Tuesday, 22 October 2013



Published in 
The New Indian Express
Thursday 17 October 2013

Convenient untruths have persisted about terrorism and terrorist activities committed world-wide for too long. Most of these untruths have been popularised by terrorists groups, terrorist organisations and their supporters because they have found it to be in their favour to perpetuate these myths. While the community of strategic thinkers and analysts have found these explanations to be deceptions generated for convenience; general populace have been led to believe that these myths are sacrosanct undeniable truths. Terrible and horrifying acts of violence have been committed and subsequently justified on the basis of these falsehoods.
The first myth often touted as reality is that there is no definition of terrorism. The truth is that there are innumerable varied definitions of terrorism both in national legislations and international conventions – definitions that clearly underline certain common elements. The common denominator in all these are the terms “use of force or threat of use of force” and “non-combatants “or “civilians”. These definitions also list various circumstances where such force or threat of force is used, for example  the United Nations definition of terrorism  alludes to the reasons being:  political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or of any other nature. These definitions therefore, include not only the acts of international terrorist organisations but also religious groups and all civil movements that preach and support violence. The absence of an all-encompassing comprehensive definition does not mean that there are no working definitions of terrorism. Therefore to accept that the absence of a perfect definition for terrorism allows all recognizable and reprehensible acts of terror to be subjective is obviously unacceptable. It is true that an all-encompassing definition of terrorism that weaves all the varied elements of terror does not exist, (more due to failure to reach an international consensus as a result of lack of political will than any other actual reason) but this does not mitigate the horror of terror.  The failure to find a universal definition should never be allowed to serve as a reason to allow the perpetrators of terror to justify their actions.  
The second myth that should be buried permanently is the oft quoted but entirely out of place adage: one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. This term was coined in the post-colonial era when countries fought for freedom from their imperial masters. India too has a rich history of the sacrifices of those freedom fighters that were called “terrorists “by the British government during the pre- independence era. The core difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist is that those who fought their colonial masters to free their county from repressive regimes targeted symbols of such oppression. Those who commit terrible acts of terrorism and violence target ordinary people going about their daily lives. Bombs on trains and offices, indiscriminate shooting and killing civilians, car bombs in market places cannot be considered to be fight for freedom even if the terror organisations take great pride in announcing their responsibility for such acts.  To talk of freedom fighters and terrorists in the same breath is truly reprehensible. Terrorists kidnap busloads of children, bomb malls and shopping districts killing people indiscriminately, most of the time causing the death of those very people whose cause they pretend to espouse. The numerous attacks in several Indian cities have killed innocent people with no regard to their religion or faith. Attacks in cities around the world have shown that despite the tall claims made by the terrorist organisations that they are fighting for the rights of certain people, the dead are from all sections of that society.  In international law, wherein principles of conduct of war are laid down, the belligerents do not have unlimited freedom of use of violence. A terrorist cannot use any and all means of violence however justified they may claim their cause to be   Therefore, using the maxim merely underlines the fact that  unjustified acts of violence and terrorism continue to masquerade as acceptable and justified attempts to secure  rights that are seemingly denied. In countries, like India, where there are constitutional structures that protect and secure rights of people, resorting to terrorism has no justification. Even in countries where such access to legal recourses are  denied and freedom and rights have to be wrested from the ruling powers, violent acts can be justified if they are concerted efforts to gain rights and not acts of terror against innocent civilians to attract national or global attention.
The third myth is that it is the poorest person of a marginalized section in a society who has used violence and terrorism as the only possible means of getting anything for him or herself. This romantic notion is paraded to make the killings and acts of violence committed by the person more acceptable and forgivable. Taking away the right to life of others cannot be justified as a means of securing right for oneself, in the same manner as an individual cannot secure his or her right by lopping off the head of another. Yet this seems to be a blind spot in most cases where the person committing the act of terror garners sympathy as someone who has been denied rights and all the people who died in the dastardly act of the terrorist attack as those who are responsible in some indirect way of enjoying those rights and therefore can be killed .This convoluted argument, preached in sermons has recruited more foot soldiers for terrorism than any other argument.
The fourth myth often accepted by most is that good governance will lead to mitigation of terrorism. Based on this, an argument is made that the State, instead of dealing with domestic terrorism in an appropriate and strong manner; should concentrate on building infrastructures to deal with issues. While it is true that the State should restructure itself to address the core issues that have caused grave discontent, it also true that “soft power” alone cannot deal with terrorism. Good governance is not the panacea for the scourge of domestic terrorism. In the case of international terrorism, the terrorist organisations seek not to create any ideal governing system and are also are not fighting to seek better economic conditions but are more concerned with the destruction of the existing systems .They seek to impose a grand design for the world which does not include the freedom of each person but the imposition of their brand of religious or social belief.
The fifth myth is that all laws seeking to deal with terrorism are against individual rights. It is the fundamental duty if a state to protect its territorial integrity and to secure for its citizens safety and security and in that context a State enacts anti -terror laws.  After the spate of hijackings in the 1970s, and especially after 9/11 airport security worldwide was tightened and restrictions placed on passengers. While no one protests these invasions into privacy, there is a strident group that refuses to accept that partial infringement of individual rights is required to ensure safety for all. Similarly, organisations that consistently and vociferously propagate violence or secessions need to be watched and monitored by intelligence agencies. . Failure of such assessment , although the Aum Shinrokyo group had been articulating their intentions for a long time and  carried on a massive stock piling of chemicals led to the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack. Similarly, proscribing organisations that have clear agendas of terrorism is the prerogative of any State that intends to secure its territory against terrorist attacks.  
Terrorists are constantly jostling for space in the world theatre by unleashing terrible acts of terror.  The leaders and harbingers of terrorism use religion, philosophy or ethnicity to appeal to their followers and fringe groups.  Terrorism is not a profession, it is an aberration; and terrorism should be recognised and condemned. It is indeed time for the international community to act in concert and debunk the myths as well as unmask and hold up the real frightening and macabre face of terrorism to the world.        



