The Thesaurus describes an “Act of Terrorism” as the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear. The term “international terrorism” is further defined as ‘terrorism practised in a foreign country by terrorists who are not native to that country’.
Specific enough, one would say. But therein lies the rub. The world has, unfortunately, not been able to agree on the definition of international terrorism. Following the cataclysmic attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, the action taken was prompt enough: the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1373 on September 28, within three minutes of a meeting being convened. The resolution on terrorism was adopted under chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and is, therefore, binding on all member states of the United Nations.
…international consensus is nowhere in the offing on the issue of terrorism and each country is on its own when countering the threat posed by terrorist organisations to its security.
A certain sense of urgency was conveyed in the passing of the resolution: In normal circumstances a resolution is valid only if the concerned member states voluntarily sign the international treaty. In the instant case the UNSC imposed the resolution on all member states. There is learnt to be no record of the meeting and even though the US was credited with initiating the resolution, there was no clarification available on who was responsible for it being passed.
The entire effort to fight terrorism on an international scale has since been put to naught by a simple fact: the international community has not been able to reach a definition of the term terrorism in order to conclude a proposed international treaty, to be known as the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). The clauses of this treaty have been under negotiation since the United Nations General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee was established by Resolution 51/210, on December 17, 1996. The discussions have been deadlocked over a series of controversial basic issues, including the definition of the word ‘terrorism’.
The United Nations Security Council seems to have tied itself into knots over the definition of terrorism since this convention is a criminal law instrument. There seems to be broad agreement that the definition needs to have the necessary “legal precision, certainty and fair labelling of criminal conduct — all of which emanate from the basic human rights obligation to observe due process. The UNSC has balked at reaching a political definition, clearly influenced by the oft repeated argument that what is an act of terrorism in one quarter may be defined as a liberation movement in another. Perversely enough, the doubts that have arisen are not so much on what constitutes an act of terrorism, but on the fact whether the definition would be applicable to (counter)action taken by the armed forces of a state and to ‘self-determination movements’.
While the proposed convention has attempted to make a qualified exception in the case action taken against extremist groups by the armed forces of a state, the proposal regarding undefined self-determination movements is fraught with pitfalls and is, in effect, aimed at tying up the entire proceedings of the Ad Hoc Committee in legalese. Such a proposal carries a clear implication that myriad armed groups which have been indulging in violence against various nation states can be absolved of countermeasures not only by the international community, selectively of course, but also by interested parties seeking to check the countermeasures by the armed and security forces of the affected state.
India has to formulate its own anti-terrorist policy, with a sense of enlightened self-interest being the sole founding principle of the policy. For the implementation of such a policy, clear and unambiguous political will to act decisively is essential.
It is fairly obvious that action against international terrorism under the aegis of the United Nations is NOT immediately in the offing. Countries which have been adversely affected by the scourge of extremist action are left with no alternative but to reach their own understanding of what international terrorism means to them and devise their own methods to counter such activity.
While countries like Israel have a no-nonsense, proactive policy when faced with the threat of terrorist action and countries like the US have the arrogance, influence and the muscle to act forcefully where the security of their own country is concerned, even if it exercises the prudence of functioning under the fig leaf of an ‘international coalition’ when it resorts to the use of arms against what it identifies as ‘terrorist groups’. Such identification at times tends to be subjective: as recently as January this year White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz classified the Afghanistan Taliban not as a terrorist group but as “an armed insurgency”. At the same time the US spokesman had no hesitation in labelling the Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as a terrorist outfit.
Surprisingly, the US exoneration for the Taliban comes soon after the Pakistan chapter of the Taliban, the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had, in December 2014, carried out the massacre of 145 persons, including 132 schoolchildren, in Peshawar, Pakistan. Islamabad has, ultimately, paid the price of supping with the devil and learnt its lesson the hard way: following the terrorist strike, a visibly shaken Nawaz Sharif, speaking of counter measures against the Taliban, clearly mentioned there was no ‘good Taliban and bad Taliban’.
The US persists, nevertheless, in insisting the Taliban is not a terrorist group but is an armed insurgency. It has even compromised with its much vaunted “no negotiations with extremists” policy when, in June 2014, it secured the release of an American soldier, Sgt Bowe Bergdahi, in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. The US has not clarified whether the classification of Taliban as an armed insurgency is a quid pro quo for securing the release of the US serviceman or whether the measure is a hangover of the fallacious American belief that there is a good Taliban and a bad Taliban.
