When states commit terrorism

The word terrorism has become a powerful expression and is now exploited by states to achieve political objectives

Kamran Yousaf September 17, 2017
The writer is a senior correspondent of The Express Tribune in Islamabad. He tweets @Kamran_Yousaf

Che Guevara, Bhagat Singh and Mangal Pandey are still revered as heroes and revolutionaries. But given the modern definition of terrorism, today they would have certainly been labelled as terrorists. By today’s standards, even the Indian freedom struggle to seek independence from British rule would have been portrayed as terrorism.

The word terrorism has become a powerful expression, which is now often exploited by states to achieve their political objectives in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the US in 2001. This, however, does not mean that the problem of terrorism does not exist. Let me make it clear that the idea of discussing this subject is not meant to condone the acts of terrorism being orchestrated by various militant outfits currently active in all parts of the world. The main issue here is how states have distorted the definition of terrorism to further their own interests.

In the post 9/11 world, it has become easier for states to equate anything with terrorism. As a consequence of this distortion, today even legitimate freedom struggles are being seen through the prism of terrorism. Kashmir and Palestine are classic examples of how the term terrorism is being applied politically by certain countries to justify the use of force.

The latest example is Myanmar where the state has justified the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. Despite evidence showing the involvement of the Myanmar Army deliberately targeting the innocent Rohingyas, the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has the audacity to link the current crises with militancy. Unsurprisingly, her stance has been endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government’s own record of protecting the rights of minorities is nothing but shameful.

There is a clear duplicity on part of certain countries, which link terrorism only with a particular religion. Overall, in the current environment, it is almost impossible for any individual or a group to fight for their rights no matter even if their cause is just.

In the current international environment no one has the right to fight and if anyone does try to stand up even for legitimate demands, he/she would be called a terrorist. History is proof that many countries or nations achieved their independence through long struggles that were often marred by violence.

Make no mistake: violence perpetrated by states or non-state actors is condemnable in strongest terms. No doubt there is consensus that non-state actors or individuals involved in terrorist acts must be held accountable. But what about the states which are directly or indirectly committing terrorist acts? Unlike terrorist groups, states are governed by a certain set of laws. Therefore, states not only have moral but also legal obligation to perform their functions. But, ironically, that principle has rarely been followed.

Available research on the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan clearly shows that more people have been killed owing to direct or indirect actions by the states than terrorist groups in these hotspots. Killing of innocent people whether by states or non-states actors is nothing but terrorism. In fact, invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and involvement of foreign players in the conflicts of Syria and Yemen have resulted in the direct rise of terrorism. There is no secret that the emergence of the dreaded ISIS was the direct consequence of the US invasion of Iraq.

Even the state of Pakistan had been found involved in misusing the authority in the name of fighting terrorism. Thousands of people had been kept in illegal custody and hundreds of them had been handed over to the US as the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf admitted in his book In The Line of Fire. The bottom line is that states can commit acts of terrorism or make mistakes with impunity.

This sorry state of affairs is testament to the fact that there is complete breakdown of the current global order. The very idea of establishment of the UN following the devastation of WWII was to strive for international peace, human rights and better living standards. The purpose behind the creation of the world body was also to ensure a just world order, where grievances of everyone could be addressed in an amicable manner. That was the reason issues of Kashmir and Palestine were taken to the UN. But, unfortunately, the world body in reality has become a tool in the hands of powerful countries, including the US, and hence lost its efficacy. Had the UN been effective and played its due role, tens of thousands of Rohingyas would not have been fleeing Myanmar, Afghanistan would not have been in turmoil or Kashmir and Palestine disputes would not have remained unresolved.

What should the Rohingya Muslims do if they continue to face state repression while the world looks on? Would Rohingyas be called terrorists if they stand up and defy the Myanmar authorities? What about the people of India-occupied Kashmir? Is it fair to equate their just struggle, even acknowledged by the UNSC resolutions, with terrorism? The world needs to clearly redefine what exactly terrorism is and also review the overall strategy to fight that menace. Using this powerful expression to achieve political objectives will only exacerbate the problem.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2017.

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Shocked and Horrified | 4 years ago | Reply I am always amazed at the high level of tolerance shown and respect given to the minorities in Islamic countries. The author should have highlighted this in this article.
Tyggar | 4 years ago | Reply Unsurprisingly, her stance has been endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government’s own record of protecting the rights of minorities is nothing but shameful. Not a single word on China's role as the major backer of Myanmar's military is amusing. Hypocrite!
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