US Policy on Terrorism—Part I*

Case of Harkat-ul-Ansar

P.R. Rajeswari,Researcher,IDSA


The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union did not bring an era of peace and harmony in the world. Instead, it brought along a series of serious problems like ethnic conflicts, weapons proliferation, environmental problems, population growth, drug trafficking and narcotism and terrorism.

Of all the problems, terrorism draws the highest attention all over the world. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton said, "Terrorism is one of the greatest dangers we face in this new global era." The lesson, looking back, is that of all the forms of warfare that prevail at the end of the 20th century, terrorism may be the most intractable. The problem has been addressed vigorously at national levels and in international fora like the United Nations.

Terrorism may be defined as politically motivated violence against non-combatants. It is also defined as acts of violence committed against innocent persons or non-combatants, that are intended to achieve political ends through fear and intimidation.

A few years ago, the Pentagon's secretive Office on Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict brought out a very comprehensive report on the changing patterns of global terrorism. The "Terror 2000" findings compiled by 41 experts—including former ranking Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), State Department and Rand Corporation officials as well as an ex-KGB general and an Israeli intelligence agent—were too alarming and far-fetched.1

The report had come out with some predictions on the emerging patterns in terrorist attacks. Among them was that international terrorism would reach American shores, potentially targetting a major US financial centre. This was visible in the case of the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

An interesting feature of terrorist attacks is that most of the attacks are targetted against the United States and its citizens abroad. Although it is true that the United States' unique position as a political, economic and military world leader makes it a prime target, statistics reveal that other nations share this burden.

Terrorism is an age-old phenomenon, but the changing methods and techniques that terrorists employ today make it a more horrifying problem.

First, terrorists operate at an international level, no longer concentrating on a particular region or a country. The dawn of the modern age of terrorism dates back to September 5, 1972, when the Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. Following this, there has been a period of hijacking of commercial airlines, which culminated in the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Another new aspect of terrorism is the growing possibility of terrorists making use of weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, biological and chemical. Also, the governments have to think seriously about the threat of chemical weapons and biological toxins. Both these types of weapons are easy to manufacture but have horrifying after-effects on the civilian population. The Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 by Aum Shinrikyo, the apocalyptic Japanese sect, showed that the threat of chemical terrorism is now a reality.

For many years, it had been thought that weapons of mass destruction did not serve the purpose of terrorists, and it was not mass murder they wanted. John Deutch, a specialists in international relations, noted that "terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead." But in the modern age of terrorism, one sees a wider use of powerful explosives that attack mostly the civilian population. Hence, though 1996 represented a 25-year low in international terrorism, with reported incidents down from a peak of 665 in 1987 to 296 in 1996, there was a drastic rise in the number of casualties (311 people killed and 2,652 wounded).

The third aspect is a new entrant - cyberterror. It has become very easy to penetrate the telecommunications and computer systems of nations and also private organisations, and enter new computer codes that cause the system go haywire or which make it accessible only to the intruder. Terrorists use computers, cellular phones, and encryption software to evade detection and they also have sophisticated means of forging passports and valuable documents. Similarly, they could even introduce "morphed" images and messages into a country's radio and television network, and spread lies that could incite violence. Technology advancement has made it possible to carry powerful explosive devices in a purse and explode these at the right place, at the right time.

Yet another feature is that as the new world order is increasingly determined along commercial lines, the world's key financial institutions are becoming prominent targets. The 1993 targetting of the World Trade Centre in New York by Islamic extremists is significant for more than the deaths of six people and injury to 1,000. It gave a new dimension to terrorism.

The bomb might have been designed to destroy America and its capitalist system, but what makes it more significant is the fact that it was placed in a financial institution through which a considerable amount of capital flows, and whose effect would be much than a mere bomb blast.

David Cohen of the University of St. Andrews, analyses the terrorist attacks on financial institutions and offers two levels of implications. Firstly, like any other terrorist attack, there is an intrinsic level of physical violence designed to create a high level of fear among the local population. In fact, terrorists know the potential of such attacks to create fear and they use this as a means to their ultimate end. By creating fear and panic, they try to extort concessions or to weaken and discredit the government, by showing that it is incapable of protecting its citizens. They attack financial institutions and other such important entities so that it virtually guarantees wide publicity by the media—among political and popular audiences. At this level, the politics behind attacking such high profile areas revolves around the particular group's interest to get specific international attention to their cause.

