Global Terrorism: Challenges & Response – Part 2


Terrorism is an historical as well as a universal phenomenon, practised by every type of organisation, religious or non-religious, right-wing or left-wing. Consequently, the reasons for the terrorist activities  are always subject to the context, time and place. However, there has been an increase in terrorist attacks; Middle East, Asia, and Africa were most affected by terrorism.

As terrorism is a complex phenomenon, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for its occurrence. A better approach is to determine the conditions that make terror possible or likely; most of these conditions have to do with the circumstances such as political, social repression, or economic strife. This 2-part artcle attempts to do that and suggests a comprehensive set of solutions to eliminate it.

Factors Initiating Terrorism-Push Factors

Push factors, on the other hand, are those reasons which force or push a person to become an extremist or join a terrorist organization and start an armed struggle against those whom he thinks responsible for his grievances. Five main reasons for a group of people to resort to acts of violence and ultimately terrorism are;

  • Marginalization: Socioeconomic deprivation and political marginalisation of significant minority in a country for any reason, actual or perceived, create feelings of hatred against the institutions of the state. According to a study published in the Journal of Peace Research (2011), analysis of 172 countries between 1970 and 2006, found solid support for a link between minority groups’ experience with economic discrimination and higher rates of domestic terrorism. It was found that “countries that feature economic discrimination against minority groups experience around six more incidents of domestic terrorism per year.”  
  • Repression and Injustice: Repression and injustice provide justification for terrorists to mobilise people for protest, converts these groups in violent outfits and even militant if their grievances are not redressed. To get support of silent majority of their group, they resort to their emotional manipulation by using cards of race, religion, caste, colour etc. These feelings of economic injustice and socio-political marginalization are then used by the vested interests, local or foreign, state or non-state, for furtherance of their foreign policy or domestic agenda.
  • Identity Politics: Popularised by Francis Fukuyama, identity crisesrelate to cultural marginalisation, which produces alienation and a lack of belonging to either home or the parents’ society. According to him, the second generation of Muslim migrants to Europe are facing this identity crises as they are not owned by the people of their respective host countries while their links to the parent’s country are not so strong. Consequently, this sociocultural isolation reinforces their religious solidarity with Muslims around the world; any issue of the greater Muslim Ummah is internalised by these isolated youths prompting them to turn extremist
  • Foreign Policy Options: Foreign occupation or the foreign policy decisions of powerful countries against the weaker countries arouse the feelings of injustice and nationalism which is then exploited by others. Domestic grievances are framed around victimhood against Western foreign policy and military intervention. In an article published in the Chicago Tribune of September 12, 2006 Robert Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago. wrote: “Amid prognostications of doom, we have lost sight of the truth: that suicide terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy, and that beneath the religious rhetoric with which it is perpetrated, it occurs largely in the service of secular aims. Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism.”
  • Islamophobia: The central core of this narrative is that the ‘West is at war with Islam’, which creates a narrative of ‘them and us’. Conflicts are filtered through this core narrative: Bosnia; Chechnya; Iraq; Syria; Somalia and Palestine, etc. These conflicts and events can become a focal point for mobilisation. The ban on the Muslim veil; the cartoon crises and other contentious issues are all evidence that the West is at war with Muslim communities. There is a keen sense of alienation and injustice which is reinforced by Islamophobia, xenophobia and discrimination.
  • Betrayal Syndrome: Every global and regional power creates/supports militant groups in their areas of respective interests for the furtherance of their foreign policy agenda. Once used, these militants are abandoned by their erstwhile sponsors; they in turn become their nemeses-a “disposal problem”. ‘After every covert war there is an unintended disposal problem. We steered and encouraged these people. Then we dropped them. Now we’ve got a disposal problem. When you motivate people to fight for a cause – jihad – the problem is, how do you shut them off?’-Jack Blum
  • Lack of Political Empowerment: Majority of the terrorists are now coming out of the Middle East where dictatorial regimes are the norm rather than exception. Whatever the cause, the lack of democracy has left the Middle East vulnerable to radical recruitment. Globalization with increasing integration of economics, communications, and cultures across national boundaries is affecting, directly as well as indirectly, the governance structures, processes and the cultural fabric in every country. It is stoking the aspirations of middle classes for better quality of life with greater say in the socio-political decision making. However, political establishment in most of ME countries, historically governed by authoritarian elites, are not providing them adequate channels of expression/ empowerment. Consequently, these countries are increasingly witnessing the outbursts of popular resentment against the status quo which is then exploited by the regional and global hegemons as well as the non-state violent actors.

