Nepali Times
Now And Then
Terrorism is sideshow


Let's get one thing straight-terrorism, attacks on civilians for a political purpose, is evil. It's wrong and it's equally wrong whether carried out by irregular militant groups or the armed forces of the state.

]What happened in Mumbai in late November had no justification. Whether the perpetrators came from Pakistan, Kashmir or any other place doesn't really matter.

What matters is what happened. Unarmed, thoroughly innocent people were slaughtered in cold blood and a great city was brought to its knees.

Two nuclear armed countries teeter on the brink of wider conflict. Policy makers in South Asia and around the world are distracted from far more pressing issues?climate change and economic collapse among them.

So the bad guys won that round. Admit it and move on. In fact, it's safe to say that terrorists usually win. It's easy to attack an open, pluralistic society with the most primitive of instruments; box-cutters and suicidal intent enabled 9-11, surplus AK47s and murderousness propelled Mumbai.

For what we like to call terrorism has always been with us?and yesterday's terrorists sometimes become today's respected leaders. Nepal's Maoist leaders were once South Asia's most wanted men and women. Now, they meet British and American leaders, cap in hand, and get a sympathetic hearing. None of that justifies the horrific impact of what was rightly seen as terror at the time, but there's no doubt that all sorts of violence can be forgiven, if not forgotten.

A glance back through recent history is enough to convince that terrorism will persist. Anarchists bombed heads of state and government in Europe in the 1800s. Extremist left wing factions carried out nihilist attacks in the 1960s and 70s.

Zionist gangs killed civilians in some of the world's first car bomb attacks in British-ruled Palestine in the late 1940s. Indian freedom fighters who rejected the leadership of Gandhi killed their colonial masters in the early decades of the 20th century.

Various African states had violent anti-imperialist movements that led to men of violence once deemed too dangerous to have their voices broadcast on the BBC, now run Northern Ireland's education system and police services.

So what about Mumbai and what appear to be the grievances of those who just might be behind the attacks? If we assume that international jihadi groups are indeed involved and they claim to be motivated by the plight of Muslims in other parts of the world, is there a role for negotiation and tacit recognition that such conflicts need to be settled?if only to remove the ready justification for all sorts of bad behavior?

There is indeed, but with important provisos. The first is that all sorts of efforts are already taking place to resolve Kashmir, Palestine and even the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. It's hard to find anyone in Delhi, Jerusalem or NATO countries who opposes stepping up these efforts and bringing peace as soon as possible.

But the question of whether this would reduce the number of terror attacks like Mumbai is moot at best.

Are the young gunmen in the photographs from India's commercial capital really feeling deep empathy for the downtrodden of Palestine or Kashmir as they mow down Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsees on the platforms of Victoria Terminus rail station? I would suggest not.

At best, they are alienated, angry young men living out their wildest sick fantasies by having a devastating impact on those around and wielding immense power over the lives?and deaths of others.

We need to accept that terrorism is inevitable and work to stop it in a range of ways?intelligence gathering, covert activity, job creation, generosity while recognising that stopping violence by young men is one of life's impossibilities.

Keep working for peace, order and good government in the world's trouble spots. Be ready for trouble along the way. But keep in mind that there are greater challenges, more existential issues that need our urgent attention.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)