Terrorism as a ‘symptoms debate’

If BRICS summit in Goa was supposed to be one more step in the direction of the international isolation of Pakistan, it didn’t quiet happen. While China robustly defended its ‘all-weather friend’ Pakistan, Russia didn’t name Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror, one more indication that the relations between the two countries have come a long way since their cold war hostility. Chinese spokesperson in his briefing to the media refused to link terror with any country or a religion, which was a rebuff to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  description of Pakistan “as a mothership of terrorism”.


China, in turn, called on the world to appreciate Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and the losses it has suffered in the process. Russia also didn’t use the phrase “cross-border terrorism” in its call for a fight against the menace. India, however, shored up its strained ties with Russia by signing a defence deal worth Rs 39000 crore with the country.


PM Modi, on his part, tried to keep the focus on the terrorism it faced from its neighbour  and it did strike some chord with South Africa and Brazil. India has already successfully isolated Pakistan in the region by cancelling the SAARC summit to be held in Islamabad in November by getting five  other members to pull out.  India has also begun a worldwide diplomatic effort to create more awareness about Pakistan’s support to terrorism and try and get the world to support its policy vis-a-vis its neighbour. 


But through it all, what is difficult to miss is that the terrorism has now become a symptoms debate, it is no longer a ‘causes debate’. True, we can agree no cause can justify terrorism. But then what is terrorism? It can’t be a broad-brushed concept that subsumes each and every form of violence by a people in pursuit of a political or social goal. 


It is time to ask - and this question is never asked – if there is a form of violence outside the one perpetrated by the state that can be justified. If there is one, how do we define it and under what conditions it can be allowed to be exercised. And if there is none, how do we expect the genuinely aggrieved peoples to press for their rights?


And if we only sanction a peaceful political struggle, it struggles for a global attention until it becomes violent. Why are there no multilateral or global institutional mechanisms that take a note of it and give it recognition. United Nations also doesn't seek to sustainably engage with such a struggle in pursuit of an acceptable solution.


Truth is, this approach to violence is as simplistic as branding any armed struggle terrorist.  There are no universally accepted definitions for such categorisations.  And at the same time categorisations of some groups as terrorist is also not devoid of  its merits. But essentially, the categorisations are a function of the geo-politics, great power contestation, and the interests of the  individual or a group of countries. While such calculations will always determine how we look at and interpret the world, we desperately need a ‘causes discourse’ too, to complement the ‘symptom narrative’ on terrorism.

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