Hindu mythology talks of a powerful demon Raktabija (blood-seed) who had created troubles for Gods and people alike but worse was his extraordinary ability to produce more demons with the each drop of his blood that spilled on the ground. Hence, the Gods decided to unite all of their divine energies and created a super-powerful entity Kali, which launched a multi-pronged attack killing Raktabija and his demons, and swallowed all of them whole so that no drop of blood is left to produce another demon.
The military onslaught against one group gives rise to more terrorist outfits, their splinter groups, and the quasi-active sleeper cells, which are most difficult to detect.
The tale of Kali and Raktabija has so far inspired the mystics of India in the forests of Assam and West Bengal, but it seems to offer a great vision in charting out a Counter-Terrorism strategy because the menace of terrorism has interesting similarities with Raktabija. Like Raktabija’s demons multiplying with his blood drops, terrorist organizations have multiplied and mushroomed disproportionately with the military action against them. The military onslaught against one group gives rise to more terrorist outfits, their splinter groups, and the quasi-active sleeper cells, which are most difficult to detect. For instance, from the remains of Al Qaida, rose ISIS. More recently, the splinter group of TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar perpetrated the brutal bomb blast on Easter in Lahore’s Gulshan Park.
This article explores the possible counter-terrorism strategies which the international community could employ in stemming the tide of the most brutal challenge of terrorism which humanity faces today. To begin with, I would like to say what Rosa Brooks, the Georgetown Professor argued, “Terrorism is a problem to be managed”. It is a not a war that could be won or defeated.
So far the multilateral efforts in CT have hovered around legal, legislative and security measures in line with the resolution 1373 (1998) of Security Council. Richard Barett, former MI 6 officer and British Director for Global Counter-Terrorism told FP, “It’s very much about bombing and arresting rather than understanding why this is happening and what can be done to try to address that.” 18 years after adopting the resolution 1373, we are more or less at the same stage and the problem of transnational terrorism continues to bedevil us. Ban-Ki-Moon (UN Secretary general) in his report, “Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism”, writes, “Over the past two decades, the international community has sought to address violent extremism primarily within the context of security-based counter-terrorism measures adopted in response to the threat posed by Al-Qaida and its affiliated groups.
…no matter how much we deny it and keep saying it for the sake of political correctness that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, it is an open truth that ISIS and other such outfits derive legitimacy, justification, and inspiration for their ideology and acts from a specific type of scriptural interpretation.
“Counter-Terrorism is an area which lies at the cross-section of governance (local, regional, national and international), diplomacy, security, espionage, education and civil society movement. Hence, one needs a strategy that ventures beyond military-legal means, and is unified and multi-pronged, but also adapted to the local conditions and requirements.
First and foremost, at the official, intellectual and social level there has to be an absolute condemnation of such extremist ideologies. Islamic scholars like Majid Nawaj believe that whenever there is an attempt to question the extremist doctrines like Jihad, the “regressive left” which includes left-liberal media and intellectuals condemn the attempt as an act of racism to generate Islamophobia for political interests. He further argues that no matter how much we deny it and keep saying it for the sake of political correctness that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, it is an open truth that ISIS and other such outfits derive legitimacy, justification, and inspiration for their ideology and acts from a specific type of scriptural interpretation.
For instance, Wahabbis believe in literal interpretation and want to bring Islam to its puritanical roots. Their credibility lies in the use of notions like Jihad. When ISIS uses religious symbols and Koranic prophecies of Caliphate, doomsday war at Dabiq and Gajwa-e-Hind, it is directly seeking legitimacy from scriptures and attempting to project its version as the mainstream version of Islam. And, not condemning such extremist ideologies in full measure means living in denial and a great disservice to those Muslims who truly want to reform Islam.
The truth is that Islam is not a monolith and it has several interpretations and several region-specific versions. To erode the credibility of the ISIS’ narrative we need to present a counter-narrative which emphasizes on liberal Sufi interpretations of Islam. This interpretation must dwell on the inner essentials rather than the outer trappings and orthodox symbols. PM Modi at World Sufi Conference in Delhi rightly emphasized the need of projecting Sufi Islam and its message of love and harmony to counter extremism.
