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Terrorism: A Study of Its Roots, Aspects, and Two-faced Nature

Rochak lives in Oklahoma, U.S.A. This paper was written for an English course. "Malang" is a pseudonym. Despite its generally balanced tone, a certain bias is nevertheless evident in the following essay. Non-state actors employing violence as a means to achieve their respective goals have been referred to as "terrorists" in the case of Muslims, "fanatics" in the case of Hindus, but as "militants" - and that too within quotes - in the case of Sikhs.

The Sikh Times, Dec. 14, 2003

September 11, 2001! This date shall always be written in red in history books across the world. It is the day not only when America was attacked by terrorists, but also when the world changed for everyone forever. All nations across the world were awakened and realized the potential threat they were facing as a whole. The U.S. 'war on terror' that has reached Afghanistan and Iraq is in fact just the beginning of an international response to the threat of terrorism. This paper focuses on the roots of terrorism, the reasons it raises its ugly head, the various means by which it draws support, how it ultimately affects a society and a country, and how certain governments and/or governmental organizations can at times be responsible for similar acts as well. Being a citizen of India, I focus here on terrorism as it affects India and its citizens.

The images of terror we see on T.V. or read in the newspapers make us feel as if terrorists are individuals different from human beings and are nothing more than bloodthirsty monsters. Astonishingly, scholars have found that terrorists possess a perfectly sound mental condition as opposed to the well-accepted stereotype of them being insane killers (Long, 1990, p. 16). Most of them are people unsatisfied with certain policies of their respective governments and have taken to drastic, and I feel incorrect, measures only upon running out of choices. Be it poor economic conditions, unpleasant social conditions, or political conditions judged as oppressive by them, the common goal of all these individuals is to direct public and governmental attention toward their grievances.

Being perpetrators of terror, violence is their chief weapon. And this violence usually takes the form of bomb blasts, assassinations, and hijackings. Harsh responses from the government - including crackdowns, raids, and arrests - are generally proportional to terrorist activity. The ones who suffer the resulting cycle of violence are, as always, the nation's common inhabitants (Long, 1990, p. 24).

In any case, a group of restless individuals bent on pressing the government to come down on its knees can't achieve much without strong and reliable backing. This support could be in terms of arms, finances, logistics, and political/moral support. Usually such supporters are other operating terror outfits, ethnic political groups, drug traffickers, and sometimes even another country's government in power (Long, 1990, p. 105). The ones supporting such a cause may do so due to common grievances or goals. Support typically comes from individuals and organizations owing allegiance via nationality, religion, ethnicity, or language.

At times, however, there are instances where governments do give in to the demands of terrorists. The best example of this is the release of Maulana Masood Azhar by the Indian government in December 1999 after an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India was hijacked (Trehan, 2002). Such consequences cement the morale and resolve of terrorists and justify their method of struggling for a better future (Morris, 1988, p. 51). Terrorist organizations also give some individuals a chance to 'get back' at those who have treated them unfairly (Long, 1990, p. 107). However, the success of such an organization depends on leadership, planning, and organization (Morris, 1988, p. 63). But what matters the most is the amount of fear that the group can strike within the hearts and minds of the people and/or the government.

This brings me to the subject of terrorism in my native country: India. It must be noted here that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan has been raging ever since the two nations gained independence from British rule in August 1947. A number of talks between the two countries have repeatedly failed as terror continues to rule the valleys of Kashmir. Although the Indian government blames Pakistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism, the latter denies it completely, though it does not shy away from acknowledging moral support for Kashmir's independence from India. Not all terror groups functioning in Kashmir want to join Pakistan. A few wish for an independent and sovereign nation with allegiance to neither India nor Pakistan.

For the past fourteen years or so, terrorism in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has taken a heavy toll on human life. Kidnappings and killings of foreign nationals, indiscriminate and merciless killings of people belonging to other faiths, and sporadic attacks on the security forces is something that has been going on for over 50 years. Reports indicate that as of now there are around 6 principal terrorist groups operating in Kashmir. Others speculate that the number is as high as 182. Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al-Badr, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islam, and Jaish-e-Mohammad are the 6 main groups (Trehan, 2002). The Jaish-e-Mohammad terror outfit was formed by Maulana Masood Azhar, mentioned above.

The above-mentioned groups propagate terror by means of explosive blasts, indiscriminate firing at public places, and targeting government V.I.P.s and security forces (Trehan, 2002). According to Trehan, from January 1990 until June 2000, about 45,586 incidents of terrorist violence have been reported. More than 20,000 people have been killed. Trehan reports that the number of militants killed as 11,479 and the number surrendered as 3,000. Out of the 35,059 militants/suspects captured in the past decade, 15,726 have been arrested under T.A.D.A. (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1987). More than 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles have been seized along with $2.7 million worth of related ammunition. 37,000 hand grenades and 2,500 kilograms of R.D.X. have also been seized in the last decade. This has devastated the tourism-based economy of J&K, which has suffered damage at a figure as high as $417 million (Trehan, 2002).

Unfortunately, however, governments fighting terrorism are often not of a 'saintly' nature either. There have been such governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and scores of other countries that have repeatedly mistreated their own people. In most cases, it is usually a particular ethnic section of society that bears the brunt of the rulers. Massacres sponsored by the government, harsh treatment, and discrimination in facets of day-to-day life are modes by which crimes are committed by those in power. Here, I elaborate on blunders committed by the Indian government.

