Terrorism – 2: Beyond Mumbai

Making South Asia safe from the kind of terrorist attacks that have hurt Mumbai and Islamabad calls for an intelligent response from South Asian citizens.

The first step is to understand the nature of terrorism. At a very broad level, we can identify two types of terrorism. The first is the terrorism practiced by relatively small, marginalized groups that wish to achieve some utopian vision of society. The classic exemplars of this type were the Red Brigade in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany. Both emerged in the 1970s led by alienated students and professors radicalized by the brutalities of the Vietnam War and supported by the client states of the USSR in the context of the Cold War.

The second type is the terrorism practiced by large groups that have lost hope in having their voices heard by the political process. At one point or another, the Palestinians, the Catholics in Northern Ireland, and African-Americans in the USA have been part of such groups.

The point of this distinction is to make the claim that terrorism of the first kind can be eliminated by rooting out the terrorists even though that can take a fairly long time. The Red Brigade and Baader-Meinhof group are non-existent today.

Terrorism of the second kind, however, is not amenable to a similar remedy. The Middle East remains wracked by violence. The IRA that practiced the same kind of terrorism in English cities that we are witnessing in South Asia today could not be rooted out by counter-insurgency measures. And the urban riots of the 1960s in American cities finally forced a fuller integration of African-Americans into the politics of the USA.

So, how we respond to Mumbai and Islamabad depends on how we understand the nature of the terrorism that we are facing. Three types can be identified. First, there are the Laskhar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad kind of splinter storm-troops that were created by the active support of various governments in Pakistan. Second, there are the Talibans who were also created by the joint efforts of the Pakistanis and the Americans but who now represent sizable numbers of people in Afghanistan. And third, there are marginalized populations like the Baloch in Pakistan and some sections of the rural landless in India that have given up on the political process.

There is no reason why the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba types of groups cannot be rooted out. It is the obligation of all Pakistani citizens to demand that their government take credible and decisive steps to put an end to any remaining protection of such groups. It is also important to impose sanctions on Pakistan, including suspension of all international assistance, till a more credible response is forthcoming from its government. There is no doubt that such sanctions will hurt ordinary Pakistanis but perhaps the shock is needed for the citizens to stand up and demand an end to state sponsorship of terrorist groups.

At the same time, it does seem necessary to find a way, however unpalatable it may seem, to negotiate with the Taliban because all the combined might of the US, NATO, and Pakistan has failed to dent its power. The US will remain reluctant to negotiate because it is fighting its War on Terror largely outside its own borders. But this is not the case for Pakistan and therefore Pakistani citizens should push their government to argue for a negotiated settlement.

The third group comprising disaffected sections of national populations requires a different approach. Whether they protest as the Baloch Liberation Army or as Naxalites, they need to have their voices heard and to share in the fruits of prosperity. South Asians need to re-examine their models of political representation and economic development to make sure that large groups of citizens are not left by the wayside without hope. Recent developments in Nepal should provide a case study for the rest of the countries in the region.

With unity and concerted will, South Asia may be able to get rid of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba type groups and be able to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban. But a much bigger adjustment and change of focus would be required to avoid disaffected national populations from creating the continuous disruptions that would jeopardize the future of the entire region.

South Asia countries need to fight their external enemies without losing sight of the disaffections that could cripple them from within.

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  • Ijaz
    Posted at 06:49h, 02 December Reply

    Where does State terrorism fit in the picture. ISI, RAW, CIA, ISI, KGB, Mossad, etc etc ? Their budgets far exceed, anything which can be imagined by the groups which you are looking at.

    LOl, It is like discussing the dynamics of the 1st World War, by focusing on the soldiers who fought, killed and died in the trenches in the battle of Somme.

  • mg
    Posted at 21:44h, 02 December Reply

    Could you elaborate more on your idea of sanctions?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 01:46h, 03 December Reply


    Thanks for raising this issue. I will have to think how to incorporate it in the analysis.

    My first reaction is that the two types of organizations are not comparable. The CIA is not an illegal organization; it is constitutionally mandated with a head subject to confirmation by the Senate.

    Of course, the CIA can and has carried out illegal activities. But the remedy is not to root out the CIA. The remedy is for the citizens of the USA to demand that the CIA conforms to its constitutional mission. Such was the purpose of the Church Committee after the Chilean crisis in the 1970s.

    This further supports my argument that we need to discriminate between the different types of organizations and situations and craft an appropriate strategy for each. We will not be effective if we lump everything together.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 01:53h, 03 December Reply


    We can take just one example. Pakistan is bankrupt today and dependent of external assistance. The international community can make the economic bailout conditional on credible evidence that the various terrorist groups have been dismantled and their leaders put on trial.

    A less drastic form of sanctions would be akin to those that were applied against South Africa when apartheid was practiced there. Many private firms were convinced to withdraw their investments and sporting contacts were severed.

    The exact nature of the sanctions depends on the severity of the violation of international norms. Protection of terrorist organizations is completely unacceptable.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 10:31h, 03 December Reply

    It is strange that you are advocating negotiated settlement with Taliban. Taliban was ruling Afghanistan in a way that outrages modern sensibility yet no one cared to interfere in its morbid treatment of humanity. Taliban had no reason to wage wars against any nation but smug on their success at dehumanization of Afghanistan they thought they can take on the world with impunity. First they tested the will of world by demolishing Bamyan Buddha. They did it over a period of time in full glare of media to derive maximum glee from the consternation of a shocked impotent world. Not satisfied they helped desperate groups wage war against America and other western nations tying to kill maximum innocent people.