According to a UNO report “Bad governance, especially disregard for the rule of law, discriminatory social policies, political exclusion of certain communities…harassment by the security authorities, and confiscation of passports or other identity documents, all contribute to feelings of despair, resentment, and animosity towards the government and provide fertile ground for the terrorist recruiter.”

Factors Sustaining Terrorism-4 Ss Model

Irrespective of the fact how they are defined or what is their cause of action, a terrorist organisation ultimately needs four things to survive and be successful

  1. Slogan/Cause: Terrorism must have a cause, how unachievable or absurd it may seem to be. It could be an armed struggle against occupation forces (i.e. Taliban fighting against NATO forces in Afghanistan) or foreign policy decisions of outside states adversely affecting those resorting to terrorism (i.e. 9/11 or the. terrorist acts in Europe). Similarly, a vocal group of minority facing oppression at the hands of state or by the majority may take up arms and carry out acts of terrorism against those whom they think responsible for their grievances. (i.e. Moros in Philippines/ Rohingyas in Myanmar
  2. Support: Terrorists need the shelter, support and sympathy of the people they think they are fighting for. If they think that they are not being supported by public, they start terrorist activities against them to force them to support them. See the acts of terrorism by the Muslim militias against their own people in this context. As Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, puts it: “Terrorism is not necessarily about the number of people you kill; it’s about the terror you create.”
  3. Space: Terrorist organisation must have an area of operation for their terrorist activities. Their main aim is to create panic among the public and awe the law enforcement agencies and other organs of the state by performing high visibility, maximum casualty acts of terrorism to create maximum impact. For this they need some space-urban or rural.
  4. Sponsors: Whether they spring up spontaneously or created by some agency for specific objectives, every terrorist organisation ultimately needs and gets a foreign sponsor. There is no dearth of such sponsors in modern days.  It could be a global power, a regional aspirant for hegemony or any disgruntled neighbour interested to achieve its national interests. It provides them finances, arms, training and strategic/tactical advice. Tamil Tigers, Mukti Bahini, Moros, Uyghurs, Hezbollah, IRA, Taliban, I SIS-all were/ are being sponsored by outside forces for the advancement of their respective foreign policy agenda.

Anti- Terrorism Strategy

Stopping violence is rarely simple or easy. Only time and commitment by a majority of the parties involved can resolve​ a conflict. Keeping in view the multidimensional nature of terrorism, we must adopt a long term holistic and comprehensive approach for its eradication. While the Pull and Push causes of terrorism need long term policies, the sources of survival of terrorism can be choked even in the short term. Some of the measures are as follows;

