Counter-terrorism policies and actions in post 9/11 scenario

Counter-terrorism Policies and Actions after 9/11 tragedy

By Sarmad Ishfaq


The menace of modern day international terrorism has plagued humanity since 1968 (according to most scholars) and has challenged the attainment of sustainable peace in the world. Terrorism has adapted and progressed through time to stay one step ahead of its intended targets. To combat terrorism, most countries have created counter-terrorism institutions and policies thus leading to a back and forth – a game of chess – between states and militant groups. This paper focuses on the counter-terrorism policies and actions adopted by governments’ post 9/11. Although, the focus is mainly on South and South East Asian countries, the paper briefly touches upon what the U.S., E.U. and Australia have also done to fight terrorism. It is not within the scope of this paper to discuss the efficacy of counter-terrorism strategies, but only to detail what has been done since 9/11 in responding to a new era of terrorism.


Counter-terrorism, the concept, is not disputed on its definitional value and characteristics among academia unlike the concept of terrorism. So, however terrorism is defined by states and organizations, counter-terrorism will simply be the strategies and tactics to stop that particular type of ‘terrorism’. This implies that there is little disagreement among scholars and states on which institutions play a part in counter-terrorism and what the aim of counter-terrorism?  “Counter-terrorism” is an activity aimed at thwarting or limiting the damaging consequences of terrorism (Engelbrekt, 2016, p.117). Counter-terrorism encompasses the practices and strategies key actors like the police, armed forces, intelligence agencies, governments, and corporations employ in the face of real or perceived terrorist acts and/or threats. According to Sandler (2011), the two types of counter-terrorism efforts are proactive and defensive. Sandler further remarks that proactive measures involve going after the terrorists directly and involve strategies such as foreign aid for counter-terrorism purposes; use of military power to destroy terrorist safe havens; coordinating terrorist arrests; and so on while defensive measures are used to ensure that attempting a terrorist attack will be costly and difficult – this includes methods like body and metal scanners at airports, immigration control at borders, cement barricades in front of government infrastructure and so on.
On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that this event changed the world forever. Hoffman (2002) remarks that 9/11 was unprecedented in terrorism history due to its striking coordination, scope, and also the dedication of the hijackers among other things. The aftermath of the attack initiated a seemingly indefinite war on terrorism that rages on even till this day. The attacks left not only Americans but the entire world in a state of despondency and shudder. The transnational and unprecedented nature of the attacks fashioned global politics, economic relations, counter-terrorism efforts, and foreign relations in the coming years. The terrorists attacked the world’s sole superpower and the ultimatum issued by America to the world was simple and concise – “You are either with us or with the terrorists.”
Post 9/11 the U.S., inundated with feelings of vehemence and retribution, displayed their fervor through hard power tactics such as military campaigns. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to topple the Taliban and Saddam’s Baathist regime respectively were manifestations of this aggressive counter-terrorism doctrine. Nacos (2016) details that three main principles of the National Security Strategy of the Bush doctrine were: making the world safer and better; unilateral use of force; and preemption before threats become imminent. Nacos furthers that the ‘preemption’ principle was highlighted by the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 while the unilateral principle saw America acting on its own behest and not giving much credence to international support for their actions. The author remarks upon a shift in policy from Bush to Obama and expounds that Obama, although not entirely against unilateral action, was more in favor of multilateral action; Obama was also not in favor of preemptive strikes before the threat was certain, unlike Bush.
Although the military spectacle can overshadow the criminal justice systems part in the war on terrorism, it has definitely played its role. Post 9/11, military operations were in full swing but the law enforcement organizations were also actively working in the backdrop using reforms such as the Patriot Act to counter terrorism (Dorsey &Paulussen, 2015). It must be remembered that many draconian laws such as torture (euphemistically known as ‘enhanced interrogation methods’) were permitted during the Bush doctrine to prevent terrorist attacks. Conversely, President Obama not only repealed the torture law but also reduced American boots on ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. The preceding is another example of a policy shift in counter-terrorism in America over the years.
