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Changing US Perspective on Terrorism

Colonel Satinder K. Saini was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • July 02, 2008

    Every year the United States releases a report on global terrorist activities as required by its domestic law. The latest report is titled Country Reports on Terrorism and includes developments in countries in which acts of terrorism occurred as well as countries that are state sponsors of terrorism. It also provides information on terrorist groups responsible for the death, kidnapping, or injury of Americans. An analysis of these reports over the last few years reveals significant changes in the American perspective on terrorism over the years, especially with reference to Pakistan.

    As defined in the 2007 report, released in April 2008, state sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Some of these sponsors also have the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other destabilising technologies that could get into the hands of terrorists. Only Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria are listed as state sponsors of terrorism, as in 2006. The 2006 report made a special mention of Venezuela as the only nation "not fully cooperating", though not a state sponsor of terrorism. Due to Libya's pledge to renounce terrorism and to abandon its WMD programme, its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism was dropped in 2006. The implications of such a listing include a ban on arms-related exports/sales, prohibition on economic assistance and imposition of financial sanctions like opposing loans by the World Bank, etc.

    While Pakistan has been able to remain out of the list of state sponsors of terrorism, beginning in 2005 it started figuring as a terrorist safe haven. Terrorist safe havens are described as ungoverned or ill-governed areas of a country where terrorists who constitute a threat to US national security interests are able to organise, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both. They also provide security for terrorist leaders, allowing them to plan acts of terrorism around the world. Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, portions of Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province are described as safe havens for al Qaeda, Afghan insurgents and other terrorist groups.

    It is of significant interest to note that Kashmir focused terrorist groups using this area as a safe haven have been acknowledged for the first time in the latest report. While there are 42 entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations, from the Indian perspective only Harakat-ul-Mujahadin (HUM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) figure in the list. For inexplicable reasons, even the Taliban does not find mention in this list.

    The 2007 report also has a separate chapter on American support for Pakistan. America’s long term commitment to Pakistan is reflected in the $3 billion in Economic Support Funds (ESF) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) during the five-year period from FY-2005 through FY-2009 that has been sought. Since 2002, American assistance to Pakistan, including Coalition Support Funds (CSF), has totalled $9.92 billion. Approximately $1.24 billion in US assistance, including CSF, was provided to Pakistan from funds appropriated for FY-2007. The Bush Administration requested $845 million in assistance for Pakistan for FY-2008 and is requesting $785 million for FY-2009, neither of which includes CSF. In addition to Economic Support Funds and Foreign Military Financing, the US is also providing other forms of assistance to Pakistan, including funding for Child Survival and Health, Development Assistance, International Military Education and Training, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Anti-terrorism Assistance, Export Control and Border Security, Small Arms and Light Weapons, Terrorism Interdiction Programs, Food for Peace, Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, and International Disaster and Famine Assistance.

    For the first time, the 2007 report also emphasises the need for collaboration with Saudi Arabia, the struggle of ideas in the Islamic world, basic education in Muslim countries and economic reforms, as important components in the fight against terrorism. The United States endeavours to engage targeted audiences to explain and advocate core American policies and messages on democracy, tolerance, and the universal values of liberty, justice, and respect, to counter extremist rhetoric and disinformation.

    For reduction in violence in Jammu & Kashmir, credit has been attributed in the report to Pakistan's leaders who “took steps to prevent support to the Kashmiri militancy, and the number of violent attacks in Kashmir was down by approximately 50 percent from 2006, according to public statements made by the Indian Defense Minister.” The report also acknowledges that India continued to rank among the world’s most terror-afflicted countries. However, Indian policy makers and the security establishment need to take note of the poor assessment of our counter terrorism mechanism. The report notes that the Indian government's counter terrorism efforts remained hampered by outdated and overburdened law enforcement and legal systems. The Indian court system is slow, laborious, and prone to corruption, and terrorism trials can take years to complete. Many of India's local police forces are poorly staffed, lack training, and are ill-equipped to combat terrorism effectively.

    Overall, the latest US report is indicative of its changed approach in combating global terrorism by emphasising that it is not a battle of bombs and bullets alone but essentially of ideas and perceptions. With respect to Pakistan, these reports have been incrementally more objective over the years, though reluctantly. As accusations of US military commanders in Afghanistan about Pakistan’s dubious role become more scathing, objectivity in the contents of such reports is likely to increase, further undermining the “deniability” factor in Pakistan’s response towards terrorism.