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

Combating the terrorist 
Lessons from Israel and Sri Lanka

Even an year after the attack on Parliament terrorists continue to have access to the Capital. In sharp contrast to the Indian policy, Israel has relied upon use of maximum force at source in a policy of instant retribution. Israel’s is a fight for survival. Their soldiers shoot first, most times to kill. Should India also follow the same policy to end cross-border terrorism or should it evolve its own response, asks Ashok K. Mehta.

INDIA has been the victim of terrorism ever since the invasion of J&K by tribal raiders in 1947 who perpetrated such barbarity that, fortuitously, they lost sight of their goal. The difficulty over defining terrorism has bedeviled the United Nations. Even the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), is unable to distinguish between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. The UN General Assembly has not been able to agree on a comprehensive Convention on Terrorism.

The OIC is stuck over whether the human bomber is a martyr or a misguided criminal. The moral of this unending discourse must be to keep the definition aside and get on with implementing the specifics of various agreements on suppression of terrorism.

Meanwhile, the USA which calls the shots any way calls all attacks on civilian targets as acts of terrorism, even on military targets if these happen to be outside the zone of conflict like the attack on US naval ship USS Cole in Aden in October, 2000. It was only after 9/11 that the USA started using terrorism in place of violence for attacks in J&K. Western double standards on terrorism therefore predate 9/11.

Terror tactics and terrorism are both the strategy and tactics of a political objective, a tool or means of achieving ends. Secessionist groups turn to terror as it finds resonance in the media. The more horrific the act, the greater is the oxygen (and romance) provided by the media. There is no way the two can be separated.


Agreements on countering terrorism

There are any number of international and regional agreements on countering terrorism. The very first was the principal established by the General Assembly resolution 2625 of October 17. It stated that every state had the duty to refrain from organising, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts in another state or acquiescing in organised activity within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts.

The more recent was UNSCR 1368 of September 12, 2001, followed by UNSCR 1373 of September 28, 2001. These have not been implemented by many states who are its signatories as there are no penalties for non-compliance. The European Union initiated a wide-ranging action plan of September 21, 2001. The second ministerial conference of the Community of Democracies meeting in Seoul on November 12, 2002, jointly noted that "the fight against terrorism requires comprehensive action and pledged its resolve to strengthen cooperation to face transnational challenges to democracy such as state-sponsored, cross-border and other forms of terrorism".

Nearer home, the SAARC convention on terrorism never took off not even the one on anti-hijacking. The SAARC summit of February, 2002, in Kathmandu had pledged the South Asian nations to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including by increased cooperation and full implementation of the relevant international conventions relating to terrorism and to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts by criminalising the collection of funds for such acts and refraining from organising, instigating, assisting or participation in terrorist acts or acquiescing in organised activity within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts". However, the event is remembered more for the Musharraf handshake with Vajpayee than on any action plan to combat-terrorism. 9/11 highlighted the international dimension of modern terrorism. Though the hijackers were mainly of Saudi origin, their network was spread over 50 to 60 countries, coordinated by Al Qaida from Afghanistan.

Indian experience

The Indian experience in handling cross- border terrorism as well as internal terrorism amounting to proxy war and low- intensity conflict culminated in Operation Parakram, the longest deployment of the armed forces without going to war in 2002. The origins of the latest round of terrorism can be traced to 1987 and mushrooming of madarsas in J&K. The proxy war hotted up in 1994, when the first foreign terrorist invaded J&K. Since then, of the gene pool of 3000 terrorists, nearly 70 per cent are foreigners, mostly Pakistanis. In 1995, the government toyed with the idea of offensive action on both sides of the LoC but political will was lacking. After Kargil, the ISI upped the ante by introducing the fidayeen (suicide attacks). The first such attacks was mounted on August 6, 1999, and till date nearly 47 suicide attacks have been counted. In these, 75 terrorists and 167 security force personnel have been killed. The Indian strategy of fighting terrorism entirely on its own soil has bled the security forces and let Pakistan off the hook for waging this war without having to pay for it. Parakram ended on October 16, only partially fulfilling its objective. For example, while infiltration is down by 30 per cent, (not by 54 per cent, as is being claimed) the strategic stock of terrorists has been maintained. A new strategy is required to gradually both reduce the entry and the pool of terrorists. In 1995, the strategy of attacking terrorism at source was never launched then. L.K. Advani’s new pre-emptive intelligence policy which took out three terrorists on December 14, 2002, is a case of too little too late. One year after the attack on Parliament, terrorists continue to have access to the capital of India.

Israel’s strategy

In sharp contrast, the Israelis have relied upon use of maximum force at source in a policy of instant retribution. This policy is just the opposite of India’s. Israel’s is a fight for survival, not necessarily of the fittest. Their soldiers shoot first, most times to kill. The logic is: otherwise you wouldn’t be alive to explain your actions. Despite sanitising their external border with UN or multilateral forces, the Palestinian uprising, (Intifada) has only been contained. The first Intifada from December, 1987, to September,1993 ended with the Oslo accord. But Oslo died with the second Intifada which began from September 29, 2000, just after the former Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, visited both Israel and the Palestinian authority. This has been the most violent phase of the internal war. The Israelis have had to face the most gruesome suicide attacks by the Palestinian and Hamas human bombers, a feat replicated only by the LTTE. Up to December this year, 98 suicide attacks (140 were pre-empted) were mounted in which 1800 Palestinians and 620 Israelis have been killed during Intifada II.

