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Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Wonder that is Terror: Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani

Pakpotpourri2 will be publishing a series of three articles by Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani on the War on Terror. This is the first.
"The Wonder that is Terror*

By:Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani
(This is a cross post from The Nation).

I wish we had not declared a war on terror. Against ills of society, or of ideology, one may start a movement, a crusade, even a jihad, but should not wage a war. War is an instrument of policy, and can therefore be used to pursue political objectives. Movements, crusades and jihads, are ends unto themselves, and thus above politics. No wonder, this war, the one on terror, has been used to achieve ends of policy.

Regimes outside the global mainstream have comeback, simply by signing up as crucial allies. Oppressive states have won the right to oppress some more, because they were being terrorised by their subjects. The oppressed have lost the right to resist, lest they were branded as terrorists. And any state could now pass any law and enforce any measure since it was in a state of war. Is it any wonder that some of us like to perpetuate this useful war?

Before the War, we insisted that the terrorism be precisely defined and states committing terror are also held culpable. Those were the days that “removal of root-causes” was the all prevailing mantra to uproot terrorism. When the battle was joined, after 9/11, the semantics, the histrionics, and the polemics could indeed not hold us back. It was time to get on with the task at hand: rooting out terrorists. Small wonder; we are frustrated to see our nemesis well on the march. But then whoever won a war while violating all its norms and forms!

Exploiting this War to attain questionable objectives was bad enough. Chasing shadows with dubious intelligence was worse. The worst indeed was: targeting the illusive enemy with weapons of mass destruction when it was all mixed up with the masses. Looking for a needle, if we set the haystack on fire, we were more likely to burn down the barn. Is it any wonder that the burnt-outs blow up our planes and trains? The only thing worse than misunderstanding the nature of war is; the failure to understand the nature of the enemy.

Make no mistakes: we are up against a formidable enemy. Not only that the terrorists can derail trains but also peace processes. They can change regimes and make them fight amongst themselves. Most importantly, they know us better than we know them. They know for example that the state system is the root-cause of terror. Its oligarchic character often creates an underclass, which when desperate becomes violent. The state characteristically responds with force, playing right into the hands of those who have the pack of war stacked in their favour.

I have often wondered; why does the state incessantly rave and rant about the iniquities of terror! Indeed people loose their lives, some business is affected, and many are inconvenienced by its perpetrators. It is still not the terrorists who get all the blame all the time. Overtime, it is the state that becomes the main target of people’s ire for its inability to cope with the enemy. The problem is that the terrorists are innovative, and the state is not.

Underrating the enemy is a cardinal sin. If anyone thought that the surge in suicide bombings was a sign that our adversary was getting desperate, one should think again. The terrorists have not only been inventing new means, but also working on their cost and effect. While we were wondering what drove a human being to make the ultimate sacrifice, the other side had already worked it out. A naive Muslim for example, would blow himself up for a reward in the hereafter. An aeronaut on the other hand, wants it here. Now that ever more Madrassas are being hooked to the web (under an anti-terror project of course), there are more chances of finding cyber-terrorists there, than human bombers.

When a war goes so horribly wrong as the one on terror has, persisting with a flawed strategy is ‘reinforcing failure’. Correcting the course, however, was best done when the battle lines had been contained. Whether it was done by unilaterally declaring a ‘ceasefire’ or through mutual arrangement, would depend primarily on the degree of contact the security forces have established with the terrorists. I have no doubt that such contacts exist if the two sides know how to conduct a war. It is time to bring the dialogue out in the open.

Refusing to talk to the terrorists is a stratagem that serves its purpose only to a point- till they have fought us to a stalemate. Thereafter, we have always talked; from Northern Ireland to Palestine to Kashmir and Sri Lanka. Once on the table, it is the terrorists, who have been more accommodative. Lately, another objection to this approach is doing the rounds (and since it is Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas specific, I suspect it is has American roots): “one cannot negotiate with the Taliban”. It just so happens that the Taliban or their ilk acquired this right in the first place because of us. When we go all guns blazing; only the militants who resist us with any success, are left to talk.

And just in case we did not change the course, there is a good chance that most of us would change sides. After all, only these “terrorists” have been able to stem the unilateral rot.
(Lt. General (Retd.) Asad Durrani,is the former Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence).


  1. The General's comments on the war on terror are tuned specifically to the American ear, one that has taken cues from its Israeli masters too long, too long to hear something honest.
    We must not offend America or they will stop picking up the bills. We had best not tell them that bin Laden has been dead for nearly 10 years and was never a terrorist leader or that Mullah Omar barely controls his own household.
    Gordon Duff
    Senior Editor

  2. So far he makes a great amount of sense. After watching kiddish politicians on all TV Channels, reading this article is like jumping from the ridiculous to the sublime.

