While terror has many faces, features and characteristics, its masochistic nature is incomprehensible sometimes. The incessant attacks and terror strikes, whether by individuals or by a team rarely goes without reprisal of some sort and as the security forces put their efforts to reach the core leadership, a swift dispersion of the terror elements thwarts their best efforts. Subsequently, like the proverbial amoeba, the dissipated terror units gather themselves to become another element of the basic organism (organisation). Is there a way to eliminate this incorrigible ‘disease’ that seems to have crept into many parts of the world, seemingly with a specific agenda which, somehow, is difficult to put your finger on?
South Asia has been an easy target zone for terror organisations. The physical, racial, religious, linguistic and cultural similarities blend across the Middle-East and South Asia and provide the perfect camouflage to infiltrators across borders, facilitating easy merging with the local public and causing difficulty for the security forces to identify or pinpoint. Elements inimical to terrorist organisations or those opposing the local government are the supporters of such dastardly acts and they are the conduits who facilitate the perpetrators actions. Take for example the Pulwama strike. Road closure to allow access to military convoys was vehemently opposed by the public and the local government, on grounds of inconvenience. Allowing traffic movement during convoy transition curbed military procedure, making the forces vulnerable to attack. It did not take too much of effort thereafter to penetrate the cordon and get direct access to the convoy. The results were there to see.
While the Pulwama strike was abetted by the direct involvement of the ISI, backed by the Pakistan Army, the context of the decades old feuding between India and Pakistan retained the terror attack in the bi-lateral canvas. Reprisal, the punitive arm of the government’s will to take action, remained encased in the framework of Indo-Pak hostilities. But what has caught the imagination and projected fear in the neighbourhood is the recent carnage in Sri Lanka, where terrorists killed 258 people and injured almost 500 others in a multiple, coordinated attack on targeted hotels and churches on Easter Sunday. The coordination and methodology of the strikes indicated a far greater training and motivation status than a response for the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand, as was initially presumed by the Sri Lankan security forces. Needless to say, ISIS claimed the responsibility and, in fact, displayed the photographs of the perpetrators of the horrendous strikes. Having been routed in their home territories of Iraq and Syria and the Caliphate presumably decimated and crushed, the ISIS has, like the proverbial amoeba, now started spreading its tentacles in a multi-pronged strategy which is likely to keep the security forces guessing, while they preserve their core entity and protect their leadership. In the process of regeneration, ISIS is picking up small radical groups, making them affiliates and the instrument through which they will spread their terror, causing mayhem and destruction.
The worrying factors in South Asia are two. Firstly, the relatively easy movement and access within the countries and secondly, the need for local groups to achieve recognition, thus affiliating themselves to ISIS and enlarging the scope and reach of the dreaded organisation. The locally bred National Thowheeth Jamaat (NTJ) of Sri Lanka, which executed the terror strikes, is one of the many groups worldwide who have offered their allegiance to the ISIS. The presence of al Qaeda and the existence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have provided a convergence of these militant and terror organisations towards India and they are being propped up by the affiliate groups. The disquieting news of the ISIS claiming a ‘Wilayat e Hind’ (Province in India) in the Kashmir Valley is not to be taken lightly. They are at our doorstep, at probably the most vulnerable point. They need to be nipped in the bud before they proliferate or cause the destruction and panic they are renowned for.
The international and United Nation’s strategy to counter terrorism, which follows the four pillars of addressing the conditions conducive to spread of terrorism, preventing terrorism, building state capabilities to counter the problem and ensuring human rights and rule of law are an established matrix for a government to follow in the long term. But short term punitive action is a necessity, to attempt to target any exposed leadership and eliminate the core organisation. No specific war-fighting solution really works in these circumstances. The “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” tactic does not strangulate the terror organisation as is wont. The combined efforts of our intelligence agencies, the para-military, the anti-terror organisations and the military need to be in sync and provide lateral assistance to each other to identify the scourge and eliminate it.
An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinctionHe has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.