Center for Strategic Decision Research


India's Views on Terrorism

Shri. Satish Chandra
Deputy National Security Advisor of India

Terrorism did not start with the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, nor will it end with them. Terrorism has been around for ages and unfortunately is likely to be with us for a long time. As with earlier terrorist acts, the September 11 incidents had a political core, deliberately targeted innocents, were designed to inspire fear and terror, involved highly motivated individuals who were prepared to give up their lives, and used the methodology of asymmetric warfare. What distinguished them from earlier incidents was the meticulous planning, the daring execution, the magnitude of targets acquired, the scale of casualties inflicted, and the innovative use of aircraft as missiles. September 11 exposed, as never before, the vulnerability of even a superpower to terrorism, and demonstrated that no one anywhere is safe from its reach. It also dramatically illustrated the fact that terrorism has become globalized and that what was being taught in Madrasas in Karachi and Peshawar could have an impact in places as far removed as New York and Washington. Captured live on visual media, the attacks of September 11 vividly brought home to millions around the world the horrors of terrorism, as well as helped to cobble together an international coalition against this scourge. 

The current international concern about terrorism does not come a day too soon and in fact is long overdue. Terrorism not only poses a threat to global security and stability but also destroys civil society, democracy, and human rights. Left unattended, the consequences of terrorism can be catastrophic. 


It is only fitting and appropriate that the organizers of the 19th International Workshop on Global Security and the War on Terrorism sought an Indian view on terrorism. Since its very inception, India has been a victim of terrorism. The havoc wrought by terrorists from across the border in Jammu and Kashmir (J and K) and by Razakars in Hyderabad in 1947-48 is still fresh in our minds. Over the last several decades, India has had to deal with terrorist violence, most notably in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and the northeast. Much of this violence has been actively aided and abetted from abroad. In J and K alone, more than 30,000 people were killed between 1988 and March 2002. In addition, the cross-border terrorism in that area during this period resulted in the destruction of over 1,300 government buildings, 800 educational institutions, 350 bridges, thousands of private dwellings and shops, and the displacement of over 55,000 families. The fact that over 26,000 AK series rifles, 4 million rounds of ammunition, 6,000 rockets, 64,000 grenades, and 31,700 kg of explosives were recovered from the terrorists gives you some idea of the scale and magnitude of the terrorist actions there. 

The violence in J and K has been largely perpetrated by terrorist groups such as LET (Lashkar-e-Toiba), JEM (Jaish-e-Mohammed), and HUM (Harkat-ul-Mujahideen), which are linked to Al-Qaeda and based in Pakistan. Indeed Pakistan has been directly involved in motivating, training, financing, arming, and infiltrating terrorists from these and other outfits into J and K and other parts of India for terrorist operations. It is therefore no surprise that as a longstanding victim of terrorism, India has been at the forefront of those calling for concerted action to deal with this menace, which is a threat to all civilized society. 

On March 12, 1993 India had its own September 11 when 11 powerful bombs, between 1320 and 1600 hours, ripped apart the city of Bombay, including the Stock Exchange, the Air India Office, hotels, cinemas, and other buildings, causing not only enormous property damage but also nearly a thousand casualties. Pakistan's complicity in the incident was established by involvement with the Bombay underworld figure Dawood Ibrahim, who now lives in Karachi and whose name was on the list of 20 we gave to Pakistan for extradition to India. There has been no letup over the years in such terrorist actions against India, including the JEM attack on the J and K National Assembly on October 1, 2001 and the JEM-LET-assisted suicide attack on the National Parliament complex on December 13, 2001. 


The struggle against terrorism has been hampered by the international community's inability to establish a commonly accepted definition of the word. This is ironic, since everyone knows what terrorism is all about. Certainly the victims know it very well, and do not need sermons from experts seeking to define the term. It is nevertheless worthwhile to briefly consider the definitions given to terrorism by some countries: 

1. The EU provisionally agreed in December 2001 that "terrorist offenses" constitute those "intentional" acts that may "seriously damage a country or an international organization," when committed with the aim of "seriously intimidating a population. . . unduly compelling a government or an international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act, or seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental, political, constitutional, economic, or social structures of a country or an international organization..." 

