Does terrorism still hold global attention?
Has its threat really receded?
Or has there been a change in perception?
In answering the key questions of our times during a panel discussion on 'Countering terrorism as it evolves', army chief General Bipin Rawat made it clear that terrorism is here to stay, but it will take myriad forms, mutate and even spawn into a hydra-headed monster.
"Terrorism will stay so long as nations continue to sponsor terror as State policy," the army chief said on Wednesday during at the ongoing Raisina Dialogue, being convened by the Observer Research Foundation and Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. The general didn't name Pakistan, but he didn't need to. The reference to Pakistan fomenting terrorism and radicalisation in Jammu and Kashmir was close enough. Calling terrorism a "low visibility, high impact" and a "new form" of warfare, Rawat said it is useful for weaker nations to draw parity with nations that are stronger.
To a question on whether India has been successful in checking the level of radicalisation among the youth despite having the "world's largest minority population", the army chief drew a distinction between the radicalisation efforts of Islamic State in converting Indian youths and Pakistan's overt and covert operations in Jammu and Kashmir. He put the level of radicalisation among Jammu and Kashmir youths as "high", being fed a daily diet of "misinformation, disinformation, and a lot of falsehoods on religion", and he touted these as the reasons behind the fact that a lot of educated youths are being radicalised in Kashmir.
Army Chief Bipin Rawat at Raisina Dialouge 2019: Radicalisation has taken a different form in our country. In J&K, youth is getting radicalised due to misinformation & falsehood about religion being fed to them. This is becoming a form of warfare. pic.twitter.com/kE44NGTrAt
— ANI (@ANI) January 9, 2019
Rawat reiterated the need to put curbs on social media to control radicalisation because according to the general, the Internet's reach and the media's proclivity to act as the messenger makes it difficult for counter-terror agencies to manage the menace. Curbing social media and fake news isn't tantamount to suppressing the media but a way of managing the disruption, he said.
On the spread of Islamic State ideology in India, however, the general suggested that a rich family value system acts as the first and most effective guard against radicalisation of youths because when a member shows signs of going astray, the family draws him in. This could be a crucial difference between the way radicalisation has spread in the West and in the Indian subcontinent. The general also placed a lot of weight on the local beat police officer who knows the neighbourhood closely and acts as a radar, helping counter-terror agencies in India in doing their work.
Speaking about the Taliban, however, the army chief felt that it is difficult to keep Pakistan away because it consider Afghanistan as its backyard, but it is important that the talks with the US are conducted without preconditions because you can't have terrorists put conditions during discussions.
On this, however, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan envoy to the US and now a severe critic of Islamabad differed from the general. According to Haqqani, a senior fellow and director for South and Central Asia for Washington-based Hudson Institute, launching any sort of talks with the Taliban is a mistake because it gives "recognition" to the terrorist outfit and sends a message to Pakistan that if a government plays its cards right, it may continue to remain a state sponsor of terror even if it escapes the label.
The former ambassador lambasted Washington's efforts to secure an "honourable exit" from Afghanistan because it tells the Taliban that the US is "desperate to leave" and emboldens the outfit. Haqqani questioned the very logic behind US plan to engage with the Taliban and leave Afghanistan in lurch. He said the Taliban might be making all right noises on the discussion table, but there is no guarantee that the group will keep its word.
"When the Taliban was in power, it played football with human heads and made women second-class citizens. How much will its ideology change? Won't the US drawdown let Afghanistan fall back into Taliban rule?" As a pan-Islamist movement (as all Islamist movements are), we may witness jihadi terrorism 3.0 (after Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State), suggested Haqqani.
The analyst explained the US predicament in Afghanistan, where it is fighting an 18-year-long war and showing signs of fatigue and disinterest, because the US never loses a war, only interest.
The key question, therefore, according to the panellists, isn’t whether terrorism is alive or receding, but the attitude of governments towards it. The world might be slipping back into a pre-9/11 era where terrorism was thought of as a 'law enforcement' issue, than an issue of global concern requiring a concerted effort. That could be a costly mistake.
Updated Date: Jan 09, 2019 13:39:31 IST