It is obvious that an international consensus is nowhere in the offing on the issue of terrorism and each country is on its own when countering the threat posed by terrorist organisations to its security. India, which cannot follow the “if you are not with us, you are with the enemy” attitude and policy of ‘war’ President George Bush, nevertheless requires a clearly enunciated no negotiation anti-terrorism policy. Such a policy has to be free of overt or covert political influence and direction and left entirely to trained professional intelligence personnel to implement.
Speeches or public statements which heighten differences or hurt religious sentiments should be banned by legislation, as should any expression of sentiment against the unity of the Indian Union.
India has to formulate its own anti-terrorist policy, with a sense of enlightened self-interest being the sole founding principle of the policy. For the implementation of such a policy, clear and unambiguous political will to act decisively is essential. The security services and the armed forces, which are in charge of implementing anti-terrorist and counter insurgency action on the ground, need clear instructions to act and the full backing of the political establishment when counter action is launched. Such a policy has to be free of overt or covert political influence and direction and left entirely to trained professional intelligence and security personnel to implement, without fear or favour. Hopefully under the present dispensation, with a hard core security professional in place as the National Security Advisor (NSA), such a security policy is possible to implement, provided unconditional political blessings are given.
It needs to be emphasised that the uniqueness of India’s secular ethos has to remain unchallenged and actively supported by all citizens of the country. The threat posed, however, by the lunatic, conservative fringe (whatever their individual orientation) to the law and order and the even tenor of life in the country needs to be guarded against by ensuring that this fringe do not abuse the freedom of speech granted to individuals to make statements that run counter to national unity. Suitable preventive legislation has to be put in place which needs to be impartially and firmly implemented, to prevent this misuse and the abuse of the freedom of speech. Speeches or public statements which heighten differences or hurt religious sentiments should be banned by legislation, as should any expression of sentiment against the unity of the Indian Union.
It is indeed gratifying that India on the one hand has refused to be part of the US coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but on the other, in December 2014, taken what it is sincerely felt is the initial step of controlling the activities of the ISIL (as also, hopefully, of other such organisations) by banning it in the country. The ISIS, or the Islamic State (IS) as the organisation is now known, is a terrorist organisation and should be classified as such. There are elements in India that are sympathetic to the IS, individuals who have gone so far to volunteer to fight for the IS. There are also technically savvy youngsters like Mehdi Masoor Biswas from Bengaluru, arrested by the police for running a pro-IS twitter handle that allegedly had over 17,000 followers, including many foreign fighters of the IS. Showing sympathy or identity with such an organisation by citizens of India has to be dealt with firmly and summarily, with the full weight of the law, at the initial stage of pro-ISIS sentiments in the country.
No separate legislation to counter future activities of the ISIS in India is necessary; implementation of the same legislation for all terrorist organisations is the need of the hour. The need for a uniform civil code is essential…
There have also been incidents where the ISIS flag has been displayed by demonstrators in Kashmir, which have been almost euphemistically and ingenuously described as the action of “careless youth” by then Chief Minister of Kashmir Omar Abdullah. Since Omar often opens his mouth just to change feet, his comment can be treated with the contempt it deserves. There have been incidents of repeated displays of the IS flag in Kashmir and such displays cannot be dismissed as the actions of careless or mischievous youth.
The action taken against the IS should not be taken in isolation but should be part of a larger implementation of law concerning separatism and the taking up arms against the State. No separate legislation to counter future activities of the ISIS in India is necessary; implementation of the same legislation for all terrorist organisations is the need of the hour. The need for a uniform civil code is essential: all Indian citizens should be governed equitably by the same law; any divergence from the principle of equality before the same law is self-defeating. A level playing field will be provided if everyone in the country plays by the same rules. Further, there is a requirement to exclude religion as an election plank by all political parties, if necessary by the enactment of suitable legislation which, inter alia, stipulates automatic barring from political activity for any individual contravening this law.
There is pressing need to establish the fact that in India, religion is a matter that is purely personal; it is the unalienable right of every citizen to follow whatever faith that appeals to them. There should, however, no attempt to proselytise by the followers of any faith: this is, currently the cause of much heart burning in the salad bowl of faiths that constitute our national ethos. A law totally banning proselytization by all faiths in India, strictly enforced, would go a long way in relieving tensions that exist between the faiths. Any change of faith by individuals of the country should be governed by legislation and granted by the state after impartial investigation to ensure the choice made is free of extraneous influence.
Lastly, there is need for parameters to be laid down for the mass media when reporting on incidents such as the terror strike in Mumbai or even the live coverage of the Kargil war. Journalistic freedom cannot be allowed to undermine operational security and our brethren form the fourth estate have either to exercise voluntary restraint in reporting or have suitable restrictions placed on them, especially while reporting incidents live.