Could democracy be the ultimate antidote to terrorism? In the face of violence, how should democratic values be put into action? openDemocracy writers present their views - join the conversation in the forum to add yours.
This debate is an extension of arguments presented by openDemocracy in the run up to the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, held in Madrid in March this year. To access the online forum discussion from this earlier period of debate, which is hosted on the Summit site, please click here.
I went out rollerblading. First time. From 12 to 2 (a.m., of course).
I fell down
Amazed at the amount of jerks out there
Didn't put on knee-pads and I'm not going to. Don't even have a helmet =)
Should have goalkeeper's gloves instead of hands.
Spent half the time on size 39 blades (3 sizes bigger than mine) before I remembered that you can adjust them =))
Beset by natural disasters like the devastating typhoon Parma, an ever-widening poverty gap, stumbling efforts at much-needed land reform, and two ongoing conflicts resulting in the death and displacement of thousands of people, the Philippines finds itself in a dark time. Set against this, the shocking legacy of human rights violations which plague the country while drawing little international scrutiny are a damning indictment against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The air had been eager from the moment we arrived in Chennai for my cousin's wedding. We were there in November, typically one of the wettest months for India's southeast coast. It took a week for the rain to begin to fall in torrents, like angry fists. Two days after the wedding, I awoke to the roaring static of the rain, something like a lost radio frequency. Great, I thought, I'll be stuck inside all morning, if not all day. After all, where there's heavy rain in this part of the world, there's flooding, disease, and death.
Death. On TV, in big red and white lettering:
Terrorists Strike Taj Hotel in Mumbai. The scene was surreal-an onion dome of
the 105-year-old hotel engulfed in smoke, barricades erected on Mumbai's most
tourist-trafficked plaza. I couldn't help but recall my last trip to India when I
visited the nearby Gateway of India and the Taj. Our necks craned and swiveled
to take in the architectural marvel in its entirety. Children flitted between
noisy tourist groups, enamored of their newfound running space. There are
moments like dioramas that pop out of the background of the past. This moment,
between icon and the Arabian Sea, was one of
them. My aunt and uncle watched the news in horror, and like me, they were
silent. As the day passed determinedly into the next, we were shocked to
discover that the attack on Mumbai had not been suppressed; in fact, it was
just getting started.
The rain grew heavier the second day. I had the privilege of staying in a newly constructed apartment building with an enclosed garage space, which prevented the rainwater from accumulating. Our unlucky neighbors, on the other hand, were wading through knee-deep water in their backyard in order to retrieve things that had been left outside to dry-their kitchen utensils and chilies were now soggy and limp. My family and I swung between local and national news channels for updates on the rain and the terror attacks. The local news reported that Nagapattinam had received up to 40.8 centimeters, or sixteen inches, of rain. The locals clamored in front of the camera. "Sir, we can't even get into our house, sir," a woman screamed in Tamil. "The government has done nothing to help us; they're ignoring our problems, sir." My relatives shook their heads, sympathy rolled with aggravation. "What can the government do? It's not their fault it's raining!" The cyclone was now named Nisha and was responsible for almost eighty deaths so far. Swetha Regunathan is Assistant Editor at Guernica. Her writing has appeared in The Jackson Free Press and Quarto.
This essay first appeared in Guernica's March 2009 edition.
On day three, I paced the apartment in resignation. The news was that the
Mumbai attacks weren't yet resolved, that the Taj Hotel had yet to be secured.
Later that day, we learned that the five hostages at Nariman House, members of
the Chabad-Lubavitch, had been killed. The rain beat outside like a steady
drum. I was stuck inside the apartment for yet another day with nothing to
watch but the rain battering our neighbors' yard. Our windows faced their
house, not the streets, and so my real window was the television. It was on
account of my own neuroticism that I didn't venture out of the house and try to
wade through the flood waters; I couldn't help but be deterred by thoughts of
what might be in the water. It seemed like a giant cesspool of all that settled
on the city's streets-animals, human waste, trash, dust, grime, slime, and
other debris. My uncle, safe in his garage and car, relied on his driver to go
to work. The driver had to find his own way home. So entirely dry and intact,
my uncle's home seemed an island.
Relentless cyclones have a way of making you sit very still, of making you think. I recalled the morning of 9/11, when commuters to lower Manhattan wailed into the news cameras. Destruction of this scale was the stuff of movies, we were told by the news anchors, the commentators, and the pundits. If terror attacks are cinematic, it is because terrorists themselves know about the mainstream media-that it is, in fact, very much like the movies. It is star-studded, uses imposing graphics and special effects, and everyone watches. The confluence of terrorism and the media is prime entertainment. Not all movies have a happy ending.
It seemed a conspiracy for the two phenomena to concur, and yet, both seemed eerily unaware of the other. The attack on India's financial, cultural, and entertainment capital drew waterlogged Chennai to its television sets. Never mind that Mumbai was in faraway Maharashtra, that its people spoke Hindi and Marathi, languages that belonged to an entirely different linguistic group than Chennai's vernacular Tamil. But while most of India, and indeed the entire telecast world, watched Mumbai try to rein in terror, only part of India watched cyclone Nisha wreak its terror of rain.
The ticker at the bottom of CNN-IBN (the American network's Indian cousin) streamed viewers' comments about the terror attack from around the country. I read their expressions of sympathy and outrage and noticed the prevalence of the word "senseless" as an adjective to describe the violence. To be without sense was to be as a force of nature-coming and going without perceptible rhyme or reason-like heavy rain. I started to wonder where one disaster ended and another began. Wasn't it true that the terror attack was, by some measure, a natural disaster? After all, wasn't terrorism as shapeless as rain? Wasn't wiping out terrorism as unachievable a feat as stopping the rain?
One of the more controversial stories in the Bible is the tale of Samson, who brought down an entire temple of Philistines with himself inside. The story is one of the first recorded instances of terrorism, the first to enter the cultural imagination. The faithful interpret Samson's act as an act of God. This is the same term they used to interpret the plagues on the Egyptians, which took such forms as a hailstorm and three days of pitch darkness. For the faithful in past and present times, both terror and natural disaster have been demonstrations of divine temperament.
As science eclipsed religion in the realms of epistemology and education in the West, natural disasters shed their ancient connotations and began to be understood as expressions of spontaneous yet systematic phenomena. In modernity, meteorologists and climatologists work with government agencies to prepare relief plans, city evacuation routes, and other resources for survival. While the occasional weather-related death still cautions residents to prepare wisely for the next big blizzard, hurricane, or tornado, these numbers are kept relatively low thanks to the attention they receive from the media and independent organizations. Katrina looms in the national conscience because of the failure of a government to protect its people in the way of prevention (sound infrastructure and proper levees) and evacuation. In the post-Katrina age, the U.S. government knows the people of New Orleans, the Gulf Coast states, and indeed the nation will not stand for incompetence. But I often wonder if Indian citizens' soaked, parched, catastrophied voices carry as far, if my relatives' reluctant acceptance of these deaths echoes the sentiments of most Indians, and crucially, those charged with doing all they can to protect their fellow Indian citizens.
The history of terrorism in the cultural imagination is much more difficult
to trace than the history of weather, for terrorist acts communicate sundry
credos, causes, and motivations, whether religious, ethnic, economic, or
irrational. Other famous terrorist groups in history include the Sicarii
Zealots (a radical Jewish group that tried to expel the Romans from Judea); the
perpetrators of France's Reign of Terror (who arbitrarily executed clergymen,
peasants, and aristocrats for being "enemies of the people"); England's Guy
Fawkes (who attempted to blow up Parliament with a crude gunpowder bomb in
order to reinstate a Catholic monarch); the American Revolution's Sons of
Liberty (who tarred and feathered those considered to be loyal to the British
crown), and the IRA. What these and other instances and
movements of terrorism have in common are the aim of creating a climate of
fear, an ideological or political motive, and a loathsome disregard for human
complexity, nuance, and suffering. Terrorism is indiscriminate, like the
weather. The bottom line is that terrorism has itself existed in tandem with
human civilization; it seems to have twisted the world, made our moral groundings
a bit shakier. Yet the emergence of the counter-terrorism movement in the last
few decades assures us that the war on abstraction can be won.
According to an article in Reason Magazine, Michael Rothschild, a former business professor at the University of Wisconsin, estimates that "if terrorists hijacked and crashed one of America's 18,000 commercial flights per week that your chance of being on the crashed plane would be one in 135,000." These odds are significantly slimmer than the National Safety Council's one in 1,749 odds of dying from "exposure to forces of nature." Natural disasters may make for a few high-grossing summer blockbusters when covered by major news networks, but it doesn't draw us in and pique our worst fears the way terrorism does. Terrorism is human. It is and isn't anonymous. It presumes motive and anger and evil. It's epic and emotional. It plagues us like locusts, and it informs our art. Slavoj Žižek said in his essay "Passions of the Real, Passions of Semblance" that "the landscape of the collapsing [World Trade Center] towers could not but be reminiscent of the most breathtaking scenes in big catastrophe productions." India's film industry, the largest in the world, has itself dealt with terror on-screen. A recent string of terror-themed releases, including A Wednesday, Mumbai Meri Jaan, and Dhokha, among others, capitalize on the complex emotional tug of terror attacks. It is no small wonder then that terror shows up in our nightmares while the earth kills us in our sleep.