2. Section 2331 of Title 18 of the United States code defines international terrorism as occurring primarily outside the United States and involving "violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State" and that appear to be intended "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping." 

3. The U.K. Terrorism Act of 2000 defines terrorism as "the use or threat of action" inter alia involving serious violence against a person, serious damage to property, "serious risk to the health or safety of the public, etc., for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause or to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public." 

4. The draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism submitted by India to the U.N. states that terrorism is an action taken "unlawfully and intentionally" with the intent to cause "death or serious bodily injury to any person; or serious damage to a state or government facility, a public transportation system, communication system, or infrastructure facility with the intent to cause extensive destruction of such a place, facility, or system, or where such destruction results or is likely to result in major economic loss" when the purpose of such an act is "to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act." 

5. Under the Indian Prevention of Terrorism Act, a terrorist act is defined as an act committed by a person/s with the intention of threatening the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India or striking terror that results in death or injuries (or likelihood thereof), destruction/damage to property, disruption of essential supplies/services, damage/destruction of equipment to be used for the defense of India/other purposes of government, or detention of any person with the intention of compelling the government of India to abstain from or do any act. A terrorist act also includes the raising of funds intended for the purpose of terrorism. 

Clearly, while there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism today, the definitions just cited agree that: 

  • Terrorism involves the use or threat of use of violence to intimidate. 
  • Such violence may be directed against innocent civilians, the government/government facilities, or both. 
  • The purpose of such violence or the threat of such violence is to compel authorities to do or to abstain from doing any act. 
  • Terrorism always has an agenda designed to advance a particular cause. 

One of the factors that has prevented the development of a commonly accepted definition of terrorism is the debate on whether or not terrorism can be justified on any count. The OIC, in Resolution 65/27-P at the 27th session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (June 2000), while strongly condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, reaffirmed that the "struggle of peoples under colonialist or alien domination or under foreign occupation, for their national liberation or to regain their right to self-determination does not constitute an act of terrorism." The OIC therefore apparently legitimizes the use of violence even against innocent civilians when involved in national liberation struggles. This, however, flies in the face of the UNGA Resolution 51/210 of January 1997, which, in addition to strongly condemning all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism as "criminal and unjustifiable wherever and by whomsoever committed," reiterates that "considerations of political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious, or other nature" cannot be invoked to justify them. Thus, in the language of this resolution, criminal acts that terrorize people, irrespective of their motives, constitute terrorism. While the two resolutions differ, the OIC's view on the issue is evolving. Yasser Arafat is reported to have condemned suicide bombing in Israel and the Malaysian Prime Minister recently proposed that all attacks targeting civilians be considered terrorism. 

Until and unless the international community recognizes that terrorism cannot be justified on any ground, our struggle to eliminate it will remain much more difficult. Without such consensus, one man's terrorism will be another man's freedom-fighting. There might even be distinctions between "good" and "bad" terrorists. Winning the fight against terrorism demands the resolution of this matter; there must be no double standards, so that anyone's terrorist is everyone's terrorist. No matter what their motivation, terrorists must be recognized for what they are-a menace to civilized society. 


Over the years, human rights activists have often unwittingly encouraged terrorism because the focus of their attention has been on security forces. While extremely critical of these forces, they have tended to gloss over human rights violations committed by terrorist groups. This may be because though governments are accountable, terrorist groups are not. Indeed not so long ago, human rights activists argued that preserving human rights was the responsibility of states, and what was done by terrorists was beyond their ken. 

Fortunately this is changing. At the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, terrorist activities were recognized as being "aimed at the destruction of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy, threatening territorial integrity, security of states and destabilizing legitimately constituted governments." It also recognized that terrorism constituted a major obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights. Against this backdrop, it is incumbent upon human rights activists to be balanced and evenhanded in their focus on human rights violations, whether committed by security forces or by terrorists. 