Published in 
The New Indian Express
Saturday 28 September

Before one gets  into the discussion of the necessity  for interventions , before one considers the  scope and legality of interventions and before one even turns to international law to discuss the  circumstances when interventions are permitted ;  the primary question is  of  the greater and the  lesser evil . This moral dilemma looms large before us – is the intervening too much or is there not enough intervention? Will there not be more deaths due to inaction than the direct action of intervention?   The Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992-93 in accordance with the provisions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter did not fulfil the expectations of effective and emphatic collective action and came under severe criticism by the international community. Similarly the interventions by external military forces in 1995 in Bosnia and 1999 in Kosovo were controversial. In the case of Rwanda in 1994, however, it was felt that the Security Council had failed to take necessary actions resulting in great human tragedy and it underscored the dangers of delaying timely action. Therefore, it is clear that the basic question in the matter of interventions is: is the use of military force entirely justifiable to enforce the obligation and responsibility to protect human lives and individual rights?
 In the above context it is important to note that around the world there is an emerging demand for efficient action for the protection of the rights of an individual when it comes in conflict with the use of the powers invested in the sovereign State. The general assumption that the political independence of a State will lead to a naturally heightened improvement in the lives of is citizens assuring them of political and personal freedoms has come to naught. Events around the world have shown that the conflict of State sovereignty and individual freedoms has led to the evolving of political and social crises resulting in the deepening of human tragedy and the destruction of lives. Errant States, therefore, have to be reconstructed into instruments that serve the interest of its citizens for in the converse, the State turns into the instrument that destroys the rights of its own people. Citizens today are well -informed and empowered persons who expect their governments to work towards securing them their individual freedoms and rights; they also expect their governments to be conscious that a duty is cast upon the State to ensure that those freedoms and rights are preserved.  

