Pawns of terrorism | Pakistan Today

Pawns of terrorism

When proxies turn on their masters


The Westgate mall siege in Nairobi taking lives of 72 people including six security personnel and five militants sharply brought to focus the rise of asymmetrical warfare. Al-Shabab joined Al-Qaeda in 2012 and laid claim to this attack.“Kenya’s foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said that two or three Americans and one female British national were among the attackers.” (The GuardianSeptember 24, 2013) CNN says Al-Shabaab has over the past many years now had strong links within the United States. “Some fifteen Americans have died fighting for Al-Shabaab, as many as four of them as suicide bombers in Somalia, and an American citizen even took up a leadership role in the group.”

Terrorism is spreading globally using unconventional warfare. It transcends geographical borders, bringing on one platform people from different religions, different cultural backgrounds and targeting innocent people. NYT shares; a former Navy reservist killed at least 12 people in a mass shooting at a secure military facility in America. (September 16, 2013) The enormity of such actions cannot be ignored because it was carried out by individuals. Then there is the Ku Klux Clan.Believing in supremacy of the white, it’s a racist and anti-sematic movement. Founded in 1866, it is dubbed as America’s first terrorist group. Initially against the African-Americans, the group spread its base, with time enveloping others in its hate list.

Though most would agree upon certain acts to be part of terrorism, no single, internationally acceptable definition exists. According to the US Department of Defense terrorism is, “The calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Terrorists act outside the ambit of law; aimed to bring pressure upon the government. New causes result in emerging of new groups whose interests may overlap at some levels and diverge on others. The number of incidents of terrorism has increased over the years. Societies are becoming increasingly more desensitized towards these human tragedies. Media has a lot to answer in terms of playing a mentionable role in this desensitization by increasingly sensationalized reporting. Terrorists may feel they must enact bigger and increasingly more gruesome acts, in order to gain media attention.

The trend of state sponsorship of terrorism aimed to retain supremacy locally, regionally or globally will continue. No amount of lip service to dealing with terrorism without governments deciding not to support it themselves will make any difference in the final analysis.

Asymmetrical warfare is wedded to terrorism. Proxy wars are an example of asymmetrical war. Governments may use proxy wars, so can non-state actors. Proxy wars may be fought along with full-scale conflicts or more typically, during cold wars. An obvious example is of the Vietnam War from 1959 to mid-1975 between the US and its Western allies on one side and Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China on the other. A more recent example is the war between the Mujahedeen/Taliban and the Soviets in Afghanistan. The danger of creating a third force to fight a proxy war can never be undermined. The Frankenstein’s monster can develop a mind and will of its own, smashing the control in the hand of its creator.

Pakistan in recent years has become a hotbed of sectarian violence.Many elements play their part including economics, external interference and religious intolerance! There can be no political independence without economic independence. The cascading effects are devastating; creating wedges between different sects and religions, destabilizing a peaceful environment thereby damaging the economy, creating internal security threats and politicization of religion to name a few. The step-up in sectarian violence may also be due to the fact that many sectarian based organizations are allowed greater space to operate. Multiple explosions in Shama Cinema Peshawar, killing 11 and leaving 19 injured is a more recent act of terrorism.

Questions spring to mind. First, are pawns, in their simplicity being conned to fight each other and commit violence in the name of religion by their leaders – egging them on for vested interests? In many cases, particularly in the case of Taliban suicide bombers, they are indeed brainwashed into believing the righteousness of their deeds. Is this an extension of the proxy war as witnessed in Syria? Vali Nasr in Japan Times says, “Syria is now a proxy war, the outcome of which will determine the regional pecking order. In the Mideast, aura of power decides strategic advantage.” (Published June 8, 2013)

Terrorism once spreads base, takes years, nay, decades to control. Whether home grown or otherwise, it must be weeded out. Better sooner than later. The first tactic to curb terrorism is using force. Unfortunately, though this tactic may reduce the ability of a terrorist outfit to create greater havoc and orchestrate more killings, force alone may not work if the base of terrorism is laid beyond borders, with terrorist groups forging alliances backed by vested interests,receiving training and being funded to buy state-of-the-art weapons. Negotiations or “talks” with the terrorist outfits is another method of handling terrorism. Nations and people may deny talking to terrorists for crimes committed by them; however “back channel” talks may work in some situations. Britain had refused to negotiate with the Irish Republican Army. Once out of the public eye that places pressures on both parties and provokes them into greater rigidity of stances. Negotiations did take place, finally leading to the Good Friday Agreements, which were instrumental in eventually ending the terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland. The third tactic is engaging in international agreements. Organizations like the United Nations can play a positive role in bringing member nations together for better understanding and world peace. Kofi Annan says, “More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that is why we have the United Nations.” However, in order to achieve this objective, organizations entrusted with a role, must play a strongly independent oneand free from influences.

The trend of state sponsorship of terrorism aimed to retain supremacy locally, regionally or globally will continue. No amount of lip service to dealing with terrorism without governments deciding not to support it themselves will make any difference in the final analysis. Nick Turse commenting on America’s support for proxies, writing for The Nation International states, “Right now, the United States is once again training, advising, and conducting joint exercises all over the world with proxy war on its mind and the concept of “unintended consequences” nowhere in sight in Washington.” (August 9, 2012)

Brian Whitaker (The Guardian, May 7, 20o1) commenting upon what terrorism is, states wittingly “…It also points towards a simpler – and perhaps more honest – definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.”

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: [email protected] and tweets at @yasmeen_9.


  1. Sikandar Mashhood said:

    Always a treat to Read columns of Yasmeen Aftab Ali Great analysis as always.

  2. Behjat said:

    Yasmeen Ali talks about a very sensitive and critical issue of our time!!

  3. Jovie said:

    U never fail to highlight key issues, glad u pointed proxy war issue! Back channel talks must take place!

  4. Luqman Ladha said:

    Excellent! the only difference and saddest part is that #Pakistan is doing nothing to counter this with any honest intent! #shame

  5. Shaista said:

    Terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of. Analysis is spot on!

  6. Ijaz Khan said:

    Great piece Yasmeen.
    In Syria, both the Bosnia and Iraq analogies should point us toward a greater understanding of the proxy war problem in modern civil wars. Civil wars are too often wrongly conceived as a conflict between — and only between — two intrastate parties. In fact, modern civil wars are frequently fed by competing external supporters who use local proxies as part of a larger regional or even global struggle.
    Quoting Vali Nasr is a very clever way of linking up issues here!
    Well done.

    • Riz said:

      Interestingly, the article is well timed. Today a local newspaper reports that Saudi Arab has won Pakistan's support for 'the ongoing insurrection in Syria, as the two key Muslim states on Monday called for the formation of an interim governing body to replace the Bashar al Assad regime.' Talk of proxy wars! Well said YAA.
      I wonder what the cutting deal Pakistan made?

      • Syed said:

        This shift in Pakistan policy will upset Iran.
        Iran has already threatened to enter Pakistan to release the border guards …..a warning from Tehran. Unfortunately, it seems Pakistan leaders are not really thinking with long term vision. Are they?

        • Riz said:

          You are right Syed, Pakistan must play its cards cleverly.Question is:will it? Answer is:No.

  7. Syed Saqib Abbas said:

    I think in Pakistan talibanisation/terrorism is a misinterpreted concept of religion fueled by anti Pakistan forces?

    • Yasmeen Aftab Ali said:

      No it is'nt my friend-is it? Thank you for joining me on my new forum. 🙂

  8. Tahir said:

    Another good one Yasmeen Ali. I would differ a little on sectarian issues. Now its only one belief pitched against Shia Sunnis. Funded by one state at the wishes of global master.
    We are harvesting what we sow in war against Russia.
    I will support all chances of back door talks with these groups but not at the cost of national integrity. I would support diplomacy to that extend where do not demoralise armed forces. Sri lanks is a living example.

    • Ijaz Khan said:

      The conflict between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE cannot be compared as LTTE members were homegrown & local Tamils. They were not interconnected with like organizations across the globe via networking & overlapping interests. The conflict in Sri Lanks was of an ethnic nature. Here the springboard used is religious. The European Union and Canada have joined the United States, India, and Australia in labeling the LTTE a terrorist organization, which had made it more difficult for the group to get financing from abroad. Unfortunately, funding of Taliban are an open secret.Their agenda is religious,or so claimed.

  9. Smit Patel said:

    Great piece Yasmeen.terrorism/ … … terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.”
    Spot on Yasmeen.

  10. Laila Isphandyar said:

    It is unfortunate Yasmeen that Pakistan has succumbed to SA pressure here.It would have served Pakistan's interest better in light of coming exit of US forces from Afghanistan, to have retained a neutral stance in Syria. Its very sad that we,as a nation take a short term view of everything facing us.Leading us deeper in the mire, our leaders?

  11. Khalid Rahim said:

    I said it before and I will say it again get away from the lap of the Saudi Arabia and Gulf Rulers!.They are all proteges of the New World Order.

  12. Manoj Joshi said:

    There cannot be overnight wonders and democracy will need time to take roots in The Islamic Republic of Pakistan in a rather challenging environment where religious fundamentalist groups and terrorist organisations still hold a sway in the corridors of power. The nation has to fight a rather challenging war against religious fundamentalism to make democracy take strong roots in the Islamic Republic and this certainly cannot be an easy going. Pakistan does have the potential to become a democracy but as a nation they have to face the strongest challenges wherein terrorism and religious fundamentalism are the most imminent threat to The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The citizens of Pakistan have to come forward towards a new horizon making their country a Moderate, Progressive and Democratic state where the majority and the minorities co-exist amicably. Terrorism has to be handled by a result oriented strategy that is long term and comprehensive.