…FBI and CIA did not share intelligence before 9/11. The same lack of coordination was also observed before 26/11 in Mumbai. This tendency has often been a major obstacle in counter-terror operations.
However, I would like to add a word of caution here that even the Sufi versions are also not very tolerant in their entirety which can be seen in the fact that the people who are protesting in Lahore to get Mumtaz Qadri (who was hanged for murdering SalmaanTaseer) declared as martyr and trying to project his image as a kind of Ghazi (religious fighter saint) are from the Barelvi sect of Islam which follows Sufi Islam and is comparatively liberal and tolerant.
Primarily, the idea is that policy alternatives need to engage liberal Islamic scholars like Prof. Ghamdi, Maulana Tahir-ul-Qadri and Maulana Madni to counter the extremist narrative. In this regard, I would also recommend that Inter-faith dialogue forums should be encouraged at national, international, state and local levels. At local levels like at a district and municipal levels, inter-faith dialogue committees should be formed drawing members from different religious denominations, and the committees should be very active in disseminating the true message of religion at local levels especially among the youth.
Prof. Ghamdi, an erudite liberal Islamic scholar argues that the primary cause of radicalization lies in the fact of imparting religious education to children aged seven to eight years old. The minimum age for religious education should be at least 16 to 18 years. And, the school curriculum should include courses raising awareness about religious extremism and terrorism. Such an awareness initiative will be immensely helpful in generating awareness against extremist ideologies. In schools, the coursework should be cross-disciplinary including philosophy of religion, metaphysics, logic, global citizenship, transnational actors etc. aiming to generate the logical rigor and spirit of questioning among the students. Finally, meditation and yoga may be extremely useful in imparting a balanced, rational and spiritual persona to an individual which will be the most effective tool in preventing radicalization.
Domain of Intelligence:
Rosa Brooks writes in FP that more surveillance won’t get us rid of terrorism either. “The trouble is, the more data you collect — the more satellite imagery and drone footage and emails and phone calls and texts you monitor — the harder it gets to separate the signal from the noise”, writes Rosa Brooks. In India’s case, one needs more coordination between multiple intelligence agencies like Intelligence Bureau, National Investigation Agency, Research and Analysis Wing and the Criminal Investigation Departments of the states. Colom Lynch and John Hudson argue that the security agencies have the tendencies to strictly guard their information which was seen on many occasions when FBI and CIA did not share intelligence before 9/11. The same lack of coordination was also observed before 26/11 in Mumbai. This tendency has often been a major obstacle in counter-terror operations. Multilateral agencies like UNCTC should take efforts to generate more intelligence cooperation.
In India’s case, the condition of state intelligence departments is very poor. Their cadres are hardly aware of the tenets of extremist ideologies like Wahabbism.
In South Asia, India and Pakistan need to rise above the political rivalries and create a South Asian Joint Intelligence coordinator or even a Counter Terrorism Machinery, with sufficient powers and good intentions. It might be difficult to trust ISI in this effort because most of the anti-India terrorist outfits have been created and nurtured by ISI itself, but in these troubled times, ISI must come up to root out the menace in whose creation it has been a major factor. And, if Pakistan does not then the world powers must isolate Pakistan in international forums and coerce her to cooperate in anti-terror initiatives. US, Russia, China, India and EU must compel Pakistan to hand over dreaded terrorists like Masood Azhar, Lakhvi and Hafiz Saed to India or they could even be tried in international courts and they must be tried for genocide offenses.
In India’s case, the condition of state intelligence departments is very poor. Their cadres are hardly aware of the tenets of extremist ideologies like Wahabbism. For most of them, those postings are like punishment or side postings where most incompetent officers or those who are disliked by political masters, get posted.
