Anil Athale.


Co-ordinator Pune based Inpad ( Initiative for peace and disarmament)

( Athale has been engaged in study of insurgency in terrorism in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, North East , Lebanon and N. Ireland for over 20 years. He also has practical experience of counter insurgency operations as an Infantry soldier)



On 7 July, after a longish lull period, terrorism returned, in the shape of bombing of the London underground rail system. Done at peak hours, it was designed to kill maximum number of commuters. Just two days before that in Ayodhya in India, terrorists attempted to blow up Ram temple at the holy site of birth place of God incarnate Shri Ram. This is an appropriate occasion to look back at the near four years of ‘War against Terrorism’ that the world has been waging under the American leadership, with virtually all nations at least paying lip service to this struggle.




Terrorism is not new to mankind. In the Indian context, as early as 300 BC, the terror cult of ‘Thugs’ finds mention in writings of Greek historian Magesthenus who accompanied Alexander on his abortive invasion of  India. That cult survived nearly thousands of years and was claimed to have been finally brought under control during William Bentinck’s tenure as Governor General by 1835. Colonel Sleeman, who relentlessly hunted the ‘Thugs ( or Thuggee as called by the English) became so popular due to this that a town was named after him, Sleemanabad. The general acceptance of British rule by large number of Indians had much to do with this. In the Middle East, since ancient times, the Jewish ‘Zealots’ and Shiaite ‘Assassins’ were to equally persistent and feared cults of terrorists. 


Even a cursory glance of goings on in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, would show that the erstwhile cult of ‘Thugs’ is  very much alive and kicking. It seems that Thugs have earned a new respectability by entering politics and posing as ‘Leaders’ of the hapless people. The violence in the Middle East on both sides of the Muslim-Jew divide would show that both the Zealots and Assassins are also very much in circulation. To this long list of depraved humanity is now added the cult of ‘Jihad’.


Terrorism, on whatever grounds, is a state of warped mindset. I t has existed before and would continue to exist in future. To talk of a ‘War against Terrorism’ is akin to say a ‘War against Sin’. The realistic goal ought to be ‘control’ of terrorism.


This is not mere quibbling over semantics as war implies total destruction, identifiable enemy et al. Could it possibly be that the use of terminology ‘war’ is mere rhetoric on part of the leaders when they actually mean ‘control’ of terrorism? The events in Afghanistan and Iraq, the policies, strategies, tactics and means used all point in the direction that the US ‘means’ that campaign against terrorism is ‘War’.


What this mistaken notion has done is to actually derail the campaign. The actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have swelled the ranks of would be terrorists and added legion to its bank of sympathisers. If the ‘Jihadi’ terrorism being faced by the world today has to be likened to anything at all, it is closest to an insurgency.  




It was indeed extraordinary that in the immediate aftermath of the London bombing an EU Commissioner said that the terrorist who carried out the bombing had no political aim! Time and again Osama Bin Laden has expressed clearly that his fight is against Western domination of the world. In its place he wants Muslims to rule according to the teachings of Islam. As an evidence of injustice meted out to the Muslims he then makes a clever use of ongoing conflicts in  Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir to exploit the sense of  victimhood’ amongst the Muslims world over. He then selectively quotes Quran to give his insurgency a religious colour. By cloaking his worldly struggle for power in the idiom of religion, he has managed to appropriate the vast resources of Islam, spread world over.


Here it is necessary to make a clear distinction between an ‘Extremist’, ‘Militant’ or an ‘Insurgent/Guerrilla fighter’ and a Terrorist. While both use violent means to achieve their objective, the ‘Terrorist’ uses ‘Indiscriminate’ violence. His targets and victims have no direct connection to the ‘cause’ and its aim to spread terror at all costs.


Both the terrorists as well as those who profess to fight them are responsible for this confusion. All acts of violence are labelled as Terrorism including attack on the armed forces. These strictly are NOT acts of terrorism but normal battles in a Guerrilla War, be it in Afghanistan, Chchenya or Kashmir!


Guerrilla fighters often use terror tactics, as the PLO ( Palestinian Liberation Organisation) did in the decade of 70s with hijacking as a principal tool. But the PLO soon realised that the law of diminishing returns began applying soon after the novelty was worn off. On the other hand Vietnamese insurgents who successfully fought the American might for 20 years NEVER used terror tactics. In the Indian context, the Naga or Mizo rebels similarly seldom used terrorism and never attacked the families of Assam Rifles personnel. Kashmiri/Pakistanis on the other hand have often killed soldiers families, bus passengers and even marriage parties ( in Doda particularly).       

One characteristics however is common to both insurgents as well as terrorists, both rely heavily on local support of sympathisers and apathy of the fence sitters. The famous Maoist dictum, “Guerrilla without popular support is like fish out of  water” applies with equal force to Terrorism.