The preservation of human rights is a noble cause, and is basic to democracy. No democratic government can be immune to human rights concerns. In the struggle between security forces and terrorists, the latter are clearly at an advantage. While security forces, particularly in a democratic environment, must function within the constraints of the law, terrorists respect no laws. For them, their cause alone is supreme and justifies anything. This belief allows them to break any law, disregard any moral code, and trample all human rights. Indiscriminate murder of innocents is grist for their mill. Because of their nature and openness, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and democratic societies are particularly vulnerable to the machinations of terrorists, who cleverly exploit to their advantage the concerns about human rights that exist in such societies and in the international community. 


Some believe that to effectively handle terrorism, its "root causes" must be addressed. While this may prima facie sound reasonable, it would actually defer addressing terrorism directly. Like many other phenomena, terrorism can be the product of the intertwining of a multiplicity of factors, such as poverty, ethnic tensions, chauvinism, religious fundamentalism, socioeconomic inequities, military or autocratic rule, erosion of democratic institutions, the belief that wrongs have been done to a community, racism, and so on. How much each one of these factors may or may not contribute to terrorism is always debatable. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that terrorism can never be justified no matter what the cause or causes, real or imaginary, and that it must be put down through firm and concerted cooperation by nations throughout the world. It does not mean, of course, that factors that breed or could breed terrorism should not be addressed. They should be. However, terrorism and its causative factors should be addressed separately and in their own time. 


The September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. focused the international community's attention on the threat posed by terrorism to global and regional security. UNSC Resolution 1373, adopted on September 28, 2001, represents the international consensus that any act of international terrorism "constitutes a threat to international peace and security" and calls upon all states to work together to prevent and suppress such acts through all lawful means. Apart from emphasizing that "every state has the duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting, or participating in terrorist acts in another state or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts," it also calls upon all states to "refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts." Accordingly, any state that provides moral, political, or diplomatic support to any terrorist group would be doing so in contravention of Resolution 1373. I make a specific mention of this because Pakistan is on record as having stated that it has been providing such support to militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir. 

The September 11 attacks changed the world's security environment significantly. Terrorism is now seen as an all-pervasive, ubiquitous threat, and the use of NBC weapons by non-state actors to pursue their narrow agenda is seen as a distinct possibility. The formation of a global coalition to fight terrorism has been an important development. The dislodging of the Taliban, the destruction of the Al-Qaeda terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, and the formation of an interim administration in Afghanistan within the framework of the U.N.-sponsored Bonn Accord have also begun a new chapter in Afghanistan. However, there are still many uncertainties, particularly the fragile security environment in Afghanistan and the daunting challenge of reconstruction and rehabilitation there. It is our hope that the Afghan people, assisted by the international community, will be able to overcome their present difficulties and lead normal lives. It would be a pity if external interference in Afghanistan, which was the norm in the area, resumes once again. The international community must ensure that this does not happen. 

As the war against terrorism extends beyond Afghanistan, several concerns are coming to the fore. Can the global coalition against terrorism be sustained? How will the rising trend of unilateralism and the developments in the Middle East affect it? There are also fears that Osama bin Laden remains at large and that Al-Qaeda fragments that have escaped Afghanistan may regroup and threaten different parts of the world in the near future. Documents seized in Afghanistan also suggest that the Al-Qaeda network has contemplated the use of nuclear and biological weapons. These documents also corroborate that the ISI-Al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus in Afghanistan has been the breeding ground for hundreds of terrorists, many of whom were inducted into India. 

Cross-border terrorism is a particularly deadly variety of state-sponsored terrorism. India has been a victim of such terrorism, particularly over the last 20 years. Honed to perfection by India's neighbor, this form of terrorism has been deployed with great effect to cause panic, demoralize the population, and bleed and destabilize the country. Cross-border terrorism is another name for proxy war. India has lost thousands of civilians and security personnel to cross-border terrorism, aided and abetted by Pakistan. The loss of jobs, economic opportunities, and developmental efforts cannot be comprehended. 

Religion-based terrorism is another deadly form. While no religion preaches terrorism, religious extremists have certainly exploited religious sentiments to pursue their own agenda and foment hatred and violence. It is unfortunate that in recent years the fair name of Islam has been tarnished by extremists. Religious seminaries-madrasas-that mushroomed in Pakistan in the late 1980s and 1990s, coupled with training camps set up expressly to train terrorists, have contributed to the growth of international terrorism. 