    • Rizwan Beg said:

      Manoj, well said. The main issue is lack of a cohesive policy by Pak Govt to deal with this issue.Second; it must define a path in light of the changing geopolitical situation. Sometimes the wishes of the citizens & poiicies of its chosen representatives can be two different things-no?

      • Manoj Joshi said:

        I am sending you my note prepared which is being given below.

  13. Shakir Lakhani said:

    Good article. May I add my own little bit? "Our freedom fighter is their terrorist, and their freedom fighter is our terrorist". Not really mine, I've come across it before. Go on writing, YAA. I wish I had the will and patience to write even a tenth of what you do.

    • Manoj Joshi said:

      Terrorists are terrorists whether they claim to be freedom fighters. Fundamentalism is unacceptable or for that matter religious fanaticism in any form or put forth by any group or religious faith.

  14. Samir Bhattachariya said:

    The very fact that it is fast becoming a global phenomena which is being laced with fundamentalism by so called religious sentiments and beliefs together with certain vested interests vying to take control through proxy wars is only creating a bigger Frankenstein that will soon go out of control. And it is therefore high time that all nations of the world joined hands to fight this deadly monster.

    • Riz said:

      S. Bhattachariya; the Frankenstein himself has become the monster-the proverbial monster his pawn.Penny for your thoughts on this one?

  15. Z. Khan said:

    Dear Mam,


    "Pawns of terrorism" – good article, not in The Nation, but Pakistan Today. ?


  16. Jalees Shoaib said:

    As per Gary Clyde Hufbauer in the 1970s and 1980s, US counterterrorism policy primarily focused on state sponsorship of international terrorism. In September 2001, the UN Security Council passed a US-proposed resolution that threatens economic sanctions against countries that continue to harbor and support terrorists.Economic sanctions can work up to a certain point.

  17. Rashid Mughal said:

    The courageous lady needs all the compliments.

    Rashid Mughal

  18. Viqar khilji said:

    "The trend of state sponsorship of terrorism aimed to retain supremacy locally, regionally or globally will continue. No amount of lip service to dealing with terrorism without governments deciding not to support it themselves will make any difference in the final analysis."
    The writer appears to have decided that terrorism for whatever cause (whether acceptable to the larger commuinity or not) and in which ever form, is inevitable. If thats the case then the fate of weak and poor but resource rich or strategically placed countries, to always be a hotbed for proxy wars and thus terrorism, is sealed. End of the story.

    • Rashid Mughal said:

      I think what the article reflects is the present state of global increase in terrorism that is supported by facts. Unless governments continue stop supporting it, it will continue. The flip side is: it will not if not supported.Cheers!

  19. Masood said:

    This should be read by our So Called Leaders; what shame they are not in habit of reading.

  20. masood said:

    It was US that wanted to evict USSR from Afghanistan-created Mujahideen. Iraq was invaded. Increasing base of proxy wars,. who created Mujahideen now rechristened Taliban?

  21. Qudrat Ullah said:

    A very interesting read. Good addition to PT. Looking forward to more by Yasmeen Sahiba!

  22. Nowshad Shafkat said:

    Yasmeen ji has written something that needs serious thought. Excellent and thought provoking; Out of the box.

  23. Ghias uddin Babar said:

    It is a well researched write up
    introducing the topic of terrorism
    to the reader at conceptual level.

    “There can be no political independence without economic independence”.
    This is the sentence I liked most in your article. May consider
    it as a theme for your next article particularly in view of
    the ongoing debate of secularism n theocracy in Pakistan.
    Keep it up, doing well n warm regards,

    NB: Please suggest some solution to our self imposed WOT.
    All of us here in Pakistan want to see peace n progress in the country.

  24. Tariq said:

    Excellent analysis Yasmeen. One couldn’t agree more. Regards. Tariq

  25. Syed Qasim R Jafri said:

    Terrorism hs various forms& manifestation, it's support is broad & deep running frm religion 2 ideological extremism. While internal security threats r intangible without clearly drawn lines & boundaries,d external threats r tangible.Threat perception of Pakistan is hence multi dimensional as we r faced with both internal/external threats

  26. Zulqarnain Bokhari said:

    Future conflict environment: Surgical Strikes by India, Anti Muslim Long war tactics & Low-Medium Intensity conflict

  27. Dhump Dhump said:

    Just read your article good a neutral and informative write up, pls also write why these group became terrorist, reasoning behind

    • Sher Ali said:

      My views are nowhere as deep and analytical, but keeping ppl illiterate and poor by design may make them go haywire!

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