The second level in his analysis is that of financial damage. Economic centres with a potentially heightened capacity are targetted to cause havoc, for while the destruction of traditional targets may result in financial damage through the need to rebuild ruined structures, the targetting of financial institutions has the further potential to disrupt the flow of money on which contemporary societies are dependent.

It should also be noted that the attack on the World Trade Centre was not fully financially motivated. Rather, it appears that the choice of the World Trade Centre as a target by a group of Islamic activists under the guidance of Sheikh Abdel Rahman was an attempt to destroy a symbol of Western society. The bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks on June 25, 1996, which killed 19 US personnel, was a clear signal from Islamic extremists that they wanted US forces out of Saudi Arabia. The bombing of financial institutions, however, could combine such a violent message with additional, far-reaching economic damage.

Thus, ultimately, the aim of all categories of terrorists is to pose a threat to those they consider oppressors, enemies, and obstacles in the achievement of their goals. Their tactics include hijacking, blackmail, ruthless killing by shooting, use of bombs, etc. In order to function successfully against the government, terrorist groups are generally small; violence is not their immediate goal and that is why they insist upon psychological rather than practical results. The purpose of terrorism, therefore, is to create a state of extreme fear among specific groups, and thereby, ultimately alter their behaviour and dispositions, or bring about a general or particular change in the structure of both society and government.2

At this point of time, one wonders if there a way out from these attacks. The conclusion would be that until and unless the roots of terrorism are attacked, only superficial relief may be hoped for. It is to be emphasised that the roots of terrorism lie in basic attitudes towards the use of violence against fellow human beings. Thus, the inculcation of democratic values would help end the use of terrorist acts for political purposes.

American Foreign Policy—Underlying Principles

The basic postulates of US foreign policy must be understood clearly in the context of the renewed phase of the post-Cold War period.

(i) The global commitments of the US remain its paramount concern, in terms of both security and geo-political factors as well as its commercial network in the world at large.

(ii) Strategic and geo-political factors are important as they alone stabilise the prevailing order in world affairs according to the American national interests. With the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union, and the Chinese factor having been revived in the Sino-US relations vis-à-vis South Asia, South-East Asia and East Asia, its foreign policy commitments are:

(a) stability in the region;

(b) commercial, economic and market interests remain uppermost;

(c) added to the above two issues is a major threat perception of the US in regard to the South Asian region: a possible clash of two nuclear states—India and Pakistan.

This aspect has constantly been referred to in statements by the President and Secretaries of State and Defence made regarding issues of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and other such measures of prevention of proliferation of chemical weapon systems.

It is also a well-known fact that both India and Pakistan are not signatories to the NPT or CTBT. Both the states, at this point of time, are under a soft state system wherein a vulnerability of accidental factors can escalate a crisis point.

(iii) The US, therefore, is committed to the following measures in this region.

(a) containment of regional conflict, where potential for nuclear confrontation prevails;

(b) prevention and liquidation of such a threat perception is also one of the options before the US;

(c) in keeping amicable and friendly relations, the commercial interests may remain a priority issue;

(d) mitigation of fundamental forces, which may result in destabilising the region, and go counter to the national interests;

(e) this may result in further spread of the crisis as the contiguous areas adjacent to these two countries i.e., West Asia, Gulf States, Emirates could be prone to the age-old problem of fundamentalist clashes.

US Role in Combatting Terrorism

For the last three-four years, since 1993, President Clinton has led an international campaign to combat terrorism in concert with other leaders of the member countries of the Group of Eight (the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia), as well as with allies in the Middle East and elsewhere. The President has directed that American counter-terrorism policy be based on three tenets—firstly, the United States will make no deal with terrorists or submit to blackmail; secondly, the US will treat terrorists as criminals; and lastly, the US will work to prevent terrorist acts by bringing maximum pressure on states that sponsor terrorists through sanctions, by urging other states also to do the same, and by creating a robust anti-terrorism capability.

