Wednesday, May 13, 2009


B. Raman

(According to a despatch dated May 13, 2009, from Aziz Hanifa, the special correspondent of in Washington DC, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for the Af-Pak region, said: "Concurrent with the insurgency is an information war. We are losing that war. The Taliban has unrestricted and unchallenged access to the radio, which is the main means of communication in an area where literacy is around 10 percent for men and less than five percent for women. Radio is broadcast from the backs of pick-up trucks and motorcycles. These are low-wattage FM radio stations. We have no counter-programming efforts that existed when we took office. We don't have jamming, we don't try to override, we don't do counter-programming." In this connection, I am reproducing below an article titled "Use of Soft Power in Counter-Terrorism" written by me on November 17, 2007. This is available at and also in my book titled "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" published by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi ( in June, 2008---B.Raman)

My Article Of November 17, 2007

Anger is a common root cause of all terrorism---ideological, ethnic, separatist, sectarian or religious. Terrorist organisations exploit the anger to motivate the members of the community from which they have arisen to support them in their acts of terrorism. Such support can be in the form of volunteers for committing acts of terrorism, contribution of funds, logistic support etc. Extreme anger in individuals can motivate them to resort to terrorism as individuals without their belonging to any organisation. Anger containment and ultimate reduction has, therefore, to be an important component of counter-terrorism.

2. Terrorists use the soft power of the media----old and new--- to keep the anger sustained and make it increase in order to maintain a high level of motivation. The role of soft power in counter-terrorism is to neutralise the motivation through anger containment and reduction. Use of disinformation is counter-productive in counter-terrorism. For effective use of soft power in counter-terrorism, the causes of anger have to be identified and those, which are capable of being removed, have to be removed. Counter-terrorism itself often adds to the prevailing anger through disproportionate use of force, serious violation of human rights etc. These are tactical causes of anger and can be easily removed through corrections in the counter-terrorism techniques.

3. It is more difficult---often impossible--- to remove strategic causes of anger. As examples of such strategic causes, one could mention Al Qaeda's anger over historic wrongs allegedly committed to the Muslims. The objective of the soft power has to be to explain to the community supporting terrorism the untenability of such causes and wean the community away from terrorism---whether by organisations or by individuals. A mix of removal of tactical causes of anger through appropriate correctives in counter-terrorism operations and explanation of the untenability of the strategic causes is required if the use of soft power is to be effective.

4. An attribute of soft power---whether in a conventional war with State adversaries or in an unconventional conflict with non-State actors--- is the ability to convey a message to a targeted audience in a convincing manner through an appropriate instrument of dissemination suited to the targeted audience.

5. All media----the print media,radio, TV, audio and video cassettes, films and the Internet--- are weapons of soft power. The handheld gun and the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are weapons of hard power. Just as weapons of hard power keep improving with the advent of new technologies, so too the weapons of soft power. The advent of the Direct-to-Home (DTH) TV and the Internet totally revolutionised the way soft power is wielded by making it possible to take a message to the targeted people in their living rooms over the heads of their rulers and censors.

6. All States use soft power---not only against State adversaries, but also against sections of their own people who take to insurgency or terrorism. Similarly, non-State actors----particularly the jihadi terrorist organisations--- too use soft power in their campaign against their state adversaries.

7. One has been seeing since 9/11 that jihadi terrorist organisations----particularly Al Qaeda and its associates--- have become more adept in their use of soft power against their State adversaries than their State adversaries in their use against the terrorists. This is one of the factors, which has contributed to the continued resilience of Al Qaeda and its associates and their ability to draw volunteers and support from the communities from which they have arisen.

8. The inability of the US-led coalition to use soft power effectively against the jihadi terrorists comes in the way of the campaign against terrorism making headway. The Western powers have had a long history of the effective use of soft power against adversaries. One would be aware of the role played by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) during the Second World War against the Nazis and the Fascists. The broadcasts of the BBC helped in two ways. They kept up the morale of the British people and rallied them to supporting the cause of the war. They weakened the credibility of the Nazis and the Fascists in the eyes of their own people.

9. Similarly, one would be aware of the role played by the use of soft power by the US during the Cold War against the USSR and other Communist States in undermining their credibility and bringing about their collapse. Among the instruments of soft power used by the US for this purpose were the Voice of America, funded by the State Department, and the Munich-based Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, allegedly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the publication and dissemination of books written by political dissidents from the Communist countries explaining why they ran away from their country. The Clinton Administration set up a Radio Free Asia to promote the cause of democracy in Asia.

10. One of the reasons the US was able to use its soft power effectively during the Cold War was the availability of a large reservoir of political dissidents from the Communist countries, who co-operated in the running of the radio stations and imparted credibility to their broadcasts.
11 Al Qaeda and its associates have shown some sophistication in their use of soft power against the US and its allies. The effectiveness of soft power depends on the contents of the message sought to be disseminated and the instruments chosen for their dissemination. The selection of the instruments depends on the audience to which the message is directed. Any research with regard to the instrument and the contents of the message to be used has to start with a research on the intended audience.

12. Any strategy for the use of soft power against Al Qaeda and its associates has to provide for two totally different kinds of audience. The first audience is the people in the spawning areas of jihadi terrorism. These are the tribal areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They are semi-literate, if not illiterate. They are highly Talibanised. They look upon visuals as evils and anti-Islam. They destroy TV sets, CDs, Video cassettes and computers. Hence, the use of the print media, the TV and the Internet in their case may not work. The only instrument of dissemination with which they feel comfortable is the radio. Moreover, they are so poor that radio is the only instrument which they can afford.