Still lured by the persistent patience of the rain on night three, I sat by the window of our dark flat; I listened to the hushed syncopations of an Indian-accented English newscaster behind me on the television set. Security operations in Mumbai still raged on. We learned the final death toll in the next few days: one hundred and twenty. But that was just Cyclone Nisha. In Mumbai, one hundred and ninety-five would no longer eat at Café Leopold or gaze at the Taj Hotel. The people of Mumbai refused to be "resilient" this time, pointing their trembling fingers and raising their voices to the Indian government. Never again, they insisted, would a massive security failure ravage this city. Never again would terrorism be dismissed as an unfortunate side effect of life in Mumbai, a pesky problem like mosquito bites or rain.
As my father and I rode to the airport later that week, I noticed the streets had completely dried up. It was as though the storm had never happened. The only residue of the heavy rain, the only haunting remnant of the storm that had trapped us for days, witnessing the spectacle of death and destruction visited on those trapped in Mumbai, was the cool night air on my face.
As US special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke navigates the diplomatic circles of Islamabad, discussions are unlikely to move much beyond talk of security strategies and terrorism. Other topics that are on the minds of most Pakistanis - namely water, shelter, roads, education, health - will go largely unmentioned. But Pakistan's problems cannot be addressed without seriously considering the state of its public services.
Western-backed development programs have had a dismal track record in Pakistan. By the end of military ruler Ayub Khan's 1960s "decade of development" - overseen by the Harvard Development Advisory Service Mission working within Pakistan's Planning Commission - leading economists conceded that the poor had grown poorer. Worse still, the bulk of the country's wealth had been channeled into the hands of 22 families, who owned 80 percent of the banks and 95 percent of the insurance companies. Ayub Khan's government was toppled by rioting mobs in 1969. The "development" programs of subsequent regimes - including that of General Pervez Musharraf - shared similar dynamics and met similar fates.
Mohammad Ali is
a Lahore-based independent research consultant and columnist for
Pamela Kilpadi, an American postgraduate researcher with the University of Bristol School for Policy Studies in the UK, served for a decade as the founding director of International Policy Fellowships (www.policy.hu)Pakistan's western-backed civil-military-landlord elites, using strong-arm "divide and conquer" tactics not unlike the former British Raj and its five or so thousand civil servants, have thus far succeeded in maintaining monopolistic control over public resources. Over-centralised bureaucracies clinging to concepts of "trickle down" economics have failed to deliver goods.
Efforts to decentralise power, strengthen local governments, and promote community-based development in Pakistan - as in many developing contexts - have not necessarily been accompanied by democratisation or even increased local participation. Pakistan's three attempts to devolve political power - under the military regimes of Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, and most recently Musharraf - were not motivated by a desire to encourage local political and economic development. On the contrary, devolution served as a useful tool for weakening the power base of political parties and building alternative power structures to further legitimise military regimes.
There is currently widespread consensus about the need to encourage more grassroots involvement in public policymaking and abandon "trickle-down" approaches to development. US President Barack Obama's new age of "responsibility" - fueled by the social movement that brought him to power and spurred on by the global financial crisis - could have far-reaching implications for Pakistan. Local input and an insistence on equity, transparency and accountability across multiple layers of governance is desperately needed to ensure that the development programs of Pakistan's new, democratically elected government - such as its recently unveiled income support program - actually reach the intended beneficiaries.
But institutionalising social justice is not that simple. Analysts warn that naive applications of complex, context-specific concepts such as "participation," "social capital," or "empowerment" often contribute to the poor design and implementation of community-based programs. Without rigorous training and capacity development, regular monitoring, and independent budgetary oversight, such programs can exacerbate rather than promote inefficiencies and inequities.
Furthermore, the elite's hold over public goods and services can become firmer in times of economic hardship and disaster. Recall, for example, the reports of outright graft by senior Pakistani military and civilian personnel in the wake of the devastating 2005 earthquake, including the hoarding of lifesaving tents for purposes of patronage. Other politically motivated actions included decisions to allocate mobile hospitals and other facilities to relatively well-off communities of political constituents and utilise military personnel with inadequate language skills to (mis)record crucial personal data for compensation purposes. Large amounts of donor funds intended to provide earthquake victims with housing were instead spent on the property projects of feudal landlords in North West Frontier Province, further strengthening their grip on beholden tenants and bonded labourers, effectively modern-day slaves.
The image of Obama signing executive orders on his first day in office curtailing the "culture of secrecy in Washington" and the influence of patronage on public policymaking tempts us to hope that a paradigm shift in governance may be dawning. A governance shift, perhaps, characterised by renewed emphasis on equity, transparency and accountability, based on more open, de-institutionalised, ‘bottom up' approaches to problem-solving.
