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Insights into Editorial: The War on Terror is in peril

Insights into Editorial: The War on Terror is in peril




The brutal attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, for which the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, have reignited discussion on the global ‘War on Terror’.

Scholars and officials across the world are studying the links of the bombers to the IS’s former ‘Caliphate’ in Syria, where at least two of the bombers are believed to have travelled, and several leaders have now called for a greater focus on the global dimensions of the counter-terrorism effort.

The increase in attacks and deaths across more countries has meant that the impact of terrorism is becoming more widespread, even as deaths from terrorism are decreasing.

As the intensity of terrorism has increased over the last two decades, its impact has also spread to more countries around the world.


Concept of a global ‘War on Terror’:

The War on Terror first began on a global scale after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.

The first global mission for War on Terror was Operation. Enduring Freedom by 60 countries led by US to replace Taliban government in Afghanistan and defeat Al-Qaida. 

However, it appears that this first global mission has produced limited positive results. US now intends to withdraw from Afghan & is in talks with Taliban to ensure its representation in Afghan government even though Taliban still continues terrorist attacks in Afghan.

Therefore, the objective of Operation. Enduring Freedom to replace Taliban & to end Talibani terrorism has failed.

The second War on Terror was when 46 nations led by US formed the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in 2003 to defeat Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

However, it led to the destabilization of Iraq & formation of global terrorist State- ISIS, which is now undertaking terrorist attacks on global scale such as in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the second War on Terror ended by increasing global terrorism.

The Next War on Terror was conducted in Libya & Syria after the Arab Spring in 2011.

Libya did not have strong linkages with spread of terrorism but a Coalition of Western countries led by France undertook regime change in Libya & it became destabilized, which now has become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda. Similarly, destabilized Syria became a safe haven for ISIS & other terrorist groups.

Therefore, the next War on Terror in Libya & Syria led to formation of terrorist groups & safe havens which did not exist earlier.


The global impact of terrorism:

  • There was no change in the five countries most impacted by terrorism, which include Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. All of these countries have been ranked in the worst five every year since 2013.
  • Conflict continued to be the primary driver of terrorist activity for the countries most impacted by terrorism in 2017.
  • In 2017, terrorist attacks in conflict countries averaged 2.4 deaths, compared to 0.84 deaths in non-conflict countries. Terrorist attacks are more lethal on average in countries with a greater intensity of conflict. In 2017, countries in a state of war averaged 2.97 deaths per attack, compared to 1.36 in countries involved in a minor armed conflict.
  • There are numerous possible reasons for this difference. Countries in conflict have a greater availability of more military-grade small arms and bomb-making capabilities.
  • Countries that are not in conflict tend to be more economically-developed and spend more on intelligence gathering, policing and counterterrorism.


Not a ‘fight for Islam’:

The War on Terror built by world leaders is a “fight for Islam” is equally false.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, of the 81 terror attacks in which more than 100 were killed (high casualty) since 2001, more than 70 were carried out in Islamic or Muslim-majority countries.

In a specific search of high casualty terror attacks on religious institutions since 2001, 18 of the top 20 were by Islamist groups on mosques.

The War on Terror thus appears to be a concept peddled mostly by pan-Islamist groups and propagated most often by extremists of other religions as a motive for terror attacks, such as the 2011 Utoya island attack in Norway or the New Zealand attacks.

Governments in countries affected by terrorism must not subscribe to this narrative blindly.



The attacks in Sri Lanka, however, also underline the many cracks in the concept of a global ‘War on Terror’, and raise questions on what it has achieved in the time since the term was coined by former U.S. President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Several Central Asian states propagate a much more hard-line approach on counter-radicalisation, by banning beards and hijabs.

While China’s re-education internment camps in Xinjiang have raised questions about human rights.

The world community must address contradictions in the War on Terror. For 20 years, the world has failed to agree on a common definition of terrorism at the United Nations.

Unless the world is truly united on the issue and resolves such contradictions, the global War on Terror will only be as strong as its weakest link.

The success or failure of each of these approaches must be studied before deciding their applicability elsewhere.

A comprehensive and multidimensional strategy for the “War on Terror” must involve an integrated view of these strategic military and economic domains, among others.


Way Forward:

It is necessary for countries fighting terrorism to learn more closely from their differences, rather than try to generalise from experience.

Europe, India and China have different approach to fight ISIS radicalisation.

The success or failure of each of these approaches must be studied & applied to smaller countries suffering from global terrorism based on applicability.

United Nations must become the global Centre to fight global terrorism. For such, Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism must be agreed upon on basis on common definition of terrorism.

The functioning UNSC 1267 Committee should be strengthened. The complete implementation of UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact that was agreed upon in 2018.

Sri Lankan bombing was failure of implementing the threats by Sri Lankan government, even though intelligence was shared by India. 

Intelligence sharing between countries needs to be strengthened and countries currently not affected by global terrorism need to take the threat seriously.