Wednesday, September 10, 2008




(This was carried by the “Times of India” in its Editorial page on September 11,2008)

Despite the set-backs suffered by Al Qaeda in Iraq, it is constantly on the look-out for opportunities for another act of mass casualty terrorism anywhere in the world where an opportunity presents itself.

Mass casualty operations of the 9/11 kind in countries far removed from the terrorist sanctuaries have been rendered difficult by the enforcement of strict travel and immigration control measures. It has become difficult for terrorists normally resident in one country to go to another country with which there is no common border for carrying out a terrorist strike. The trend is, therefore, increasingly to depend on local residents in the targeted country for carrying out a terrorist strike. Hence, the phenomenon of home-grown jihadis.

From the messages disseminated by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden, in recent months, it is clear that Al Qaeda is trying to adapt itself to the new ground realities by promoting the concept of a global intifada in the place of a global jihad. Its message to Muslims all over the world has been---- hit wherever you can, whenever you can and in whatever way and with whatever means you can.

US counter-terrorism experts have managed to drive a wedge between the secular Iraqi Arabs of the national resistance movement and the Wahabi Saudi Arabs and their associates from other Arab countries, who constitute the bulk of Al Qaeda in Iraq. This has affected Al Qaeda. It still manages to carry out sporadic terrorist strikes in the Sunni area, but not on the same scale and not as frequently as before.

However, US experts have not succeeded in similarly driving a wedge between the Pashtuns of the Taliban and the Arabs, Uzbeks and Chechens of Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations. The Taliban and Al Qaeda remain firm in their solidarity with each other. Pakistan’s reluctance to act firmly against Al Qaeda sanctuaries in its Pashtun belt and its collusion with the Taliban have posed a cruel dilemma for the US---- either act on its own against the sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, thereby running the danger of driving more Pashtuns into the arms of the Taliban and Al Qaeda or continue bleeding helplessly in Afghanistan. There have been some indications that the US may no longer be averse to undertaking unilateral strikes on the ground in Pakistani territory. Deniable air strikes have been there since 2002, but ground strikes have been avoided till now.

The majority of the Muslims all over the world still do not take seriously Al Qaeda’s goal of an Islamic Caliphate, but they have started paying attention to the call of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to take Islam back to the days of its pristine purity Thus, one finds Al Qaeda and its associates mastering and using modern means of communication and motivation through the Internet etc not for taking their community forward towards modernization, but backwards towards archaic concepts and beliefs.

There is no evidence in South Asia to indicate that formerly peaceful groups are now becoming radical because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan or other reasons. However, there are three trends which need attention: First, organizations, which were already radical, are becoming more radical due to external (anti-US anger in Pakistan) or internal ( anger over domestic grievances in India) reasons. Second, an increase in the flow of new recruits of individual Muslims to these organizations. Thus, formerly peaceful Muslims are now tending to get radicalized. Third, first signs of concern in the Indian Muslim community over this phenomenon. This has led to an open condemnation of resort to terrorism by some leaders of the Muslim community and a reported split in the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) between those advocating terrorism and those advocating peaceful political means.
Radicalisation in some measure or the other has been there in sections of the Indian Muslim community at least since the 1970s,but what is of comparatively recent origin is pan-Islamisation. Al Qaeda was not the originator of pan-islamic tendencies, but it took advantage of them to promote the concept of a global jihad or a global intifada. There were not many takers for its ideas in the past, but it has now started attracting followers from small sections of the Indian Muslim youth in India as well as abroad.

Anger is the basic root cause of all terrorism. The anger is often caused by domestic or external factors. While India may not have much control over the external factors, it should be able to detect in time signs of anger due to domestic reasons and take action to address them. Unaddressed anger at the domestic level drives the angry into the arms of trans-national organizations such as Al Qaeda in course of time.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )