SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Countering terror

Reactions abroad: What are the implications for the future?   | Photo Credit: Photo: PTI

JEREMY WALKER

What the international counter-terror community has to say about the Mumbai attacks.

With the Indian press already running headlines such as “Will we go to war with Pakistan?” and advocating hardball tactics in dealing with our most troublesome neighbour it appears India has already made up its mind about how to respond to the Mumbai attacks.

However the international counter-terror community sees the situation a little differently. Speculation among this group is rife on a number of levels. What does this dramatic shift in terror tactics represent for the future of counter-terror planning world wide? What actions will an inflamed and politicised India take both domestically and against Pakistan and how will these affect the current strategic situation? What will be the follow on implications for counter terror in the militants’ heartlands along the Pakistan/Afghan border?

Complete change

The style of attacks in Mumbai represents a complete change from traditional terrorist operations. Mobile, trained and well prepared terrorist units engaged on suicide missions outside conflict zones are a new phenomenon.

Speaking to London’s Sunday Telegraph, Britain’s former SAS Chief explained that the U.K. was not prepared to handle such an attack. “Our unarmed police would be able to do very little except report in. There would be many hours of chaos before the police, backed by the military counter-terrorist response teams, were in a position to contain, let alone neutralise, the terrorist threats.” The worry is that the obvious effectiveness of these terrorist actions will inspire similar training for strikes around the world.

Bruce Hoffman, one of the world’s foremost counter-terror experts, wrote in the National Interest, “The Mumbai attacks were of a completely different magnitude and intensity. And, they are likely to exert a profound influence on future terrorism patterns.” The impetus is now being put on finding methods to upgrade global national security systems to deal with centrally coordinated suicide terror squads.

But equally these attacks have highlighted the need for preventing the situations which lead to such actions. Draconian laws are obviously never going to be effective against those willing to give their lives, so the root problems must be looked at. Equally sending troops to the border will force a similar Pakistani response which will divert their troops from the Afghan border which in turn strengthens the hands of those who would plan more of these attacks.

Initial response

The country’s initial response is concerning because India is seen to be repeating America’s post-9/11 mistake of blaming nations for the actions of individuals. In this part of the world and at this juncture between India and Pakistan this is regarded as very dangerous.

The Indian media are seen as pushing the government to blame Pakistan. In reality to follow this line and punish the already obviously weak government of what is essentially a failed state will force a situation where the military resume power. The logic that a state can hold another responsible for the actions of a group of non-state actors is viewed to be deeply flawed.

It would not have helped the U.K. in dealing with the IRA had it held the Republic of Ireland responsible for terrorist strikes on U.K. territory. To have blamed Ireland would have further alienated the people there, acting as a recruiting sergeant for the Northern Irish paramilitaries.

It has been widely noted abroad that the situation is being used for political gain. The Congress Party is seen as shifting blame towards Pakistan while the BJP are using the attacks as a stick to beat the government. This is of grave concern as politically inspired counter terror measures have traditionally produced unforeseen consequences often resulting in worse backlash.