needs to see how the democratisation movements and the slaying of bin Laden will affect the future of the war on terrorism.

Home-grown terrorism is the greatest threat. Home-grown terrorists have a unique advantage in that they face less logistical problems such as entering the target nation as well as familiarity with society and customs and greater ease in identifying targets.

Bin Laden’s death will definitely affect the policies of United States, and its relation with Afghanistan and Pakistan may also change. Afghanistan, which never stayed stress-free because of the presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda, could now ask the United States to withdraw its troops so that it can live in a free environment. But is the United States ready to accept the idea though President Obama might have given hope to his people that American army will not stay for an indefinite period in Afghanistan?

Maitra9 writes that after the death of Osama bin laden, Washington will now prepare an exit strategy. The Obama administration will proceed to work out a troop withdrawal timetable to end the war. Washington is reconciled to the situation that the Taliban cannot be wiped out of Afghanistan. For an exit strategy, the Obama administration does not want to spoil its relationship with old friend Pakistan and at the same time, does not want to risk any further lives of American soldiers. The advisors and senior politicians in the administration are seriously debating the issue. The two vital issues in discussion are the rate of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the optimal nature of the final settlement when the United States will officially declare the end of the war. These two issues will take considerable time to get resolved because there are a number of other issues which are linked and need to be discussed simultaneously.

In the meantime, we can foresee that terrorism is gradually changing its pattern and style of operation. It is no longer sporadic and unplanned. There may be a lull before the storm, and that lull should not be misunderstood or underestimated. Terrorism is becoming institutionalised, and the actors of the play are more organised, rational, and emotionally stable. Their plan of operation is clear, and the target is well identified.

Editor’s Pick

The role of the media can also be questioned here. It will take a safer ground and will present the violence in such a manner that people will see no wrong in what is happening; rather the administration will have to pull up its strings to see that it is not losing the support of the people. The vocabulary of terrorism has, therefore, become the successor to that of anarchy and communism exploited accordingly by the media and politicians.

Internationalism terrorism is a well-tried tool in interstate terrorist activities, and examples are aplenty of one state perpetrating terror across the border in another state. In the game, the home-grown terrorists come handy.

The future terrorists are a new breed well informed of the technological development, organisationally solid and ever ready to acquire knowledge of new killing devices.

The future terrorists are a new breed well informed of the technological development, organisationally solid and ever ready to acquire knowledge of new killing devices. They are improving their sophistication and abilities in virtually all aspects of their operations and support. The aggressive use of modern technology for information management, communication and intelligence has increased the efficiency of these activities. Weapons technology has become easily accessible, and the purchasing power of terrorist organisations is on the rise. The ready availability of both technology and trained personnel to operate it for any client with sufficient cash allows the well-funded terrorist to equal or exceed the sophistication of governmental countermeasures.

Terrorism has become the systematic weapon of a war that knows no borders or seldom has a face, said Chirac in his speech.10 It is a virus that is spreading its tentacles to every corner of the world, throwing a gigantic challenge to humanity and the whole range of values it holds dear to it. Nayak and many others think that it is essential to have good intelligence on terrorists. The fight against terrorism must be undertaken by a strongly united world in which every defender reaches beyond its self-defeating transitory interests and small gains to ensure that the fight concludes not just in a triumph for the moment but a victory that is complete in each detail, because humanity is involved.

Terrorism has become the systematic weapon of a war that knows no borders or seldom has a face”¦

In the meantime, it has become necessary for India to give her people a sense of safety and security. Its strategies to combat terrorism should be well planned and technically sound. The recent attack on the Delhi High Court is a clear reflection of the loopholes in the system. Counterterrorist measures must once be screened and revised in totality. Sharing of information among the intelligence agencies is crucial for a combined attack on their operations. There is an urgent need of skilled personnel in the field with appropriate knowledge of modern technology to handle antiterrorist operations. The laws to punish terrorists must be stringent, and sentencing should be quick and deterrent. Speedy justice will definitely prevent those who are taking the country to ransom. The message must go to those on trial that India will not tolerate any further anarchy of this sort.

Notes and References

  1. Brian Michael Jenkins. “Future Trends in International Terrorism.” The Rand Paper Series. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp, 1985. 
  2. OneWorld Guides. “Inside the Global Divide.”  Terrorism Guide, 11 May 2011.
  3. Brynjar Lia. Globalization and the Future of Terrorism: Patterns and Predictions. London: Routledge, 2005/2006.
  4. Raphael F. Perl. Terrorism, the Media, and the Government: Perspectives, Trends, and Options for Policymakers Specialist in International Affairs. Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division, Congressional Research Service. 22 October 1997. CRS issue brief. 
  5. Terrorism Research. “Future of Terrorism.” <http://www.terrorism-research.com/privacy.php>.
  6. Pakistan Defence. “India Accepts Home Grown Terrorism?” 17 September 2008. <http://www.defence.pk/forums/current-events-social-issues/14266-india-accepts-home-grown-terrorism.html>
  7. Lydia Khalil. “The Threat of Homegrown Terrorism.” The Boston Globe, 27 October 2009. <http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations/threat-homegrown-terrorism/p20536>
  8. Op Cit, n. 4.
  9. Ramtanu Maitra. “Osama’s Death Affect on US, Policy Towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.” Aakrosh 14, no. 52, July 2011.
  10. Note from Jacques Chirac (speech), 24 September 1986, cited in Terrorism Understanding the Incomprehensible by Ashok Nayak. Legal Service India.com.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

S. Sanyal

 S.SANYAL, former Reader NICFS (MHA) consultant UVCT & research fellow of Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund.

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