*Ajit Doval, K.C.
For a scientific enquiry, access to data which is relevant, reliable and comprehensive on one hand and its objective painstaking analysis on the other is necessary. Studies of contemporary terrorism lack both, leaving answers to key questions required for policy formulation or execution unanswered. A researcher has no direct access to information about the terrorists, their organizations, sources of finances, procurement and distribution of terrorist hardware like weapons and explosives, their internal communications or relationships of the militant groups with the state and non-state entities supporting or opposing them. The data that would be required to analyze their psycho-sociological profile, emotive and material elements influencing their individual and group behaviour, content and style of leadership and unique mode of command, control and coordination are still more distant. Even the limited information available, if scientifically analyzed could provide answers to some critical questions. But this remains buried in classified files of security agencies, who have little time or talent to use it for a painstaking scientific enquiry. For justifiable reasons of security the data cannot be made public. Consequently most of what passes off as source material, if its origin is traced, will be found emanating from one or the other interested party, interested in projecting a particular point of view to subserve their perceived advantage. The literature or websites of the terrorists, books authored by sympathetic ideologues, tapes and press releases of terrorist leaders, their threats, claims and justifications for terrorist actions have its use but is contaminated material for research. Moreover, they do not answer the vital questions that a researcher need to seek. Equally incomplete and unreliable are the assertions of the governments regarding the terrorists, their organizations, sources of support and sustenance, morale and motivation, strengths, capabilities and intentions. Besides emanating from bona-fide knowledge gaps, these infirmities are consequented by understandable, higher considerations of national interest and public good. Governments do not run their business for the comfort of researchers and hence cannot be found fault with their ‘perception management approach’, except when they produce results, contrary to what was intended, or the governments become victims of their own propaganda. Both often happen.
Most of the writings and researches on terrorism have tended to focus on causes and history of terrorist uprisings, their political dimensions and ideologies, organizational and structural architect, incident analysis – either in statistical or case study mode, etc. Prescriptive responses are suggested based on these findings – the two having sub- optimal direct relationship. Nevertheless, these studies have substantially contributed in de-mystifying terrorism and help policy formulations, particularly in the western countries, where independent research and governance have developed an institutionalized linkage.
For responding to terrorism there is needed an approach which differentiates between tackling terrorist movements and the terrorist groups. Terrorist movements are essentially political or ideological beliefs which its adherents believe are attainable through instrumentality of violence. Only few among them are practicing terrorists. Terrorist groups on the other hand are well organized, trained, equipped, controlled and commanded formations who can operationalise the idea of violence and convert it into ground reality. Terrorism manifests its coercive power through terrorist groups. The rise and fall of terrorist movements and the groups may not be co-terminus but terrorist movements cannot survive for long in the absence of terrorist groups. And even when they do, they do not constitute a grave threat. Fighting terrorism is just like talking about fighting poverty or illiteracy- more a political gimmick than an action plan. At empirical level, it is the terrorist groups- their leaders, activists, supporters, infrastructure, weapons, funds and infrastructure which have to be degraded to defeat terrorism. The first shortcoming of our approach is undue focus on fighting terrorism rather than the terrorists, which deflects the discourse from practical action to theoretical domain. You can never fight let alone defeat an enemy that you cannot define in tangible terms. If problem identified is itself abstract, the solutions suggested cannot be otherwise.
U.S based Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) examined about 521 terrorist groups around the world to study their lifespan. They found that the lifespan of 243 (46.6%) of them worked out to be below 10 years while 104 (19.96%) survived from 10 to 20 years and 119 (22.84%) for 20 to 30 years. Only 3.646% endured beyond 50 years. Nearly 90% of them thus consumed themselves within 30 years, the average lifespan of a terrorist group working out to be 5 to 10 years. For governments it may be a long game of patience but seen in historical perspective it offers hope for success. What is more important is that it is only in minuscule of cases where terrorist groups become extinct after achieving their political goals. Serious research is required to identify the factors that hasten the demise or prolong life span of terrorist groups. Both, horizontally, across regions, and vertically, across time, there is a commonality in the group behaviour of terrorist outfits and largely identical factors contribute to their decline and demise. There is a weak relationship between the causes of their birth and those of their death. The reasons for which violence is initiated, within two to three years undergo a metamorphis and new causes for their survival or death start replacing the old. Initial goals start getting eclipsed by subsequent external and internal pressures. The studies bring out that governments often inadvertently play a contributory role which delays the termination. Indecisiveness, weak initial actions, appeasement and opening the political door without convincingly subduing them are just few in the long list.