    K. Bajwa

  3. Thank you for the comments Gordon & K Bajwa. One thing I need to state is that this article was published in 2007. Therefore developments since, are not included.

  4. This war on Terror is a vicious circle, the state has the upper hand to declare anyone a terrorist. The terrorist is yet to be defined,the one fighting for ones rights and fighting the oppression, deprivation is a terrorist or the one normally a state or a ruling class that denies these rights to the oppressed?

    What started on 9/11 was planned years ahead, it was a terrorism at the highest level where a super power was hijacked, made compliant and pushed into war for the interest of the few. Bush, Cheney, Blair and Musharraf etc are the complaints, thus they are the real terrorists. Writing philosophically as the General has written wont help, General has to pin down the ones who were responsible for this mass murder of civilisation dubbed as Co-Lateral damage.

    I have all the respects and regards for the general but he got to be forthright.

  5. There are some points General Asad has made that I would like to state point wise:
    1-A war is declared with a policy in sight.
    2-The objectives of the war are dubious & questionable intelligence used to chase shadows(US invading Iraq on reports that Saddam was in touch with OBL, later admitted as "bad intelligence").
    3-In repeated cases of terrorist activities, eventually State gets the flak for being unable to control the situation.
    4-Suicide bombings are not a result of desperation by terrorists.
    5-State system failure to provide rights of people have resulted in many being attracted to these outfits.
    6-When a war goes so horribly wrong as the one on terror has, persisting with a flawed strategy is ‘reinforcing failure’. (McChrystal has stated in 2010 what Gen Asad said in 2007).
    In most of its satements & position taken, Gen Asad is, in my humble opinion, correct.
    However, owing to a surge in suicide bombings,I doubt anyone wants to side with the terrorists.But I am mindful of the fact that this article was originally written in 2007.
    As to who the terrorist is Raja Sahib,today,those who kill innocent people by suicide bombings,firings etc will be deemed as terrorists.
    The definition of terrorism has proved controversial. Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions of "terrorism". Moreover, the International community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed, legally binding definition of this crime. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term "terrorism" is politically and emotionally charged.
    Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."

  6. YAA, please note that those fighting for their rights would never attack the innocent people, those killing such people are the agents of the hidden forces or hands. The ones who are fighting for a just cause would only attack those who are a hindrance in their way.

    Go to Southern Punjab or interior Sind, where the big landlords hold their peasants hostages by various means, aren't they right if they fight such tyrants and exploiters?

  7. Sir
    I will disagree.How can we support or condone killings that we see around us?Though in cases I agree vested interests are involved,we cannot state Taliban are not involved.
    We are not talking of peasents rising against landlords, but the killing of hundreds,thousands in mosques,Data Darbar etc.
    That the state apparatus has failed to deliver is an issue well pointed out by the General.

  8. My Friends:
    There ofcourse can be no justification against any kind and manifestation of terrorism be it of state be it of anti state be it of non state individual or group what so ever. But there ofcourse reamins a "But" and ignoring the element of BUT is defiance of Reality and a root cause that exists and exists like a glaring day Light irrespective how much tightly we may shut our eyes be on our heads and be the eyes of our minds.
    Since the year 1979 when USSR marched into Afghanistan, and since the day when Israeliz lauched their unending episodes of continued attrocities on Palestine and Lebonon, and since the day when US+Allies marched into Iraq and then into Afghanistan, can anyone count,how many childeren were borned and raised on rubbles of thoswe bombed houses, smoked flesh, raosted bones, blood rinsing wounds, Rapes of their mothers and sisters and all kinds of humiliation of their folks right in front of their naked eyes. That generation of alo those survived childeren have now grown up breed of men & women strong enough on their muscles to deal with the value of life and humanity according to their own mindset and their own haunting experiences and exposures. I remeber One of my elders a Professor who was evacuated by RedCross from Lebonon.He told us about his personal experiences on streets and roads of Beruit..Let me quote here what he said " I have seen innocent Labanese little kids happily playing football with human skulls whiles wearing in their necks garlands made out from those burnt rotten pieces of human limbs like ears and jaws. What do U think they are going to do with the world once they growup/" Who knows?
    Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui

  9. I agree Tanvir Sahib, terrorism cannot be justified by any standards.Captain Arthur M. Loureiro of the United States Army said that terrorism is the same as war, but as war is by definition an event that takes place between states, terrorism cannot be war.
    Is terrorism a justifiable method of revolt? The answer to this question is no. Some terrorist groups have viable political representation: for example Hamas and Hizbollah are both well represented in their respective areas of activity, Hamas is represented in the Palestinian Authority and Hizbollah has become one of the most powerful groups in the Lebanese government.Since these groups have political outlets that are responsive to their needs, revolt should not be the method of choice to attain their desires. Further, one revolts against a government, not the civilian public. Terrorism targets civilians specifically, and thus terrorism cannot be considered revolt because rather than challenging the legitimacy of a government, they are simply murdering its people who may in fact not support the government to any greater extend than the terrorist.Is one man’s terrorist another’s freedom fighter?Terrorist groups do not make use of civil disobedience, thus they are not freedom fighters in the sense of the word that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi were. They do not explore other options before resulting to use of killing though to a great extent these options may exist. And again, to gain freedom one must be oppressed.Generally speaking oppression must come from a government, which brings us back tothe argument of why terrorism is not a legitimate form of revolt.
    Is Terrorism a justifiable method of self-defense?No, self-defense implies one’s life or livelihood is threatened and one takes action inorder to remove the threat. This means stopping the killer specifically, not the civilian on the bus, visiting a mosque/shrine,driving their car, or eating pizza. If one was to use terrorism to stop a well defined enemy from injuring oneself, than and only than can terrorism begin to be justified, though there are certainly still problematic issues with this conclusion.Thus, because terrorism does not fit into any of the generally accepted reasons forjustification of violence, terrorism cannot be justified.

  10. Exctremely interesting discussion here.
    Terrorism, as defined by Webster’s, is the unlawful use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion. Terrorists use violent tactics in an effort to create political change, threaten or induce fear in the public and/or government, raise media attention or further their political cause. Unfortunately, many times, terrorist attacks fall upon innocent victims.
    Terrorism when inflicted on innocent civilians can never be justified. Killing others for any reason other than self-defense is morally reprehensible.
    Is US action in Afghanistan in response to 9/11 terrorism? To judge, its morality, legality and thoughtfulness have to be evaluated.

    US bombings have resulted in widespread suffering and loss of innocent lives. This is sought to be explained away as collateral damage. Starvation would take away many more innocent lives. The Afghan population had done no harm to the US nor were a source of threat to them. Morality, thus, faults US action.

    Legality is questionable. US Congress did not declare war on Afghanistan. The US action against the Afghan Government can not be construed as self defence. Security Council did not explicitly authorise military action in Afghanistan though it asked states to work together to bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of terrorists.

    Thoughtfulness can be adjudged from the impact of US action on the cycle of violence. It has not succeeded in containing terrorism but a danger exists that US may extend its action to other countries. It is also stated it will be a long war. Even if Osama gets killed, (which he probably has been),terrorism of fundamentalists will not end. What have the Americans achieved? History will answer that question but there is no doubt in the minds of many that what was on display in Afghanistan was a battle between two forms of terrorism.
    By the same token attacks on innocent lives,killimg,maiming,traumatising people is not and cannot be deemed as something that can be condoned.

  11. Will someone please define the words 'Terror' and 'Terrorism' .

  12. Dear Aquarias,
    Kindly look up comments by Mr Mehfooz Zahoor & Mr Rizwan for reply.

  13. Nice discussion. It reminds me of different TV channels in Pakistan where a group of people (number may vary)attired in well stiched dresses, sits on the chairs and make a mockery of discussions. They shout at each other, never listen other's point of view, brag about their so calld achievements and never reach on any conclusion. The anchor person also joins them in shouting and after some time and many commercial breaks, he says," Sorry the time is up." And they go back to their homes happily after having a lavish tea/ dinner.

    My dear participants of this discussion,

    Please don't try to find out that Why, When, How and from where the snake came in. Rather we should find out, " How to kill the snake"

    Let us have dicussion on the methods for eradicating the menace of terrorism from our Pakistan.

  14. Dear H A
    There is another article posted on SITE: Extremisim:Too late to contain it?
    It answers to the "HOW" correctly raised by you.
    In any forum, people do give their points of view & why not?

  15. Dear Laila!

    Thank you. I just read that aricle. Yes! You are right it answers to the "How" to some extent.


  16. I agree with YAAs'comments& mr Mahfooz/zahoors' views we need to be realistic in our approach in tackling Terriosts.

  17. Indeed, situation on ground needs a culmination of long term AND short term strategy.
    The point is, our Govt has nether?