By Manoj Joshi*
Earlier this month, Radio Free Asia revealed that nearly 80 people were killed by Uighur separatists in a September attack in a coalmine in the Xinjiang province of China. Beijing has yet to officially acknowledge the attack, which was carried out by terrorists armed with knives.
There have been similar attacks linked to Uighurs in recent years. On June 18, people had died in a similar attack with knives and bombs at a traffic checkpoint in the city of Kashgar.
In March 2014, an attack at the railway station of Kunming left 29 people and 4 attackers dead.
In recent months, the trend has manifested itself in similar Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Given the strict policing, in China and Israel, the Uighurs and Palestinians have no access to either bomb-making material or guns, and so the use of primitive weapons like knives has become the weapon of choice.
The knife may be primitive, but it is deadly. However, its use does require a certain nerve, physical strength and training on the part of the attacker. In comparison, a suicide bomber merely has to approach the target and pull a trigger to cause mayhem.
There have been instances of suicide squads and attacks through history in almost all cultures in the military sphere. But something as primal as a knife has emerged as a new terrorist tactic which has rapidly spread in today’s wired world, just as suicide bombing did in the 1980s.
It became a tactic of choice in Lebanon, compelling the US to pull out from Lebanon.
In a parallel, the LTTE perfected the cult of suicide as it became prominent in the Sri Lankan civil war. Among the prominent targets of the LTTE were former prime minister of India Rajiv Gandhi and a slew of top Sri Lankan politicians, including president R Premadasa.
The key role in suicide attacks is played by motivators – mainly seasoned political operatives and in the case of Muslims, mullahs who use precepts of Islam to persuade young and impressionable people to go through the horror of a suicide attack.
They create an ethos where the attacker is hailed as a martyr and his/her family is raised in status among its peers.
Attacks on non-combatants, regardless of motive, are acts of terrorism and deserve the highest condemnation. But attacks that target troops and police personnel of countries who are involved in military operations in the attackers’ country or region are different.
There is a species of analysis which argues that there can be no ‘root cause’ of terrorism. Regardless of what a perpetrator does, retaliation using terrorist tactics is condemnable.
This does not quite work in the real world, where unresolved grievances are often the template on which terrorist attacks are built. As a first step towards countering terrorism, an effort must be made to understand this and tackle grievances relating to political and human rights in places like Xinjiang, Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kashmir.
In many cases, the issue is related to fears of a minority community that it will be swamped by the majority. Beliefs, often in economically-backward regions, that modernisation itself is an existential threat, cannot be tackled through military campaigns.
What the knifing campaign brings out is that harsh counter-terrorist tactics and total and intrusive surveillance cannot by themselves put an end to terrorist attacks.
Israel’s dilemma is the most manifest on this score. Relentless ferocity against Palestinian violence has not brought Israel the peace it has been looking for and is unlikely to do so.
In contrast, look at India. Some Muslims have a sense of deep grievance against the state on account of communal violence, in Jammu & Kashmir, many are motivated by separatism. Yet, India has not seen the kind of suicide bombing and desperate knife attacks that have motivated Muslim radicals elsewhere.
Terrorist violence that has rocked the country has often been motivated, directed and perpetrated by Pakistan. In any case, it peaked in 2008 and for the present it is at a low ebb, whether in Jammu & Kashmir, or elsewhere.
The reason is that Indian Muslims have a strong sense of Indian identity. In both their grievances and aspirations they think like their fellow Indian citizens, rather through any religious or sectarian prism.
That critical point of alienation which separates them from the mainstream and persuades them to wield a knife or a bomb has not been reached. At least, not as of now.
*The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a Contributing Editor of Mail Today
Courtesy: Mail Today, October 25, 2015