President Clinton has worked on this policy at three levels: within the US, at the United Nations, and with other states. Within the US, President Clinton has introduced significant new domestic counter-terrorism legislation. The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of April 1996 strengthened the US ability to prevent terrorist acts, identify those who commit such acts, and bring them to justice. In 1997, the President renewed an already existing executive order blocking assets of terrorist groups in the US, making it more difficult for them to finance terrorism.3

The President also announced increased security measures at US airports with a special focus on international flights. Steps being taken immediately include more intensive passenger screening on international flights, and more intensive screening of carry-on baggage on domestic and international flights.

The most recent line of action by the US against terrorism was the listing of 30 foreign groups as terrorist organisations (the names of the groups are given below). The announcement was brought out by President Bill Clinton on October 8, 1997, at Washington as per the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The designations were part of the on-going fight against those who undermine freedom and prosperity by violent acts. He said, "Today's action sends a clear message: the path to change is through dialogue and open deliberation, not violence and hatred. The US is committed to fight against those who speak the language of terror."4

The US goal, Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright said, is "to make the United States fully a no-support-for-terrorism zone."

On the same occasion, she further explained that the designations have three main consequences—first, it is a crime to provide funds, weapons or other types of tangible support to any of the designated organisations. Second, members and representatives of these organisations are hereby ineligible for visas to enter the United States, and are subject to exclusion from the United States. And, third, any funds that these organisations have in the United States will be blocked.5

List of Groups

The United States, as per the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, declared 30 foreign groups as terrorist organisations. The US goal, Madeleine Albright said, is "to make the United States fully a no-support-for-terrorism zone."

The 30 groups are:

1. Abu Nidal Organisation (ANO)

2. Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)

3. Armed Islamic Group (GIA)

4. Aum Shinrikyo (Aum)

5. Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA)

6. Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—Hawatmeh Faction (DFLP)

7. Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement)

8. Harkut-ul-Ansar (HUA)

9. Hizoballah (Party of God)

10. Gama'a al Islamiyya (Islamic Group—IG—Egypt)

11. Japanese Red Army (JRA)

12. Al-Jihad

13. Kach

14. Kahane Chai

15. Khmer Rouge

16. Kurdistan Workers'Party (PKK)

17. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

18. Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front Dissidents (FPMR/D)

19. Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MEK, MKO)

20. National Liberation Army (ELN)

21. Palestine Islamic Jihad—Shaqaqi Faction (PIJ)

22. Palestine Liberation Front—Abu Abbas Faction (PLF)

23. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

24. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command (PFLP-GC)

25. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC)

26. Revolutionary Organisation 17 November (17 November)

27. Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C)

28. Revolutionary People's Struggle (ELA)

29. Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL)

30. Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)

Many explanations have come up for the rise of extremism in West Asia and North Africa. The first is that religious revivalism is on the upswing the world over and extremists everywhere are attempting to exploit this. Some aspects of this are seen in India too. The second explanation concerns the massive impact of oil wealth and modern consumerism on traditional Islamic societies and its backlash effect, especially when most people in those societies are conditioned to believe that there could be no separation between the religious and temporal aspects of life. It is, however, important to recognise that the rise of Islamist movements in the region is frequently an expression of a nationalist revolt against the ruling elites who are either Westernised or seen as working in close alliance with the West, especially the US.

In the present century, terrorism has been used as a weapon in the struggle between Islamic fundamentalists and pro-Western modernisers. The radical Muslim revolutionaries who overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979 gave birth to a wave of religion-based terrorism that aimed to establish fundamentalist regimes in the Middle East. Targets of these zealots have included Israeli nationals, citizens of Western powers backing the Jewish state, and more moderate Arab nations. Fired by their religious fervour, the terrorists would be willing to martyr themselves for their beliefs, and suicide bombers have become a disturbing feature of the terrorist attacks launched by the fundamentalists.

Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA)

The Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA) is a group founded in 1982 along Pakistan's western borders, with its parent organisation called the Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM). From this organisation, the HUA inherited not only its leader, Fazl Rahman Khalil, but also its underlying spirit and a considerable quantity of arms and personnel.

The HUA was formally founded in Muzzafarabad in the autumn of 1993 by a group of Pakistani political activists. In contrast to a few groups, notably the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the HUA has always advocated rule from Islamabad. Until the abduction of the six Western tourists in Kashmir in 1995, few people knew of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, accredited from the onset as the real force behind Al-Faran, the militant group that claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

A fact to be noted here is that the HUA owes its considerable arsenal in large measure to the generosity of the Pakistani government or more specifically its intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "We know without any doubt that Harkat-ul-Ansar is very heavily backed by ISI", said one intelligence source in Islamabad recently, adding that its other sources of income are the wealthy individual donors in the Gulf states and Pakistan, some of them exiled Kashmiris.

Regarding their terrorist activities, the HUA, armed with considerable quantities of light and heavy machine guns, assault rifles, mortars and rockets, has played a significant role against the Indian security forces in Kashmir throughout its four-year history. The HUA's notoriety had been ensured by its involvement in the kidnapping of six Western tourists in the summer of 1995. The willingness of some members to target Westerners, considered by all local militants to be prime targets, had become clear the previous year, when two British citizens, David Packie, 36 and Kim Housego, 16, were abducted on June 16, 1994, by armed militants, thought to have been Afghans, in Pahalgam and taken to the HUA camp in the mountains. During the three-week interrogation, the kidnappers demanded the release of three HUA leaders (then in the custody of the Indian police) but later claimed that they had merely sought to get the attention of the world to the plight of the Kashmiris.

It is possible that the worldwide publicity they created, highlighting both the Kashmir question in general and the HUA in particular, has enabled the organisation and elements within it to capture more Westerners. Paul Wells, 23, Keith Mangan, 33 (both British), Dirk Hasert, 26 (German), Donald Hutchings, 42 (American), Hans Christian Ostro (Norwegian) were all abducted in July 1995 by an hitherto unknown group, Al Faran. The link between Al Faran and HUA has never been conclusively proved, but the fact remains that many of those involved with militant groups have complex and fickle alliances. The link between such groups became clear when the captors signalled their willingness to free the hostages on the condition that 15 political prisoners, held by the Indian authorities, were also released. Three of those named, Sajad Ahmad, Masud Azhar, Khan Mohammad, were HUA officials.

The most recent, simultaneous bombings of the American Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, seemed yet another outbreak of the terrorists' attack. Whether motivated by ideological hatred, financial greed or religious passions, terrorists have moved further and faster in devising imaginative new targets and tactics than government counter-terrorism officials can keep up with. The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright condemned the bombings as "dastardly and cowardly acts of apparent terrorism" and vowed that the United States "will spare no effort and use all means at our disposal to track down and punish the perpetrators of these outrageous acts".9

The shadowy Islamic group which claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks in the two Embassies has issued a list of demands calling for US forces to leave Saudi Arabia and for the release of detained Islamic militants. They also made certain other demands like an end to the support for Israel, and lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on some Muslim countries. The group has put forward their demands as follows:

* The withdrawal of US and Western forces, including civilians, from Muslim countries in general and from the Arabian Peninsula in particular.

* The lifting of the naval blockade imposed around the Arabian Peninsula and the withdrawal of warships from Islamic waters.

* The release of ulemas (religious scholars) and young Muslims detained in the United States, Israel and in Saudi Arabia, and first and foremost, of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the spiritual guide of the Egyptian fundamentalist organisation Jamma Islamiya who is jailed in the United States) and Sheikh Salmana Al-Wada (a dissident).

* A halt to the expropriation of Muslim riches, in particular the oil wealth of the Arabian Peninsula and of Muslim countries.

* An end to all forms of US support to Israel.

* An end to the war of eradication being waged by the United States with the aid of governments in its pay against young Muslims under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

* An end to the campaigns of extermination conducted by the United States against certain Muslim nations in the guise of economic sanctions.6

The hitherto unknown group justified its jihad against Washington by the occupation of the holy places in the Arabian Peninsula where US forces are close to the Al-Aqasa Mosque.

