Friday, Jan 27, 2023

Terror versus what?

Post 13/11 sloganeering at Antalya and Kuala Lumpur won’t be enough.

terrorism-ill-759 History tells us that joint operations are difficult to execute even if top leaders have a personal understanding.

Secret armies are threatening modern civilisation. Like the mysterious 11th-century “hashshashins” of Hassan-i Sabbah, who spread terror among Seljuk Turks and Sunnis, these sneaking legions are attempting to destroy human habitations like the bustling Mumbai, enchanting Paris and distressed Bamako. Their terror has compelled France to employ 10,000 troops to protect Paris. Brussels, headquarters of Nato, is “locked down”. Yet the world’s top leaders, who had an unprecedented opportunity to discuss this problem twice this month — at Antalya, Turkey, and Kuala Lumpur — could think of only repeating hoary slogans like “stiffening our resolve”, “choking funds for terrorism” or “joint operations in a common battlefield”.

Unfortunately, all these slogans are ineffective. The US Treasury list of sanctions against terrorist financiers and designated terrorists, which is the most authoritative compilation, has grown from 127 pages in October 2003 to 994 pages on November 19, 2015, each page containing nearly 42 names. Yet, there is no visible reduction in terrorism. It is true that Russia and France are bombing Islamic State (IS) targets together. But that was because Russia lost its Metrojet on October 31 and Paris was humiliated on November 13. It was only on September 27 that French President Francois Hollande had criticised Russia, without naming it, at the UN General Assembly, while asking for the removal of Bashar al-Assad.

History tells us that joint operations are difficult to execute even if top leaders have a personal understanding. Former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham’s bestseller, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, gives us a vivid account of the difficulties faced by Britain and the US during World War II, although Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were best friends. In the 1980s, we were worried about the dangers to our prime minister’s security from remote-controlled bombs fitted on toy planes. During that era, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher had excellent personal relations. It was Thatcher’s idea that both intelligence services should frequently exchange information on overseas Sikh militancy. Still, we faced stubborn refusal from the UK on technology to meet these threats. We had to procure a prototype from another country with great difficulty to prepare counter-measures.

The IS, with its 35 terrorist affiliates, is an “invisible” enemy, whose contours are not very clear, for India. It is trying to radicalise our youngsters through 50,000 twitter accounts, sympathisers like “Shami Witness”, and recruiters like Afsha Jabeen. While there is no possibility of organised Paris-like attacks on India, “do-it-yourself” terrorism is a certainty. Their biggest advantage is our unpreparedness. Our ministries are not compiling reliable data on Indian workers abroad or their overseas travels. We mostly come to know about them when they are deported by foreign governments. Some foreign governments, like Turkey’s, complain that the 1,085 recruits repatriated home by them till February 2015, including eight from India, were let off by their governments. They say that this is not the way to check IS subversion.

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Even if the West eventually destroys IS terrorism through military action catalysed by Russia, there is no guarantee that Pakistan-sponsored attacks like 26/11 will cease. Our relationship with Pakistan is traditionally “sturm und drang”. We tried “containment” in 1998, threatened them with “Operation Parakram” (2001-02), attempted charm at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009, and again threatened them through “slow burn” after May 2014.

Yet, the same Pakistan was forced to capitulate after 9/11. It was compelled by America to expel foreign jihadis and ban the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in January 2002, when the LeT joined anti-US Islamic groups. Pakistan will act decisively only under severe pressure from the US, which is unwilling to exert that level of pressure unless its own security is threatened. Our normal diplomatic approaches or high-level parleys with the US against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism would, at best, result in diplomatic opprobrium. Pakistan has learned to live with that and carry on normal operations.

Israel had suffered a setback like that. In April 1981, the American Jewish lobby suffered a big defeat in their campaign for Israel’s security when the US-Saudi AWACs (Airborne Warning and Control System) deal was finalised over their objections. This made the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) drastically change their lobbying strategy. Instead of meeting only the executive branch and senior congressional leaders, they started “grassroots campaigning” to convince individual Congressmen on legislative measures to support Israel. The AIPAC opened several regional offices and marshalled Jewish votes, raising their polling percentage to 90 per cent against a national average of 50 per cent. US politicians soon realised that American Jews could tilt the scales in over 80 Congressional districts for the presidential elections. This grassroots campaign and Congressional pressure compelled then President Ronald Reagan to reverse the Jordan arms deal in 1986.


In the 1980s, the Indian-American leadership also realised the need for the diaspora’s political involvement. They set up the Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) in 1983 on the lines of the AIPAC. For two decades, they carried on relentless lobbying with US legislators on India’s strategic requirements. In 1986, they organised street protests against the proposal to supply AWACs to Pakistan. They managed to pass the “Kargil resolution”, criticising Pakistan, on June 29, 1999. They defeated the Burton amendment on aid cuts to India on August 2, 1999.

However, the present generation of Indian-Americans, whose median annual income has risen higher than that of even US households, does not take an interest in grassroots political activities. None in the Congressional India caucus was persuaded to back India when the US manufacturing coalition and big pharma waged an aggressive campaign against us in 2014. No Indian-American organisation has lobbied to incorporate a stipulation in US laws on security assistance to Pakistan that the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed should not operate from Pakistan for cross-border attacks, as was mentioned in the lapsed Kerry-Lugar bill. They have not lobbied to put Congressional pressure on the administration to compel Pakistan to discard its policy of patronising terrorists. This will need hard work but will be much more effective than glitzy Madison Square Garden-type shows.

First published on: 26-11-2015 at 00:12 IST
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