It has yet to be seen whether President Asif Ali Zardari's current civilian government (or Obama's) will chart a new path towards fairer, more efficient and accountable governance. But senior Pakistani civil servants warn that the stranglehold of the ruling "civil-military-landlord triumvirate" over the majority of Pakistan's citizens can only be loosened if the country's newly emerging civil society and local government leaders are given adequate space and assistance to function.
In a rare ruling in favour of a peasant whose land in Punjab had been seized by a military brigadier, Pakistan's Supreme Court summed up the prevailing situation in 2003. The judges quoted the following passage in their verdict, taken from John Steinbeck's 1939 novel about the Great Depression, Grapes of Wrath:
In an Age of Responsibility, the more states and donors open their policymaking processes to critical voices, the better their chances of ensuring the security and prosperity of their societies.
After the Mumbai attacks in late November 2008, heavy scrutiny fell on their alleged perpetrator, the Pakistan-backed and based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). For all intents and purposes, LeT should be as good as dead. United Nations Resolution 1822 on al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their affiliates ensures that the group is now treated as "hostile" by 192 countries. Most countries in the west, including the United States, United Kingdom, France and Australia have already banned it under their own counter-terrorism laws. Most importantly, after the UN resolution last year and more recently after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan cracked down against the LeT's front organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The Pakistani government has closed over one hundred offices of JuD, placed key leaders like Hafiz Mohamed Saeed under house arrest, shut down at least one LeT training camp in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and frozen the bank accounts of the JuD. JuD's office in Muridke, near Lahore, was brought under government control in late January and a Punjab state official has taken up residence in the complex to keep a check on activities there. Several schools and hospitals run by the JuD have been taken over by provincial governments (87 of over 160 schools have been shut completely).
All these measures taken thus far by Islamabad, however, may prove inadequate in uprooting LeT from the landscape of militancy in Pakistan. The LeT, under various aliases and mutations, is prepared to stubbornly weather the fallout of its actions. Interrogation reports of Ajmal Amir, the sole captured terrorist from the Mumbai attacks, show that the assault benefited from months of planning. Given its history of stirring trouble in India, LeT was not unprepared to handle the consequences of its operation. LeT's remarkable resilience - a trait highlighted in my earlier profile of the group on openIndia (see Raja Karthikeya Gundu, "Lashkar-e-Taiba: a profile", 5 December 2008) - has come to the fore despite premature reports of its demise.
A multi-headed hydra
On the face of it, the arrests of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhwi - the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks - and other senior commanders would seriously damage LeT's planning capacity. However, Hafiz Saeed has been only the ideological head of the group for some time, the chief public promoter of its agenda. His role is analogous to that of Osama bin Laden in al-Qaeda, who has supposedly delegated most of the group's operational responsibility to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhwi did lead LeT's operations. He should be adequately interrogated and tried for the Mumbai attacks and several other crimes staged by the group. Similarly, Yusuf Muzammil, a LeT facilitator based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir who New Delhi seeks to extradite, must be found and brought to justice. Raja Karthikeya Gundu is a Junior Fellow at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
But decapitation of the group's leadership may not in itself affect LeT much and is unlikely to be effective in the short to medium term. Despite the arrests of the leadership, mid-level commanders and "coordinators" of the LeT regularly speak to the press. The mid-level agents, most of whom have experience in planning and staging tactical attacks in Kashmir and recently in eastern Afghanistan, remain a real source for concern. The number of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants detained since the start of the crackdown in the wake of the Mumbai attacks varies from fifty to two hundred, depending on the account. But most international estimates (such as the RAND Corporation estimate) of the total manpower of LeT believe it to be upwards of 1,500. Much of the rest of the LeT remains at large, potentially switching to other terrorist groups, or continuing to carry out the group's pre-determined strategy.
Shifting to Afghanistan
Even before the crackdown by the Pakistani government went into full swing with the arrest of Lakhwi in December, LeT reportedly asked its cadres to leave Pakistani territory for Afghanistan. A number of the group's recruits who had moved into the restive tribal areas of northwest Pakistan from Kashmir at the onset of the winter, were subsequently ordered to leave those tribal areas for Afghanistan. LeT is no stranger to operating in Afghanistan (some researchers argue that LeT, as a fighting force, was actually formed in Kunar province of Afghanistan in 1992, during the days of the Afghan civil war).
In recent years, the LeT is believed to have established a base in Afghanistan's Kunar province, to the north of Barg-e-Matal. The LeT joined the Taliban in a lethal attack on a US and Afghan army outpost in Wanat, in Kunar province in July 2008. The same month, the Indian embassy in Kabul was bombed, and the suicide bomber involved was identified by India as 22-year-old Hamza Shukoor, a former member of the LeT.
