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International Security 26.3 (2002) 94-116

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Fighting Terrorism in Southern Asia:
The Lessons of History

Brahma Chellaney

The upsurge of international terrorism 1 in an age of globalization and information revolution is a reminder of the integrating and dividing force of the present trends. At a time of greater international fluidity and uncertainty, 2 the coexistence of religious orthodoxy, ethnic or local affiliation, jingoism, and even xenophobia in some societies with supposed internationalism and a single "global village" raises troubling questions about international peace and stability. So does the location of four-fifths of the world's oil resources in politically troubled areas when international competition for oil and other natural resources is sharpening. 3

Terrorism could become even a bigger scourge in the coming years without greater international cooperation and sustained antiterror operations. First, the diffusion of advanced technology is facilitating acts of terror and rearing new forms of terrorism. Second, regimes that murder, maim, and menace the innocent are employing export of terrorism--like classical national power projection--as an indispensable component of state power. Third, substate actors, some promoted by regimes and some operating with the connivance of elements within the national military, intelligence, or government, will continue to employ religion or ethnic or sectarian aspirations to justify their acts of terror. Fourth, terrorists and their backers will always seek to rationalize their actions as a response to an asymmetrical situation so inoperably weighted against them as to preclude conventional methods. Fifth, the growth of extremism [End Page 94] in authoritarian Muslim states is linked both to the lack of avenues for expression and debate and to the sense of disillusionment over the widening technology and knowledge gap between the Islamic world and the West. 4 Earlier, the oil boom of the 1970s created an "illusion that power had come to the Islamic world." 5

Before terrorists struck with a vengeance against the United States in September 2001, terrorism had not received serious international attention, with some analysts even claiming that its threat was being exaggerated. 6 A global antiterror campaign was long overdue, but just as a strong police and a strong military do not stop crime and aggression, this offensive does not mean that terrorism will cease to be a cost-effective political tool for those unable to deal directly with their perceived adversaries. The antiterror campaign, by the manner it defines, serves, and sustains its larger goals, can institute new organizing principles and priorities for international relations and, in the process, help delineate a new world order. State sponsorship of or collusion with terrorism, and the rise of intrastate war, are already challenging the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of another nation. 7

This article analyzes the likely trends in southern Asia, the center of transnational terrorism. It first examines the terrorism challenges there and then, in separate sections, evaluates the impact of the antiterror campaign on India's and Pakistan's security. In the final section, the article deals with the longer-term implications of the war on terrorism and what it will take to accomplish major objectives in that campaign. The article argues that the fight against terrorism in southern Asia will prove to be a long and difficult one, spurring further instability and violence, before a sustained campaign can bring a satisfactory degree of order. It also contends that it will be difficult not only to reunite the ethnically fragmented Afghanistan but also to establish a stable, broad-based, multiethnic government in Kabul that can exercise authority over the entire landlocked nation. Afghanistan's ethnic separatism and violence [End Page 95] could damage the unity of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

Terrorism in Southern Asia

Facing mounting terrorist violence, Asia already accounts for 75 percent of all terrorism casualties worldwide. 8 With the world's fastest-growing markets, fastest-rising military expenditures, and most serious hot spots (including the epicenter of international terrorism), Asia holds the key to the future global order. Much of Asia's terrorist violence is concentrated in its southern belt, which in the past decade...


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