Kerchove and Höhn (2013) note, that many terrorists have been convicted in criminal trials in both the U.S. and E.U. since 9/11. The authors remark upon how the E.U. member states, post 9/11, have focused on creating a European (regional) counter-terrorism policy. The authors furthermore note that the E.U. along with the U.S. take pride in using the criminal justice system to combatting terrorism as this is a display of Western principles. The E.U. member states especially Britain have aided the United States in military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq but the E.U. has mainly relied upon the courts, intelligence agencies, law and order organizations instead of an overwhelming military approach.
Other countries like Australia have their own specific steps to battle terrorism. According to the Council of Australian Governments (2015), the country’s counter-terrorism strategy takes into account relatively new organizations like ISIL and consists of challenging violent extremist ideologies; stopping people from becoming terrorists; shaping the global environment; disrupting terrorist’s activity within Australia; and effective response and recovery. The Council of Australian Governments further states that the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) regularly convenes to analyze the effectiveness of its anti-terror policies.
It can be argued with little debate that the Asian continent has suffered the most in the aftermath of 9/11 especially countries in the Middle East, Central, South and South East Asia. Post 9/11 the Asian countries have had to do a myriad of policy changes especially due to the pressure exerted by the U.S. In their article, McAllister and Khersonsky (2007) discuss Central Asian countries and counter-terrorism efforts using nonproliferation, trade and development. They mention how Uzbekistan, with the aid of U.S. and international organizations, has opened a customs post equipped with X-Ray devices, computers and other equipment to detect ammunition, drugs, and arms at the Uzbeki-Kyrgyzstan border. Authors also mention the creation of Ayritom Customs Complex that opened in Uzbekistan in 2003 on the Afghan-Uzbek border. While counter-terrorism infrastructure is of immense importance, it is also necessary to have well-trained staff at these border check posts so as to not be an exercise in futility. A two-month seminar sponsored by the UN’s Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe was held in Uzbekistan; the purpose was to train the guards at the Hayraton-Termez check post to properly conduct interrogations, detect body language, identify fake documents, cooperate with police and customs etcetera (“OSCE and UN Train Uzbek”, 2003). In a globalized world where neoliberal policies prevail, open borders and ease of travel allow for malicious threats to enter a country with comfort thus necessitating defensive counter-terrorist actions.
The ASEAN countries have historically maintained a policy of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. The attacks during 9/11 would make them ponder upon a regional counter-terrorism effort but it was actually the Bali bombings in 2002 that made the member states realize that a joint effort was required. The countries faced threats from various terrorist groups such the Abu Sayyaf Group and Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and the Aceh Merdeka and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. In his article, Chow (2005) mentions that the ASEAN countries took the first steps towards a common terrorist threat perception in 2001 when they signed the ‘ASEAN Declaration on Joint Action to Counter Terrorism’. He states that after the Bali bombings in 2002, the government of Indonesia gave the President emergency powers and also created an antiterrorism agency with the ability to hold terror suspects without a trial. Due to the ASEAN countries diverse perspectives on terrorism, progress has been slow, but nevertheless has been made. Chow mentions concrete steps taken by ASEAN states such as the creation of the ‘Southeast Asian Counter-terrorism Center in Malaysia’ and the collaborative efforts between ASEAN and international partners to fight terrorism – this includes joint declarations with Russia in 2004, Australia in 2004 and with the E.U. in 2003.
Facing foes like Al Qaeda, the numerous Taliban variants, the Tamil Tigers and the recent ISIL affiliates, the South Asian countries are no strangers to terrorism. Unfortunately, for the South Asian countries, collaborative efforts have been little to none in the region. The two regional powers Pakistan and India have a contentious past filled with wars and proxy campaigns mainly concerning the Kashmir issue – this hardly paints an idyllic picture for both countries. There have only been limited collaborative efforts among South Asian countries. For example, Ganguly (2009) cites that under pressure from India in 2003, the Bhutanese Army initiated an operation against the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) terrorists in Bhutan.
Afghanistan – arguably the prime sufferer of terrorist violence especially after September 11 – makes for an interesting case vis-à-vis counter-terrorism in South Asia. The Afghanistan counter-terrorism strategy has been one imposed by the West – mainly the U.S. led coalition forces and NATO. From ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) counter-terrorism policies, Kabul, ironically, has been a secondary player in the country’s own counter-terrorist policies. There have been countless actions and policies conducted by NATO in Afghanistan since 9/11 which includes: ISAF expanding its operational area to the whole of Afghanistan in 2003; NATO troops growing from 5000 to 35,000 in 2007; the number of NATO troops jumping to 85,000 in 2009; and in the same year initiating the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan to train the Afghani National Security Forces and increase their size (NATO COE-DAT, 2014). NATO, post 9/11, played an aggressive military role targeting militants but later, when a pull out seemed imminent, became more focused on training the Afghan security forces.
