By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
February 17, 2014
When Proxies Turn On Their Masters
The Westgate mall siege in Nairobi taking lives of 72 people including six security personnel and five militants sharply brought to focus the rise of asymmetrical warfare. Al-Shabab joined Al-Qaeda in 2012 and laid claim to this attack. “Kenya’s foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said that two or three Americans and one female British national were among the attackers.” (The Guardian September 24, 2013) CNN says Al-Shabaab has over the past many years now had strong links within the United States. “Some fifteen Americans have died fighting for Al-Shabaab, as many as four of them as suicide bombers in Somalia, and an American citizen even took up a leadership role in the group.”
Terrorism is spreading globally using unconventional warfare. It transcends geographical borders, bringing on one platform people from different religions, different cultural backgrounds and targeting innocent people. NYT shares; a former Navy reservist killed at least 12 people in a mass shooting at a secure military facility in America. (September 16, 2013) The enormity of such actions cannot be ignored because it was carried out by individuals. Then there is the Ku Klux Clan. Believing in supremacy of the white, it’s a racist and anti-Semitic movement. Founded in 1866, it is dubbed as America’s first terrorist group. Initially against the African-Americans, the group spread its base, with time enveloping others in its hate list.
Though most would agree upon certain acts to be part of terrorism, no single, internationally acceptable definition exists. According to the US Department of Defense terrorism is, “The calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Terrorists act outside the ambit of law; aimed to bring pressure upon the government. New causes result in emerging of new groups whose interests may overlap at some levels and diverge on others. The number of incidents of terrorism has increased over the years. Societies are becoming increasingly more desensitized towards these human tragedies. Media has a lot to answer in terms of playing a mentionable role in this desensitization by increasingly sensationalized reporting. Terrorists may feel they must enact bigger and increasingly more gruesome acts, in order to gain media attention.
The trend of state sponsorship of terrorism aimed to retain supremacy locally, regionally or globally will continue. No amount of lip service to dealing with terrorism without governments deciding not to support it themselves will make any difference in the final analysis.
Asymmetrical warfare is wedded to terrorism. Proxy wars are an example of asymmetrical war. Governments may use proxy wars, so can non-state actors. Proxy wars may be fought along with full-scale conflicts or more typically, during cold wars. An obvious example is of the Vietnam War from 1959 to mid-1975 between the US and its Western allies on one side and Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China on the other. A more recent example is the war between the Mujahedeen/Taliban and the Soviets in Afghanistan. The danger of creating a third force to fight a proxy war can never be undermined. The Frankenstein’s monster can develop a mind and will of its own, smashing the control in the hand of its creator.
Pakistan in recent years has become a hotbed of sectarian violence. Many elements play their part including economics, external interference and religious intolerance! There can be no political independence without economic independence. The cascading effects are devastating; creating wedges between different sects and religions, destabilizing a peaceful environment thereby damaging the economy, creating internal security threats and politicization of religion to name a few. The step-up in sectarian violence may also be due to the fact that many sectarian based organizations are allowed greater space to operate. Multiple explosions in Shama Cinema Peshawar, killing 11 and leaving 19 injured is a more recent act of terrorism.
Questions spring to mind. First, are pawns, in their simplicity being conned to fight each other and commit violence in the name of religion by their leaders – egging them on for vested interests? In many cases, particularly in the case of Taliban suicide bombers, they are indeed brainwashed into believing the righteousness of their deeds. Is this an extension of the proxy war as witnessed in Syria? Vali Nasr in Japan Times says, “Syria is now a proxy war, the outcome of which will determine the regional pecking order. In the Mideast, aura of power decides strategic advantage.” (Published June 8, 2013)
Terrorism once spreads base, takes years, nay, decades to control. Whether home grown or otherwise, it must be weeded out. Better sooner than later. The first tactic to curb terrorism is using force. Unfortunately, though this tactic may reduce the ability of a terrorist outfit to create greater havoc and orchestrate more killings, force alone may not work if the base of terrorism is laid beyond borders, with terrorist groups forging alliances backed by vested interests, receiving training and being funded to buy state-of-the-art weapons. Negotiations or “talks” with the terrorist outfits is another method of handling terrorism. Nations and people may deny talking to terrorists for crimes committed by them; however “back channel” talks may work in some situations. Britain had refused to negotiate with the Irish Republican Army. Once out of the public eye that places pressures on both parties and provokes them into greater rigidity of stances. Negotiations did take place, finally leading to the Good Friday Agreements, which were instrumental in eventually ending the terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland. The third tactic is engaging in international agreements. Organizations like the United Nations can play a positive role in bringing member nations together for better understanding and world peace. Kofi Annan says, “More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that is why we have the United Nations.” However, in order to achieve this objective, organizations entrusted with a role, must play a strongly independent one and free from influences.
The trend of state sponsorship of terrorism aimed to retain supremacy locally, regionally or globally will continue. No amount of lip service to dealing with terrorism without governments deciding not to support it themselves will make any difference in the final analysis. Nick Turse commenting on America’s support for proxies, writing for The Nation International states, “Right now, the United States is once again training, advising, and conducting joint exercises all over the world with proxy war on its mind and the concept of “unintended consequences” nowhere in sight in Washington.” (August 9, 2012)
Brian Whitaker (The Guardian, May 7, 20o1) commenting upon what terrorism is, states wittingly “…It also points towards a simpler – and perhaps more honest – definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.”
Yasmeen Aftab Ali is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’