The Tribune - Spectrum

Special Issue: countering terrorism
Special Issue
Countering terrorism

Views of eminent experts and thinkers on countering terrorism

Hari Jaisingh

Kanti Bajpai

Asghar Ali Engineer

Owen Bennett Jones

Shelley Walia

G. Parthasarthy

T. V. Rajeswar

Gen V N Sharma

Ashok K. Mehta

Prakash Singh

M. J. Akbar

Sunday, January 5, 2003
Tribune special

Dynamic democracy is the answer
Hari Jaisingh

CAN democratic regimes withstand the onslaught of deadly terrorist activities that derive sustenance from the well-focussed forces of Islamic fundamentalism? The question is wide open as the world's two major democracies—the USA and India—along with a few European countries are under tremendous threats from the Osama bin Laden brigade operating globally and secretly.

How and why these Islamic fundamentalists have chosen the USA and its Western allies as well as India as the target of their ire have to be seen against the backdrop of history and global power politics.

Ironically, the Saudi Arabian billionaire has found refuge in the feudal society of Afghanistan to carry on his jehad in connivance with Pakistan's ISI and military establishment since the iron-grip of the Sheikhdom hardly provides an outlet to its subjects to air their views.

India has suffered because of Pakistan's dubious designs on Jammu and Kashmir as part of its strategy to grab the state by hook or crook and destabilise this country which has more Muslims than the neighbour next door following the blood-ridden Partition in August, 1947.

On September 11, 2001, the American vulnerability to Osama-engineered terrorist strikes sent out shock-waves the world over. The USA is still reeling under the shadow of the Bin Laden terror. As a democracy, it is still struggling to find its feet. The counter-attack by the US forces in Afghanistan has not given them the desired results.


Osama is still at large. Nobody knows his whereabouts. But the release of his latest tapes to the Al-Jazeera channel shows that he is alive and waiting for his turn to strike where he wishes to. At his command are highly motivated hundreds, nay thousands, of young persons who are apparently willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of Islam.

Karl Marx and Lenin once gave the world a new ideology to demolish the edifice of capitalism. Their aim was to empower workers and ultimately create a classless society.

The Soviet regime, however, collapsed under the weight of its own dictatorial traits. Apparently, Marx and Lenin and their followers failed to account for certain human characteristics and weaknesses. They, of course, put a stop to state-sponsored religious shows in the people's day-to-day life. Things have since then changed dramatically.

I don't wish to see Bin Laden's threat as part of the clash of civilisations. Islam is not what its misguided promoters these days are propagating. Obviously, certain teachings of the Prophet and the Quran have been taken out of context by vested interests to promote their hate-concepts and a violent edge to the distortion of the religious ideology of Islam. The moot question now is: will the 21st century see a new form of bloodshed in the name of Islam and possible retaliation by the democratic forces?

It is a complex and difficult situation and there are no ready answers to the problems that the USA and India are faced with. For a country like India, it is all the more agonising since it has the world's second largest Muslim population in its midst and they are part of the Indian nation. But New Delhi's major headache is that Pakistan is exploiting the Islamic card to create conditions of destabilisation through terror tactics.

The fallout is disquieting. There are already disturbing signs of Hindu fundamentalism coming to the fore. What is gratifying, however, is that Indians still retain their faith in secularism and liberal values. They have, by and large, refused to be provoked by the jehadi efforts of the Pakistani establishment.

India, in fact, has suffered much more than the USA could ever imagine. The foolish attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, was a watershed in history of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism targeting this country. But for the luck being on the side of the Indian Republic, the worst could have happened.

This country has to be on high alert to keep intact its social fabric, communal harmony and brotherhood among various communities. It will be futile on the part of the Pakistani regime to think that India will give Kashmir to it on a platter. For this country, Jammu and Kashmir is not merely a piece of territory; it is a symbol of all that India stands for. However, mere rhetoric cannot make Indian leaders fight the deadly menace of terrorism successfully. They have to gear up themselves and work out new plans and strategies to eliminate militancy not only from Jammu and Kashmir but also from the rest of the country. This can be done provided our political leaders show the requisite will and act on the ground instead of talking in the air.

There are no shortcuts to fighting terrorism. This is a long battle which has to be fought with full determination and resources at our command. One major snag in the Indian response against terrorism is the half-hearted American support. While the USA as a superpower can do anything it wishes to in any part of the world, including striking at terrorist camps, it has denied the same option to India for reasons unexplained.

Equally disturbing is the fact that the USA has been propping up the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf, possibly in the hope that he might do the dirty work for it in Afghanistan.

What is, however, not being realised by US policy-makers is that, in the absence of concerted and coordinated efforts between the two countries, they are generating new forms of fundamentalism and fundamentalists not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan but also in other parts of the world, America itself included.

Herein lies the limitation of democratic regimes to fight cross-border terrorism. To have a decisive victory against Osama bin Laden and his supporters, India and the USA have to come together in a big way and work both at the policy level as well as on the ground. Unless this is appreciated and implemented, the efforts of democratic regimes against Islamic fundamentalist forces and terrorists will be lopsided and misplaced.

It is essential to evolve a new dynamic democratic ideology to eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth. There has to be a new mantra. It is high time the thinkers of the world seriously pondered over this matter and tried to find honest answers to the menace. Otherwise their own liberal and independent thinking and secular values will be in danger of being overrun by these forces.

Equally vital in this battle is the concept of shared prosperity and technological advancement. Religion must remain a purely personal matter. Economic and scientific growth in democratic countries hold the key to the battle for overcoming the terrorism-ridden global reality of today.