Sri Lanka is one of the few exceptions where military hard power ended a terrorism based insurgency. Layton (2015) cites how the Sri Lankan counter-terrorism strategy changed from negotiations to the military destruction of the LTTE in 2006. He further remarks that compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, where no grand victory can be claimed, Sri Lanka won using military strength and ended the LTTE in 2009. This, however, was done with massive civilian casualties and sparked a humanitarian crisis.
The Pakistani case is one of the most intriguing in the region if not the world. There exists a rich and diverse amount of literature on how the country has combated terrorism. Other than Afghanistan, Pakistan has faced the most attacks and terrorist threats in the region. It has been the United States’ counter-terror partner of choice as the country hosts the 6th largest army in the world and has had a history of good (albeit sometimes tumultuous) relations with the U.S. Its counter-terrorism policy has been military based similar to the U.S. post 9/11. President Musharraf under pressure from America had to withdraw support to many organizations labeled as ‘terrorist’ by the U.S. and in many cases had to target them. Pakistan has provided the U.S. with priceless intelligence and has simultaneously handed over key AL Qaeda operatives to them (Ganguly, 2009). The blow back of this move was immense as the Al-Qaeda and Taliban started targeting the country as well. According to Jones and Fair (2010), Pakistan started an operation against foreign militants in 2002 in its FATA region. Pakistan has conducted many operations targeting terrorists which have resulted in massive militant deaths but concurrently has led to the loss of lives of many of its soldiers and civilians.Operation Al-Mizan, Operation Zalzala, Operation SherDil, Operation Rah-e-Haq, and the extremely successful Operation Zarb-e-Azb are some of the major operations the Pakistani armed forces have conducted after 9/11. Pakistan and U.S. worked and still work in close proximity with respect to intelligence sharing and targeting of terrorist strongholds. In 2002, a joint Pak-U.S. raid led to the capture of senior Al Qaeda commander, Abu Zubaidah, in Faisalabad (Jones & Fair, 2010). However from time to time, some trust deficits arise between both countries with regards to intelligence sharing and military use which has strained relationships in the past.
Pakistan faced an internal threat in its most developed province, Punjab, due to the Punjabi Taliban (now defunct) and other local terrorist elements surging after 9/11. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif established an antiterrorism force to battle terrorist groups in Punjab while the province of KPK (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) created a counter-terrorism task force to fight militants in the province (Spangler, 2014). Intelligence and police based operations have spanned over all the provinces and the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region while the military has been overwhelmingly used in FATA and the Baluchistan province. Jones and Fair (2010) comment that in August 2002, the Pakistani military, intelligence agencies and police conducted operations against Baluchistan-based militants.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb is (was) the latest and most successful counter-terrorism operation against the militants. It began in 2014 in North Waziristan and up to 30,000 Pakistani soldiers have participated in this operation. Although, there have been rehabilitation efforts and attempts to stop foreign funding of religious schools (madrasas), the military response has been the modus operandi of the country. A thorough analysis of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policies could shed light on whether the country can replicate the Sri Lankan model of success using its military power (but at what cost?)
In conclusion, post 9/11 different countries have used distinct counter-terrorism policies depending on the situation they face. Some countries focused mainly on soft power like diplomacy and negotiations. Other countries opted to use military might primarily, while some others used a combination of both hard and soft power. What is intriguing to note is how 9/11’s global and transnational nature has made nation-states not only focus on their respective policies but has brought many together to combat terrorism in a multilateral manner (regionally and internationally). The examples of E.U., ASEAN and also the U.S. and its nexus of allies are in front of the world. Countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also aided each other in counter-terrorism efforts in the past. Both countries have also relied upon other allies such as China to help them battle terrorism through financial and military support.


The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.

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