No one has ever known whether the bombings on August 10 were supported by a state like Iraq, an intelligence service like Iran's or an individual like the exiled Saudi financier, Osama bin Laden. The State Department calls Bin Laden one of the "most significant sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today".11 The US Special Forces, at this stage, decided to carry out a strike on terrorist camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border to capture this Saudi billionaire. Bin Laden has hailed such terrorist attacks in the past, financed terrorist groups from Egypt to Algeria to Afghanistan and sought to unify them under his banner, according to intelligence officials. He is the prime accused in the twin bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, according to the media reports in London.7

The same media reports, quoting some senior Pakistan security officials, said that the special forces are trying to rope in the Pakistani Army special service group commandos for strikes against the terrorist camps, putting the Pakistan Army and its intelligence wing, ISI, in a quandary.

The strike against Bin Laden became imperative after American intelligence intercepted communications between Islamic groups based in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

In the present century, with technisation and modernisation having sprung up, it has a become very difficult task to locate in bomber. No one has ever been arrested by the American authorities for the bombings of the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983 or the bombings of two military posts in Riyadh and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1995 and 1996 that killed American military personnel.

However, the Pakistani newspaper News reported that one suspect in the US Embassy bombings in East Africa was detained in Pakistan as he tried to slip into Afghanistan. The newspaper, quoting unnamed government sources, said a suspect identified as 32-year-old Mohammad Sadique confessed to planning the bombings at the Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.8

In connection with this, several Kenyan Muslims have been detained in the investigation of the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi. Both FBI and Kenyan investors have said they have reasonable suspicion to question the people they have detained.9 Hence, it is too early to conclude about the hand behind this major crusade.

In November 1997, the killing of four Americans (engineers and auditors of Union Texas Co.) and their driver seemed to be an outburst of the terrorist attacks. The killings seemed to be linked to the conviction and sentencing by an American court of Mir Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani accused of killing two CIA personnel outside their headquarters in Langley. It was the "November 10 conviction of Mir Aimal Kansi and the conviction of Ramzi Yousef in the World Trade Center bombing that made Americans the potential targets of retaliatory acts by their sympathisers," said the State Department.10 No motive, in particular, had been established for the killings, and the only group to take responsibility was the Aimal Secret Committee, which had not been heard of before.

It was also suspected that the HUA, which had been declared a terrorist outfit by America, had a hand in this ambush. But many knowledgeable people do not agree with this hypothesis. One explanation given was that the HUA have a lot of political investment in Pakistan and would not compromise their own interests thus.

But what was certain was that there had been a conspiracy and the executors were grimly efficient. A big, well-funded outfit had committed this crime.

Mufti Mohammad Owasis, chief of the HUA, had declared last year that he would intensify the activities of the organisation in the wake of the US action (naming the HUA as a terrorist organisation), predicting "marvellous achievements in Kashmir in the coming two years." He further said that the US declaration of the HUA as a terrorist group had "enhanced the spirit of jehad (holy struggle) in the Mujahideen (militants)."11

America, according to him, was becoming afraid of the HUA's success and increasing power, and hence, trying to stop the noble cause by branding it as terrorism.12

With the demise of Communism and the birth of a dozen democracies, leftist groups across the world, particularly in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia have lost their cause as well as their followers. State sponsors, and structured, well-organised groups are giving way to a large number of terrorist "cells" and freelancers. This new crop of amateurs and tight-knit cells would be as dangerous as the older groups, and in some cases even more deadly. However, one has to wait and watch the pace and new methods evolved by these terrorist groups in the world today.



1. Robin Wright, "A Terrorism Lesson Left Unlearned," Jerusalem Post, August 11, 1998.

2. Sudhir Hindwan, "Combatting Terrorism: Lessons From Around the World," Peace Initiatives, May-June 1997, pp. 70-81.

3. United States Information Service, Wireless File, July 25, 1997.

4. United States Information Service, Wireless File, October 9, 1997.

5. n. 3.

6. Times of India, August 11, 1998.

7. Telegraph, August 19, 1998.

8. Times of India, August 16, 1998.

9. Times of India, August 15, 1998.

10. Times of India, November 11, 1997.

11. Roger Howard, "Wrath of Islam: The HUA Analysed," Jane's Intelligence Review, October 1997, pp. 466-468.

12. Ibid.