Many of those trained in these camps moved from Southeast Asia to North Africa. In 1998, a new front, known as the International Islamic Front for Jihad, was established, consisting of terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, from several countries. Propagating the doctrine of religious intolerance, this group openly incited Muslims against non-Muslims, fully supported by the Taliban and Pakistan and headed by none other than Osama bin Laden. The terrorist attacks it carried out include those against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, the attack on U.S.S. Cole in Aden, and of course the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11. In addition, Osama bin Laden established an expansive terrorist training infrastructure in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban, and at least 50,000-70,000 youth from 55 countries are said to have been trained out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The war against terrorism must continue to be waged against the graduates of this vast terrorist infrastructure. 

Terrorism has been globalized. This is why it has become such a potent threat. As our experience with Al-Qaeda has shown, terrorists are highly networked and tuned into the latest technology. They have also exploited charitable organizations and moved funds across the world through both legal and illegal channels. Drug trafficking is an important source of their funding. In fact, the close connection between international terrorism and transnational organized crime, illicit drugs and money laundering, illegal arms transacting, and illegal movement of nuclear, chemical, and biological materials poses a serious threat to international security. Against such a backdrop, there can be no justification for terrorism. The effort to dignify it by calling it a struggle for freedom or Jihad will only appease terrorists and encourage them in their deadly deeds. 


The international community has a major role to play in the fight against international terrorism. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 is showing the way by laying down broad parameters for international cooperation, including prevention and suppression of the financing of terrorist acts, freezing of terrorists' financial assets, exchange of operational information regarding movement of terrorists and their networks, cooperating on bilateral and multilateral arrangements and agreements, preventing terrorists from gaining refugee status, and cooperating to break the connection between international terrorism and transnational organized crime. The key to the resolution is that all states are fundamentally responsible for curbing terrorist activity. 

There are at least a dozen international conventions that deal with different aspects of international terrorism, ranging from the hijacking of planes to the financing of terrorist activities. While these are important conventions, they deal with the issue in a piecemeal and fragmented manner. In order to tackle the problem effectively, India circulated in 1996 the draft of a "Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism" at the 51st session of the UNGA. In 1999, at the 54th session, it was decided that the Indian draft would be taken up for discussion. It is now necessary for the international community to finalize a draft convention on a priority basis. 

In the ultimate analysis, it is the will of the international community that is critical for a concerted onslaught against terrorism. We need not get bogged down in arguments about human rights, root causes, and so on. Instead, we should recognize terrorism for the scourge that it is and join hands to deal with it effectively. 

One of the most important steps in this direction, which was highlighted in UNSC Resolution 1373, is that all states must sincerely work together to eliminate terrorism. If terrorists receive no support, active or passive, from any state, they cannot possibly survive. That terrorism is so widespread today is testimony to the fact that terrorists, through acts of omission and commission on the part of many states, have been allowed to flourish. Every state must now realize that terrorism anywhere, though far removed and not an immediate, direct threat, can become a direct threat over time. Therefore it must be put down wherever it raises its ugly head. 

Towards this end, the international coalition against terrorism should set up one or more multilateral working groups to do the following: 

  • Root out the financial resources and supporters of terrorist outfits to squeeze the former and penalize the latter. Greater transparency and monitoring of banking transactions will be essential to these tasks. 
  • Compile and regularly update data on terrorism and terrorist organizations as well as share real-time intelligence about these groups' aims, objectives, and activities. 
  • Plan and carry out joint intelligence-based operations to neutralize terrorist outfits and undertake, as necessary, operations to retaliate against terrorist acts committed in any part of the world. 
  • Conduct a media campaign against terrorism that creates awareness among people in general and the young in particular about how damaging to themselves and self-defeating it could be to provide any kind of support to terrorists or terrorist organizations. 
  • Develop multipurpose international cooperation to facilitate action-administrative, police, economic, and judicial-against terrorism and terrorists. 
  • Enact analogous legislation against terrorism in all member-countries of the international coalition to facilitate arrest, extradition, trial, and punishment of terrorists, cutting across international boundaries and barriers. 

In addition to taking these steps, the coalition should also ensure that any state that aids and abets terrorism or is not dedicated to targeting it is appropriately penalized. 



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