By Raashid Wali Janjua
March 19, 2017
Do we want to fight terrorism as a nation?
The answer to this question lies in our national attitude towards it.
Ambivalence, appeasement, pusillanimity and denial have been the defining
features of our national response towards this menace in the past.
Another question germane to the debate is
whether a soft state can win a war against terror. The answer to that question
should be a resounding no in light of a cursory glance at the terror-infected
world map. Terrorism has reared its grisly head in all kinds of states but has
been tackled effectively in strong states with effective and functioning state
institutions. Ungoverned spaces left as terra are the best enablers a terrorist
organisation could ask for.
There are a host of competing definitions
for terrorism. But the most evocative was proposed by the 19th century Italian
extremist ideologue, Carlo Pisacane who viewed terrorism as “propaganda by
deed”. That’s what our terrorists think they are doing when they blow
themselves and other people up: creating a spectacle so gory as to singe their
message in the common psyche. The aim is to achieve political objectives rooted
in actual or imagined grievances.
Though the world has known terrorism in the
shape of Jewish zealots – the Sicarri who rebelled against Rome from 62 to 73
AD – and the Hasheeshins of Hassan-e Sabbah in Northern Persia during the late
11th century, the word ‘terrorism’ gained currency during the French Revolution
when it was employed more as an instrument of governance rather than a tactic
employed by a non-state actor against the state.
The history of terrorism can be summed up
in four waves experienced by the world community. The first wave was a reaction
to the exploitative conditions engendered by the capitalist system after the
Industrial Revolution. The anarchists who assassinated Tsar Nicholas in 1881
considered themselves to be the legatees of the French Revolution according to
whom the recourse to terrorism in the Jacobin tradition was a means to defend
as well as instigate revolution.
The second wave – from 1920 to 1960 –
featured anti-colonial struggles and proxy warfare showcasing the depredations
of non-state actors like T E Lawrence, Beider Meinhof, the Italian Red Brigade,
the Japanese Red Army, the Abu Nidal Group, the Mau Mau, the communist
insurgents in Malaya and the IRA. The fourth wave that began in 1979 was linked
with religious terror and employed religious grievances and evangelism as an
Surrealistically, it retained the venom of
the Sicarri, the violence of Kravchinsky’s anarchists and the ruthlessness of
Jewish terrorist gangs like Stern and Irgun. The taxonomy of this
religiously-inspired fourth wave features three generations of terror.
The first was focused on the internal
reform of Muslim societies and showing up in sporadic acts like the
assassination of Anwar el-Sadat in Egypt. The second generation was weaned on
the heroics of expeditionary warriors – like the Afghan Mujahideen – and,
therefore, developed a transnational outlook with a focus on global evangelism.
The third generation – which emanated from
the second – was a radicalised core of young disaffected zealots, such as Osama
bin Laden, who developed a pathological aversion against the West and the
decadent and immoral Islamic states whom they regarded as apostates that
invoked a medieval edict of ‘Takfir’ (apostasy) introduced by medieval scholars
such as Ibn Taymiyyah.
The growing politico-military asymmetries
in the world have resulted in a feeling of powerlessness amongst the modern-day
religious zealots who consider terrorism to be an asymmetric way of waging wars
against the global hegemon.
In countries like Somalia and Pakistan, the
impoverished segment of the population depends upon religious seminaries or
madrasas for the education of their children. In these seminaries, the children
are educated in theological subjects and are heavily indoctrinated in the
extremist version of religion. According to Karin von Hippel, an amount of $1
billion has annually been spent on such madrasas, out of which 75 percent of
the contribution comes from abroad, mostly from Saudi Arabia.
As per a report by the Pakistan Institute
for Peace Studies, there were six religious organisations in Pakistan in 1947
that have grown to be 239 by 2002. In 2013, in pursuance of the UN Resolution
1267, 60 militant organisations were banned. But they kept carrying out their
activities by changing their names. Around 23 banned organisations are
operating as the Punjabi Taliban in Punjab alone. An analysis of the internet
presence of such groups shows that 20 out of 60 of them are active online.
There are three approaches to counter
terrorism. The first approach treats terrorism as a crime through
law-enforcement and legal remedies while the second approach relies upon
military instruments to wage a war against it. The third approach is the most
comprehensive and treats terrorism as a disease by focusing on its causes as
well as symptoms with equal attention. To fight contemporary terrorism in
Pakistan, the civil and military components of the state counterterrorism
apparatus need to jettison traditional notions of the Clausewitzean military
The centre of gravity of a terrorist cell,
for instance, might not be found in any hub or node but the will of the human
web to fight and sacrifice. This will, in turn, is nourished by a cause and the
sympathy of the people on whose behalf the terrorists operate. The moral high
ground, legitimacy and popular support are therefore the most important
elements of a counterterrorism strategy.
According to Stares and Yacoubian, just as
some diseases cannot be completely cured, the issue of religiously-inspired
militancy might not be amenable to complete cure. What could be attempted,
however, is a solution based on prophylactic as well as curative remedies by
attacking the hosts (cell and organisations), agents (terrorists),vectors (the
support network), and environment (political, social, and economic
deprivations) to reduce the virulence of this disease as much as possible.
The 20 points of NAP are not enough. The
entire nation must adopt a cogent approach to win this war where external
actors like India and its allies are going all-out to queer the pitch for
The most puissant weapon these days in the
armoury of militants is motivation. They motivate on the basis of a narrative
that we need to counter through a narrative of our own – a kind of reverse
Takfiri doctrine through our religious scholars.
The state needs to wrest back our mosques
from extremist prayer leaders and convert madrasas into public schools that
teach a standardised curriculum in sync with the national curriculum. The
weekly Friday sermons in mosques need to be state-approved and all religious
discourse in print and on the internet should be monitored and regulated.
The hitherto laissez faire religious
franchises must give way to state-controlled regulation to choke the flow of
funds as well as extremist ideas. If all of the measures suggested above are
doable, then the question that begs an answer is: what stops the state from
asserting its writ and winning the war of narratives? The answer might lie in
an asymmetry of will between the terrorists and the state. It is time the state
summoned this will. It owes this resolve to those who have laid down their
lives fighting this scourge.
Raashid Wali Janjua is a PhD scholar at Nust.