War on terrorism- solution or confusion?

Each time something happens in the west- the twin towers, London Metro, Paris or Brussels airport; the news about “acts of terror” are abound and this word beams on all channels across the globe in every household with a satellite channel access. The whole world is reminded of the anathema of terrorism by the western media. The pedantic tone of United states on issues as such is quite well known. Terrorism can also come about as a reaction towards all kinds of discriminations (racism or caste-ism) or lack of tolerance in coexistence among various ethnic groups where the society that failed to assimilate and strengthen the feeling of belonging and citizenship in its subjects, including the immigrants. The recent Orlando shootings again evoked the same questions and emotions. Who are these people that make such acts of aggression on civilians to achieve certain goals, real of wishful, is another question.

Let us look into the nature and history of the word itself.

The word “terror” derives from the Latin word `terrere’, which means  “to frighten.”  It is the the state of fear and submission instilled by a group or party on an individual or another group with the systematic use of violence, intimidation and threats to coerce, especially for political purposes or religious gains in certain restricted sense or an ideological change by means of forceful adaptations. Historically, the word gained usage during 1795 in France during the French revolution and was specifically used to describe the period between  1793 and 1794 for the acts of “government intimidation during the Reign of Terror “. depositphotos_58183671-terrorism-word-cloudThe general sense of the word “terrorism” is first recorded in English 1798 for “systematic use of terror as a policy” by the government; and during WW-I  the translation of the German word `Schrecklichkeit’ frightfulness)- now you know the reason for movie title “Shrek” – ( was used in Britain for “deliberate policy of terrorizing enemy non-combatants.” The word and its derivatives have been applied in a variety of contexts form bandits in the wild west to eras of violent political turbulence in the middle east, from the tyrannical rule of despots to the sporadic outbursts of violence across the globe by non-state actors that we know today as terrorism.

Violence is not the key characteristic, however, because the wars between countries such as the US-Vietnam and Soviet-Afghan wars and more recently the Syrian conflict are not counted as acts of terror, although it instills fear and uncertainty in the masses of the

syria-conflictnation under attack. This act can be purposeful for territorial or political ends that are exploitative or malevolent in nature. The populations can be frightened without terrorism; for example, by an epidemic or disease like AIDS and widespread carcinogens. On September 11, 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon revealed that even the superpowers are not impervious to such fearful acts and the threat perception has been greatly elevated both in the United States and around the world.

Terrorism is a deliberate act carried out by the personnel called terrorists. The is a purpose behind the randomness of their attack and each act is deliberate with a direction towards a certain objective or a set of objectives.

Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Many terrorist attacks may seem arbitrary in their execution, but each event has been deliberately planned to create a specific effect – Orlando shooting may increase the points in favor or Donald Trump and LGBT community might throw its weight behind him. Terrorism is deliberately selected as a tactic to effect change. Terrorism involves attacks that are ruthless in nature and calculated in their impact on society at large and hampers the national economy especially of the developing countries. To this end, we can say that, we could classify terrorism to bring in those acts that are

  • committed by non-state actors or undercover agents\agencies serving on behalf of their respective governments e.g Mumbai Attacks or Pathankot IAF base siege.
  • carried out by the groups that inflict subversive acts on civilians in order to achieve a desired goal of societal change.
  • played out to intimidate a government in order to restrict it from carrying out a certain policy reform or initiative and maintain the status quo.
  • used by governments to grab the public attention and confuse it with some bogus issue to divert its attention form the real issues.

Terrorism is not political activism or “freedom fighting” as certain elements like to point out. It is a conscious choice to deliberately select deadly tactics as a criminally symbolic act to spread fear, intimidation, and horror to popularize or gain support for a certain cause by a specific set of people. Terrorism is form of psychological warfare employed by various entities across the globe since ancient times, that is unjustified at any time. The terrorists care far more about the psychological impact of the attack on society at large than just infrastructural damage of their adversary. The purpose of carrying out the act of terror is not just the fulfillment of tactical objectives but also to terrorize a population into submission.

Terrorism in India includes ethnic and nationalist hues, religious fundamentalist led terrorism, Communist party of India led left wing or “Red terror” and the narcotic mafia.


