Homeland Comment

Poverty, the crucible of terror

"For a die-hard terrorist, jannat would be a better option than an Indian jail. That is the reality of the present wave of terrorism emanating from Pakistan."  

One is a juvenile murderer, the other was thrown out of home for stealing money from his elder brother. Both are compulsive gamblers. One studied up to Class 4, and the other dropped out in Class 5.

That, in a nutshell, is the profile of the two most-talked-about Pakistani terrorists captured by Indian security agencies in the past year. Naveed was caught by two men he had taken hostage, while Sajjad was smoked out by the Army using pepper grenades — both of which are neither signs of their training standards nor passionate belief in the ideology for which they were purportedly fighting. For a die-hard terrorist , jannat would be a better option than an Indian jail. That is the reality of the present wave of terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

From lofty academic discussions about the ideologically motivated, highly trained terrorists willing to give up their lives, we need to bring down the discourse, for now at least, to the reality of the new wave of terrorist violence against India from Pakistan — fronted by school dropouts, drug addicts, juvenile criminals and vagabonds.

Maybe for now, it would be advisable to stick to the lazy assessment that terrorism breeds in poverty.

The motive

Understanding what motivates a person to fight for a cause is critical in dealing with the violence his or her group will unleash. To do that we need to be able to go beyond propaganda unleashed by state organs immediately after a terror attack, claiming that every terrorist is highly motivated and well trained. Policymakers need to even ignore the public posturing by terrorists, because there are often private reasons that would tell us better about why, in the first place, they took up arms.

Money is a definite motive. Some of the recent terror recruits were being signed up with up to Rs. 50,000 and their families are offered Rs.5 lakh if they die. It is a royal sum in the part of the world they come from.

There is a definite dose of misrepresented Islamist fervour that is being used to influence these youth. But their ideological motivations are nowhere near that of terrorists in the Kashmir Valley a decade ago, or the ones who flew aircraft into the World Trade Centre towers in 2001, or those who stormed Paris recently. We are witnessing a cottage industry that is thriving on poverty, mostly.

For example, Naveed was a compulsive gambler who lost a lot of money in snooker games and cards. He stole Rs. 30,000 from his elder brother Nadeem in February 2015. He was caught and beaten up by his parents and Nadeem, and thrown out of his house. Fed up with his miserable life, he decided to join the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Of course, his social surroundings played a crucial role in leading him ultimately to the LeT camp, and not to a start-up’s garage. One of his regular childhood outings was to a local mosque where he met one Bashir Ahmed, an active member of the Tablighi Jamaat. It was Bashir who convinced Naveed’s father to send his son to a LeT camp. His illiterate father thought that the Daura-e-Aama course pertained to Islamic studies, but the young man was being trained to kill others.

The other terrorist arrested in August last year, Sajjad Ahmed, used to graze cows in his village, left school in Class 4, took to drinking and smoking and got addicted to gambling. He was arrested for a murder when he was 16 years old and spent 16 months in a juvenile home.

A cursory look at the terrorists captured, or killed, in recent years throws up similar profiles. They are mostly recalcitrant youth, whose world view is limited by regressive religious lessons received in childhood, and whose desperation to earn some money turns them towards the only flourishing industry in their part of the world, terrorism.

That industry is sustained by many actors: there are the terrorist leaders who have much to gain by sending these youngsters across to die; there are the Inter-Services Intelligence and Pakistani Army which use them as cannon fodder; and then there are the many other actors who hide behind the fog of war and exploit them. It is in fact the last of them, the mysterious players, across and within Indian borders that must worry us deeply.

Delineating deterrence

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval said in Jaipur a few days ago during a conference, “We have gone to the periphery, the symptoms but not the vitals of terrorism. The vitals are the states that have given support to terror. There must be adequate deterrence for them.”

The question really then is, what is the deterrence that would attack the vitals? Is it a threat to annihilate the state? Or a multi-pronged strategy that would attack the vitals, its key components being poverty, illiteracy and absence of robust democracy, that have turned many parts of Pakistan into factory floors producing cheap terrorist lives?

In Pakistan, at least some sections are beginning to realise that a recalibration is required, and it needs to emerge as a modern nation state and not remain a cluster of terrorist factories largely controlled by the powerful military establishment. The Pakistani National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs has issued a four-page policy paper on not encouraging “calls for active support of armed, banned, militant groups in Kashmir”. For an Assembly that had vehemently supported Kashmir militancy over the years, this is a dramatic turnaround, and a smart move. From a Pakistani perspective, it is a great idea to keep Kashmir insurgency a ‘freedom struggle’ than a terrorist activity supported by foreign powers, isn’t it?

The question is, how is India calibrating its response to the new terror reality? Will New Delhi let a few deviants hold to ransom its diplomatic efforts and economic ambitions?

josy.joseph@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 10:34:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/poverty-the-crucible-of-terror/article8210124.ece

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