Globalization of terrorism

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

LAST week, Pakistan experienced the horror of its first case of suicide bombing in which 14 people were killed, 11 of them French engineers working on a naval submarine project.

This act of terrorism will have far-reaching implications for Pakistan’s politics, economy, security and foreign policy, apart from the effect it has had of besmirching the country’s image even further at a time when a turnaround was thought to be near at hand.

The authorities had no definitive information about the identity of the attacker, his motive and his connections with a terrorist network, if any. Yet the knee-jerk reaction in official circles was to point an accusing finger at India for this horrendous crime.

These allegations surprised no one, for it has been the traditional practice for the two countries to make the other the scapegoat when such criminal incidents occur.

President Pervez Musharraf, who appeared on television the same evening, was vocal in expressing his distress at the suicide bombing and condemning the dastardly act. He described it as “external terrorism” as distinct from the “internal” variety. Reading out a list of names of people who have been killed in recent days, the president categorized the latter acts as internal terrorism.

The moot point is whether we can really make this distinction today when the world has shrunk to become a global village. The globalization of terrorism has been a much-talked about subject in the wake of 9/11, and it is now coming to be realized that the international reach of the terrorists is extending further and beyond the control of governments.

The fact is that there has been a blurring of the international borders and in many respects it is difficult to draw the line between the internal and the external. What might be internal today could become external tomorrow and vice versa. Classification can be a tricky business, especially when we do not want to believe that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well.

Islamabad has never regarded those who cross the Line of Control in Kashmir to fight the Indian forces not just in the Valley but also beyond as infiltrators, as external terrorists. And yet, in the post-9/11 era, the very same elements have been branded as terrorists, when they operate in Afghanistan. The dichotomy is that barely nine months ago these very “terrorists” when they were operating just beyond the Durand Line were said to be waging jihad and constituted a pillar of Pakistan’s security.

In the changed circumstances of today, all acts of violence and terror have an external dimension. This is plain if we recognize the fact that the premises, which formed the basis of state structures yesterday, are fast disappearing. It is time we understood the new paradigms within which international relations need to be conducted and security and economic policies formulated. This is an age when the nation state is on the retreat, though this has not been admitted formally.

The equality and sovereignty of states, which constitute the defining traits of the units of the international community, are now no more than a myth. Today the different members of the international system wield unequal powers and influence.

A basic shift in the international system has come with the emergence of the multinationals as players on the world stage. Their influence and role might be judged from their economic clout. Of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, 51 are MNCs and 49 are states. The combined annual sales of these MNCs amount to 3,000 billion dollars, which is one-third of the world’s GDP.

These corporations, be they arms manufacturers, media conglomerates or pharmaceutical companies, have emerged as the driving force behind the world economy. Against this backdrop, technology determines the pace of progress as well as the role of each member of the world community. It also determines the pace and intensity of communications between governments, between governments and people, and between people and people.

Globalization, in the form it has assumed, has given rise to a new phenomenon, namely, the stratification of societies horizontally. With the concentration of wealth in every state, the divide between the classes has grown. What is more, these classes straddle international borders and share common interests, irrespective of which countries they belong to. Even if this convergence of interests might not be articulated or defined very clearly, its presence is acknowledged and it determines relations between people at the transnational level and it is facilitated by the increased mobility of the people.

Another factor that has led to the diminishing of the states’ control over their future is the extensive migration which is taking place and the resultant presence of large foreign communities in every state. These immigrants have independent communication and financial links with their compatriots living in other states and they use these connections quite independently of state control.

How does terrorism fit into this changed scenario? The globalization of terrorism is not simply the existence of terrorist networks, which reach out to all parts of the world. Given the changes that have taken place in the pattern of inter-state relations and in the power structures within states that have weakened their sovereignty and control over their own affairs, terrorists have almost come to enjoy an invincibility previously unthinkable.

In short, the normal policing methods are now proving to be ineffective in a situation like this. The transnational terrorist organizations by their very nature enjoy some inherent advantages. Since they are not bound territorially, they do not have rigid and hierarchical structures, and are not required to conform to the norms of transparency, the agents of terror appear to be winning the war that is being waged against them.

This appears to be true in Pakistan, where new and sophisticated security measures have not prevented the infiltration of terrorists, and the incidence of violence is going up.

How can international terrorism be checked? There is no easy answer to this question, given the escalation of this phenomenon. If the world community’s success in curbing hijacking is taken as a pointer, it is important that the states that are affected by terrorism should cooperate to eliminate this evil. Here a word of warning would be in order. International cooperation must, however, not be allowed to militate against the interest of smaller states. If a big power unilaterally sets the agenda and formulates the strategy, it could actually hurt its smaller partner.

This is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the US is calling the shots. This approach could backfire by making the junior partners even more vulnerable to the ire of the terrorists than before. The need of the hour is to draw up international conventions to lay down the framework of action as was done to check the spate of hijackings in the sixties and the seventies. This would also have to address the issue of state terrorism. When governments become a party to, or the perpetrators of, acts of violence against innocent civilians, they generate anger and hatred, which can drive some people to a state of utter desperation.

Hence international cooperation to draw up strategies to fight terrorism must also take note of such culprits, be they state governments as in Israel or local administrations as in Gujarat (India).

The world is being polarized between the irrational, extremist, fanatical and militant elements who are willing to resort to terrorism, and those who are tolerant, peace-loving and sensible. Paradoxical it may seem, the fact is that this division has thrown the Islamic militants, the protagonists of the Hindutva and the Zionists in Israel and America in the same camp. They may not be cooperating consciously among themselves but they are promoting each other’s goals by attempting to destroy their common foes — the rationalists. They are also more determined and better organized.

It is a pity that the voice of the peace activists is muted. They have not even attempted to organize themselves and network with the likeminded people on the other side of the border. How many of them have tried to establish links with the forces of peace, say in Israel, India, etc? There are more Indians condemning the Gujarat massacres than the critics outside. Strong voices opposing Sharon’s terrorism are being raised in Israel. But do we know of them? Governments which are genuinely committed to peace should be supporting these forces of sanity and peace.