More money, more problems
The UN resolutions ensured that the assets of LeT were frozen, with a travel ban been placed on its top functionaries. All UN member states are banned from supplying arms directly or indirectly to the group. Of these measures, the one that would normally hurt a terrorist group most is the freezing of its assets. Although some commentators argue that cutting off funding does not stop a terrorist group given that the average terrorist attack is rather inexpensive, it is undeniable that freezing cash flows affects a group's ability to stage attacks. Training, equipping and arming recruits, paying bribes to corrupt officials to facilitate movement, etc, all require money. In some cases, a recruit's family is financially compensated if he is killed, a major incentive for recruitment among the poor. (In Ajmal Amir Kasab's case, he was allegedly told by the LeT that his family would be paid 150,000 rupees if he were to achieve "martyrdom" during the Mumbai operation).
The funds freeze should have limited LeT/JuD activities, but in the lead up to the UN ban, JuD transferred money out of most its public bank accounts. As a charity, JuD raised millions of dollars for relief work. Some of it was well spent on relief operations after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (£5 million raised) and after the October 2008 earthquake in Balochistan. But the rest, a sizeable chunk, went into funding terrorist operations of the likes of Mumbai. (In fact, British intelligence followed this money trail to JuD to bust the 2006 plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic).
Because of funding constraints and the potential for misuse by recruits on the ground, terrorist groups are generally scrupulous about accounting and documentation. There should be a wealth of evidence for Pakistani officials to find. However, JuD may have destroyed its financial records in the run-up to the crackdown. Unless Pakistani authorities gain access to all the group's ledgers and journals, the true extent of JuD's financial reach may never be known. The issue is compounded by the fact that a large number of contributors to JuD in recent years donated under the assumption that they were contributing to a charity, not knowing how their money would be used.
Even if bank accounts are frozen, cutting off funding to terrorist groups is extremely difficult. The system of hawala, which is a common money-laundering practice in south Asia, often facilitates the transferring of money by terrorist groups. Several such avenues are available to terrorist groups in south Asia due to legal loopholes and systemic weaknesses. For instance, in Afghanistan, middle east-based contractors engaged in the post-Taliban construction boom have been suspected of collaborating with "customers" who seek to transfer ill-gained money out of the country. The contractors do this by over-invoicing the customers, allowing the latter to transfer money to off-shore accounts in the Gulf. In addition, LeT's funding fronts are believed to have received close support from the notorious kingpin of the Mumbai underworld, Dawood Ibrahim, who has been under international crosshairs as a result of his links with Osama bin Laden.
Since the early 2000s, LeT's primary recruitment drives have been inside Pakistan. But the group cannot any longer function in the open in the country. In fact, since the 2002 ban of the LeT by the Musharraf government, the group does not use the name openly. But despite functioning under a plethora of names since 2002, LeT's identity was never diluted. Its cadre may now be coalescing under the banner of "Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool" ("Movement for the Prophet's Honour"), a group which is now galvanizing political and public support in Pakistan to overturn the ban on JuD. (The Tehreek has actually been around for several months and had, in April 2008, called for Pakistan to sever relations with Denmark and Netherlands over the cartoons controversy, and also had condemned alleged American abuses of Islamic texts).
But even before the post-Mumbai crackdown, the group recruited overseas, especially among the Kashmiri and Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom. The LeT has been a clearinghouse for indoctrination and training for militant jihadists from several nations. It was also a successful service-offering enterprise (much like the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1970s), training recruits from all over the world to fight for other causes in various theaters of war, including Chechnya, Bosnia and Iraq. Alumni of LeT training camps include Shehzad Tanweer and Mohamed Siddique Khan, who were among the 7/7 London bombers, Richard Reid the shoe bomber, and David Hicks, an Australian al-Qaeda operative. LeT's active cadre also includes Arab recruits. Mahmoud Mohammed Bahaziq, the chief fund raiser for the group, is a Saudi national. Just four years ago, LeT boasted that it had recruited from at least seventeen nations, including Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Chechnya, United States and the UK.
After the Mumbai attacks, several jihadist websites featured congratulatory messages to LeT. According to a SITE Intelligence group report, some of these messages were posted by people who described themselves as "wannabe members" of LeT and exhorted the group to carry out more such attacks. The JuD could potentially capitalise on this support to create sleeper cells in several nations in the months to come.
The propaganda war
One of LeT's most distinguishing aspects as a terrorist group is its remarkable ability to utilise the "new media" to spread its message and reach out via the Internet to its preferred audience - well-educated, young professionals who can be recruited or tapped for funds and other logistical support. The LeT website vanished after the Pakistan government's ban in 2002 but the JuD website, which subsequently came up, attracted a large audience. Since the December crackdown, JuD's website has been discontinued. But JuD's web presence is not totally extinct. The website of JuD's charitable foundation, Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq, which was used to attract donations online, is still functional.
