By B. Raman
The soon-to-be 10-year war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates waged by the international community under US leadership has been partly successful and partly not so.
Its successes have been in eliminating Osama bin Laden and a number of other high value targets of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the Af-Pak region, Yemen and Iraq and in repeatedly thwarting their attempts to mount another 9/11 style catastrophic terrorist strike in the US Homeland. The international community has also been able to prevent so far any major threat of maritime and weapons of mass destruction terrorism from materializing.
These successes could be attributed to the strengthening of physical security through improved national capabilities and international co-operation, modernization of counter-terrorism capabilities and techniques, improvement in the collection of human and technical intelligence and follow-up action thereon and stricter laws to deal with terrorism.
The failures have been in the inability of the international community to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the Af-Pak region, Yemen and Iraq and in preventing its spread to other countries such as Algeria, Somalia and Indonesia. It has also failed thus far to counter the pernicious ideology of the terrorists and to prevent the flow of new recruits to the terrorist organizations. The successes in eliminating many leaders have not affected the morale of the organizations.
The morale, the infrastructure and the innovative and constantly improving modus operandi of the terrorists continue to pose a high level of threat, which is likely to continue in the short and medium terms. The terrorists might not have been able to mount another 9/11 style strike, but they have shown an ability to spread the areas of their operations and to take the intelligence and physical security agencies by surprise.
We saw proof of this in the terrorist strikes in Indonesia, India, the Af-Pak region, Spain and the UK. There has been a modernization of the techniques used by the terrorists—-whether in respect of communication technologies, improvisation of explosive devices or finding ways of defeating improved physical security measures
Another development of concern has been in the availability to the terrorists of a much larger reservoir of potential recruits. In the initial years of the war against terrorism, terrorists for pan-global operations came mainly from amongst Arabs .Now they come increasingly from the Pakistani community in the Af-Pak region and in the West. International terrorism, which was largely an Arab phenomenon before 9/11, has now become a mixed Arab-Pak phenomenon with Pakistani organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) moving into the driving seat.
The successes in the ground and air-mounted counter-terrorism operations of the US have been mainly against the Arab and not the Pakistani component. Only after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai have the US and the rest of the world come to share India’s concerns regarding the emergence of Pakistan- origin terrorism as a major threat to international security. The pan-global Arab terrorism has found a new and equally capable ally in the pan-global Pakistani terrorism. The action against Pakistan -origin terrorism has been half-hearted so far due to the still prevailing mistaken perception that this terrorism is still focused on India and the world is not yet its theatre of operations. The continuing ambivalence in the attitude to Pak-origin terrorism stands in the way of an effective conclusion to the war against terrorism.
If the international community has to finally prevail in the war against terrorism, counter-terrorism operations in the Af-Pak region have to be directed as much against the terrorist infrastructure as against its leaders. Terrorist operations against leaders such as OBL are spectacular, but final success will come only if the spectacular is combined with painstaking and surgical strikes against the infrastructure.
The decision of the US to start thinning out its presence in Afghanistan even before prevailing finally against Al Qaeda and the Taliban is likely to pose a new danger of a trained and well-motivated crop of Afghan veterans of Pashtun–Punjabi origin spreading out across the region, including India, and stepping up terrorism.
The Arab veterans of the Afghan war of the 1980s against the Soviet troops were behind the wave of terrorism of the last decade. The Pashtun-cum Punjabi- cum- Arab veterans of the wars of the last decade against the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are likely to be behind a new wave of terrorism as the US troops withdraw.
India has to be seriously concerned over the possibility of this scenario. A new wave of Afghan veterans is likely to provide fresh oxygen to cross-border terrorism. The various terrorist strikes faced by India during the last decade have shown that while the cross-border counter-terrorism capabilities in Jammu & Kashmir might have improved, our pan-Indian capabilities outside J&K have not kept pace with the evolving nature and magnitude of terrorism.
While investigation, forensic and physical security capabilities in the rest of the world have improved after 9/11, ours seem to be stagnating as seen from our failure to prevent the 26/11 and 10/7 strikes in Mumbai and the terrorist strike in Pune in February last year. Our inability to successfully investigate any of the post-26/11 strikes despite the availability of greater international cooperation is a matter of serious concern.
Our intelligence machinery and counter-terrorism agencies continue to suffer from major deficiencies. Action to revamp our agencies and counter-terrorism infrastructure has been more in rhetoric than in action.
Counter-terrorism leadership has to flow from the Prime Minister downwards. This has not happened. The opposition has totally failed to keep the debate focused on our deficiencies. Our counter-terrorism debate has been reduced to a meaningless slanging match marked more by partisan agendas than thoughtful ideas.
Written at the request of the “Times of India”