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Volume 4, No. 8 - June - July 2005

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Democracies, for all their flaws, do have powerful internal correctives, and both the form and content of the US Country Reports on Terrorism 2004 (CRT 2004) is clear evidence to this fact. After an utterly disastrous Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 Report last year, and widespread and scathing criticism of its contents and orientation [PGT-2003: A Tale Told by an Idiot; RPGT 2003: Flogging a Dead Horse], a radical review of the underlying concepts and procedures has obviously been carried out. The process is evidently incomplete, as is demonstrated in the fact that the year's offering comes in the form of a more tentative set of 'country reports' rather than the more ambitious 'patterns of global terrorism' format. The most controversial listing of incidents has been left out this time around, and data included in CRT 2004 also has a somewhat unsettled quality, relying more cautiously on categories such as 'over', 'nearly', and other approximations.

What appears, on first sight, to be 'uncertainty', however, is in fact a greater realism. For one thing, the sham certitude of specific numbers can be misleading when dealing with an issue as complex as terrorism. Indeed, even within the theatres of conflict, local Government agencies often find it necessary to continuously review and correct data, as more information relating to specific incidents is disclosed during investigations. There are, moreover, substantial divergences between the estimates of various Governmental agencies, with local police, paramilitary forces, the Army and the intelligence agencies often churning out different numbers. Crucially, however, these variations are within an acceptable margin of error and result from differences in definitions, processes and sources of information acquisition - as would be the case with the US agencies as well.

An encouraging aspect of CRT 2004 is that the numbers given for all the countries in South Asia (this Assessment deals only with the Country Reports for this region) are in conformity with other available open-source and Governmental data (within an entirely acceptable range of variation), a radical departure from the past, where the divergence between the PGT numbers and other sources bordered on the ludicrous. Previous annual US estimates - and not just the immensely flawed PGT 2003 - had laboured enormously to project the incredible fiction that the US was the greatest victim of terrorist violence. Thus PGT 2003 spoke of a total of 190 incidents of terrorism globally (in fact, India alone had thousands of such incidents in 2003), in which just 307 persons were supposed to have been killed. Of these, 82 incidents 'targeted the US', making America 'the country worst affected by terrorist acts' in 2003 - which was clearly nonsensical.

This time around, however, CRT 2004 has been far more true to facts. Despite the overwhelming violence directed against US Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American Administration has resisted the temptation to portray itself as the 'worst affected' among various countries, and, indeed, has rightly excluded all attacks on US Military targets from its assessment of terrorist violence, adhering strictly to the American definition of terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents." CRT 2004, moreover, explicitly acknowledges that, "The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorist attacks were citizens of countries other than the United States. Many victims were Muslims."

These are certainly encouraging developments and the descriptions that go with the numbers - though they tend to be somewhat elementary in scope - are broadly consistent with assessments within the region.

If there is a flaw or a deviation from a hard-eyed realism, however, it is in the treatment of Pakistan, where a selective blindness appears to have been adopted for reasons political and diplomatic. The report is repeatedly appreciative of Pakistan's exemplary role in combating terror: "Few countries suffered as much from terrorism in 2004 as Pakistan, and few did as much to combat it." CRT 2004, however, fails to give even passing mention to the fact that Pakistani state support to terrorism was - and in substantial measure remains - at the root of terrorism in South Asia, though there is some evidence of a systematic dilution (though not abandonment) of the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy by General Pervez Musharraf's regime. Moreover, while the strong action against Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, as well as groups that have targeted General Musharraf in assassination attempts, has been commended, there is no mention whatsoever of the systemic neglect of activities of a number of groups - including several listed in the CRT 2004 as terrorist organizations - whose activities are largely focused on the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Pakistan's very dubious role in nuclear proliferation is also studiously ignored. This is despite the fact that CRT 2004 clearly declares that "The United States and its partners must also continue efforts to defeat non-al-Qa'ida terrorist groups, discourage state sponsorship of terrorism, and prevent terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD)." The truth is, the entire leadership of terrorist groups operating in J&K, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen (HuM), the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), as well as their various front organizations, are headquartered in Pakistan, and their leaderships have ample freedom of movement and activity, and, if Indian authorities are to be believed, substantial - though possibly diminished - state support, at least in some cases. Further, the limited state action taken against such leaderships has, at best, been symbolic. Thus, as CRT 2004 notes, the head of HuM, Fazlur Rahman Khalil, was arrested and detained "for several months" (in fact, between August and December 17, 2004), hardly the 'punishment' that would be imagined for the leader of one of the bloodiest international terrorist organizations operating out of Pakistan. The activities - open and unrestrained - of Syed Salahuddin, the head of the HM, and of other leaders of this group, are also well documented, and cannot have been outside the ken of US intelligence. Nor, indeed, has the LeT amir (Chief), Hafiz Mohammad Saeed been in hiding over the past years. If nothing else, CRT 2004 should have taken note of these, as well as of other evidence of the state tolerance of particular patterns of Islamist extremist and terrorist activities in Pakistan.

A comparable coyness also afflicts CRT 2004's approach to Bangladesh. There is, of course, significant expression of concern regarding "instability and widespread frustration" in the country that has "provided recruits, support and safe haven to international terrorist groups." The Report also notes that, "Bangladesh's long tradition of inclusive, moderate Islam is increasingly under threat from extremist alternatives, already offering an attractive breeding ground for political and sectarian violence." CRT 2004, moreover, does, for the first time, take cognizance of terrorist movements in India's Northeast by including one of the most prominent organizations operating in that region - the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) - in its list of "Other Selected Terrorist Organisations". However, the Report fails to acknowledge the presence of ULFA's top leadership and a number of camps on Bangladeshi soil, and overwhelming evidence of state support to this and other groups in that country. The report speaks, further, of Bangladeshi support to the global war on terror, but offers alibis for failure in "weak institutions, porous borders, limited law enforcement capabilities, and debilitating in-fighting between the two major political parties." But porous borders are not Bangladesh's problem - rather, these are a problem for its neighbour, and Bangladesh has hotly and often violently contested India's efforts to diminish this 'porosity' by constructing a border fence. Most of the growth of terrorism in Bangladesh is the result of the radicalization of the country's own politics, and many of the foreign terrorists and arms smugglers operating in the country are doing so with the active support of local groups that enjoy significant backing from elements within the state structure, or that are directly supported by such elements.

These are, at worst, surviving gaps in a report that has made obvious efforts to accurately reflect the broad realities of terrorism in South Asia. The evident intent and effort that has gone into CRT 2004 needs to be consolidated, and restored to the wider mandate of the PGT. As the Report rightly notes, "the tasks confronting the United States and its partners in the struggle against terrorism remain formidable." This annual exercise at stock-taking is an important tool for analysts and policy makers, and the closer it reflects the realities of the ground, and the greater the detail it offers, the more effective it will be, both in its statutory intent and in its impact on the international community.

COURTESY: South Asia Terrorism Portal

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