Why the Times Square Incident Should Be a Turning Point
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 24 May 2010
The Times Square incident on the first of this month can be a turning point in international movements towards containing terrorism. The incident both in its preceding and succeeding developments points to the scenario how the incidents of terrorism are interlinked and how one incident is linked up to another. Most importantly, it shows how dualism as a state policy in containing terrorism can not be sustained any more. There needs to be an international format based on consensus to fight the menace. Whether it was the terror attacks in Moscow, or terror attacks in other parts of the world like Mumbai or New York, there needs to be an international coalition to fight the deadliest scourge of the 21st century. The US, like many other terror-prone countries, may not be lucky every time as in the case of Times Square incident in which the devices did not explode.
One of the important features of international terror networks which are increasingly coming to picture with the recent incident is the use of money in illegal way. The more popularly called ‘Hawala’ money, particularly in the context of South Asia, this illegal money generated out of drugs and arms trafficking business have helped in a great way in financing the terror incidents. It is now established that the Pak based Indian don Dawood Ibrahim, having a drug racket spreading from South Asia to Gulf and as well as Afghanistan and Central Asia financed the Mumbai terror attack of 2008. Similarly the culprit arrested for the Times Square incident was delivered $4000 in a shop named Dunkin’ Donuts at the Long Island in New York to aid the process of bomb making works and detonation at the Times Square. It is a common knowledge how billions of dollars are spent in maintaining the terror networks, in providing sophisticated training in bomb making and planting, and how to evade the public scrutiny.
The more scrutiny in this recent case has indicated the involvement of the Taliban in North Waziristan area of Pakistan. Hence, not surprisingly the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton threatened Pakistan of ‘severe consequences’ if such incidents would occur in the soil of America with support from the elements in Pakistan. In this context, one can also mention US President Barak Obama’s statement when he says that the incident is a ‘sobering reminder of the times in which we live’ and that the people of the US will not ‘cower in fear.’ It may be reflection of the US policy which most of the times has adopted a kind of carrot and stick policy in containing terrorism. But it seems a difficult balance to adopt a strategy which aims at preventing terrorism in the US soil but can tolerate or adopt a soft approach towards terrorism in other countries.
This approach will definitely bounce back as religious fundamentalism and terrorism in its ambit does not differentiate between the nation-states. Rather it plays a vigorous pitch in promoting the radical version of a particular religion. Hence, when Doku Umarov the radical Chechen leader declared Islamic Caliphate in the North Caucasus, supported by the international terror patronage further south, it was not motivated by any noble aims and designs to promote peace and development, but to promote a radical variety of Islam. In fact he is interested to establish the prototype of the rule that the Taliban promoted in Afghanistan in the 1990s. The major powers including the US need to realize this imperative that terrorism and particularly religious terrorism does not recognize any state boundary and does not differentiate between diverse ways of life. Hilary Clinton’s threatening warning of sever consequences might have propelled the Pakistani authorities to pull the strings in right direction, but also in contrary it further ensconced the hatred of Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan towards the US. The US administration recently pointed out that it knows where is the current location of Osama bin Laden, indicating the north west of Pakistan. However, it does not bring much substantive result. The only result from the US point of view may be that the government of Pakistan will cooperate with the US in arresting the culprits behind the Times Square incident. But the larger issue- the terror network in Pakistan, the rise of Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the spread of terror network and activities to the neighbouring regions will remain unaddressed or addressed half heartedly.
Coming back to Obama’s statement the Times Square incident is a ‘sobering reminder of the times in which we live’. It can be meaningful if interpreted and worked upon in a true international spirit. If it is interpreted as a reminder for tightening up the security measures in the US, then it will be narrow interpretation and hence missing the point. Some of the commentators seem to have interpreted that way. They have argued for incorporating laws such as stringent interrogation process, or stripping of the citizenship if the person convicted of terrorism is a US citizen, etc. One may argue how far in a globalized world these measures will be able to contain terrorism in the US soil, when there is not only communication only on physical plane but also communication through cyber space and other means of technology. Besides, it may to an extent prevent terrorism in the US, but it will not be able to contain the rapid growth of terror networks in other parts of the world. A simple reminder of Afghan situation will bring this point clearly. Currently, the Taliban in Afghanistan is getting strengthened and the Karzai government is devising means to include Taliban elements in the decision making process.
The fact remains that terrorism is such a menace it can not be contained single handedly by a single country. In fact the nature of terrorism is so complicated and so wide and embedded; it will be difficult to tackle the menace by amending national laws or by punishing few terrorists. A global coalition, with a genuine global agenda, is the imperative of the hour if the world is to become terror-free, stable and peaceful.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is currently a research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India. He specialises on issues of conflict, peace and development, terrorism and strategic aspects of Central Eurasia
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 May 2010.
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