We need not only classic hard-power solutions as we saw in Syria and Iraq, but a combination of other 21st-century tools as well if we have to conquer Terorism 3.0
Partha Pratim Mazumder
It is wrong that terrorist has no colour, the defiant terrorist has one colour and it is called Islamic terrorist. This is not a lone wolf attack. The quantum of explosives used in Sri Lankan attack and precision of attack indicates the role of experienced hands. This type of attack requires training, which may not be possible for local terror cells without support from abroad.
Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St. Sebastian’s Church after a bomb detonated in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka
Links between Lankan extremist groups and extremist elements in South East Asia and Maldives are also being probed. While handful travelled from Sri Lanka to join ISIS, Maldives has a growing extremist network, with over 200 recruits joining ISIS. Maldives has the highest number of ISIS recruits per capita anywhere in the world. In the past Maldivians have participated in the Afghan theatre besides being offered scholarships by Pakistan to study in madrasas. The number of ISIS recruits in South East Asian countries is returning back and respective authorities have been worried about returnees and indoctrination of locals.
Indonesia has launched a de-radicalisation project to address the issue. South India is relatively peaceful. The objective of destabilising South India can be achieved through extremists from Sri Lanka, encourage them to develop contacts and linkages with extremists in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. ISIS had influenced some minds in coastal Karnataka and Kerala. Funds from dubious foreign charities are also visible in Kerala.
It may be recalled that a former ISI chief was Pakistani High Commissioner in Sri Lanka a few years ago. He used to encourage Lankan Muslims to study in Pakistani madrasas. The Muslims constitute 7 per cent of the total population of Sri Lanka. Though the majority of them live in Sinhalese areas, there is a concentration of Muslims in the Lankan Eastern Province where they constitute roughly one-third of the population. In the Eastern Province, they speak Tamil whereas in the Sinhalese areas they speak both Tamil and Sinhalese.
Another side is that ‘why now’, and ‘why Sri Lanka’? Given that investigators believe this was the handiwork of radicalised local Muslims, there have been straws in the wind of such radicalisation for years, as a reaction to attacks by the LTTE on Muslims through the 1990s, and after the war, to the rise of Buddhist fundamentalism that began targeting Muslims. Sri Lanka, where nearly 10 per cent of the 22 million population is Muslim, has also not been insulated from the global spread of Wahabism. Mainstream Muslim parties, major players in Sri Lanka’s robust democratic political space, had managed to keep the radicals at bay all these years despite the failure of the political class to repair the ethnic faultiness. The targeting of Christians, who are an even smaller minority in Sri Lanka than Muslims, and in a manner similar to anti-Christian incidents in other parts of the world, also points to more than a local grievance. But it seems too early to say if the Easter bloodbath was the handiwork of ISIS, which would be searching for new spaces to compensate for its total loss of territory. Solving these puzzles will help Sri Lanka, also the rest of South Asia, to craft responses that ensure there will be no repetition of this nightmare.
Welcome to Terrorism 3.0. A way to think about the evolution of global terrorism is a bit like new computer software releases—improving over the decades. Terrorism 1.0 in the modern era was in the 1980s—Red Brigades of Italy, Baader-Meinhof gang of Germany, Sendero Luminoso of Peru and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, among others. They were disconnected and nationally focused by and large. Terrorism 2.0 emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall and is embodied by the rise of radical groups including al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, essentially regional groups with sporadic international reach. In Terrorism 3.0, we see the Islamic State, a globally dispersed, highly lethal, financially capable, deeply innovative organisation. While the West has been able to compress its occupation of territory, effectively knocking it out of a geographical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it has morphed into an internet-based organisation that continues to conduct sophisticated attacks & establish cells across the globe.
In a business context, the Islamic State is like an international conglomerate that has untethered itself from the costly, time-consuming business of operating retail bricks and mortar. A global map showing ISIS-inspired or conducted attacks is revealing, far beyond anything al-Qaeda has managed. And, no question, it will continue to conduct lethal attacks, seeking over time to obtain weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological, radiological and cyber.
Even as the US has begun to pivot away from counterterrorism operations to face new challenges in global great-power politics from China and Russia, the Islamic State has no intention of calling a timeout or ceasing operations despite the loss of its territory. So, the question remains how America and its allies in Europe and beyond address this ongoing threat, recognising, as the newest US National Security Strategy does — that more resources must be devoted to “high end” potential conflict with near-peer competitors like China and Russia.
In order to deal effectively with the ever-more ambitious groups and their emerging internet-based strategy, we will need three key lines of effort. The first is to continue to internationalise the fight against the Islamic State. The coalition against ISIS has over 70 nations and international organisations participating at one level or another and was a legacy of the Obama administration picked up by the Trump team. Unfortunately, the key architects — retired General John Allen and diplomat Brett McGurk — have both been discarded by Trump. We need to appoint new professionals to guide this effort, and for the US to reassert itself as the leader. The message to the international community should be the kinetic victory in Syria is not “mission accomplished,” but rather signals a need to redouble efforts at coordinating and sharing intelligence to respond to moves by ISIS.
Second, we will need a better level of interagency cooperation, particularly in intelligence, military action, diplomacy, and developmental activities (USAID and other governmental groups). Our efforts are still highly stove-piped in terms of counterterrorism. The National Counterterrorism Center is a good interagency fusion cell but needs more real convening and operational power to be truly effective. A good start here in the US would be developing a national strategy to eliminate the Islamic State and other affiliated global terror organisations, written and executed in parallel to other official strategies like homeland security, cybersecurity and missile defence.
A third key ingredient is a private-public cooperation. This includes working, and sharing intelligence to some degree, with private nongovernmental organisations such as Interpol, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, Operation Hope and other entities that try to address base conditions of poverty and disease that help create recruiting opportunities for terrorist organisations. It also includes working with the tech giants—notably Google, which has done signal work in this space—on depriving terror organisations of access to social networks. A new book by Peter Singer and Emerson Brooking, ‘Like War: The Weaponization of the Social Networks’, outlines this well.
Terrorism 3.0 will continue to spread like global cancer, enhanced by the accelerative power of the internet. We need not only classic hard-power solutions as we saw in Syria and Iraq, but a combination of other 21st-century tools as well if we are to contain and eventually conquer it.
(The writer is a teacher at Nalbari, Assam, and writes regularly on National & International issues)