The Golden Temple (also known as Darbar Sahib) in the city of Amritsar, located in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, is the holiest shrine of Sikhs. In the early days of June 1984, the Indian army launched an attack, codenamed Operation Blue Star, on the Golden Temple. An alarmingly large number of innocent worshippers were killed. The attack was said to be targeting Sikh 'militants' hiding inside the premises of the Golden Temple. Certain foreign media outlets reported that minimal force could have been used to nab them (The Sikh Review, June 2000). Eyewitnesses put the number of dead somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000. Mark Tully of the B.B.C. put the number at 4,000 (The Sikh Review, June 2000). Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India, had ordered the attack. She was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards on October 31 of the same year.

What followed in the streets of the Indian capital, New Delhi, for the next few days was the mass-murder of thousands of innocent Sikhs, including young women and children. As surprising as it may sound to believe, the killer mobs were supplied with iron rods and an abundant supply of gasolene by members of Indira Gandhi's political party, Congress, (Sikh Cyber Museum). A number of eyewitnesses testified that they saw the police assist the bloodthirsty mobs (Sikh Cyber Museum). Educational institutions, houses, movable property, cash, jewellery, factories, and business premises belonging to Sikhs were destroyed, looted, or burnt. Sikh places of worship, called gurdwaras, were systematically attacked to prevent Sikhs from gathering there to save their lives (Sikh Cyber Museum). Nearly two decades after the pogroms, those who masterminded and led the massacres have not been brought to justice. On the contrary, they have been honored with ministerial and other positions of authority.

The years that followed saw a rise in militant activities in the state of Punjab. Enforcement of law and order was accompanied with abuse of human rights by the police. Mysterious disappearances and illegal cremations became common (India Together, June 2003). I was a child when I visited Punjab in the summer of 1989 when terrorism was said to be at its peak. People feared to venture out of their homes after dark. Bus travel became an ordeal because of the fear of bomb explosions. The level of trust between people of different ethnic communities was visibly and considerably diminished. Although my stay in Punjab was relatively short, the experiences will last me a lifetime.

Religious violence is not new to India. The country saw nationwide bloodshed in early 1993 after Hindu fanatics tore down a sixteenth century mosque (Muslim place of worship) in northern India in early December 1992, claiming it to be the birthplace of a Hindu deity. Thousands, mostly Muslims, are said to have died in the waves of Hindu-Muslim violence that ensued. Yet again, the perpetrators of the violence walked away unpunished and continue to occupy important political positions.

Late February and early March, 2002, witnessed yet another horrific carnage of Muslims. Fifty-eight Hindu activists died when the train they were travelling on was set on fire, allegedly by Muslims angry about having been mistreated by some of the passengers at a previous train stop. The Hindu response that followed was terrible and bloody. Mosques were desecrated, Muslim homes and businesses were targeted and destroyed. Amnesty International and India's National Human Rights Commission (N.H.R.C.) have reported the most brutal gang rapes of Muslim women, as young as sixteen (Devraj, 2002). Some of the victims were set on fire and burned to death to destroy the evidence.

Today there is a high level of distrust between the two communities. People saw their neighbors rape their daughters and sisters (Devraj, 2002). One school teacher said he saw his neighbors, also his students, rape girls in his village (Larmer, 2002). History repeated itself when it came to light that once again the local government and the police department aided the crowds in their lust for blood and destruction (Larmer, 2002). Neighbors who had celebrated festivals together, friends that had worked together, and people who had been a part of each others' daily lives turned their backs on each other and joined the ranks of the mobs and the victims (Devraj, 2002).

What then is the solution to terrorism? Is state-sponsored terror justified? Or is it to be condemned in the same words as private terror? In my opinion, the countries of the world must get together to fight the menace of terrorism, both private and state. The only solution to end terror is to punish those advocating it regardless of their positions of authority. Governments of terror-stricken countries must evaluate their policies and ensure justice for all.

In the U.S., cyber-terrorism, as a means to sabotage infrastructure, exists as a potent threat. Associations like the National Infrastructure Protection Center (N.I.P.C.), the National Infrastructure Assurance Council (N.I.A.C.), and the Joint Task-Force Computer Network Defense (J.T.F.-C.N.D.) have been formed especially to defend against this type of threat (Manion, 2000). Also, countries sponsoring terror - including the state-sponsored variety - need to be monitored continuously. Leaders who have misused power should be the first ones to be tried. Nations proved to be supporting terror activities in other countries should be dealt with strictly.


Devraj, Ranjit, 2002: 'Rights-India: Women Targeted in Gujarat Pogrom - Investigators'. India: Inter Press Service English News Wire, April 17.

India Together: Missing Justice.

Larmer, Brook, 2002: A Chilling Message, Reflections, June (Vol. 20, No. 20).

Long, David E., 1990: Anatomy of Terrorism. New York: The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan, Inc., August.

Manion, M. et al., 2000: Computers and Society. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

Morris, Eric et al., 1988: Terrorism: Threat and Response. New York: St. Martin's Press, June.

Sikh Cyber Museum: Delhi Riots - 1984.

The Sikh Review: The Ghalughara: Operation Blue Star - A Retrospective, June 2000.

Sikh Studies: 1984 Massacre: Wounds That Do Not Heal.

Trehan, J., 2002: 'Terrorism and the Funding of Terrorism in Kashmir'. Journal of Financial Crime, Vol. 9, pp. 201-211.