OVER the years, studies have suggested that an extensive military response to terrorism may temporarily increase terrorist activity rather than cause it to decrease permanently. Walter Enders and Todd Sandler in the American Political Science Review (‘The Effectiveness of Anti-Terrorism Policies: A VAR-Intervention Analysis’) did a serial time review of US military measures against Libya. They found a rise in terrorism-related incidents.
Although every conflict theatre is different, research shows that exclusively tactical counterterrorism actually reinforces negative opinions of the audience community and may actually increase indoctrination. Al Qaeda may thus have arguably never become the menace it is today if the US had not attacked Iraq.
The dangers inherent in relying on military options alone have been disastrous even for the US, the biggest global military power. It was recognised by many American analysts that the longer a war of attrition lasted, the greater the long-term strategic risk of radicalising Muslim sentiment against the US and undermining America’s international alliances and of causing serious and sustained discontent among the American people.
A White House panel reported as far back as in October 2003 that Muslim hostility towards the US “has reached shocking levels” and is growing steadily. In April 2004, Hosni Mubarak had warned: “There is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region.”
Margaret Tutwiler, then US undersecretary of state for diplomacy, mentioned at an official hearing in 2004 that: “It will take us many years of hard, focused work” to restore US credibility, even among traditional allies. All the American military might has not made the world safer for its citizens either, as many Americans feel even more apprehensive about security than they did immediately after 9/11.
For instance, a survey conducted in 2004 by the a public-private partnership the Council for Excellence in Government found that fewer than half of all Americans thought that the country was safer than it was on 9/11, and more than three-quarters expected the US to be the target of a major terrorist attack in the near future. That has not occurred but the public perception persists.
The future of counterterrorism will also be shaped to a certain extent by the relationships between the various organisations involved in the war against terrorism. While the new threats resulted in the grant of emergency powers to governments to get new powers and additional resources to fight the threat, sometimes the evolution of coordination has been too reactive, short-term and politicised. This sometimes caused slow governmental responses to increase resources going into counterterrorism.
Police forces are critical to counterterrorism’s future due to their presence on the ground and their ability to carry out arrests. For police especially, any purported failures, such as actual terrorist attacks or botched arrests, are magnified exponentially. Terrorism expert Paul Wilkinson offers an apt British metaphor: “Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.” Many of their successes because of secrecy and the murky work of terrorism never earn a newspaper headline.
Successful terrorist attacks damage morale, weaken public and government confidence in counterterrorism agencies, and can even lead to a backlash against minority populations that in the long run produce more terrorists. Botched raids or the inability to achieve convictions similarly damage morale, while alienating minority populations whose cooperation is crucial. Not all successes involve arrests, and there are the failures we will have to live with.
The Pakistani story and indeed the global picture will not be much different. This does not in any way belittle the dedicated efforts of the agencies fighting terrorism, but does highlight that we have to be always prepared to face a backlash that might ensue even after the best prepared of operations. The importance of volunteered intelligence cannot be underestimated; several alleged terrorist plots broken up in Canada and the US since 9/11 prominently featured intelligence supplied by informers, either through initial tip-offs or by being employed by the police and intelligence agencies within the groups being investigated.
Most types of human intelligence require cooperation. And cooperation requires accommodation in the form of members of communities believing that it is in their interest to assist the authorities against other members of their community. That human intelligence has not been forthcoming in many states indicates a more systematic failure in evolving the future of counterterrorism. Failure to generate human intelligence, moreover, spoke to a broader truth beyond the lack of capabilities or limitations on the part of an intelligence service when it came to generating such material.
The key to long-term containment of terrorism, beyond tactical policing and security measures designed to detect and defeat zealots, is to reduce the supply of terrorists. It must be recognised that terrorism requires a small core of radicalised individuals bent on carrying out acts of violence.
What government policy must ensure is that these individuals are kept marginalised within their communities. They must not be allowed to lead others along the path of violence. If they are isolated then they can be contained, either by the state or by their own communities. Without a support network, they pose a much smaller threat.
It is much easier to lose ‘hearts and minds’ by alienating people through ill-thought-out and rushed policies driven by political interests and loyalties. There will always be extremists, some of whom cannot be reasoned with and must face the full might of the state, but they are a tiny minority. What they must not be allowed to do is get members through recruitment.
One of their tools for recruiting others is to portray others of the community, say Muslims, as being discriminated against and targeted. The attack on minority cultural practices lies in the same category. It is a recruiting factor for extremists in the same way that internment, anti-Catholic discrimination and Bloody Sunday provided the IRA with oxygen.
Summing up, successful counterterrorism in the future of a democratic society requires trust and confidence in the efficacy of security forces because public cooperation is essential. This can only be done after capturing the hearts and minds of the citizens, particularly in some of the communities where terrorists are to be found, confronted and contained. This winning of hearts and minds is what constitutes the core of counterterrorism in the future, not just in Pakistan but across the globe as well, and will continue to do so for times to come.
The writer is a security analyst.