ANALYSIS: Nine years later —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi\09\19\story_19-9-2010_pg3_2

Some of the weaponry possessed by powerful states is irrelevant to coping with the challenges of transnational violent movements and organisations. For example, nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and other sophisticated weapons are not helpful

The terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001 continue to make headlines nine years later. These attacks expanded internal and external security threats, from internal subversion through well-known methods and external military offensives to unanticipated violent acts by non-state entities that cannot be easily identified and located in one state.

The international system has undergone a major transformation and there is no going back to pre-September 2001 global politics. The developments of September 2001 are as significant as are the formal ending of the Cold War in 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. We talk of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ September 2001 in our study of global politics because of its multifaceted impact.

Transnational violent groups, often described as terrorists, select their targets carefully and use violence for creating maximum political and psychological impact through intimidation, insecurity, fear, destruction and death. They kill ordinary people for two major reasons. First, civilians and ordinary people are easier targets than government establishments including the security forces. Second, civilian deaths and destruction make big news and it weakens the confidence of the people in the government and the state. One of their objectives is to expose the helplessness of the government in the face of their attacks in order to undermine its credibility among the people and build compliance, if not support, for them in society. Some people tend to support them out of fear and imbibe their political rhetoric while others may be ideologically inclined to begin with.

Such groups pursue a narrow, partisan political agenda and ideology and emphasise their agenda in a manner that overlaps with the ideological and political aspirations of the target community. These groups do not have centralised command structures that control its personnel like a regular army. It is a collection of autonomous entities that are linked with each other, share an ideology, interact with each other and plan action in broad terms. A group may be assigned a special task, which is carried out by the group on its own at the time of its choosing. Therefore, it is not merely the central leadership that needs to be pursued but its units or cells are to be monitored, because these units can also have local agendas. Further, not all members of a local unit may have links with the central leadership.

State authorities find it difficult to deal with shadowy organisations that are often transnational in character. Their activists may be leading a dual life of working quietly with a unit or cell of a violent ideological movement as well as living like an ordinary member of a community or neighbourhood. Some activists may be holding government or private sector jobs. These groups seep into society and can stay quiet or inactive for some time.

Terrorism has become more challenging over the last nine years. More states are now threatened by terrorist organisations than was the case in the past. This type of threat creates security problems for all kinds of states ranging from superpower like the US to small and weak countries like Yemen. Middle-level states like India, Iran and Pakistan are equally perturbed by such challenges.

Some of the weaponry possessed by powerful states is irrelevant to coping with the challenges of transnational violent movements and organisations. For example, nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and other sophisticated weapons are not helpful.

Weak states whose authority is fragile and limited in scope, like many states in Africa, find it extremely difficult to effectively control such groups. It is easy for the terrorist groups to create safe havens or training centres, ideological and military, in such fragmented states where they can always find some local patron. It is not surprising that some of the major Islamic militant groups are to be found in Yemen and Somalia, where they are able to cultivate local alignments.

The US spearheaded the global effort to counter transnational terrorism, described as the war on terrorism by the Bush Administration. It succeeded in securing the mainland USA against any major terrorist incident, although at the cost of restrictions on individual freedoms and increased problems in its relations with the Muslim countries. However, its interests elsewhere are vulnerable.

The US had UN sanction for its military action in Afghanistan, October-November 2001, whose Taliban government had hosted the al Qaeda. However, its military action in Iraq, March-April 2003, had no such authorisation. It was based on false information about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The US established the dangerous precedent of ‘unilateralism’ and ‘pre-emption’ in the use of force in today’s international system. This led some relatively powerful states to toy with the idea of doing the same to their immediate neighbours.

The US has by now adjusted its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan from total victory to a working solution through a combination of use of military force and political measures and building the capacity of individual governments to enable them to stand up to the threat of terrorism. This strategy appears to be working in Iraq where the Iraqi government is holding together effectively. However, Afghanistan is a different story because it is less developed in terms of trained and qualified human power, infrastructure and military tradition. Afghanistan’s neighbours appear to be more ambitious in pursuing their individual agendas.

The US faces tough choices in Afghanistan as it plans to move towards withdrawal in 2011. Much depends on its capacity to push back the Taliban, build enough capacity of the Afghan government to take over security responsibilities and contribute to economic rehabilitation. It is premature to suggest whether the US and the present Afghan government would succeed.

The global system is not expected to return to the pre-September 2001 situation. The transnational violent entities would continue to pursue their agendas in the Afghan-Pakistan region even after the exit of the US. Therefore, terrorism-related issues would continue to haunt a large number of states.

These states will have to incorporate issues relating to terrorism and internal strife in their security policies on a more or less permanent basis. This will require a three-pronged counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy of using force to address the immediate threats, political and economic measures to seek enduring solutions and international cooperation for resource mobilisation and severing the transnational linkages of insurgents and terrorists.

The writer is a political and defence analyst

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