    I wouldn’t want Taliban back anywhere even if it means peace in my own country.

  • Meena Kale
    Posted at 03:55h, 04 December Reply

    Congratulations! This is the first analysis I have seen where there is an attempt to distinguish between different types of terrorism in the current context. This is very important because without such an identification it becomes very difficult to determine an appropriate response. Without a proper diagnosis, how can there be an effective cure?

    I hope this kind of dispassionate analysis is carried further and a more detailed response to this problem is articulated.

    I would urge the writer to write a longer piece and circulate it more widely.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 15:35h, 04 December Reply

    This whole analysis seems not only wrong but immoral too. Making distinction between groups that kill innocent people is to legitimize some groups’ existence. Any negotiation with them is a sign of surrender to malevolence.

    So what do we do? We do what the British did to IRA and what Israel and America are doing to terrorists. It is wrong to suggest that IRA succeeded in making British negotiate with them on their own terms. Law of diminishing return ensured that they give up arms and sit on the negotiating table. It is also wrong to assume that Israel and America are in a no win situation. No, it is not entirely satisfactory situation but a more honourable one. The loss of life due to terrorism is so much minimized and damage to terrorism made prohibitively costly, a situation not the best but acceptable, after all people die in road accidents too and in a sunami and in an earth quake as well. Sooner or later a fatigue will see the disappearance of terrorism unless we accept writer’s remedy of dealing with terrorism selectively.

    Being fair and providing good governance is the responsibility of every nation and it should be the case whether there is terrorism or no terrorism.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 22:19h, 04 December Reply


    We share a dislike for the Taliban. The question is what is to be done about them and at what cost?

    You have answered your own question with the statement: “I wouldn’t want Taliban back anywhere even if it means peace in my own country.”

    There is a choice to be made and you have made it. However, this is only one vote. In a democracy, the will of the majority has to prevail. It is the responsibility of our political representatives to explain clearly to all citizens the social, economic, political and psychic costs of a policy decision to exterminate the Taliban, for example. If the majority of the citizens agrees to the policy based on such a full understanding, it can be justified.

    Most of the time, the costs and sacrifices required over generations are not explained to citizens. Most of the people urging the use of extreme force are not directly affected by the outcomes. This is not a moral basis for reaching decisions with such momentous consequences.

    I would argue that many Western governments are guilty of unethical behavior if they are pursuing the War on Terror against the will of the majority of their citizens. This is not to say that terrorism should not be opposed but there could be other, more effective ways of doing so. As has been mentioned in an earler post, the Red Brigade was not eliminated by indiscriminate bombing of neighborhoods where terrorists were suspected of hiding.

    Regarding your second observation: “Making distinction between groups that kill innocent people is to legitimize some groups’ existence.”

    This is not a scientific observation. Recognizing the differences between different types of terrorisms does not amount to a justification for any one of the types. But it is needed to deal effectively with them because every one of them may require a different strategy. You can kill an elephant with a shotgun but it would be useless against a fly.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 02:18h, 05 December Reply

    I am archiving here for discussion five comments on terrorism by well-respected names:

    1. Amitav Ghosh: India’s 9/11? Not Exactly

    2. Pankaj Mishra: Fresh Blood from an Old Wound

    3. William Dalrymple: Mumbai atrocities highlight need for solution in Kashmir

    4. Ramachandra Guha: India’s dangerous divide

    5. Robert Fisk: The Hell-Disaster of Iraq

  • Ijaz
    Posted at 22:39h, 07 December Reply

    If the strategy is for the elimination of Terrorism and not just terrorists, than focusing on State actors, becomes critical.

    Weather any organizations head is confirmed by its senate is irrelevant.

    In the very recent case of the Iraq war, we have all seen how state machinery can be easily manipulated even in mature democracies such as UK and the USA, once it was decided that violence has to be used to attain its strategic objectives.

    Throughout history, ‘terrorism’ has been part of the arsenal of states which they have used against each other, along with the other weapons like conventional, biological and chemical weapons.

    Most ‘Effective’ or significant non-state terror outfits have their ‘capacity building’ and to a very significant level actual origins in State organizations, who use them to further their own aims outside the ‘international agreements and laws’

    Once the state actors decide that this particular form of ‘weapons’ should not be used, this problem will go away. Protocol like the once which are currently in place for chemical and biological weapons, can be developed by international bodies, for this purpose.

    A consistency of applying the rule will be important for any sustainable solution. We have both the treaty of Non proliferation of nuclear weapons and the treaties banning biological weapons in front of us to learn from.

    There will always be a tendency of those nations to posses the power of the bomb as long as even one, would ask for a right of exemption, and therefore we see a overt or not so overt by some countries in that direction.

    We have not seen anyone asking for the right to develop biological or chemical weapons, since everyone has decided not to go on that path.

    What will bring about this change in the policy of states to take out ‘weapon’ from its arsenal? The answer is simple. When the state realizes that the cost is more than then the gain.

    A major cost which state has started incurring lately is the classic ‘Blowback’ from groups which it has created, this is similar to the realization, in the First World War, that the effect of chemical weapons shifted from the enemy toward ones own troops quiet quickly with the sudden change in wind direction.

    This realization along with international public pressure with time might rid us from this problem…but like everything else which humans have to learn, there is no short cut except for a painful experince to stop this behavior.

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