India is faced with increasing terrorist threats, as the events of the last few months have indicated. The Ahmedabad terrorist bombings of July 26 killed nearly 45 civilians and wounded 160, while the Bangalore bombs the previous day killed one person and wounded six. These were preceded by the May 13 Jaipur terrorist bombings, which killed 80 civilians and injured more than 200.
Incidentally, on July 28, two terrorist bombs killed 16 civilians and wounded nearly 150 others in a crowded pedestrian area of Istanbul, Turkey. The same day, three suicide terrorist bombers killed 61 civilians and wounded 238 in Baghdad and Kirkuk in Iraq. Though the motives for these attacks were different, the deadly common factor was overwhelming civilian deaths.
According to the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs chief, John Holmes, 700 Afghan civilians have been killed in 2008 in terrorist attacks. The Brookings Institution estimates that between May 2003 and February 2008, a staggering 104,317 Iraqi civilians died in terrorist attacks.
India has lost nearly 500 civilians to terror attacks in 2008. According to the South Asia Intelligence Review, the number of civilians killed in India in 2007 was 957. In 2001 it was 1,067. The “University of Uppsala Conflict Data Set” and the “Minorities at Risk Project” at Maryland University suggest that more than 1,000 deaths a year in internal conflict situations constitute high-intensity violence. By that measure, India has been facing high-intensity violence, with civilian deaths constituting the highest number of those killed in terror attacks.
Interestingly, certain Indian politicians have evoked a “war on terror,” similar to the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 war, after the recent Ahmedabad blasts as India’s policy response to terror acts. Such policies, however, simply create misunderstandings about concepts like “war” and “terror,” resulting in ill-advised policy responses.
By definition, war is “violent engagement between two legitimate political entities.” “War” cannot be waged with an activity like “terror” or with illegitimate entities like terrorist groups. The right concept to fight terror is perhaps “counter-terrorism.” Also, war is historically grounded on rules to be followed by both parties in a conflict.
Amongst the existing traditions on rules of war, the Western Just War tradition as propounded by Saint Augustine, Hugo Grotius and others over the centuries, and at present by Michael Walzer, are perhaps the most explicit. This tradition expounds two sections: jus ad bellum (Right Recourse to War) and jus in bello (Right Conduct in War).
Jus ad bellum has six principles. The first principle is “just cause,” indicating that war could be waged between two legitimate political entities either for self-defence or the protection of human rights. Second, the authority that declares war must be a legitimate entity within the comity of nations. Third, war must be guided by “right intentions,” and not by any hidden intent of self- aggrandisement by an individual or a state. Fourth, it must be the last resort. Fifth, it must have a high “probability of success” for the wager state. Sixth, the end result should culminate in positive benefits for the target state (read Afghanistan and Iraq in the case of the U.S. “war on terror”).
Jus in bello is based on two principles: “proportionality of means,” indicating that the “means” employed must not negate the good that war brings about in the target state. The last criterion is non-combatant immunity: civilians cannot be targeted in a war.
Significantly, terrorism by definition is “the use of violence against civilians by non-state actors to attain political objectives.” Hence, while states are constrained by the principle of non-combatant immunity, terrorists are not. Moreover, the ambiguous nature of terrorists guarantees them immunity, unlike states, from the rules of war as none can be held accountable. For instance, the “Indian Mujahideen” that has claimed responsibility via e-mail for the recent bombs in Jaipur and Ahmedabad, is an unknown entity. Though speculation is adrift that it is linked to the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), there is little evidence to prove it conclusively.
To have an effective counter-terrorism strategy in place instead of a general war is, however, not an easy task. It demands a deep understanding of the strategies and goals of terrorist outfits.
In an interesting study on strategies of terrorism in international security in 2006, Andrew H. Kydd and Barbara F. Walters indicates that terrorist outfits mostly engage in “costly signalling” — violent signals of resolve meant to provide concrete evidence about their ability to enact “acts of terror” to achieve their goals. Take the al- Qaeda. Had it informed the U.S. in advance that it planned to kill around 3,000 Americans on September 11 unless it withdrew its forces from West Asia, people would have disbelieved its intentions. Therefore, weak actors like terrorists establish their “terrible” credibility by means of a public display of violence.
Kydd and Walters cite five strategic logics and goals of terrorist outfits. The strategic logics include attrition, intimidation, provocation, spoiling and outbidding. Terrorists utilising attrition advertise to their adversary their ability to impose considerable costs on the target population over a period of time; intimidation is mainly aimed to coerce the target population to support the terrorists’ cause; provocation attempts to induce the adversary to respond to terrorist acts with indiscriminate counterforce, resulting in enormous hardship for people. Consequently, the population ends up supporting the terrorist outfits.
Spoiling includes attempts by terrorist outfits to undermine any move against terror by moderates amongst the target population. Outbidding aims at convincing the target population that one terror outfit is more credible than others.
Five principal goals are meant to be achieved by these strategic logics: regime change, policy change, territorial change, social control of the population, and status quo maintenance of an existing regime or territorial arrangement. Amongst these goals, the 9/11 attacks were primarily waged by al-Qaeda to engineer U.S. policy change in West Asia, especially in regard to U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.
The recent terror bombings in India are meant either for “territorial change” or “social control.” If the LeT was indeed involved in these, its goal was territorial change in Kashmir, to incorporate it with Pakistan. SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen are more geared towards social control as they want to strengthen their own status among their present recruits as well as the target population. The Indian Mujahideen sent an e-mail stating that it was a terrorist group, in order to indicate its violent nature to the target population. It also openly requested the LeT not to claim responsibility for the attacks so that its own distinctive terrible credibility would be established beyond doubt.
Social control over the target population is also secured by discrediting the state’s capability to secure its citizens from terror attacks. We have witnessed aggressive verbal attacks (spoiler tactics) by terror outfits against moderate Muslims defying terror.
In order to counter such logics and strategies, India’s counter-terrorism strategy requires well-coordinated specialised units with superior intelligence-gathering and assessment skills. The government must urgently activate effective countermeasures such as law enforcement, covert operations based on sound intelligence against terror networks, and efficient bureaucratic coordination.
Finally, the greatest successes against terror are achieved when state forces are able to avert planned attacks. This needs greater media coverage so that a sense of security is instilled amongst citizens. Such preventive successes against terror deprive the terrorists of their most vital weapons: civilian deaths and the fear psychosis that spreads in society thereafter.
(Dr. Namrata Goswami is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. E-mail: email@example.com)
6 months ago