The Westphalian concept of the sovereignty of the nation State in which there is no role for external agents in domestic structures is clearly irrelevant in modern times and there are many who support interventions on humanitarian grounds as the only available means of power to secure human rights. The interfacing of Chapter VII and Chapter XII of the Charter of the United Nations reveals the integration of the international system into the process of taking pre-emptive action for freedom from violation of human rights. A military strike by a Sate on another is always regarded as an act of aggression but to be free from obscurity of pre-emptive action in case of  interventions , all pre-emptive actions and interventions have to be sanctioned and concerted actions. The United Nations Security Council has supported State-backed interventions in those situations where inaction was not a choice offered to the international community. One of the major purposes of interventions is to ensure that they do indeed result in containment of those acts that have required such interventions in the first place. Further, interventions should not only ensure that they do not prepare a way for subsequent interventions in the same State , but should also reduce the likelihood of all further interventions in the region also. That is to say, an intervention backed by a consortium of the “willing and able” should not become the norm in every international crisis or result in a continuous action that affects the other States in the region as a result of the initial intervention. For those arguing in favour of international intervention to resolve the present crisis in Syria and complaining of inaction by the United States , it should be noted that a reluctant hegemon is preferable to an over-eager one.  The United States, therefore, has to consider its role within the international institution’s agenda and eschew initiatives which fall outside the United Nations for it to be supported unequivocally by the international community.
Although there is a continuing support by international community for the norm of non-intervention, one  is able to observe that in the present world there is also an urgent and rising demand for action to prevent human disasters. In this background,  the Canadian government in September 2000 set up an independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) to study the juxtaposition of these two concepts of international law.  In international law under the theory of just war (bellum iustum) which is ruled by the principles of the right causes to go to war, it is accepted that the principles set forth to justify going to war is not restricted in cases of humanitarian interventions.  The prevention of more deaths is in itself justification for direct action through humanitarian intervention. The will of the international community thus can be translated as the desire not only to contain, restrict and

prevent the actions that threaten the human rights of the people living in that particular State or region but also to prohibit the rise of all other kinds of interventions that may escalate into civil wars and enduring conflicts. Therefore, to use military forces with the sanction of the international institution like the UN and under the auspices of the Security Council, to quell forces that threaten human rights and lives of persons within the territorial jurisdiction of another State is not only permitted by international law but also supported and endorsed as a means of ending conflicts and civil wars. The use of military force and the action has to be proportionate to the threat that is perceived as requiring humanitarian intervention. There is of course always the danger that the “rebel” forces may create situations that seek international intervention to push for their own political power and both the international community and the military forces in action in such interventions have to very carefully study and assess the situation to prevent being used as a means to any private ends. The narrow confines imposed by the  Article 2 (4)  of the UN Charter which prevents  member States from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, has now been expanded by international consensus  to permit humanitarian interventions and to secure to all people their rights. When conflicts cannot be contained and threaten human existence and dignity it is incumbent upon all others to ensure that order is restored , lives saved ,  massacres stopped and further deaths  prevented.


Published in 
The New Indian Express
Tuesday 13 August 2013

At almost every international or regional conference, seminar or workshop one attends, the recurring refrain from the foreign delegates is that even as India is historically poised to play a major role in the region, India seems reluctant to seize the moment. These are the assessments  of not only those who are our immediate neighbours  but also of  others who come  from countries further away and  who have long term ties and interests with India . It becomes imperative, therefore, for us to examine whether their analyses of India’s policies towards its neighbours and regional counterparts are correct. While it is true that in recent times India has developed greater influence in south east Asia, it is also true that India’s support is sought by major global players to fashion the future geo-strategic balances in south east Asia and further. Not only has the United States declared   India as its “strategic partner” to counter the rising power and influence of China in the region but also the two countries have projected their allied interests in the rebalancing of power in the region. There are many intricate issues that underline India’s foreign policy and it’s not possible to examine each in detail here. Notwithstanding those countries that do not have favourable relationship with India, even the countries that do have a favourable disposition often turn critical about India’s stand on issues and policies towards them and those that affect them directly or indirectly.
Sri Lankan politics and policies during the turbulent years of ethnic conflict and the present time of rebuilding itself have greatly concerned India. During the conflict years Sri Lanka turned to India, as its immediate and influential neighbour, for all forms of co-operation.  After the conflict came to an end with the defeat of the LTTE in the Fourth Eelam war, while the mainstream establishment continued to view India as a friend, there were rumblings from other elements within the establishment that feared growing Indian influence. Flushed with their victory in the war and the decimation of the LTTE and the destruction of the Eelam dream permanently, many in Sri Lanka changed their earlier view about India and strident voices have been