The Israeli response to suicide bombings has been brutal: To get the bomber before he gets to the target in Israeli cities. Lately, they have gone for the families of the bombers, demolishing their homes, assassinating leaders and destroying bomb factories, which they call "the Bombmakers". Suicide bombings have not taken place for over a month now.

Instead, Palestinian resistance fighters are infiltrating Israeli settlements, laying landmines and carrying out random attacks in drive-by shootings. The Israelis have employed F-16 aircraft, Apache helicopters and Markava tanks to fight terrorism. The Indian security forces cannot think of such a devastating response. The Israelis face a far more dangerous and proximate threat than most Indians do. The recent attack in Kenya against Israelis in the ground and in the air shows that they are neither secure at home nor abroad against terrorist strikes. The business of terror in Israel can only end with a political settlement. Hence, the call for a regime change (Yasser Arafat) in Palestine.

The Sri Lankan experience

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE have waged a mix of conventional and guerrilla warfare against the security forces and civilians since 1984. Their violent struggle can be divided into four phases: (A) 1984-87 (B) 1988-99: against IPKF (C) 1990-94 (D) 1990-2001. Terrorism or the use of terror as an adjunct of military operations came easily to the LTTE. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in this war. It is estimated that LTTE have lost nearly 17000 fighters. The rest are civilians — Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. One of the greatest military accomplishments of the LTTE was the capture of Elephant Pass in 2000 which sent shivers down the spines of the Sri Lankan military. They could not capture Jaffna, otherwise Eelam would have been a matter of time. There is a ceasefire on the ground since 2001 and it has held out against the background of the Norway-facilitated Sri Lankan peace process.

Terrorism has been the LTTE’s favourite weapon. They have targeted mainly the Sinhalese civilians. Their suicide squads — Black Tigers including Sea Tigers and Black Tigresses — are employed on land and at sea. The fine art of the willingness to die in an act of collective murder was perfected in the land of Ravana and Ram. No one has forgotten the legendary Dhanu whose fatal embrace felled Rajiv Gandhi when she detonated the garland explosives strapped to her body. The LTTE’s record in human bombings and suicide attacks is unsurpassable. They have accounted for one president, one former prime minister, two defence ministers, one future president, one Chief of naval staff, a couple of generals and scores of rival Tamil leaders. President Chandrika Kumaratunga who lost an eye on one such attack came within a whisker of death. The suicide attack on Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh was masterminded by the LTTE. Dhanu is the one and only case of an exported suicide bombing. By the end of 2001, the LTTE had carried out 173 suicide attacks but only 70 per cent were successful. Most of these have been filmed. The most stunning and spectacular was also the most recent against Colombo’s Katunayake airport last year when they demolished 50 per cent of the country’s military and 55 per cent of their commercial fleet of aircraft. It was this attack that convinced the Sri Lankan establishment that LTTE was not defeatable.

The Sri Lankan military could never shape an adequate response to the LTTE’s terror war and suicide attacks though they did check their conventional assaults. Like the Israelis, they followed the strategy of attacking at source. But they were unsuccessful, sometimes for political reasons, mainly for operational inadequacies, despite the creation of covert, deep-penetration teams to get the LTTE leadership in the Wanni jungles. Their Special Forces could not penetrate LTTE intelligence networks and, therefore, failed to prevent the suicide bomber from reaching Colombo despite saturating it with troops. It was simply violence and terrorism fatigue faced by both sides, most of all the bombings by the Air Force and artillery of civilian areas that has led to the ceasefire and peace talks which are a pre-9/11 event.

The broad sweep view of the Israeli, Sri Lankan and briefly the Indian experience on combating terrorism reveals that the approach to dealing with terrorism has to be holistic — that is broad based and layered.

It should include international, regional and national linkages and cooperation. An apex body like National Counterterrorism Agency has to be instituted to coordinate response at operational and non-operational levels.

In addition, we need a plan for homeland security such as:

  • Perimeter security at the country’s border.

  • Preventive activities within the country.

  • Protection of domestic sites.

  • Consequence management after attacks.

The key lesson from 9/11 is the need for covert military response — dealing invisibly with the invisible. Effective denial measures are needed to make impossible for terrorists to hijack or blow up a plane, and in any case, never concede to their demands. Deny him funds, weapons, recruits, publicity and the aura of martyrdom — all easier said than done.

The new worry is jehadi terrorism which is picking up fast. It has to be dealt with at the roots through psychological war and surgical military operations.

The political, social and human elements of terrorism have to be redressed through good governance which must include a tough policy on counterterrorism. Despite the attacks on Raghunath and Akshardham temples, very little pro-active action has been noticed. The first time an insurgency localised to Malaya by Chinese Communists was ended successfully mainly by the use of force in the 1960s was also the last time. That was 40 years ago by Gen Gerald Templar — but it was a non-globalised world.