State Sponsored Terrorism (SST) has become an important facet of hostility among nations and it’s complicating the nature of warfare. It is also primarily because SST has been a grey area in the arena of conventional international conflicts. SST is aptly described as terrorist acts on a state or government by a state or government. These usually include proxy war strategies and tactics of directly or indirectly supporting terrorist activities and/or organisations for a variety of political goals, as indicated by the recent Pulwama attack on 14 February 2019 orchestrated by the Jaish-e-Mohammed based in Pakistan.
SST could be recited as a form of asymmetric warfare, redefining the concept of conflict amongst the nations. Since the beginning of time, warfare has been characterised by military operations amongst clearly defined enemies -- usually in a physically localised area. However, the physicality of war has transmuted to include the whole world as well as the cyberspace and outer space, particularly after the time of the two world wars. Technological advancements, coupled with increasing globalisation and a greater degree of international diplomacy, have led to the distortion of the concept of clearly defined enemies. SST epitomises this lack of clarity and uses its proxy war characteristics to leave the entire world in a state of continuous war and tension. SST adds the grey to this previously rather black and white environment.
Daniel L Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, gives an apt categorisation of the two primary forms of SST: active and passive sponsorship. These two are differentiated based upon the degree of direct or indirect-ness of involvement of a state. For instance, active sponsorship encompasses the supporting of terrorist groups by sponsoring their arms and ammunition, monetary requirements, media bolstering, and other such direct interactions, whereas a state ‘turning a blind eye’ to terrorist activities would be considered a passive sponsor.
In today’s increasingly connected and more aware world, most countries indulging in SST have shifted from active to passive sponsorship, primarily due to fear from being subjected to justify their actions pertaining to accountability, association and blame. Passive sponsorship has become the most ‘feasible’ way to avoid attention while still being able to support terrorist activities.
SST has been observed to be commonly practised in conflict-stricken regions in the Middle East, Pakistan, Malaysia, Philippines and other such countries. The common factor in all these countries is their dearth of institutional and social development, along with a higher degree of power and influence of the military/armed forces over their civilian counterparts. Significantly, coupled with the increased military power is the reduction in democratic tendencies of the country since civilian control over the armed forces is tantamount for maintaining a well-functioning, effective democracy. Henceforth, countries partaking in state sponsorship of terrorism including Pakistan would be those that are struggling democratically, to say the least.
Of late, countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism are Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria and it is the US that designates countries as such. It has been inferred after thorough research and analysis that the official designation of becoming a state sponsor is largely based on political motives and self-interest of the United States. It has been widely argued how the US is unwilling to acknowledge countries which are evident and thorough sponsors of terrorism, while also failing to remove existing countries from its list even if they have highly reduced or even eliminated SST from their nation. Besides, this list also appears to be extremely minimalist and misrepresentative of the issue of SST in today’s world.
For instance, Pakistan has not only played a huge role in “aiding groups that pose a direct threat to the United States”, but has also actively as well as passively supported various terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to create unrest in Kashmir. From giving asylum to the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks – Osama Bin Laden – to letting the 26/11 Mumbai attacks’ lead coordinator Hafiz Saeed to roam freely. Despite this, it has still not been included in the United States’ SST list. It is partly because once a country is included in the designated list of countries practising SST, it will lead to sanctions, bans and other such restrictions which will not only lead to a detriment in international relations but also to an unfavourable economic situation.
Pakistan permits the US to use many of its own military bases for logistics, drone operations, etc. and also because of two reasons. Firstly, to maintain a balance of power in Asia and in the South Asian region particularly, by keeping a ‘check’ on China, India, etc. and secondly, to maintain a favourable position on Pakistan, which has supported/continues to support the US and its war on Afghanistan.
State sponsorship of terrorism has been impacting India as Pakistan is known to be the most active sponsor of terrorism in the world. Extensive travelling across Kashmir and deliberation with numerous intelligence, security and army officials indicates that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence unofficially provide intricate networks of funding, access and all forms of support to terrorist outfits with the goal of creating an atmosphere of continuous unrest in the Kashmir Valley, and subsequently spreading it to other parts of India.
Therefore, the solution to the problem lies not only around extensive security and surveillance but also on decisive action in that region in the form of strong responses to terrorist attacks (even if pre-emptive in nature), as was with the case of the surgical strikes conducted in 2016 and the recent IAF strikes on the JeM camps in Balakot.
Nonetheless, the ubiquity of SST makes it a herculean task to combat. However, international unity coupled with meaningful action can go a long way in curbing its extremely detrimental and disastrous effects.
The author has worked with Brookings Institution India and is presently pursuing his study in Politics and Asian Studies in Pomona, USA.
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Updated Date: Apr 03, 2019 14:19:26 IST