Diagnosis

Evolution of Terrorism – Part 2

Salman Javed
Written by Salman Javed

Post-modern and Pre-modern

Walter Laqueur in his article “Postmodern Terrorism”, published in 1996 in the Foreign Affairs Journal, said:

“Society has also become vulnerable to a new kind of terrorism, in which the destructive power of both the individual terrorist and terrorism as a tactic are infinitely greater.”

Terrorism is evolving, and that is a proven fact of our lives now. Although the basic idea remains the same, which is to incept “fear” in the hearts and minds of the victim, terrorism, however has evolved on tactical grounds immensely. The more the world is moving towards clashes and conflicts instead of sustainable peace, the more this strategy of terrorism is used by state and non-state actors.

Terrorism is evolving, and that is a proven fact of our lives now. Although the basic idea remains the same, which is to incept “fear” in the hearts and minds of the victim, terrorism, however has evolved on tactical grounds immensely.

As militaries learn from other militaries, and study strategies and tactics of historical as well as contemporary organizations and their counterparts, similarly, terrorists evolve in their strategic and tactical thought processes. Paul J. Smith in his book “Terrorism Ahead” explained how these state and non-state actors acquire knowledge in two different ways. They are:

  • Vertically – through the study of historical narratives and evidences, and
  • Horizontally – by studying the tactics and strategies of contemporaneous organizations and networks.

The transfer of knowledge, both ideological and operational is the key to evolution of terrorism. The scholars who have closely studied the methodology and tactics of terrorists and terror networks are of the view that the ‘design’ used by such organizations or individual, be it Islamic or non-Islamic is similar in pattern. Hence, the operational tactics are more or less similar, but main difference is in the ideological aspects of the organization, institution or individual.

Organizations or individuals with similar ideologies learn and evolve themselves according to contemporary circumstances. Ethno nationalists may learn tactics of developing their skills from religious zealots and vice versa, but the lethality becomes exponential when the knowledge is coming from the same ideological order; horizontal or vertical order becomes irrelevant in such a case.

History of Evolution

Pre – Modern: ‘Sicarii’, Zealots or ‘Assassins’ (Hasheeshain) are three classical examples from history. Sicarii are considered as the first century terrorist organization – the oldest one. It was a focused group of people, who attacked their fellow Jews to affect the policies of the ruling elite, i.e., the Romans. The Romans used to wield their power through their partisan elite class of Jews. On the other hand, Zealots, who emerged in 66 CE, were more focused on attacking the Romans directly. The Zealots used to poison the wells and sabotage the water supply of Jerusalem. This is also the first ever use of chemical warfare in recorded history. Hasheeshain or “Assassins” are a classical example of mercenaries who spread terror, first as an organized group, and later as paid mercenaries used by different people against the then Muslim rulers, particularly, Sultan Salah-ud-Deen and Noor-ud-Deen Zhangi.

The most important similarity between these groups was that despite targeted and general killings, they were focused on one thing: “symbolic targets and their assassination”. Through this tactic they were able to amplify the impact of their agenda in society.

Post – Modern: Similar examples can be taken in the post-modern era. Velupillai Prabhakaran of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers), evolved his tactics and strategy by studying other pressure groups in the world. The LTTE started Black Tiger (suicide attacks), as one of their major tactic to achieve the goal of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil homeland). By the late 1990s, the LTTE managed to carry out 160 suicide attacks, and was roughly responsible for two-third of all suicide bombings around the world, hence recognized as one of the most deadly organization in the world.

The most important similarity between these groups was that despite targeted and general killings, they were focused on one thing: “symbolic targets and their assassination”. Through this tactic they were able to amplify the impact of their agenda in society.

Anarchists in Western Europe, US and Latin America also have a history of terrorist activities. The IRA (the Irish Republic army), ETA (Eukadi ta Askatasuna – Basque Homeland and Liberty) in Spain and Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) in Turkey are classic examples of ethno nationalist movements of terrorism.

On the other hand, Magdi Mahmoud – the biochemist professor who is believed to be the main culprit in London bombings, Timothy McVeigh – the Oklahoma City bomber or Budford Furrow who attacked the Jewish day-care center in Los Angeles, are examples of different individuals with different goals, aims, targets and ideologies, but with similar designs and patterns to carry out their activities.