rising about India’s role in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan establishment has diversely wanted India to play a greater role as well as to keep its hands off. With due reverence to the principle of sovereignty, India has reiterated throughout the ethnic conflict and subsequently too  ,  that it was never in favour of the creation of a new independent  state in the island but completely acquiesced with the principle of devolution of power to the Tamils to end the ethnic disparity. The Sri Lankan establishment, on the other hand, has spoken in different voices regarding the extent to which it will permit India to be involved. That is to say, while India’s aid for infrastructure development in the fractured North is accepted; Sri Lanka has different thoughts about the 13th Amendment and prefers India to be a passive bystander. India merely desires that Sri Lanka adhere to its commitment to provide limited autonomy to Tamil dominated North and Eastern provinces and find an acceptable long term solution to the imbalances of power sharing between the ethnic groups. However , India is seen by  many in the Sri Lankan majority as “interfering “ and by many of  the Tamils as “betraying”. Both these emotional judgments are based on their personal frustrations and aspirations which have stemmed from events that have happened solely on their soil. Therefore , for members of both sides  to imply that India is reluctant to play a greater role suggests that the role they envisage for India is one wherein their personal aspirations are endorsed and approved  by India .
Bangladesh’s history books will find it hard to expunge India’s role in the creation of the nation in 1971.Yet it seems that somewhere in the course of history Bangladesh has developed dissatisfaction with India. One of the many major concerns for Bangladesh has been the sharing of the waters of the Ganges River. A subject matter that  has for 35 years  been extremely emotional in Bangladesh and which has affected the eastern states in India , even after several bilateral agreements and rounds of talks has not been resolved in a manner that has appeased Bangladesh . The result is a deficit of trust where the indication has been that India being a larger nation  in size has staked a larger claim. Perhaps the underlying problem lies not so much in the water-sharing process but in the information-sharing process about the use and the principles of distribution of the waters by India. Despite a comprehensive

bilateral treaty signed in 1996 which has established a 30 year water-sharing arrangement, one often hears in Bangladesh voices about the “unfairness” of the arrangement. Bangladesh, which would like to see India play a greater role on several other matters concerning the region which have direct impact upon it, prefers that India play a minor role in all  direct bilateral matters. There are several other issues where Bangladesh prefers that India stay away but it also expects India “to do something” and support Bangladesh in matters which affect it directly. One of these issues is the Chinese proposal and graded execution of diversion of water to the water- starved regions of northern China which would result in irreparable damage to the lower riparian states and chiefly Bangladesh.
 Nepal which has very close ties with India is currently caught in the vortex of uncertainty and inquietude. During the bloody and turbulent transition from the monarchy up to its present form of desired democracy, the Royalists on the one hand and the Maoists and other political parties on the other have been dissatisfied by India’s responses to the events as they unfolded. India’s slow and measured responses during the period of turmoil were confused with unwillingness to take a definite stand for one side or the other. Keen to see proper governance return to Nepal, India has encouraged the resolution of the issues of ethnic federalism. Analysts and the establishments in Nepal, however, have misconstrued this as attempts by India to impose its will upon the people and parties of Nepal.
India is the largest regional provider for the humanitarian and reconstruction of Afghanistan. India has invested more than $ 2 billion in Afghan infrastructure, which includes highways and hospitals and rural electricity projects. India is also helping in the rebuilding of the police forces, judiciary and diplomatic services in Afghanistan. Pakistan and China have been crying foul about India’s intention alleging that India seeks to establish its influence in Afghanistan and benefit post withdrawal of American troops. Strategists and academics in Afghanistan, however, often express hope of an India-Iran-Afghanistan cooperation that would benefit all the three countries and keep Chinese and Russian influence at bay.

It is obvious that the size of India, both geographical and economic, causes serious concerns among our neighbours. The fear is further amplified with China’s allegations that India treats Bhutan as a “protectorate” and has been interfering with the elections in Bhutan.  China also perpetuates the myth that India behaves as a hegemonic power in the region and uses it to spread its own influence among India’s neighbours. However, while addressing many regional issues, India has been displaying sensitivity to the national interests of its neighbouring countries. Whether it is called upon to deal with the internal dynamics of Maldives or continue bilateral relations with the progressively evolving military junta of Myanmar, India has shown its ability to follow the accepted principles of statecraft. Those that consider careful assessment and considered action as a mark of reluctance to be a regional power, it is necessary for them to understand how seriously India takes its responsibility to maintain regional peace and stability.