Terrorism Update
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In a situation of widespread disorder and violence, there is often a tendency to believe that change - any and all change - is necessarily for the better; the despairing conviction that "things can't get any worse." One of the recurrent and catastrophic lessons of human history, however, is that things can always get worse, irrespective of how bad they already are. It is essential, consequently, that policy-makers resist the counsels of despair and desperation in situations of extreme pressure, and act with deliberation, with a clear understanding not only of the immediate ground situation and the proximate alignment of forces, but of the larger context of the crisis, of their own ideological and strategic perspectives, and of the imperatives of history.

This is evidently not happening in South Asia in general, and the conflicting, confused and impulsive 'initiatives' in Kashmir are only an example of a larger failure that afflicts each of the countries within this region. Indeed, caught up in their distressing present, trapped equally in the animosities and hatreds of their past, each of the countries on the Indian sub-continent is failing to reorient its efforts, to extricate itself from the hurtling plunge into increasing chaos. The sometimes-cynical, sometimes-well-intentional meddling by 'foreign powers' has done little to improve the situation, and often much to worsen it.

The wider perspective is not easy to come by. Contemporary habits of thought and analysis tend towards 'compartmentalisation', the dissection of problems into their component parts, and an increasing and isolated focus by specialised groups on the specifics of each of these. In Kashmir, for instance, an apparently exhausted government is attempting to forge a local settlement on what it sees as a limited conflict. Thus there is growing emphasis on 'political solutions' such as an arrangement on 'autonomy', or a negotiated agreement with individual terrorist groups.

The fact, however, is that the conflict in Kashmir is not about Kashmir. Or, less sweepingly, it is not about Kashmir alone. It is about oil and about trade routes; about the political economy of an unstable Central Asia; it is about a widening Islamic fundamentalist militancy that does not accept the authority of international boundaries, and is progressively moving out of the ambit of control even of its sponsoring states; it is about Western - particularly, though not exclusively, American - ambitions and 'interests' in Central and South Asia and it is about an Islamic backlash against these ambitions and interests; it is about Pakistan's failing state and its visceral hatred of India, and about the ISI's perspective plans not only for Kashmir, but for the entire country's progressive encirclement, enervation  and eventual evisceration; it is, again, about a culture of militarism, extremism and 'warlordism' that is growing in Pakistan, and through the regions beyond, and of the vested interests that have profited immensely through this growth; it is, equally, about a competing culture and civilisation - that of tolerance, of freedom, of democracy, and of historical continuity across more than five millennia of recorded history, the culture of India - that is now under extreme threat. There is today, another cynical 'great game' unfolding in this region, and at least some of the numerous players are as unpredictable, as unprincipled and as ambitious as those who contested the other 'great game' to enslave the region more than a century ago. They are, moreover, armed with weapons and technologies infinitely more destructive than the colonial adventurers of that earlier enterprise.

To believe, consequently, that we can wish away terrorism by talking to one section of the terrorists, or by securing some sort of political arrangement with their overground representatives, or through negotiations with a military regime in Pakistan that is itself captive to and intimidated by the forces of Islamic extremism within that country, is to succumb to illusion.

The reality is, a vast and co-ordinated effort - comprehending diplomacy, governance, an ideological, political and strategic re-orientation, and strong security initiatives - is required. This must, however, be preceded by a great leap in our understanding of the complexity and inter-dependencies of the forces and conflicts arrayed across Central and South Asia. The simple formulae and historical perspectives that have evidently defined our responses in the past are far too inadequate to yield a coherent and effective strategy.

As for terrorism itself, and the forces that support it throughout this region, as well as across the expanding arc of malignancy beyond, the cold truth is, these will have to be systematically isolated and defeated. To seek a negotiated peace with the successful terrorist is suicidal. The dominant terrorist does not negotiate the terms of peace, he extracts a price that no state can legitimately offer, and once this is paid, raises the stakes again. This is not just true for Kashmir, but for every theatre of terrorist violence in the world.

There is a deeper danger in appeasement. To offer even a qualified victory to terrorism is to endorse its efficacy as a method, and the inability or failure of governments to confront it. Each such success will spawn a thousand imitators - and in the general milieu of weakness, of conciliation, or, quite simply, of a loss of nerves, at least some of these will also succeed. If the entire 21st Century is not to be lost to terror, this scourge must unequivocally be vanquished, this method must be seen, everywhere and by everyone, to have failed.

There is, consequently, a clear military imperative in the war against terror. To repeat the obvious, however, the military does not, and cannot, exhaust the range of necessary responses. The present volume of Faultlines explores many of the deeper linkages, the less obvious implications of a variety of conflicts in the region.


K.P.S. Gill

August 20, 2000, New Delhi.





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