In my hometown of Dungarpur (India), I visited the village Peeth, where I found a newly built huge mosque which was frequented by Wahabbi and Deobandi scholars from other states and other countries. Ibrahim Khan, who was a trustee and once a believer in Sufism sounded fully mind-washed by the Deobandi preachers while complaining that the local Muslims do not observe Hijab and other pure Islamic practices. Other local citizens informed me that about INR 1crore had been invested in the mosque and its source was known to none. The most surprising part of the whole episode was that the local police and administration had no clue of it. All over India, the management of mosques is being hijacked by Wahhabi preachers. In Kerala, the problem is getting serious with almost 75 mosques fully under the control of Wahhabi clergy. The state intelligence bodies need to be rejuvenated by giving advanced and technological training in intelligence gathering and espionage skills.
Most its recruitment is online through twitter and other outlets of social media. Hence, the counter-terror strategies must focus on social media.
In every district, there should be a counter-terror specialist cell with advanced theoretical and practical training in de-radicalization strategies and identification Wahhabi and Deobandi presence. They should develop close relations with local communities to keep vigil over the scholars and preachers visiting from outside. They should create vigilant communities and in this, the local inter-faith dialogue committees can be extremely helpful. State intelligence bodies are better placed and suited to keep such a vigil at the local level and create vigilant communities vis-à-vis central agencies. Lastly, state agencies must create precise databases of DNA, fingerprints, car license plates and family whereabouts of suspected terrorists.
Adam Hanieh of SOAS, in her essay, “A Brief History of Isis”, writes that ISIS is a modernist project which places utmost importance on media and propaganda. Unlike the previous groups which preferred to remain covert and released a few shoddy video tapes from remote mountain ranges of Hindukush, ISIS makes a humongous effort for branding itself as religiously most authentic. Most its recruitment is online through twitter and other outlets of social media. Hence, the counter-terror strategies must focus on social media. I am not making a case of unbridled censorship but yes, there is a dire need to surveillance and monitoring of twitter and facebook accounts luring youth to join it. What we need is vigilantism and if needed, we must be ready for mild censorship also.
Olivier Roy argued in his essay for FP that radicalization is a youth problem. He argues it for the French social milieu but I feel that this could also be relevant for other regions like South Asia. And, having known this aspect of the problem the official bodies, non-profits and community organizations must focus efforts on integrating youth in the society through the employment programs, business ventures and skill development programs. There should be rehabilitation programs for those radicalized youngsters who come back from the war-zones.
…there is an urgent need to develop counter-terror protocol for media coverage which should be based on the idea of balanced coverage and downplaying the fear in the larger interests.
If needed law enforcement bodies should be given special legal and execution powers but in order to ensure their success, one must be very concerned for safeguarding human rights. Or else, extra-judicial arrests, torture, and excess surveillance might propel the disaffected and semi-radicalized youth towards the extremes.
Finally, the role of media is extremely important in countering terror. The main weakness of extremist organizations like ISIS and Al Quaida is their weak cadre strength. Their extremist ideology appeals to a minuscule section of society. Even if it is appreciated at the thought or ideological level, there will be an extremely small number of individuals actually joining it. But when media gives an overly melodramatic and terrifying coverage, either out of immaturity or to raise TRPs, to the acts of terror, they actually compensate for the aforesaid weakness of terrorist organizations. Their main aim is to strike terror and they succeed in that when media broadcasts terrifying images of wailing mothers, blood-stained dead bodies and panic-stricken people and clueless administrative authorities.
Further, the live coverage of media might even help the foreign-based handlers in giving information about the troop movements etc., as it happened in the case of 26/11. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop counter-terror protocol for media coverage which should be based on the idea of balanced coverage and downplaying the fear in the larger interests.
To conclude, I would mention PM Modi’s words at Brussels, “Terrorism is a not a challenge to one country or one region. Terrorism is challenging humanity so the need of the hour is that anybody who believes in humanity, all powers, have to come together to fight terror.” And, if the international community comes out with creative solutions then the problem of terrorism can most certainly be managed, if not wiped out completely.