13. One finds the jihadi terrorist organisations extensively using FM radio broadcasts since 2002 to reach their messages to the tribal people. FM radio broadcasts are used for preaching, mobilisation, enlistment of volunteers, collection of funds, motivation and aggravating their anger against the US. It is reported that there are nearly 30 illegal FM radio stations operating from the mosques and madrasas in the tribal areas making anti-Musharraf and anti-US broadcasts.

14. The arguments used by these broadcasts are of a tactical nature such as calls for reprisals against the Pakistan army's raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July, 2007, against Musharraf for co-operating with the US and against the US for allegedly bombing mosques and madrasas and using the Air Force against the civilian population. Their arguments have no strategic content such as their vision of the Ummah of tomorrow.

15. The broadcasts of these radio stations have been effective till now because the US-led coalition has not thought of an effective counter. Jamming them cannot be the counter. Moreover, one can jam some broadcasts for some time, but not all broadcasts for all time. Hence, a more intelligent counter would have been for the US-led coalition to have its own broadcasting capability manned by Muslims speaking the language and dialects of the area, well-versed in Islam and in the ethnic and cultural mores of the area, who can gradually wean the population away from the terrorists. Such a broadcast strategy is nowhere to be seen or felt. It is time for the soft power experts of the US to think in terms of a Radio Free Islam or just Radio Islam and Radio Harmony, if they have not already done so, in order to make an impact on the tribals.

16. The second audience is the diaspora of Muslims across the Western world. The defining characteristics of this audience totally differ from those of the tribal audience in the spawning grounds of jihadi terrorism. They are educated, radicalised, but not Talibanised, and they are capable of tactical as well as strategic thinking. Issues relating to maintaining the pristine purity of Islam do not agitate them to the same extent as issues relating to Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror as waged by the US.

17. While the second audience feels comfortable with all instruments of dissemination, it avoids the Western print media which it looks upon as controlled by Jewish money and interests. It will not be possible for it to own and operate radio and TV stations from the Western countries. It, therefore, relies almost exclusively on the Internet for its jihadi mission. Al Qaeda and its associates too use the Internet for rallying radical elements of the diaspora to their cause.

18. Internet activism is the most important component of Al Qaeda's use of soft power to win adherents to its cause from the diaspora. The Internet provides a variety of ways of reaching and influencing the targeted audience----the conventional E-mail and web sites, the chat rooms, the blogs etc. Many papers have come out on the use of the Internet by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist organisations and angry Muslim individuals for operational purposes, meaning, commission of acts of terrorism. There is an equally urgent need for a study of the use of the Internet by the terrorists as an instrument of soft power to mould opinion in the Islamic world in their favour and against their state adversaries.

19. They use the Internet with some effectiveness for keeping the anger in the Islamic world sustained, if not enhanced, and for motivating Muslims to join the global jihad in their own way and according to their own lights. They do not ask them to join any particular organisation. They merely ask them to rise against the enemy and martyr themselves for what they project as the cause of the Muslims. Many do by joining different organisations and some in their individual capacity without joining any organisation.

20. The focus of counter-terrorism experts till now has been on countering the operational use of the Internet by the terrorists for acts of terrorism. Not adequate thought has been given to countering the use of the Internet as an instrument of soft power. How States can use the Internet to demotivate the terrorists or potential terrorists? What role the Internet can play in making the civil society think about the damage being caused by the terrorists? Just as the terrorists seek to cause and enhance anger, counter-terrorism agencies should cause and enhance disgust against the terrorists, by making effective use of truth about the real nature of terrorism instead of indulging in disinformation and spins. One can use disinformation and spins against adversary States but not against non-State actors, which often consist of one's own people.

21. Right from the days of the Vietnam War, one has been talking of the silent majority, which is not able or willing to assert itself. There is an equally strong silent majority in all civil societies, which feels disturbed by the phenomenon of jihadi terrorism----which does not spare even fellow-Muslims. This silent majority is not prepared to activate itself through conventional means such as holding processions, writing articles in the print media, addressing audiences etc It is afraid of being targeted by the terrorists and killed.

22. The Internet provides an excellent means of empowering this inarticulate majority and encouraging it to come out against religious radicalism and the resort to terror, without fearing the consequences of their Internet activism. How to promote Internet activism by enlightened sections of the Muslim civil societies and communities against radicalism and terrorism is a subject, which needs attention from policy-makers and civil society leaders.

23. Mr. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, told the House of Commons on November 14,2007, that " Britain will spend 400 million pounds abroad on fighting radicalisation. the first time, Britain would sponsor events in Pakistan to counter extremist propaganda." He did not elaborate how this money will be spent and what events will be sponsored. A better way would be to make effective use of the available instruments of soft power in more imaginative ways. The extent of the funding is only one aspect of action. Bringing to bear an imaginative approach to the problem is an equally important aspect---if not more important. Six years after 9/11, one does not find much evidence of such thinking and such an imaginative approach despite a profusion in funding.

24. In the years after the Second World War, Mr. Northcote Parkinson told the British policy-makers who assessed the effectiveness of their actions in terms of the money spent:" When funds are limitless, the only economy made is in thinking." We can update this and say in the context of today's so-called war on terrorism: "When funds are limitless, a battlefield casualty is your imagination."

25. What one needs is not just more funds, but more imagination and innovation.

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