Even if the Idara is not being used to raise money, it still acts as a propaganda tool for JuD in portraying itself to be only a religious charity. Similarly, JuD's ability to publish and disseminate printed material may not have been checked. The organization's relief camps in Balochistan are still functional. While the camps themselves may be providing honest relief and rehabilitation services, authorities must be wary of the way the camps are run, lest they be used as sites for indoctrination and recruitment.
Provincial authorities have taken over several schools run by JuD, appointing "special supervisors" for the schools. However, there has been little change among the teachers retained in the employ of these schools since the state does not have the resources to replace them. Given that a number of these teachers are former militants who fought in Indian Kashmir and preach the virtues of jihad to their students, the mere change of administration may not be able to prevent the indoctrination of vulnerable schoolchildren. After the earthquake in 2005, nearly four hundred orphaned and fatherless children were taken by the JuD and placed in its madrasas. In some cases, JuD allegedly paid $10,000 to 19,000 to buy boys from their parents or guardians. These children need to be traced and rehabilitated urgently.
By far the most contentious issue stirred by the Mumbai attacks is whether the Pakistani state or any of its organs was complicit or gave tacit support to the terrorists who planned and conducted the assault. Elements of the Pakistani army or its intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), stood to benefit if the Mumbai attacks resulted in war between Pakistan and India, since any new conflagration would derail the bilateral peace process, destabilize the democratic government of Pakistan, and halt the war of attrition with the Pakistani Taliban in northwest Pakistan. Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, reportedly promised to halt hostilities against the Pakistan army in case of a war with India. Subsequently, a senior army official described Baitullah as a "patriotic Pakistani".
Though active duty Pakistani officers and officials have not been connected to the atrocity in Mumbai, American intelligence agents suspect that former or retired Pakistani army or intelligence officers might have played a role in the attacks. Among others, Hamid Gul, the former Director General of the ISI, has been a close supporter of LeT. The United States is believed to have forwarded a list with names of four former ISI officers to the United Nations, including Gul's, asking them to be declared "international terrorists". A top management reshuffle of the ISI, including the replacement of its chief, Lt Gen Nadeem Taj, was initiated by the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari to reform the ISI in August and September 2008, in the wake of reports of clandestine ISI support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ISI's role in the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul. A detailed and independent probe into the post-retirement activities of some of these former officers could give more teeth to the crackdown.
With their outrage in Mumbai, LeT managed to establish its "brand" and can better attract disaffected youth in the region and from abroad. In the months to come, LeT is likely to operate under a variety of aliases. Its central theatre of operations is likely to become Afghanistan, instead of Kashmir. Amphibious attacks such as Mumbai may be hard for LeT to repeat, but the group is likely to use sea-based infiltration to cross borders and reach targets. Through its network of alumni, it could also plan and stage smaller attacks in Europe. The onus remains on Islamabad to make sure none of these eventualities occur.
One of the many significant outcomes of the Mumbai attacks has been the revival of the six decades long conflict over Kashmir. As the needle of suspicion points towards Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) - a Pakistan-based militant organisation active in Kashmir - the conflict over unsettled borders between India and Pakistan in Kashmir is once again being cited as the source of broader destabilization within the region.
The attacks in Mumbai have once again reminded us in the starkest terms about the ugly and horrifying face of global terror. Though India is no stranger to violence, the atrocity in Mumbai was not some spontaneous volcanic outburst of India's supposedly ancient communal strife, or part of a "violent conspiracy" to deny India's rising power status in the world. It was a calculated act of violence aimed at the idea of Indian democracy and at human freedom in general.
In contrast to the brutality of conventional wars and of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, the violence of terrorism is epochal, carnivalesque, and deeply anti-political. It derives its psychotic energy and appeal from the spectacle of "breaking news", delivered minute-by-minute by internet and television media. Spectacle releases terrorism from the shackles of invisibility and inaudibility.
It would be a grave mistake to think that modern terror represents the violence of "the wretched of the earth". Unlike the socio-economic violence of rebellious peasants or the "working classes", the new violence does not like soiling its feet in the mud and slush of rice fields or in the dirty factories in the poorer parts of the world. In fact, the essence of global terror lies in the sanitization and de-politicization of violence, making it "picture perfect" for public consumption. Dr. Ashwani Kumar teaches Politics at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at Centre of Global Governance at LSE (London) and one of the Chief-Editors of LSE Year book on Global Civil Society 2009
Such terrorism is fuelled by the twin processes of associational revolution (the boom, for example, of Islamist organizations, including educational and fundraising bodies) and information revolution. It also taps into that very modern paranoia - what the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman terms "liquid fear" - of amorphous peril. It is in this sense that India has ultimately, willingly or unwillingly, joined the unfolding march of that universal journey called "9/11". Mumbai's so-called "26/11" has been tragically inserted into that "shared archive of a supposedly universal calendar" as described by the late Jacques Derrida.
In contrast to the centrally-organized, bureaucratically-managed, "legitimate" secular violence of the nation-state, the new violence is deeply engrained in the globalized a-moral war against each other. The violence of the old wars of the nation-states was organized through the standing army and maintained by the extensive system of public revenue. Old violence also had many forms of fundamentally "public" eruptions such as mob violence, street violence, ethnic riots and so forth. In stark contrast, new violence mutates in secret. The entrepreneurs of new violence live perpetually in the private space as they cannot be brainwashed, trained and taught fidayeen methods in the public sphere. The anxieties and dilemmas of perpetually living in a private sphere constituted by deeply hierarchical, masculine and gendered power relations force these terrorists to seek revenge against the fact and the idea of the "multitude" of the public space.
Arising from the tragic "breakdown of communicative rationality", the new violence has brutally reminded us about the hidden depths beneath the public sphere and the vulnerabilities of open societies. It has been largely financed by private sources and perpetrated by irregular entrepreneurs without any fixed military uniform. In Mumbai, clean-shaven entrepreneurs of violence discarded their traditional outfits and wore modern cargo pants and t-shirts emblazoned with "Versace". The outrage they perpetrated is not a typical Clausewitzean case of the "continuation of politics by other means." It is fundamentally anti-political and essentially nihilistic as it speaks only of grievances, identities, and virtues without any reference to human beings as constituted by their real social relations and individuals rights.
There is some over-arching tactical order to the chaotic universe of terrorist violence; Mumbai comes after recent attacks in Delhi, Ahmadabad, Jaipur and elsewhere within India. The strategy is clear; the new violence does not want to remain anonymous anymore. Now it wishes to be serialized in the interstices of local and global. It elevates violence to the "sexy, seductive" pleasure of grand spectacle. More importantly, by choosing to attack hotels, railways stations, busy streets, hospitals, and restaurants, terrorists have decided to suffocate free, open public spaces where people act in concert with each other as sweating, suffering, breathing, and smiling creatures. What happened in Mumbai is thus part of the global march of an extremely exclusivist, violent and modern project that sees human beings as superfluous and human freedom as irrelevant. Democracy, especially one as vast and complex as India's, cannot afford more zones of closure as these will suffocate its intrinsic capacity to resolve the dilemmas of maintaining an open society.
2008 has seen a marked worsening of the security situation in
Afghanistan, both in terms of the number of incidents and in terms of the
geographical spread of the insurgency. The number of violent incidents has
increased by about 50% on previous years (although statistics vary depending on
the source); while the government has de facto lost control over two provinces close to the capital Kabul
(Wardak and Logar).
Giustozzi is a
at the Crisis Research Centre at the LSE, and author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Resurgence of the
Neo-Taliban in Afghanistan (C Hurst, 2007).
Also by Antonio Giustozzi in openDemocracy:
"The resurgence of the neo-Taliban" (14 December 200In some northern provinces - most notably Kunduz - the insurgency is beginning to represent a serious threat. Indeed, clear signs of insurgent infiltration exist in almost all the northern provinces: only Samangan and Panjshir provinces appear to remain completely free of violent activities. In central Afghanistan, Bamiyan is only marginally affected, with just one district showing sign of the presence of the Taliban. The situation in the other thirty-one provinces of Afghanistan is far more serious; all have insurgents active within their territory. What I described a year ago as the "war difficult to win" has become even more so, and the "unlikely peace" even less imaginable (see "The resurgence of the neo-Taliban", 14 December 2007).
The fuse's spark
It is also clear as 2008 nears its end (though again, estimates vary) that the number of rebels is growing steadily and must now range in the tens of thousands. In part this expansion is due to the growth of the Taliban, but it is also the case that other groups are increasingly mobilising against the Kabul government and the foreign troops. The most influential of these groups is the Hizb-i Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a key player in the jihad against the leftist regime in Kabul and its Soviet army backers in the 1980s.
Perhaps more worryingly, the insurgents show signs of improving their tactical skills. Some of their ambushes and attacks on fixed positions in 2008 have been executed more effectively than ever before, and they have become more operationally flexible (reducing the focus on direct attacks and using more asymmetrical tactics, for example). The casualties they have been inflicting on foreign troops are up 20% this year, while less complete statistics seem to show higher casualties for the Afghan security forces too.
The Taliban in particular are also having some success in infiltrating the Afghan security forces, in particular the police, which is now in deep crisis in several Afghan provinces in the south and west of the country. The Taliban's tactical improvement owes something to successful efforts to integrate Afghan and foreign fighters. In the past, predominantly or exclusively foreign jihadist groups have not operated very successful in Afghanistan, in part because cooperation with Afghan Taliban has proved troublesome. Now at least some foreign jihadists - acting as specialists and supplying skills that are rare among the mostly illiterate Afghan rank-and-file - accept the authority of Afghan commanders. It is likely that a few non-Afghan jihadists are also involved in training the Afghan Taliban, for example in bomb-making skills.