Pakistan, in particular and the Muslim world, in general is a victim of all kind of terrorism, be it ethno nationalism or religious radicalization.

The so called Islamist organizations, like the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Al Qaeda and the TTP, also emerged in the postmodern era. While scholars and strategists garnered the similarities between patterns of knowledge transfer and operational designs, they completely lost focus on the exponential lethality that these different, yet closely entangled, and integrated organizations and individuals have due to the compounded knowledge that they share with each other in order to facilitate and achieve their “common goal”. Pakistan, in particular and the Muslim world, in general is a victim of all kind of terrorism, be it ethno nationalism or religious radicalization.

Non- State Actors, Cultural Terrorism and 4GW

Although terror has been used throughout the history of mankind as a means to establish domestic and in-tribe control, religion had always been a force that resisted it, granting the notion of equality, love, and instilling fear of God in humanity. Only when the western civilization entered the post renaissance era, and the theorization of knowledge started increasing at exponential rates, the West finally realize that they had gone too far with despotism, war and misery; after eighty years of constant wars in Europe, the peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648 .

This treaty, for the first time, endorsed the right of a state to its sovereignty, freedom of choice to its people, and non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state. But this peace did not exactly match the hegemonic spirit of many nations, although now warped in secularized humanism and democratic capitalism.

After eighty years of constant wars in Europe, the peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648.

As the states began to define their boundaries, and direct intervention was barred by this treaty, the trend of secret espionage and covert interference started on a steady rise, to the limit that spy agencies had to be an integral part of all sophisticated nations, oblivious to the fact that espionage is essentially a moral dishonesty, and should be limited to extreme requirement; it was made the prime focal point for all strategic planning and engagements, and foreign policy matters.

In modern history Terrorism became a re-invented tool for one state to intervene in the matters of another, wherein spies eliminated unwanted targets of the opponent state, penetrated its institutions, stole their secrets and jeopardized its activities; furthermore false-flag operations were conducted to make way for major strategic advances. All this accumulated into the idea of 4th-generation warfare, wherein emphasis was laid in developing techniques, and whereby the target country would be conquered by depending least upon direct battle, and more upon psychological techniques.

This treaty, for the first time, endorsed the right of a state to its sovereignty, freedom of choice to its people, and non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state. But this peace did not exactly match the hegemonic spirit of many nations, although now warped in secularized humanism and democratic capitalism.

Although the idea of 4GW was discussed and coined in late 80s, but regionally this tactic was used by India against Pakistan in the 1971 conflict, where a terrorist outfit, Mukti Bahani was created and the lines between clear war and peace, political and non-political motives, truth and falsehood, combatants and civilians were blurred. Terrorists carried out their operations, and state institutions were in confusion about the real enemy, to the point, that they lost their half of the country.

Similarly, terrorist organizations that took birth from the internal conflict of a country are often exploited by the external enemies of any opponent nation.  The idea of 4GW encompasses the cultural, psychological and physical terrorism by individuals and organizations. From the use of soft power to the steady rise of psy-ops, 4th Generation of warfare has been used, deployed and results have been orchestrated. Story tellers crafted the faces of nations as per their desires.

All this accumulated into the idea of 4th-generation warfare, wherein emphasis was laid in developing techniques, and whereby the target country would be conquered by depending least upon direct battle, and more upon psychological techniques.

To carry the message of terrorism far and wide in the land, psy-ops play the most important role. The tactical brilliance used by terrorists in this field is a case study of intelligence and perception management. This effect of terrorism has been intensified by using media machines, which play as a front of the terrorist brigade that keeps the nation engaged in depressive arguments and non-issues. From Yugoslavia to Iraq to Libya and Pakistan, terrorism through its hard and soft powers damaged the nation’s will. Some fell, some remained resilient, and now the evolution of terrorism is turning a new page of history, by entering into the arena of 5th generation warfare!

This evolution in the world of warfare has been used to its full extent by the terrorist organizations, their handlers and operators, details of which will be given in the forthcoming chapters.  The point, however, to be taken here is the similarity between pre and post-modern terrorists and their methodologies. It is the key to counter a specific outfit, organization or individual.

About the author

Salman Javed

Salman Javed

was formerly associated with the CSCR. He tweets @M_Essjay.

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