What does it take to defeat terrorism? Well, the answer will vary depending on who is being asked the question. Here in Sri Lanka, for years, no decades, the dominant cry was ‘address and eliminate the conditions which cause people to take up arms’. In other words, it’s like cleaning up breeding grounds to deal with the Dengue mosquito.
If those, who consider methodologies such as suicide bombers, human shields and of late summary execution that is videotaped and posted in social media, are capable to listening to reason, then the Mossie Plan, if you will, might work. The point is that there are two kinds of political agents broadly speaking, the corrigible and the incorrigible. Terrorists fall into the latter kind. They are called ‘rebels’ or ‘revolutionaries’ only by people living in places relatively untouched by these angels or else are directly or indirectly supportive of them.
In Sri Lanka’s encounter with terrorism, we saw many who advocated the Mossie Plan. They believed, moreover, that the LTTE was a product of policies gone wrong. They even said ‘grievances are legitimate’ and argued that if they are addressed the need for anyone to see armed struggle as a ‘necessity’ to achieve ends would disappear. The ‘grievances’, at best, are contestable. Aspirations, the other ‘reason’ that was tossed around during this time, are themselves ‘incorrigible’ because they can encompass anything and everything. No state, however resourceful, can deliver everyone’s aspirations.
The tragedy and indeed irony of terrorism is that they inevitably postpone the addressing of the very grievances whose alleviation they claim to be fighting for. Terrorists know one language. So when the question is asked ‘What does it take to defeat terrorism?’ the answer has to be sought in the one language which makes communication possible. The Mossie Plan advocates will cry foul and will, after the fact of elimination, try to punish the victors. This is simply because their outcome preferences did not materialize and because they are not the angels they would like others to think they are. That’s the Sri Lankan story in a nutshell.
There was a time when the LTTE was the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world. Even if the LTTE was still around, today it would be second best to the ISIS. So how should the world deal with the ISIS? The Mossie Plan will not work, that much is clear.
The United States has demonstrated over several years that it has no clue when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Vladimir Putin didn’t mince his words when he told the US that it has to stop dithering and fight. Uncle Sam’s fixation with securing access to resources and the need to generate growth for the arms industry has raised serious questions over its commitment to its loudly articulated policy ‘Zero tolerance of terrorism’. Indeed Washington has shown it is part of the problem. It’s version of the Mossie Plan is actually a perversion since it deliberately spawns the killers. Al Qaeda is Washington’s baby and so is the ISIS.
This is where Vladimir Putin steps in. There’s a time to deal with spawning ground and there’s a time to deal with the spawn. This is the time for the latter for the simple reason of incorrigibility. Sri Lanka wasted close to three decades trying to undercut ‘reasons for terrorism’ simply because a) there were no such ‘reasons’ and b) utter lack of political will. Putin doesn’t appear to be anything like the suckers who ruled Sri Lanka before Mahinda Rajapaksa. And that’s a good thing.
If we left it to the USA, we would have more Iraqs, more Afghanistans and more Syrias and who knows other outfits like the ISIS to deal with.
Finally, there’s no-nonsense resolve from a world leader. If China emerged as the leading economy in the world, then Russia has taken over the task of determining political direction. That should tell our leaders whose friendship, however worrisome it may be, counts. That’s a different matter of course. For now, there’s Putin. And that’s a good thing. Relatively speaking.