Unfortunately, once a terrorist group disappears from the conflict arena, very little attention is paid to analyze the course of its life span and the causes that led to its demise. For the governments and their security bureaucracies, once these groups become inactive an amnesia sets in that prevents the states from learning from their own experiences. This leads to unique tendency of the states to commit the same mistakes again and again hoping that next time the results would be different. For intensive study of extinct terrorist groups, which can provide useful basis of formulating counter strategies, it could even be easier for the governments to make the old interrogation reports, terrorist documents, their internal communications and other official materials available to selected researchers under controlled conditions. Interestingly, all new terrorist groups very closely study the history, methodology, tactics, organizational structure, reasons of failures etc. of their predecessors to ensure that they don’t repeat the earlier mistakes. Aware that state responses are more ‘precedent’ driven stereotypes and hence predictable they are able to innovate methods to maintain secrecy and deny intelligence to the enemy, bring about tactical improvements, camouflage their movements, take care in recruitment, carefully select targets, introduce elements of surprise in their operations, modus operandi, communications etc. As a matter of strategy, terrorist groups invariably leverage their strength through faulty or inadequate actions of the state. When the governments acquiesce to it, either by default or design, the war against terrorist groups becomes prolonged and costly. There are vast lessons to profit from historical experiences as to how terrorist groups gained strength not by their superior organization, resources, infrastructure or greater supporter base but acts of commission and omission of the states – both at strategic and tactical levels.
Similarly, in Punjab, the neutralization of top terrorist leaders like Harjinder Singh Jinda, main killer of united KCF, Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, Chief of BTKF, Labh Singh, Chief of KCF etc. fragmented Punjab militancy and led to splintering of the movement and inter group clashes for supremacy to control funds and Gurudwaras. However, Babbar Khalsa was the only group which remained intact for quite some time as its leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dasuwal, Wadhawa Singh and Mahal Singh remained out of the net. However, within six months of its chief Sukhdev Singh Dasuwal getting neutralized the organization lost much of its sting. Similarly, in Kashmir, dozen of terrorist out-fits ceased to exist following neutralization of their top leaders. The termination of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen following the killing of Hilal Beg, Muslim Mujahideen after arrest of Hyder Salim Zarger, Muslim Jaanbaz Force with arrest of Babbar Badr, Alah Tiger with arrest of Air Marshal Noor Khan etc. are illustrative. When in 1996, some of the senior commanders of terrorist groups like Kukka Parry, Majid Osman, Liaquat, Javed Shah etc. had a change of heart and decided to fight on the side of India, the Kashmiri component of the movement got heavily degraded and Pakistan had to bring in foreign jihadis under the banner of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Ansar. These reformed terrorists played a major role in kick starting the long stalled electoral process in 1996.
Che Guvera the doyen of guerilla warfare in Latin America had propounded a doctrine that the efforts of the terrorists should be aimed at grounding enemy forces to static formations. Higher the security personnel on static duties lesser the bleeding of the guerillas. Terrorist groups, world over, have internalized this doctrine. We should have conducted research to determine how could it be undone. The visible heavy deployment of the troops, including army, builds pressure on the terrorist groups is a myth that all in the government, including senior police officers and policy makers, believe to be true. It at best makes few targets inaccessible to them but still leaves plenty for a free hit. All personnel on protecting the VIPs , installations, bridges and culverts, airports and power houses and own formations of security forces deplete most of the man power which in offensive mode could create serious pressure on the terrorists. In India over 75 to 80% forces, which includes army, is either on self-protection mode or protecting the likely targets. Wherever planners have been able to reduce this number to the minimum, degradation of terrorist groups has been very high and fast.