Reflections on Terrorism Scholar Max Abraham’s recently written Paper : The Credibility Paradox: Violence as a Double-Edged Sword in International Politics (International Studies Quarterly, December 2013)
The underlying theme appears to be that indulgence of violence will be a double edged sword and would be detrimental to the objectives of perpetrators (Terrorists) and challengers (States). I generalized under the following heads.
Terrorism as a double edged sword:
Yes. It is. Countries which are democratic or otherwise maintain certain degree of flexibility and attempt to accommodate perpetrator’s concerns to an extent. But there is always a threshold once breached by terrorists it is common to expect that they might face stern reaction from affected states. Especially when terrorists are waging a war against a pre-eminent military power like America. The response from countries such as these could be overwhelming that the very survival of terrorist organizations could be at stake. In that context the warning given to Osama against a massive attack on America (9/11) is indeed telling, I know his rage could not take it. At least theoretically Al-Qaeda cannot boast the same capabilities which it did more than a decade ago, i.e., before 9/11 attack.
It is not only because of high intensity of crimes committed by terrorists the states react, but also to low intensity crimes given that it has been committed on a continuous basis over a period of time irrespective of whether it is after significant concessions or they are no concessions at all. To a question whether how a state would react to two terrorist attacks first one which kills 5000 civilians and another attack kills 50 civilians at a given point of time? The obvious assumption appears to be that in the former case response from challenger states could be so overwhelming that either terrorist organization will be wiped out completely or their attack capabilities will be reduced significantly apparently through the counter actions of affected state in question. And in the later case, we may think that state would be ready to talk, this will be considered as an option only if it is for the first time or few more times until the state feels that perpetrator is so adamant and will not change his stand. So time dimension must be taken in to account. If there are 100 such attacks in a span of decade or more which actually claims 5000 civilians? Then too we can expect a stern response from the state, as if it was a single massive attack. States would not react decisively until a specific threshold is breached.
A case in point could be the terrorist organization LTTE which maimed and killed thousands of the very Tamils it claimed for whom it is fighting. For more than a decade or nearly two decades SriLankan citizens endured the onslaught of LTTE violence, this in no way to discount the atrocities committed by state on minority Tamils. For all such low intensity terrorist attacks for a longer period of time, the Sri Lankan populace completely fed up and wanted to wipe them (LTTE) out completely, atleast that was the popular opinion and on that popular theme the current president acquired absolute majority in presidential elections. The arrogance of LTTE leadership was so enormous that it accepted nothing short of a separate country and denounced a viable option of devolution of powers which was acceptable to Tamils but not acceptable for the LTTE terrorists.
Maoism & Terrorism:
Like their LTTE counterparts Maoists are engaged in low intensity attacks for quite some time. And response of the state to their violence is at best none. But if Maoists kill 2000 civilians in one terrorist attack, that may be considered as threshold breached. If sanity prevails no leadership of a terror group would chose to do that, unlike Osama’s decision to target huge number of civilians in the case of 9/11 attack. It is completely based on availability of resources at some one’s disposal, a bustling number of death squad in his control. I consider Maoists are most notorious when compared to hard-line Jihadis, for the simple reason being Jihadis thrive in no man’s land but Maoists are confined to specific geography that too in a state which is touted as a largest functioning democracy. And they continue to operate on their to be achieved goal ie., to throw the elected democracy by 2050 and make this country a Maoist state. In this front there is a great competition between Islamist Terrorists and Maoists, where the former wants to turn this land in to Islamic State and the later wants to turn it in to a Maoist state with democratically elected government acting as a fence sitter.
Demands such as prisoner release, is it moderate compared to indiscriminate killing?
Yes. States especially large democracies easily concede for such demands because they think that they can save a lot of lives for the moment, though it will be foolish on terrorist’s part to kill all the civilians even if demands are not met, I agree with Max on this. Consider the hijack of IC 814 to Afghanistan when BJP was in power in India. Maulana Massod Azhar was released, who after his release went on to kill scores in organized attacks and not to mention the parliament attack. So I think on a broader view there is nothing moderate about terrorists or their demands, if they are they would never have resorted to terrorism?
Target population’s reaction & Electorate moving to Political Right:
Pakistan is such a deviation where terrorists get absolute moral support from majority of the population, at best the target population such as Hazara shias, Baloch activists, ahmedias and Hindus have no avenues to react or make an impact. In complex societies like India unless it is a conventional war with other state (kargil war) people are insensitive towards such acts. Ie., a 2008 type terrorist attack in Mumbai may not evoke much of a response in extreme south or in North east or J&K for that matter. At worse security of state or terrorism is not even considered as an electoral issue. And there is this large scale sympathy towards Islamist Terrorism from Muslim populace and the leftists. Consolidation of votes does not happen on this issue. So we have a Muslim Vote bank, presumably a vote bank for Christians, but there is no Hindu Vote Bank if there is one BJP would be ruling India for ever. Also is it not a wonder that Americans chose to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans who are considered as far Right who acted sternly by attacking Afghanistan after 9/11? Israel is an exception I suppose, but there too its (Political Right) base is dwindling as per recent election results.
State’s violence against its citizens:
This is a most important component within the realm of political violence. When state which is a democratic, aristocratic or in any other form roughs up its deserters (as in deserters of the ruling party or clique) the fall of ruling dispensation is almost sealed, either they themselves try to strike the empire back or support an outsider. Iraq is a case in point for all the atrocities committed on Kurds by S.Hussien, they celebrated once he was condemned to death and also supported the outsider, NATO. Though democratic countries exercise restraint, there is a temptation to resort to such tactics even when they know how it ends. To quote legendary Gandhi, it is impossible to govern men without their consent.
I hope such surveys should be conducted in India too. I am not sure if Max has such interests?
It is natural that responses for questions 3 & 4 are high on terrorism in Vignette 1.
Unofficial accounts confirm that even if Kashmir is ceded to Pakistan which has been a reason for terrorists to wage terrorist attacks on Democratic India, they will not halt attacks, because at the end they want to turn the whole Indian state in to sharia fold. Yes they would derive great satisfaction if Americans or Hindus harmed in an unrelated incident.
Looking forward to read more of Max’s work.