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A Reality Check by Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch

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Author: Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch SM, VSM (Retd)
In his book, Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel P Huntington posits that with the end of the cold war, political ideologies have given way to differing cultural and religious values. While jihad-inspired conflict is spread across parts of Africa and much of the Asian continent and has the capacity to strike at parts of Europe and the United States, it still remains very much focused on regional grievances. These narratives need to be understood for they have been used by various power blocs to further their own agenda. The conflict in much of the world can be seen through the prism of a desire for supremacy by Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.


The use of terror as a tool of war has been used by states since time immemorial as part of their war waging strategies. In the modern age, both state and non-state actors resort to the use of terror as a political tool to promote or highlight one’s cause. The past few decades have seen a flood of terrorist attacks across the world, for the most part carried out to achieve specific political goals. Many examples abound. In Nicaragua, the Sandinista rebels, the SNLF (Sandinista National Liberation Front), after many years of conflict, in 1979 overthrew the US supported family of Anastasio Somoza which had ruled the country since 1936. The Sandinista junta of National Reconstruction government which took over was in turn subject to hostile attacks by the ‘Contras’, a label given to a conglomerate of rebel groups that were active till the early 1990s. These rebels received financial and military support from the US government, their military significance depending on such support. When the US Congress banned support to the Contras, the Reagan administration covertly continued with it. In the conflict against the Sandinista government, the Contras systematically committed acts of human rights violations as an element of warfare strategy. More recently, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), waged a war against Sri Lanka to achieve an independent Tamil homeland, but failed to win their war against the state and were decimated. The actions by Israel in Southern Lebanon led to thousands of deaths and many times that number were driven from their homes. PLO attacks against Israel were far less in number but were covered in greater detail and elicited great indignation.

 

The Caliphate Yearnings

The situation has not changed much even now. However, what has caught the attention of the world are acts of terror occurring across the globe for the ostensible purpose of creating a world order under Islamic jurisprudence, giving rise to the fear of a global jihad. This largely has been represented by the Al Qaeda and has global manifestations, its footprints extending across the continents through regional franchises. The Al Qaeda has presence in Pakistan, where its core leadership (aka Al Qaeda Central) is located. Regional franchises exist in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and the Sahel. There is also a presence of Al Qaeda in Iran, Libya, the Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria and Tunisia. The Al Qaeda militancy must not however be conflated with Salafi-Jihadism, though linkages exist between the two.

The recent kidnapping of about 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Boko Haram, has once again placed the spotlight on the activities of Islamic terrorist groups. While use of terror by Islamic militants is not a new phenomenon, it took centre stage after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. Militant organisations that undertake virulent attacks on innocent civilians represent a minority view. They however, pose a threat many times greater than their size indicates. Of particular concern is the fact that increasingly, such organisations are having very strong religious motivation as their drivers. According to Bruce Hoffman of RAND Corporation, of the 64 groups identified as terrorists in 1980, only two had a largely religious motivation. Fifteen years later, in 1995, this number shot up dramatically, with 26 of the 56 identified groups espousing Islam as their guiding force. Post the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan, US actions are increasingly being seen as a war against Islam. This has led to a counter reaction, with Islam being perceived and used as a binding force to further a political agenda through terrorist attacks.

Pakistan In Turmoil

In Pakistan, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), based largely in FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, rejects the constitution of Pakistan and seeks a state ruled by Sharia. In this they are supported by the Punjab based Taliban groups, loosely grouped as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab, based in southern Punjab. Major factions include the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sabah and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which have close links with the Pakistan military, especially their intelligence agency, the ISI. They are used by the Pakistani state to promote terror in India, largely in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, but also in other parts of the country. The civil society within Pakistan is unable to challenge the narrative put out by the TTP and the Punjab based Taliban. It is doubtful if the Pakistan Army has the capacity and the will to defeat the TTP in its strongholds astride the Durand Line. Of increasing concern is the growing linkages between the TTP and the Punjab based Taliban groups. Shifting of Taliban focus to southern Punjab would be hard to counter by Pakistan’s security forces including its army, which also has to contend with sectarian and ethnic violence, which has engulfed large parts of the country. This could create an even greater security threat to Pakistan, endangering the very existence of the state as presently constituted.

In Pakistan, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), based largely in FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, rejects the constitution of Pakistan and seeks a state ruled by Sharia. In this they are supported by the Punjab based Taliban groups, loosely grouped as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab, based in southern Punjab. Major factions include the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sabah and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which have close links with the Pakistan military, especially their intelligence agency, the ISI

Afghanistan Faces Instability

Afghanistan is moving towards democracy, but the Afghan Taliban remains outside the peace process. It rejects democracy, seeks rule by Sharia and is continuing with its terror attacks. The Afghan Taliban launched its spring offensive on 12 May, targeting the Kabul airport, the US air base in Bagram, a courthouse in Jalalabad and attacks in Ghazni and Helmand provinces. While the Taliban are unlikely to regain control over major cities in Afghanistan, the balance of power in the rural areas remains on a knife-edge. The drawdown of ISAF forces in Afghanistan is on schedule and the security of the country now rests with the Afghan Army and police forces. In this, they have performed credibly so far, but the situation in Afghanistan is likely to remain volatile, despite the successful conduct of the first round of the election process.

 

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