Despite some temporary setbacks, the broad lines of terrorism remain essentially the same
Two decades after September 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda carried out its most daring attacks on American soil, leading to the Global War on Terrorism and triggering the US invasion of Afghanistan, it could be interesting to check the facts. on the result. All the more so given the latest turn of events, which saw the Taliban return to Afghanistan, leading to the question of whether the global war on terror has been a failure. Moreover, are there any lessons to be learned from it?
In retrospect, it is possible to assume that the 9/11 attacks were the sum total of a series of systemic and structural shortcomings in the US security establishment. Rarely mentioned, it was also, perhaps, the failure of the human imagination. No one in the American establishment imagined that an attack of this magnitude could take place. It is unclear whether, even today, security agencies in the United States and elsewhere are better placed in this regard.
Historians speculate that Osama bin Laden‘s actions were inspired by both geopolitical and religious goals, and that he was obsessed with the “suffering of Muslims” in many remote areas. He believed – wrongly – that striking a decisive blow against the United States with action such as September 11 would force the United States to change its policies in many conflict zones.
Osama bin Laden was unsuccessful in his attempt, and over time it was al Qaeda that faced the wrath not only of the United States, but of the rest of the world as well. Osama bin Laden‘s goals of destroying the “myth of American invincibility” failed, but since then the world has seen prolonged periods of uncertainty as well as the birth of many other terrorist groups around the world. The global war on terrorism, however, neutralized fears that terrorism was about to create large-scale chaos across the world.
Several reasons can be attributed to Bin Laden’s failure. It would appear, in hindsight, that bin Laden and other leaders associated with al-Qaeda like Ayman al-Zawahiri, other jihadist leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State (IS) or Mukhtar Abu Zubair d ‘Al-Shabab, all lacked the centrality of vision or power so essential to maintain the momentum of such an initiative. Moreover, while initially Afghanistan – and to some extent Pakistan – provided safe havens (which, along with the presence of several disparate terrorist groups in a common milieu, provided powerful unifying forces for disparate groups) The situation changed once the safe havens were no longer available. In addition, the lack of visibility of the leaders of the movement over time and the decrease in authority also contributed to the dissipation of the surge of terror and the capacity for militancy and violence.
Two decades of global war on terrorism have not, however, eradicated terrorism. Despite the leadership losses, including that of leaders like Bin Laden and al Baghdadi, and despite the organizational divide and territorial degradation, terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS today pose a persistent challenge. Accurate intelligence on the myriad of terrorist modules has been difficult to obtain, and the absence of a single core for al-Qaeda or ISIS makes it even more difficult to assess the true nature of the threat. profile. It would be tempting for intelligence services to think that current low-tech attacks, involving small arms, the occasional use of improvised explosive devices, and random “lone wolf” attacks reflect weakening terrorist modules, including including that of al-Qaeda and the SI. Nothing could be more misleading. Not only major terrorist groups, but even even smaller terrorist modules currently retain the potential for sophisticated and massive attacks.
History is therefore more relevant and important for assessing future threats such as terrorism. The wide field acquired by radical Islam in recent decades has by no means been eliminated. Terrorism, resulting from a mixture of religious fervor and fundamentalist objectives, remains alive. The new generation of terrorists may be less familiar with the teachings of the Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb or the Palestinian, Abdullah Azzam, but they are familiar with the practical methodologies practiced by: the Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqanis (the latter is a minister in Afghan interim government), Hafiz Saeed from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Maulana Masood Azhar from Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), etc. Therefore, it is possible to assume that despite some temporary setbacks caused by the World War on Terrorism, the broad outlines of terrorism, especially Islamist terrorism, remain roughly the same.
A grim warning
The Taliban’s return to Afghanistan, after humiliating the combined forces of the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Afghan armed forces, is a grim warning of what lies ahead for the neighborhood. In addition to giving radical Islam a new lease of life and new impetus, it has come at a time when the democratic world is showing a waning appetite to fight terror far from its own “locals”, thus leaving the field wide open for others. forces of Terror Inc., of which the Taliban is an indispensable entity. Several terrorist groups with various capacities such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Daesh in Asia, the LeT, the JeM and the TRF (The Resistance Front, which is supported by the LeT) in India, Al-Shabab in Africa, etc. , are sure to feel energized and gain a new lease of life.
Signs of what to expect in Afghanistan can already be seen emerging as its capital, Kabul, has been rocked by a series of bombings, reflecting a more intensive intra-faith conflict that could become a “prairie fire”. Closer to home, Kashmir is starting to see a new wave of terrorist attacks rekindle dark memories of the 1990s. Targeted assassinations of minorities have started sending shockwaves not only to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K ), but also in many other pockets of the country. Given the prevailing scenario, the dice are heavily trapped against India, with J&K in the crosshairs of several terrorist factions, further complicated by Pakistan’s efforts to aid and encourage them through the use of its “regulars”. The fact that Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Pakistani sidekick, occupies a key position in the new interim government of Afghanistan, allows hostile forces in the region in the region, primarily Pakistan, to wage an “undeclared war” against it. ‘India.
While the past is often a good guide for the future in understanding what form terror might manifest in the future, it is even more important to recognize the paradigmatic shifts that are beginning to take shape in the practice of violence in the world. different parts of the world. The emerging form of terror and terrorist attacks over the coming periods will likely be very different from what many experts today anticipate. While ‘zero day’ attacks like those in New York (September 11) and Mumbai (11/26) are still on the drawing board of terrorist groups, a new breed of terrorists are also known to be experimenting. new forms of terror, in particular the possibility of “remotely activated or controlled terror”. It is a frightening prospect.
The forms of terror of the “new era”
Intelligence and terrorism specialists must begin to anticipate how to deal with “new era terrorists” recruited from the Internet, who would then be guided through various stages, over an extended period, by anonymous managers located elsewhere. This is not science fiction. There is already evidence of the existence of remotes that choose the targets, the actual agents, the nature of the attack itself, and even the weapons to be used, operating behind a wall of anonymity. Internet terrorism – a whole new kind of terrorism – would be very different from what we have seen so far.
Added to this is the threat posed by cyberterrorism. Digital sabotage has already entered the arsenal of certain terrorist groups. Cyber sabotage is now a distinct possibility in certain situations. It is well known that state-backed terrorist groups today have the capacity to employ cyber techniques to carry out hostile attacks against the ICT infrastructure of another country. Although little is said about these aspects, the reality is that the limits of the human imagination have become the virtual parameters of terrorist threats today.
MK Narayanan is a former national security adviser and a former governor of West Bengal