Keeping aside the ‘politically correct’ posture of taking a sympathetic view of Pakistan, (currently the fashion in India  a la LK Advani overwhelmed with nostalgia) it is a fact that most terrorists had some sort of link to Pakistan. This is true of most incidents in India, the Madrid bombing, trouble in Manila, the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks on US and UK. Without prejudice of any kind, it needs to be found out what is it that has made Pakistan the virtual GHQ ( General Head Quarters) of Terrorism Inc.


One of the major reason why Pakistani brand of Islam has become such a problem is the ‘Literalist Interpretation of Islam.’ Mohammed Heikal, Editor of Egyptian news paper Al Ahram writes

“ Asian Muslims tended to take the Koran literally while the Arabs were more inclined to interpret it in the historical context.”  The problem became most acute in Pakistan that was created in the name of Islam. “ Islam in Pakistan came to mirror the national personality, a mixture of intense nationalism, hostility towards the OTHER, militant spirit and propensity to violence” According to Heikal this interpretation of Islam reached the Arab world through translation of Maulana Mawdudi’s books and inspired the creation of organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and gained adherents in many cities in the Middle East.

( “Illusion and Triumphs’ Harper Collins Pub. London 1992)


The British nurtured the ‘Triumphalism” amongst the Indian Muslims as a tool to divide and rule India. On 14 June 1945 the Simla conference broke up over the Jinnah’s demand that the 12% Muslims be given 50% share in power. The basic impulse behind creation of Pakistan was anti democratic. It is therefore small wonder that over last 60 years that country has failed to evolve a democracy and is a fountainhead of militaristic despotism.


The British sowed the seeds of ‘Two nation” theory to break up India. But the notion has now gone so deep that Pakistani Muslims think that wherever they are they constitute a separate “Nation” , be it the US or UK. By its logical extension Pakistanis also refuse assimilation and loyalty to the nation they live in, dubbing it as against ‘Islam’. The ‘Ghettoisationof  Pakistani mind was complete when they ethnically cleansed the ‘Land of the Pure” by throwing out the Hindus and Sikhs ( close to 15 % of population in pre- partition Pakistan) . That the West applauded this barbarism and bestowed on it the status of ‘defender of Free world’ et al during cold war further strengthened all these negative traits. Being heir to the ‘gene pool’ of the land that produced the Vedas, Pannini’s grammar and soldiers like Porus ( who fought Alexander) , a brainwashed pool of 145 million people has been created.


The mushroom growth of Madarasas during Afghan war and radicalisation of Al Quaida variety only added to the existing disease. But the poisonous weed of Jihadism could only sprout on Pakistani soil because the ground was well prepared for it.




Finally, while we diagnose the terrorist violence, there is a clear need to debunk this theory of ‘root cause’. After virtually every terrorist attack, Jihad apologists have claimed that the terrorists were driven by the sense of grievance about killing of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Thailand, Afghanistan et al. This is conjured up vision to justify warped world view.


More Palestinians were  killed by the Jordanians during the 1970 crackdown by King Hussein than by Israelis over the years. A Killing spree in which the Pakistani armoured brigade commanded by that darling of Jihadis, Zia Ul haq, and his Pakistani troops participated enthusiastically. More Muslims lost their lives in the ten year long Iran-Iraq war than in all the conflicts combined of last 50 years! Yet none of these are remembered as causes worthy of Jihad.


The Jihadis concern for Muslims lives and alleged atrocities is  selective and fraudulent. When concern is shown over the American attack on Afghanistan, there is no answer to the question that does it mean that the barbaric Taliban should have been permitted to continue their murderous reign?  Or in case of Iraq, it is forgotten that the majority Shia Muslims of Iraq welcomed his overthrow. Even today as suicide bombers strike daily in Baghdad, the Shia dominated South and city of Basra is seldom in news. 









There is indeed much truth in the fact that the West dominated world order has been unfair to the Asians, Africans and Latin Americans. The victims of injustice are not just Muslims but citizens of all third world countries. Sensible countries and societies therefore embarked on the path of ‘DEVELOPMENT’. Today the erstwhile third world countries like India, China, Malaysia et al have began to be counted in world power balance that is shifting. With the exception of Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, very few other Muslim majority countries took this path. Despite their fabulous oil wealth, the Arab countries never used it for their people’s welfare, industrialisation, education or health. All round development is the best anti- dote to Western domination and injustices and not terrorist violence.


