Anil Athale.

Last fortnight India was witness to a virtual epidemic of terrorist violence. The massacre of pilgrims, killings of shepherds and innocent villagers in Doda district of Kashmir has again focussed attention on this 21st century disease. Terrorism is not new to mankind. The `thugs' find mention in accounts of India written by Greek historians who accompanied Alexander in 332 BC. Credit to bring the menace under control goes to Colonel Sleeman, who in the early 20th century carried out a relentless campaign against them. The Jews have a their `Zealots' who killed for their beliefs and the Shia sect of Islam had their `Assasins'. The stories of crimes coming from the `cow belt' makes one wonder whether Colonel Sleeman really stamped out the thugs. .


The ancient terrorist violence was often confined to small areas. Thus one was safe if out side the boundaries of `un-safe' zone. But today in the beginning of 21st century the world is shrinking. Information super highways, tourism and world trade , together make millions of individuals travel to all corners of the world every day. This has made the terrorists have a wide choice of soft targets on one hand and the on the other hand, their actions can have not merely local but world wide effect through disruption.

Information revolution is also helping the terrorists with increasingly up-to-date technology. Most technology today, from pesticides to remote control toys, is dual use. This has made the terrorist virtually omnipotent. As the world gets increasingly closely `wired up', fear of terrorist attack may well emerge as the single biggest constraint in the `globalization' of human welfare and prosperity.


The Paris declaration of 15 July 1989 is the basis for most human rights movements. That document emphasized the oppression of the individual by the state and sought to protect an individual against a "over mighty state". The focus of all the important human rights groups like the Amnesty International or World Watch, have been the actions of the governments. While this is quite right and appropriate against the dictatorial regimes, it is wholly wrong when applied to democracies that are attempting to preserve a liberal and plural state. Many of the so called ‘freedom struggles’ today are attempts by local majorities to establish uni-focal societies.

American Ambassador Morris B. Abram in his farewell address to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, on Feb. 26, 1993, said ,

"Some of the saddest scenes in today’s world occur under the claim of self determination, originally the banner of worthy opponents of colonial rule. Today, this cry has been abused by those who would dissolve long-established political units and, in some cases, tear them apart in religious and ethnic disputes waged with torture, murder, arson and rape."

The human rights movement by concentrating exclusively on govt. agencies, in effect, encouraged the terrorists.. The greatest failure of the human rights groups has been their inability to distinguish between an innocent victim and killings that occur in an armed struggle. To label killings of Kalshnikov wielding insurgents in fire fight by soldiers as a human rights violation while ignoring other victims of violence by terrorists, has made these bodies lose their credibility in the eyes of vast majority.


Easy travel has made most terrorist orgainsations trans- border. Due to this factor control of terrorism has become a global rather than a national problem. No nation, even the mighty US, is able to effectively control terrorism on its own. In this sense attempt to find a national solution to the problem posed by terrorist violence will be as futile as efforts to save ecology or deal with problem of acid rain within a single nation’s resources.

Some years ago, during the bad old days of cold war, the UN did attempt to find a global consensus on this issue. The attempt floundered on the rock of cold war rivalry and the typical attitude of double standards. The difficulty as expressed by one delegate at the UN was, in his words, "One nation's terrorist is another nation's freedom fighter". All nations have been guilty of double speak and double standards on the issue of terrorism.


The world needs to arrive at a consensus that whatever be the cause, any organization that indulges in killing of `innocent , unconnected and unarmed ' ,must be banned world wide. Any nation that gives sanctuary to these organizations should be isolated economically, politically and militarily. All nations must enact legislation that makes capital punishment/life imprisonment mandatory for any individual indulging in `acts' of terrorism and a minimum of 10 years prison sentence for any one for being a member of such organization. The focus must shift to ‘acts’ and methods rather than the so called ‘cause’ that is used to justify violence.

The other side of coin, state repression, can be taken care by a mandatory formation of a `human rights commission' with powers to check and initiate proceedings against govt. agencies for violation of human rights.

Will the world pay heed and act or continue to dither (like on the issue of ecology) will largely determine the future of mankind in the 21st century.