The shoe's grit
The Taliban's campaign is, however, not quite trouble-free. Afghanistan's difficult economic situation - and the large pool of unemployed and disaffected young people that is one of its by-products - favours the Taliban less than might be expected (even though there are allegations of a large mercenary presence in the movement's ranks). Although high unemployment may push some people towards joining the insurgency, the same could be said of the police or the national army.
Moreover, the Taliban might now be experiencing a crisis of growth. Their expansion has made internal communication, and central command-and-control, increasingly difficult. Moreover, the movement's leadership is trying to turn it into a more structured and disciplined entity. This involves a range of measures: insisting that its commanders behave more moderately towards the civilian population, marginalising its more extremist component, establishing a civilian administration, and expanding its judiciary into more and more areas.
In implementing these objectives, the Taliban leadership is facing multiple difficulties; indeed it is by no means assured that it will succeed in achieving them. Not all commanders in the field are keen to follow the leadership's directives; some are not well equipped intellectually and emotionally to correctly interpret them; others still might operate in conditions where implementing them is difficult. In the absence of any effective system of supervision from the centre to the field level, making any administrative structure work well is a daunting task.
Also in openDemocracy,
Paul Rogers's weekly column has tracked the Afghan war since October 2001.
Among recent articles in the series:
"Afghanistan's Vietnam portent" (17 April 2008)
"Afghanistan in an amorphous war", 19 June 2008)
"Afghanistan: state of siege" (10 July 2008)
"Afghanistan: on the cliff-edge" (28 August 2008)
"Afghanistan: the dynamic and the risk" (9 October 2008)
"Iraq's gift to Afghanistan" (20 November 2008)Indeed, there are indications that the Taliban's governors in most cases have little power over the commanders and that their effectiveness or lack thereof depends on their personal relations with the various networks of Taliban commanders. Similarly, the Taliban's desire to offer an alternative to the very corrupt state judiciary has outstripped its ability to expand its own sharia-based judiciary, which is still limited to perhaps two dozen districts (out of about 400). Elsewhere, the Taliban are sending people to any Islamic judge willing to hand down sentences; the fact that the group has little control over the outcome dilutes the "quality" of the judicial services it offers.
The purse's hole
Nonetheless, the Taliban strategy remains on the whole quite sound - not least because the other side in the conflict is still unable to piece together a strategy both appropriate and workable. The counter-insurgency debate among western military strategists in Afghanistan is just emerging from a phase of political manoeuvring and has barely entered one of experimenting with any of the new ideas canvassed (a troop surge, the creation of pro-government tribal militias, increased funding, the massive expansion of the size of the national army, a reform of the police).
The latter two components of the counter-insurgency strategy appear the most promising - but even were they to be effectively implemented, they would be certain also to take longer than any other initiatives. The much-debated foreign-troop surge, which should translate to 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, would in reality do little more than maintain the trend of previous years into 2009 (for the international contingents have been growing steadily since 2004). But more soldiers are not a panacea; and greater funds might well disappear amid government corruption and incompetence (and "government" here does not mean only Afghan).
The real novelty of the debate among counter-insurgents in the last few months has in a sense been the creation of militias on a large scale. It is also the most controversial element of the future anti-Taliban strategy, on two grounds.
First, it is not clear how much enthusiasm exists in the villages for participating in the creation of tribal militias; if anything the elders seem to have been drifting away from the Kabul government.
Second, there is some conflict over the control of such militias. The Americans, among the chief proponents and surely the main donor-to-be in the initiative, would like to exercise strict supervision over how the money assigned to them is going to be spent. President Hamid Karzai and the cabinet would instead like to retain control over the process, which promises to be a major source of patronage. This will be another source of tension among allies in what promises to be another difficult year in Afghanistan's long war.
The five bomb-blasts on 13 September 2008 in New Delhi represent the latest in a series of such attacks in the country's main cities. The police and political experts described the bombs, which killed twenty-five people and injured at least ninety within a span of forty-five minutes, as "low-intensity" devices aimed less at inflicting maximum casualties and more at creating maximum terror at the heart of India's capital city.
As the Muslim Council of Britain marks its first decade, it seems an appropriate moment for reflection. As the country's largest Muslim umbrella body, it still remains the "first among equals" in relation to an increasingly large alphabet-soup of representative institutions. The British Muslim Forum, the Sufi Council of Britain and British Muslims for Secular Democracy have all emerged in the three years since 7/7, alongside a profusion of Muslim commentators and other bodies that seek to reflect the government's "rebalancing" in 2006 of its relationship with Muslim communities to emphasise counter-terrorist imperatives.