The region in the north known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been suffering this menace since decades. The south-central India is hit by the communist supported Naxalism. The Northeastern India consists of  the seven sisters states: Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland. The tensions exists between these states and the central government, as well as amongst the tribal people indigenous to these states and migrants from other parts of India and Bangladesh. Northeastern regional tension is being addressed by the present Modi government in concert with the local bodies to raise the living standards of the people in these regions. Still, the territorial disputes with China lead to the terrorist activities carried from across the Burmese border.


If we look at the trend in south-east Asia, we see that the acts of terror are mostly carried around its breeding ground. India faces sixth largest number of terror attacks across the world in 2014.  According to the Moody’s Investors Service, these have significant and long-lasting negative impact on the economy. In last two decades, India has been facing a little less than tenth of total such incidents worldwide. Their report says that the terrorist attacks significantly weaken economic activity and has with long-lasting debilitating effects on the growth of economy. In this perspective one can see the reason why the economic capital of India i.e. Mumbai[1,2,3] has been targeted again and again by certain state or non-state actors from across its borders. The impact of terrorism on a country’s economic growth, investment growth by FDI, government expenditure and government cost of borrowing are the areas considered by Moody’s to study the trend of GDP in such cases.  Investment growth takes an even greater immediate hit, with Moody’s estimating for the same episodes that investment growth declines between 1.3 and 2.1 percentage points and  lift the government cost of borrowing by a significant margin in interest rates counted in double digit base points e.g. by up to 50 bps.


Media reports have alleged and implicated terrorism in India to be sponsored by Pakistan, particularly through its Inter-Services Intelligence  or the ISI. In 2012, the US accused Pakistan of harboring and supporting anti-India terrorist cells working on its soil. The operations going on in Pakistan against the Tehreek-e-taleban Pakistan are to safeguard its own assets and not for US interest, although the aid is provided by US govt to Pakistan to fight for its war on terror. This brings us to the topic of use of terrorism for political and economic motives by state actors either by its own volition or through non-state actors.

In the year 1989, in the Marine Corps Gazette an article titled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation” during the discussion on the future conflicts and counter-tactics, a term was coined; it was called Fourth-generation warfare and was used to describe a decentralized warfare with low cost and maximum gains purpose. This tactic is characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics; with diplomacy now also involving indirect arm-twisting of the target nations. The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is a violent non-state actor e.g. Lashkar -e-tayyba or Jiash -e -Mohammad acting from inside Pakistan. This is a very old tactic employed by kingdoms to subvert a rival. Its also known as the strategy of a thousand cuts, whereby, the powerful adversary is bled to death slowly and is not provoked so much that it starts a full blown war. This is especially suited to a asymmetric scenario or war waging capabilities. During the Cold War era, the non-state entities employed the tactics of propaganda, organized movement, terror and confusion to overcome the technological gap. The use of this tactic in modern nation state times by a super power is something new.

This concept of 4th Gen warfare was elaborated by USMC colonel Thomas Hammes in his 2006 book titled `The Sling and The Stone’It often involves an insurgent group or other violent (ISIS or LTTE) \non-violent non-state actors (Arab spring in middle east and AAP movement in India or NGOs) trying to implement their own system of government which suits their masters or create anarchy in the state. However, a non-state entity tends to be more successful when it does not attempt, at least in the short term, to impose its own rule, but tries simply to disorganize and de-legitimize the state in which the warfare takes place. The aim is to force the state adversary to expend manpower and money in an attempt to establish order (Jammu & Kashmir, in India and XinXiang in China are such examples), ideally in such a highhanded way that it merely increases disorder, until the state surrenders or withdraws. It is often seen in conflicts involving a failed state or a failing one with intractable ethnic or religious issues.

The question now is, if this tactic is employed by governments as a means to achieve certain ends, then it is unlikely we shall see the “war on terror” leading us anywhere and the hope of it being finished. The death of Osama bin Laden did not mean the demise of Al Qaeda or Islamic terrorism  and the killing of Al-Baghdadi would not mean the end of ISIS. It will simply create new faces with new abilities and outreach. The same taleban created by the US as the freedom fighters against the USSR forces in Afghanistan are now the face of terror in the media. Who are we fooling? As long as the nations support these groups and use them for certain advantage, the terrorism will never get obliterated from the face of this planet. The need is to understand that the world is now a global village and interdependence is higher than ever. We must work as a species to make this planet livable and lovable. We must strive to see beyond our parochial interests and affiliations and think globally. Otherwise, we shall keep seeing a lot of strife and bloodshed under different names. As, Shakespeare put it in his play Romeo and Juliet

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”



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