As the horrible attacks on Easter Day across Sri Lanka have shown, terrorism hits you the hardest when your guard is down. Ever since the Sri Lankan army abandoned the rules of battling insurgencies—of using minimum force at an escalating level—and instead went hammer and tongs to destroy the LTTE in 2009, a certain complacency had set in, as the security forces in the island state were relieved to see the last of the suicidal attackers of the LTTE. That clearly led them to ignore the several intelligence warnings Indian agencies had sent, and that the ISIS was on the lookout for local allies in far-flung lands. The ISIS calls them Vilayats. But here the case was probably the opposite, as the National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ), a local Islamic group, and now the prime accused, had reached out to the ISIS to help them use terror as a tool to make their grievances known, following the anti-Muslim riots initiated by the dominant Sinhalese a year ago.
It has been clear for some time now, that with the ISIS having been driven out of the territories it controlled in West Asia, it would go back to its original character as a jihadi body by carrying out lethal and dramatic acts of violence on targets of its choosing. To that effect, it may seek to maintain a core doctrinal leadership in a remote hideout, as al Qaeda did after the US attacks in Afghanistan post 9/11, and decentralise its operational presence into areas where it is either least expected to be taking roots or where central authority is weak and its writ doesn’t run into large parts of the national territory. These spaces will become the bases to plan and carry out new attacks against vulnerable targets. And while terrorism has no religion, such acts having been in existence since perhaps the dawn of conflict, the ISIS and other jihadi groups will use religion to recruit their foot soldiers.
But much of our policy since 9/11 has mistaken a technique of conflict for a type of conflict: confusing an age-old tactic of many wars with a new species of twenty-first century warfare. In fact, terrorism now shapes our security agenda, and not vice versa. With the information revolution having reached homes across the world, bomb making is not anymore the privilege of ordnance factories; information on bomb-making is available on the internetand terrorists of all persuasions now also learn from each other. Terrorism is thus both an ultra- modern and a very traditional, conspiracy.
Suicide bombers are revered before and after their deaths, bound into the act with celebrity status, and a promise of paradise.The most effective techniques are well-publicised across the global web. No image can be effectively suppressed, no declaration squeezed out of the system. The propaganda of the deed itself is ever- present, and no terrorist deed is a failure if s/he attains immortality in cyberspace! Not least, with the excessive media coverage of such events—one outpacing the other for viewership or readership—there is a global dimension to the glamour and fashion that attaches to terrorism in the present era. It attracts recruits from all backgrounds and circumstances, after the effective radicalisation of marginalised groups.
India, despite decades of its battles against those who are radicalised, hasn’t yet found a suitably effective model to contest this challenge. We have lost much valuable time over the last several years as we have been fixated on what the terrorists do—like the LeT and JeM—than on what they stand for. In a multi- cultural society like India, there has been a great reluctance to challenge the narratives that terrorists create and feed off. Elaborate conspiracy theories do the rounds, and our leaders don’t really know where to start. All that they do is to dismiss the wickedness of the individuals rather than challenge the legitimacy of their ideas.
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