Terrorism is global issue and needs global solution. In the 1980s when the world faced a rash of aircraft hijacking, a world consensus was built around the agreement that NO COUNTRY WOULD GIVE SHELTER TO THE HIJACKERS. As a result of this measure hijackings have been more or less controlled. Similarly the world needs to clearly define a terrorist acts- as distinct from actions of Guerrilla fighters  or militants. This may well entail some form of legitimisation of Guerrilla war on the lines of Geneva conventions dealing with Wars. Thus acts against armed forces/police et al would have to be put in different category. While the world recognises this form of warfare, ALL ACTS AGAINST CIVILIAN AND NON COMBATANTS must be classed as Terrorism and all countries must agree to punish the perpetrators and put behind bars all members of such organisations without exception.


There is the mistaken notion of ‘everything is fair in love and war.’ By that token even an acid attack due to one sided love could be justified- it is not. Similarly, even within war, from ancient times there have been rules of the game, norms and ethics, written or unwritten, that are more or less followed by most countries. Once a terrorist act is clearly defined, the UN must enforce a universal adherence to mandatory and exemplary punishment to the supporting organisations, instigators, helpers and propagators of this METHOD of resistance.


The counter terror operations have lost much of its popular support by terming it a WAR ON TERRORISM. Instead it should be treated as a counterinsurgency. The implication is that the force used must be adequate and not maximum and discriminate and not indiscriminate. In addition the emphasis must be on isolating the terrorists from support base and NOT destruction of supporting people.


The obvious objection to this would be that it would mean a licence for  Guerrilla War. Which is true. But the mankind has lived with this form of warfare since ancient times. By separating Guerrilla war from terrorism, world would certainly become safer.




For long Indian complaints on this score were ignored by the world at large by bestowing legitimacy to Pak proxy terror against India, be it in Punjab, Kashmir or elsewhere. But as the fires of terrorism fanned from Pakistan have reached other countries, this perception has changed. Essentially Pakistani terrorism is product of its socio-economic malaise. With population growth of 2.3% ( average fertility per woman has come down to 5.1 children per woman), lack of economic development, feudalism, illegitimate and rapacious govt.s and Western mollycoddling are some of the issues that cannot be rectified in short term. The export of Jihadi terrorists is not the only export from there, Pakistan has also been exporting its children to serve as Camel jockeys to the Middle East for years. De-fanging Pakistan ought to be a priority over dealing with North Korea or Iran.


As a beginning of   ideological cleansing of that country, the British may well wish to come clean on its own intrigues and role in creating this monster in the first place. Democratisation and bringing in moderation in its governance should not be left to the tender mercies of ruling Generals and world may wish to take a greater role in its governance.




It is indeed a matter of great pride for India that its own Muslims have stayed away from the suicidal path of Jihadism. Indian Muslims have the capacity to be the role model for the Muslims all over the world. There are indeed icons ranging from the President to sport persons to artists, industrialists and scholars.


But within India as well the Muslim community must choose the path of say Pune, where the educational institutes created by the Inamdar family compete with the best! Muslim girls and boys have often topped the school exams! This is crucial as there have been attempts by rabble rousers from UP and Bihar to vitiate the atmosphere here as well. A year ago, in Goa, the local Muslims chased out a Maulavi from UP who had began to preach hate in peaceful Goa! In the end community opinion is the best check on extremism- whether  Hindu or Muslim.


It is indeed fortunate that the attackers in Ayodhya  failed or else consequences for peace in India would have been far grimmer than even London bombings. Muslims must ponder over this and ensure that such foreigners should be dealt with and given no support on the mistaken notion of religious solidarity.


I must end with two personal encounters that show the kind of pluralism that we all can be proud of. Some time ago while attending a wedding I was struck by the interesting sight of Muslim Fakirs seeking donations for a ‘Darga’ out side a Hindu marriage hall. Neither the Fakirs saw anything a miss in it nor did the Hindus who donated to good cause feel anything odd in it!


The other day while travelling from Mumbai to Pune by Deccan Queen, I encountered a ‘Fakir’ with his green bandana and burning incense, similarly seeking donations from all and giving blessings of Allah to all- very obviously Hindus!


The truth is that these Fakirs have grasped the true spirit of Islam that calls for brother hood and peace for all mankind. Unfortunately the so called monopolisers of Islam have distorted the message by adding ‘Islamic’ to all. So for them brotherhood is also confined to “Islamic Brotherhood” or the tribe of ‘believers’ is also similarly confined to only ‘Islamic Believers’ , both distortions of the message of Quran. Much of the current problems can be traced to this narrow definition and tunnel vision.


In this crisis faced by Islam world wide, Indian Muslims with their Sufi traditions and universalistic message of Islam could and ought to play the leading role. As  the world’s second largest concentration of Muslim community living in a pluralistic society they could be role model along with Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia. Ultimately only the triumph of these communities  offers prospect of peace and control of Jihadi terrorism.