Bakshi: Polarization Breeds Terrorism

Gitanjali Bakshi writes in a guest op-ed for IC:

“The Mumbai attacks and a potential resurrection of the ‘War on Terror’ threaten to polarize the India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine nexus. If not dealt with carefully, these attacks may exacerbate inter-state rivalries and consequently encourage the growth of terrorist networks instead of actually quelling the problem.

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After the events of November 26th, 27th and 28th, Israel and India both found themselves victim to horrific acts of terror. The indiscriminate massacre of Indians and the capture and murder of Israelis by the terrorists in the Chabad house has brought about a common sense of purpose between these two rising state actors.

Apart from being two of the world’s oldest civilizations, India and Israel have had several successful collaborations in the fields of agriculture, science and technology and yes, even within areas of intelligence and military.

However these two nation states are also the products of the colonial ‘divide and rule’ approach. They both gained independence in 1947/48, yet both their national struggles ended in a vicious partition that haunts the diplomatic and strategic relations in their respective regions till today.

In light of the events that took place on 26/11 there is a potential for further collaboration between India and Israel in their fight against terror. This would perhaps include an exchange of confidential defense information and joint military training exercises, among other ventures.

Yet, although a strong strategic relationship between these two countries would seem reasonable under the circumstances, this move could potentially alienate Pakistan and Palestine and exacerbate inter-state rivalries. Heightened tensions between these neighboring states could lead to a growth of extremism and this is exactly what global terror networks want.

The Mumbai terror attacks were strategically planned and calculated exercises with certain locations and targets in mind. Terrorist organizations are not impulsive and irrational actors but rather their acts are premeditated and deliberate and hence they must be analyzed.

In order to survive, global terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba need to secure a stronghold and build a support structure within states. Failed states or states in conflict have so far been an ideal breeding ground for these organizations.

Take the example of Iraq for instance – Before the 2003 war there was no record of Al Qaida in Iraq. After the US occupation, a death toll of more than 100,000 and a refugee population of 4 million, AQI possesses a membership of more than 1,000 people and poses a real threat to the United States. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organization accused of the Mumbai attacks, has also managed to establish itself in places of conflict. As a result LeT has a network that spans all the way from Iraq to Chechnya.

These examples stand as glaring evidence to the fact that state to state war is not an option in the fight against terrorism. This is because inter-state conflicts alienate countries and subject them to a series of injustices and security dilemmas that can then be used as fodder and propaganda for future recruitment by global terrorist networks. Inter-state rivalries feed these organizations and strengthen their capabilities.

India and Pakistan as well as Israel and Palestine have to keep this in mind while considering their future actions. The 26/11 attacks are a tactic to segregate Muslim majority nations from their secular counterparts. These terror groups will then use ‘religion’, ‘charity’ and a ‘struggle against occupation’ as a smoke screen in order to gain support in these largely Islamic states.

After the terror attacks in Mumbai, it is likely India and Israel will build a military alliance and that Pakistan and Palestine will perceive this as a threat. India and Israel could resort to disproportionate and unilateral measures against their neighbors and, in the face of this security dilemma, the Pakistani and Palestinian governments could sponsor terrorist organizations in order to gain the advantages of asymmetric warfare, as they have done in the past. Thus by attacking Indians and Israelis, the perpetrators of 26/11 intended to perpetuate the conflict between these historical rivals and thereby ensure their survival in both South Asia as well as the Middle East.

Hence a strategic relationship between India and Israel might eventually sabotage efforts to fight terrorism instead of countering these tyrannical networks. If these four players follow the obvious trajectory that has been laid out for them by the perpetrators of 26/11 and give into old insecurities, they could potentially derail two extremely important peace processes while simultaneously contributing to a fundamentalist world view of a battle between the Islamic world and its secular adversaries.

In order to combat non-state terror networks, we first need to understand that relations between these four countries are not so black and white. The Indian public has always been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. India, in fact, was the first non-Arab State to recognize the PLO and allowed it to open its office in New Delhi in 1975; Pakistan has been considered one of the US’s greatest allies in the war on terror; and lastly Pakistan and Israel share a common ideology of one state built on the basis of one religion. Most importantly we should not forget that all four of these state actors have been victims to terrorism and hence they share a common problem.

In order to deal effectively with global terrorism we have to weaken inter-state rivalries not strengthen them. We need mechanisms and mindsets that will combat non-state actors instead of state actors. Cooperation is required between India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine. Transparency of information across state borders is key and above all constant and controlled dialogue is essential in order to combat terrorism. Yet only the future will tell if we can climb out of our historical insecurities and into a post-colonial frame of mind. “

Gitanjali Bakshi is a research analyst for a political think tank in Bombay, India called Strategic Foresight Group. She specializes in strategic, political and security issues in the Middle East – with a focus in Conflict Prevention & Resolution

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