SATP interview with K.P.S. Gill, President, Institute for Conflict Management
How has the world been transformed by 9/11 and by terrorism over the past decade?
KPS Gill: The transformation of the world in the face of terror attacks, especially after 9/11, has been total and complete… After 9/11 there has been a change in the perception and the world has realized that terrorism is an activity which is not permissible today, which is an activity which impinges on civilization, and impinges on activities which are very vital now to the progress of human kind, especially economic activities. So there’s been a sea change during the last ten years.
Does the world understand terrorism better today than it did a decade ago?
KPS Gill: Politically I think the incoherence persists and the perception in the minds of people is determined by propaganda to which they are exposed. But I must say that pro-terrorist groups have been very effective in launching their propaganda war. The theory of the root causes of terror, which has been pronounced by some of the leaders in the world, is a direct result of this sort of propaganda, and the repetitive propaganda on these lines. So now everyone accepts that, although that is not a correct perception. So as far as the political response to terrorism is concerned, it still has to crystallize internationally and it still has to crystallize within the countries itself…
So there’s been no coherent response to terror… President Bush talked about a war on terror, and he inducted the Army to fight terror, to ‘drain the swamps’, as he said. But the recent raid on Osama bin Laden, in which he was killed, shows that what is required is motivated, well-trained groups to go for terrorist leadership, and thereby make a change. Not by launching infantry attacks and military attacks on so called terror hideouts.
You had spoken of a transformation of the Muslim world from within. To what extent has this come to pass?
KPS Gill: We have also to talk about the impact of terror on Islamic populations as such. And one can see that there has been a gradual distancing of large sections of the population from Islamic terror groups. The enthusiasm and the ease with which recruits were available a few years back is not evident today. For instance, there was a news item saying that the Taliban had abducted a number of youngsters to convert them to their way of thinking, when they didn’t have to abduct (earlier). They used to get volunteers easily. But what has happened is that, within the Muslim countries there has been a lot of turmoil, political turmoil, which has impacted large sections of the population. And that turmoil is not of anyone’s making, but it is an internal dynamic of the countries concerned… What is happening in quite a large number of Muslim countries is that people are probably disenchanted with this technique and want to move on, and want to better their livelihood, better their conditions. And that is what is keeping people away from terror…
So, this shows the large disenchantment of large sections of Muslim populations, and specially Muslim women, with terror. They are getting away from it. They want to go to schools, to colleges, and the evidence of that is the difficulty with which women are pursuing their studies in Afghanistan, in spite of tremendous opposition, in spite of fear of death and disfigurement and torture, ostracization. Inspite of all that, they are trying to go out of the narrow confines of the type of education they are being imparted, and join the mainstream, the world’s mainstream, of education, which is a sort of universal education. But the impact of this is not visible as dramatically as it should be, because I think the impact will take time. May be another 10 years, may be another 15 years. But then the impact will certainly be there, and it will certainly lead to a lessening of terror activities. It may not lead to a total stoppage, but it’ll lead to a reduction in terrorist activities.
Is the Arab Spring turning into an Islamist Autumn?
KPS Gill: Different countries have had their, shall we say, what they call the Arab Spring. But like all mass movements, after toppling the regimes concerned, it appears they do not know what to do. And this happens, I think, it happens whenever the changes are done without a clear political orientation among those people who are trying to change society. And this is, of course, a larger issue which comes up, the larger issue being that the new technologies that are developing, require a new politics, which has not happened. The political idiom is still the 20th century idiom, or the 18th century idiom, or the 19th century idiom. But what should be the politics of the 21st century, which will be conducive to mankind’s progress? That still has not emerged and I don’t think that there is much thinking going on about that. So, in the Arab world, you had these regime changes and a movement towards democracies, but how these democracies will function is very difficult to say. And the confusion within the Muslim world, I think to a very large extent, is reflected in what is happening in Turkey, and has been happening for the last ten-fifteen years. There is a constant struggle going on, between the fundamentalists and the liberals, within the Muslim mindset. This particular struggle is still, I should say, based on the old ideologies. The question remains, how do you get these things together and work out a relationship between the scriptures of any religion, and the new thought which is emerging out of the new technologies. There is a conflict there, and that is a conflict which has not been resolved…
So that conflict brings about, shall we say, various different types of strands into communities. You just had this shootout in Norway the other day, which was based on that gentleman’s reading of various histories of various religions, including the impact of Islam on those religions. So how the mindset of the people belonging to various religious groups will respond to the new technologies is difficult to say.
There has been much speculation about WMD terrorism and the Islamist terrorists’ efforts to acquire WMD capabilities. How real is this danger?
KPS Gill: But in new technologies are also the weapons of mass destruction. They are the products of technologies, may be a little older, but they are the products of such technologies. How would… if it comes into the hands of terrorist groups or Islamist terrorists, how would they use these technologies is very difficult to predict. You could not predict what Osama bin Laden would do till he did it. And no one could predict that people can use an aeroplane full of people as a missile, and self-destruct and destroy property and kill such a large number of people. Similarly, when such weapons, both biological and nuclear, fall into the hands of terrorist groups, it is very difficult to predict as to how they will use it. Of course, the obvious conclusion would be that they would use it to destroy cultures which they feel are opposed to their own culture. And in that they have already, shall we say, highlighted, the cultures of the Christian West, the Hindu India and the Israelis, as the three main enemies of Islam. So these countries, these cultures, will have to be careful about what may become a grave threat to them, when such weapons fall into hands of the Islamist extremists, who not only see enemies, but they also have an agenda of world domination…
Is terrorism weakening, or have we entered the age of endless war?
KPS Gill: What happens, say, starting from today, in the next ten years? Does the world continue to live under fear of terror? And that fear is there because incidents keep on happening, which keep on reminding people of what terrorists can achieve or do. So, is the world fated to live with this sort of fear for the remaining 10, 20, 30 years, for the coming 10, 20, 30 years…?
As the spread of education takes place, as a mindset change is brought about, not through a conscious effort of anyone, but through the automatic spread of technology and greater interaction between people in different parts of the world, the number of people espousing the terrorist mindset will reduce… But when will it reduce to a proportion of the population that it becomes negligible, or it becomes totally marginalized, is difficult to say. But ultimately, the world is tending towards that. It is tending towards the ultimate marginalization of terror, and whatever action is being taken by various governments in the world, that is contributing to it, but not to such a large extent, as the automatic spread of technology without any effort, through opening up of trade, through opening up of commerce, through interaction between nations, through easier travel. And probably, this process itself, within the next ten to fifteen years, should lead to a situation where people would not be talking about terror as one of the central issues on our civilizational horizon….