DEMOCRACY OVERSEAS AS A DETERRENT TO INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

June 30, 2005

Some people argue that in this era of globalization you can live and work anywhere in the world. This is easier said than done. Adjusting to life in India can still be a challenge for someone who has been used to life in the west. This is especially true for the first year or for as long as one continues with the obsession of comparing the two. Since September 11, much of the focus among media, military, and political analysts has been on building an international coalition to punish the terrorists, who are said to be hiding in the region stretching from Afghanistan to Algeria. The utility of the military strikes notwithstanding, a broader understanding of terrorism is in order.

In international terrorist activities, countries act as both sources and/or targets. The sources may be ideological, facilitating, or both. The ideological source provides a general inspiration for such activities. Inspiration may be derived from a sense of perceived past injustice inflicted by a foreign power or a specific interpretation of religious doctrine. Examples of such countries include Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. But groups inspired by the ideological source also need a real-world base. Facilitators are those countries whose facilities are being actively used to prepare for terrorist attacks. In the recent past, the major facilitators (without their governments' direct support) have included many European and American countries. The European countries include Spain, the Netherlands, UK, and France. In the Americas, Canada, Paraguay, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil stand out. A Canadian travel document facilitates an easy entry into rest of the Americas, and a Dutch passport (even a fake one) can facilitate movement throughout the European Union. India is unlikely to be an ideological inspiration for terrorists, as the Hindu and Buddhist philosophical foundations that permeate most life have never historically been a magnet for terrorism.

Target countries may be immediate and/or ultimate. Immediate targets are where the terror unfolds, and ultimate targets are those against whom these activities are truly directed. For example, a terrorist group attacking a US embassy in Kenya makes Kenya an immediate target, but the US is the real ultimate target. In the September 11 episode, the US was both the immediate and the ultimate target. This is where the Indian leadership must pay attention. The constitutional guarantees of the free speech, assembly, and religion potentially could make India a playground for the terrorist. The country of India could become a magnate for potential trouble makers unless the demands of the various marginalized communities, anywhere from the north-east to the northwest to the south of the country, are addressed effectively by both the Federal and State governments. The other major immediate target countries have been France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. All of these are democratic countries with strong constituencies of ethnic minorities.

The ultimate target countries' policy is generally the focus of acts of terror. The most frequent ultimate target countries in recent years have been Israel, Germany, France, and the US. Again, these are open, democratic societies. The separation of their legislative, executive, and judicial powers makes immediate reaction unlikely. Moreover, the risk of retaliation in terms of innocent civilian casualties deters them from hasty military action. India could also become a potential immediate target, if the security framework around the US and Israeli consular and interest sections are not effectively guarded and protected. Again, this is where India is vulnerable. Its interests can very well be targets by the Kashmiri or North-eastern separatists in other South Asian countries of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Maldives, and Nepal. It is important that the Indian government negotiate in good faith with the governments of its neighboring countries to avoid a tragedy like that of the September 11th.

Notice that the major facilitating source and the immediate target countries are our European and South American allies. Certainly, intense cooperation is needed between the law enforcement agencies of all of these countries. Passport and other travel data can be consolidated into a master database, which would facilitate detection of potential terrorists. Notice also that all of the main ideological source countries are undemocratic, meaning that they lack legally available forums for people to organize and debate. In the region stretching from Afghanistan to Algeria, there is only one democratic country (Israel), and a few partially democratic countries, such as Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait. Incidentally, Iran has become much more democratic in recent years. The power struggle between the moderates and the extreme conservatives through electoral means is a testimony to that. As Iran democratizes, it is expected that terrorist groups like the Hezbollah would lose popular support.

The list of undemocratic countries is large; it includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, and many others. Closed political systems make the Mosques the main outlet through which social frustration and anger are being expressed. Most of these religious outlets have been hijacked by extreme elements.

We are told that the majority of the Arabs and Muslims in these countries condemn the terrorist activities. If so, how is it that there are no organized activities demanding some governmental action? It is primarily because there are no available forums for competing political expressions. Providing political space would make diverse interpretations of Islam likely and more visible. The US must put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq to slowly open their political systems.

A gradual democratization has its own risk of course. In the next fifteen years, a sustained process of political liberalization in larger nations in this region could have a positive contagion effect on smaller nations. Of course, a sustained democratic movement could mean that the so-called friends of the US---the Saudi Royal family and President Mubarak of Egypt--- might cease to be in power. Even that should be all right. A real friend of the US would engage in creating political rights for its population, and not brutally suppressing them. If only Washington would think carefully, it would soon realize that democracy overseas is a real long-term deterrent to international terrorism.

Satya R. Pattnayak
Villanova University,
Pennsylvania,
USA

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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