Comment: Terror tactic of the times
Suicide terrorism is the flavour of season, whether in India, Sri
Lanka, West Asia or Pakistan. Suicide terror attack is invariably
politically motivated. It is aggressive, brutal and generally executed
by an individual or a group of individuals. The latest high profile
victim of suicide terrorism is Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka, Sri
Lanka's Army chief. His convoy was targeted inside the high security
zone of Colombo's main military base.
According to reports, a woman posing to be pregnant entered the
hospital compound; normally, relatives of soldiers being treated at army
hospitals are allowed within the high security compound for lunchtime
visits. The bomber, who slipped in with others, jumped in front of the
commander's convoy as it moved past the hospital, and blew herself up.
In response, Sri Lanka launched air strikes on LTTE bases in the
eastern part of the country on April 25. It is the aim of suicide
terrorists to cause death through blowing themselves up along with a
predetermined target. Over the past two decades, instances of suicide
terrorism have increased. Such attempts are not restricted to any area
or place. There are a number of organisations that use this method.
Fifteen such outfits have been identified, which resort to the use of
suicide tactics against their enemies.
These are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka
and in India (168 suicide bombings); Hizbullah and pro-Syrian groups in
Lebanon, Kuwait and Argentina (52); Hamas in Israel (22); Kurdistan
Worker's Party (PKK) in Turkey (15); Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel
(8); Al Qaeda in East Africa (2); Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) in
Croatia (1); Islamic Group in Pakistan (1); Babbar Khalsa International
in India (1); Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria (1).
By February 2000, about 275 suicide terror incidents had occurred all
over the world. India has been a target of suicide terrorism since LTTE
killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Islamist terrorists
targetted Parliament - apart from numerous and almost daily such attacks
in Jammu & Kashmir.
The following figures of terrorist violence, including suicide
killing, tell their story. Between the 1988 and 2001, there were 47,235
incidents in J&K, in which 15,246 terrorists, 11,377 civilians and 4,102
security personnel were killed, adding up to a total of 30,725 lives.
The objective of terrorism, irrespective of the brand or the audacity
involved, is to compel the government of the day towards a particular
course of action. It is true from Lebanon to Israel and from Sri Lanka
to Kashmir and Chechnya.
Take, for instance, Al Qaeda: It fits this pattern. Its avowed
objective has been to force the United States to leave the "holy land"
of Saudi Arabia. 9/11 was the most audacious instance of suicide
bombing, along with the one on Indian Parliament on December 13 in which
all the terrorist who stormed it were killed.
Almost all suicide terrorist attacks are part of a coherent strategy.
They are never isolated or random incidents. Democracies are uniquely
susceptible to such attacks for the simple reason that they have to
follow the law and meet all legal requirements before any action can be
taken against a terrorist. The US, UK, France, India, Israel, Indonesia,
Egypt, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have all been targets of suicide
attacks in the past two decades. Interestingly, each of these countries
is a democracy.
The worldwide annual total of terrorist incidents has fallen almost
to half: There were 348 attacks in 2001 as opposed to 666 incidents in
1987. Yet, the number of attacks in which the terrorists intend to kill
themselves along with their victims has grown from an average of three
per year in the 1980s, to 10 per year in the 1990s, to more than 25 in
both 2000 and 2001.
We have to face the reality that suicide terrorism has come to stay.
The question is how should democracies, including our country, respond
to this problem? Experience has shown that reacting with heavy military
and retaliatory offensives only leads to more attacks in which innocent
bystanders are often harmed. This leads to public sympathy for the
terrorists, without hampering their networks.
In their frustration some countries facing terrorism change their
tactics and go in for making concessions to political causes supported
by terrorists. India did this in announcing unilateral ceasefire against
the J&K terrorist in 2001-2002. But the policy had to be abandoned in
favour of a proactive approach in dealing with terror.
Suicide terrorists were reportedly the reason why the US and French
military forces were forced to abandon Lebanon in 1983. The Israeli
forces left most of Lebanon in 1985 as well as the Gaza Strip and the
West Bank in 1994 and 1995, due to suicide terrorism.
Making concessions does not always work, especially since the
terrorists have learned that suicide terrorism strategy usually pays.
Occupying a country with the use of force to eliminate terrorism is no
solution, as we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq under the US
It is time to urge that in the rush to treat terrorists as "our
children gone astray", we need to remember what George Washington had
said: "Government is not reason, nor eloquence. It is force. And like
fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master."
Unfortunately, discussing or granting of concession or favouring them
in the ways desired by them too is not a solution. The exchange of
terrorists for the former Home Minister of India's daughter, or
bartering terrorists for the hijacked Indian Airlines flight from
Kathmandu to Kandahar, has only emboldened the terrorists.
It follows a common pattern. Concessions given have never satisfied
the desires and purposes of suicide terrorists. In fact they send a
wrong message to terrorist leaders, that the party they are dealing with
is powerless and susceptible to intimidation and bullying.
There are no cut and dry solutions to this problem of suicide
terrorism. The best approach for the Government would be to focus on
domestic security while doing what can be done to neutralise the
terrorists by effective governance.
The Government, while willing to talk to the terrorists, should never
give the impression that it is weak or unwilling to use force to defend
the integrity of the country. It was Mao who had said that power flows
from the barrel of the gun. Terrorists have to be given the message that
though they may have gun, actual power flows from the guns of the