Balance of terror

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May 21 is observed in India officially as Anti-Terrorism Day. This was the day in 1991 that former Prime Minster of India, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by LTTE suicide bombers in Sriperumbudur near the city of Chennai (then still known as Madras). It was on the first anniversary of this audacious, macabre and devastating act of violence that the then Congress government in New Delhi decided to dedicate the day to the spirit of opposing terrorism.

It may be recalled that 26 people involved in the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister were sentenced to death under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Act, TADA, though after appeals to the Supreme Court, only four of the main accused were executed. Without going into the history behind the motive for the attack just as yet, suffices it to say this day is the official Anti-Terrorism Day in India.

However, for reasons best known to itself, but probably to do with party politics, the BJP-led state government chose to observe it a day ahead on May 20. We hope we are wrong and that the government has other reasons for the choice of day than the usual assumption it did so in order to avoid the observation coinciding with the death anniversary of a prominent Prime Minister belonging to its arch rivals, the Congress. That would be mean and petty, as certain agendas should be treated by all as above party politics. One pertinent question that has had no conclusive and moral answer so far is, “what is terrorism?” The fact is, all wars involve the use of terror tactics. If the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is not terrorism, or the extensive use of napalm bombs on Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam war are not terrorism, what can qualify to be classified thus on any moral scale.

The dictionary meaning of the term has some clues on what is generally understood as terrorism today. It says terrorism “in the broad sense involves intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror or fear, in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim. It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against civilian or non-combatants.” The operative words here which distinguish certain forms of violence and qualify them to be in the category of terrorism are: “indiscriminate violence” and “civilian or non-combatants”. Not many in conflict theatres such as Manipur would doubt that by this definition, it is not just non-state combatants but also the state forces which have been responsible for perpetrating these forms of intimidatory violence. Indeed, it is also generally acknowledged in discourses on human rights that if there is anything as “terrorism” of non-state combatants there should be something as “state terrorism”.

The hegemony of the state, and in the Weberian sense, the “legitimate hegemony” of the state, however has ensured that the general understanding of terrorist violence is associated more or less exclusively with non-state fighters in what has now come to be referred to as the Fourth Generation War. What the world discovered after the trauma of the two world wars and the violence nation states can do to human dignity, is that while many international conventions drew up laws and norms to restrict violence of war between nations, most of the deadly conflicts post WWII were “non-international” in nature. In other words, internal conflicts within postcolonial nation states accounted for far more violence than wars between nations.

Fourth Generation Wars hence is about the fight between state and non-state actors that even India is so familiar with today. To come back to the relevant point, like it or not, this is the ecosystem within which all conflicts are defined today. Sure, in the fight between the state and the non-state, hegemonic weightage rests with the state. Sure, by terrorism as the world understands it today within this ecosystem, it is generally the conduct of the non-state actors that is under scrutiny. This is also partly because international laws such as those defined by the Geneva Conventions, The Hague Conventions and the Universal Charter of Human Rights already have accounted for the conduct of the state actors. This being the case, like it or not, the prudent thing for the non-state actors to do is to understand this predominant ecosystem well.

Like it or not, let them know, stepping outside it can ruin their prospects of any honourable resolution to the causes they fight for. The LTTE example is most immediate. They lost the sympathy of India and even the Tamils of Tamil Nadu after they came to be seen as terrorists following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. They were too arrogant to care of world opinion and did not hesitate to flout the rules of this ecosystem forsaking the sympathy and support of the international community once they were declared as a terrorist organisation. After thus becoming isolated completely, and with their funds frozen and overseas supports stifled, they became marginalised enough to be brutally eliminated by the Sri Lankan Army. For all those interested in a final and respectable resolution to our own turmoil of insurrections, there should be plenty of lessons here.

Source:  Imphal Free Press

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