  • Formulation of long-term National Action Plan: Urgent need for comprehensive framework for tackling terrorism, implemented in letter and spirit with more emphasis on intelligence gathering and better coordination among all the agencies involved in counter-terrorism at the provincial and federal level. Carrot and stick strategy to announce amnesty for those who voluntarily renounce terrorism and severe punishment to those captured during counter-terrorism operations. Divide and eliminate strategy to divide the terrorist by infiltrating professional spies inside their ranks and create dissention among their ranks. Hearts and mind strategy to win over those segments of population who hold sympathies for these groups and provide them material, financial and  logistical support through systematic information campaign. Living document and should be revised in accordance with the requirements and incorporating the lessons learned.
  • Use of Force- Adequate, Legitimate: Using force to protect its territory and people from foreign aggression and internal subversion is the right of every state. Four point strategy to counter terrorism through use of force
    • Do not kill the political head of the terrorist organisation-his death results in formation of splinter groups difficult to trace and eliminate. Secondly, we need him when finally negotiations are to be held
    • Do not spare the second tier of terrorist outfit. Being the planners, these are the most dangerous persons in the organisation
    • Co-opt the third tier of these terrorist organisation through every means possible-these are the field operators and help in locating the second tier leadership
    • Win over the people living in the terror prone area by carrying out the development activities to ensure life is going on normal
  • Countering 4 Ss: As stated above, irrespective of the fact how they are defined or what is their cause of action, a terrorist organisation ultimately needs four things to survive and be successful. We need to plug these sources
  • Slogan: Find what narrative they are using to incite people and get their support. Counter it with but better narrative with facts and figures, logic and emotions using the opinn makers including religious scholars, media persons and official spokespersons
    • Support: Find and choke the channels of material and financial support to the terrorist outfits
    • Space: Keep on limiting the space terrorists use to carry out terrorist activity by utilising all the technological and human intelligence
    • Sponsors: Similarly, take all measures, physical and diplomatic to restrain the access of terrorists to foreign sources of funds and arms
  • Improved Criminal Justice System: Improve the investigating and prosecution branches of judicial system so that even the hardened criminals and terrorists are convicted and sentenced with due process of law. Selection and appointment of all police personnel and prosecution officers strictly on merit and their constant capacity building in accordance with modern techniques of investigation and prosecution. Similarly, judges need to be appointed on merit and provided maximum security so that they can dispense justice without any fear or favour. High security prisons to confine the hard-core terrorists to ensure they do not have contacts with the outfield commanders
  • Plugging in the Sources of Terrorism: Extreme poverty and widespread inequality create environment of resentment and estrangement facilitating recruitment of terrorists. Government must accelerate the growth but also selective attack on worst form of poverty through appropriate social safety nets. Another important source and driver of terrorism is the discrimination, actual or perceived, which needs to be prudently tackled through legislative measures, financial support and development effort. Last but the least is the control the spread of hate material against a group on the basis of caste, creed or colour or ethnicity. In these days of technological connectivity, rumours spread like wildfire.
  • Mainstreaming Ex-Terrorists/Returning Foreign Fighters: While using full legitimate force, state should keep the window open for those who renounce terrorism and surrender. Their systematic re- absorption should be tackled by a special agency who should also keep an eye for possible double dealing. Foreign fighters who travelled to Syria, are returning as ISIS is finally defeated on the ground with ideas and intentions to replicate ISIS model collectively or as lone wolves. Not all returnees present the same degree of threat, treating all former fighters as high risk may radicalise them further through unwarranted persecution. Some ex-terrorists could become powerful voices against the groups they once joined. Government should thoroughly screen these returnees to identify the more dangerous among them as well as to select credible and trustworthy individuals who could counter recruitment narratives.
  • Regional & Global Cooperation: Terrorism ultimately draws its support from regional and global powers; as such, renunciation by all states not to use terrorist outfits as their proxies for the achievement of their narrow national interests could go a long way in eliminating terrorism. Accordingly, formulation of comprehensive strategy by involving all the regional and concerned global stakeholders to combat the threats posed by the non-state actors in the region is absolutely crucial.
  • This strategy should not only cover intelligence sharing and apprehending the terrorists but should also target those criminal elements who facilitate the through drug trafficking and money Laundering. Greater investments in counterterrorism by OECD nations have resulted in an increased number of ISIL attacks, as well as ISIL-inspired attacks, being thwarted by the authorities. In 2016, two in three ISIL-involved attacks were foiled compared to about half of ISIL-inspired attacks.  
  • Marshall Plan: Marshall Plan style development of springboards of terrorism (Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan/Pakistan etc) as a region by providing easier connectivity and inter-dependent project as well as peaceful resolution of long-term simmering disputes in these countries could also effectively choke the terrorism springs. In fact, without solving these disputes, there cannot be any long-term peace in these regions. Lastly, promotion of good governance and Human development in the developing countries as a priority could be the best contribution by the UNO towards elimination of terrorism.   


Although terrorism, howsoever defined, is a global as well as an historical phenomenon with no guarantee of its 100% elimination in short to medium term, yet with concerted and coordinated efforts we can control its lethality and extent of damage

From the ebook “20 Global Issues: A Handbook” by Shahid Hussain Raja, published by Amazon

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