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Leadership in the War on Terrorism

Leadership in the War on Terrorism
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First Published: Thu, Jun 28 2007. 11 19 AM IST

Updated: Thu, Jun 28 2007. 11 19 AM IST
New Delhi: Like all criminals, terrorists have a pre-emptive advantage, hence their leadership at all levels is more likely to be pro-active, while leadership of the forces ranged against terrorism is consequently handicapped by reactionism. Ideologically, this translates into a sort of force multiplier of vast magnitude to counter, where political and other allied leadership have to move in double quick time, while being handicapped into an essentially reactionary mode. At the strategic level, things are somewhat similar, though it is at the tactical level that this handicap gets starkly illuminated.
Motivation is hardly a problem for the terrorist leadership, fed as it is by an almost completely voluntary army on a self induced high reinforced by religious, ethnic and/ or nationalistic fervour. In contrast, the countering forces are assailed by self doubts as to the need for and scale of retaliation, prevention and control. Liberalist philosophy which is the essence of advanced civilizations and of democracy, is in itself an obstacle to focused and concentrated response. The word response encapsulates the essence of counter terrorist effort. Rarely does the anti terrorist effort escape the stigma of being primarily responsive.
Finance is another aspect of counter terrorist operations, which is under constant scrutiny of people, organizations, media and governments. At almost all levels, counter terrorist efforts have to be justified as being cost effective. Bin Laden and his ilk on the other hand, do not have a firm of New York auditors who can tally their accounts. Huge sums are invested, with the full understanding of their being a total write-off in case the linked operation fails. For every success, they are willing to write off numerous failures.
Similarly terrorists and their organizations have the advantage of discipline (they can shoot the recalcitrant), training (no problems with training related casualties or use of live ammunition and explosives), and logistics (no need for a structured system, living off the land is de rigueur), making international borders issues no problem in any way. False passports, forged visas and fake identities are par for the course. Also international covenants are not binding and there are hardly any political restrictions.
Leadership that provides credible resistance
Which brings us to the point of leadership at various levels and the need for it to understand all the handicaps enumerated. Leadership has to be able to function despite all this and more and yet be able to offer credible resistance. Again the word is ‘resistance’ and not ‘offence’. The anti-terrorist conglomerate suffers from this innate defensive and reactionary mindset.
At the heart of the anti terrorist war and weakening the impact is the concept of rule of law. There is considerable confusion between ethics and legality. There is also an all-pervading feeling of law being a common western concept that is equally applicable to the whole world. Different countries have variable laws and the use of capital punishment is equally variable. A large portion of the world is governed under traditional and tribal concepts of law.
The Sharia involving amputation of limbs, is applicable in countries which are rich, considered advanced and counted as Western allies. Similarly, there are many other legal differences. But, the effort seems to be to club the legal response under some sort of common westernized blanket cover which only clouds the issue of legality of response thus obfuscating the cause and effect.
Propaganda fuels self doubt
It is sufficiently confusing for the world’s top political leadership to be wrestling with these problems. What is infinitely more problematic is that even foot soldiers in this war are assaulted with a continuous stream of propaganda, inducing serious self-doubt. A platoon commander, police station in-charge, local sub divisional civil administrator, municipal corporator or base level politician should have a clear mandate and focused tunnel vision to enable him deliver. When he is unclear about concerned variables, his quality of effort and delivery thereof inevitably suffers.
The action of leaders at this level affects the concerned population in hundreds and thousands. Confusion therefore has a much wider effect than commonly perceived. It is also inadequately understood that the vast numbers at this level see through this cloud and fashion their response as per the needs of their profession and the larger common good.
Better motivation, clearer vision, proper equipment, top-of-the-line training and adequate backing and back up at this cutting edge is an essential prerequisite for optimal results where anything less than optimal will be disastrous. Similarly up the ladder at various levels till the provincial level. Here different organizations - militarized and civil ,operate in a supposedly coordinated manner.
Provincial level leadership again differs depending on the cultural environment, political setup and administrative model. It is not unusual to see various leaders and organizations pulling in different directions thus negating each other rather than synergizing the effort.
Quite often at this level one or more dynamic leaders are able to generate a momentum which carries the laggards in the other wings, thus achieving the common goal. What is required however is a clear-cut goal to be enunciated and followed by all the components of the organization.
What is also required is non-interference by colleagues, seniors and controllers, until they find the common aim being compromised. It is at this level that often a charismatic leader of one of the components is able to embody in him the higher operational aim. Thus the part ends up leading and running the whole. Of course if the leadership is outstanding at the highest politico-administrative level, all component parts fall in line and good leadership of the parts results in a laser-like focus, ensuring optimum results.
However jockeying for space, leverage, publicity and power is acute at provincial levels with the parts running in different directions. Anyone familiar with the politico-bureaucratic inertia in Indian state Governments and the cut-throat competition between various wings, will understand the import of what is being said.
There is also a major problem of perception in provincial leadership. Most political as well as administrative heads having come up the ladder find it difficult to comprehend a problem or challenge that is not already there in the book. Terrorism is a challenge which can never be fought by the book, because terrorists write a new book for every operation. Non comprehension leads to inadequate or nil response and whatever does take place is of questionable quality.
National leadership a higher version of provincial leadership
National leadership is and should normally be just a higher version of provincial leadership. However in most nation states things are generally better organized at the national level. The hierarchy of leadership is more clearly defined. Political leadership is more mature and clear headed and there is a fair amount of talk of and striving for a higher goal.
National political leadership across different nations has shown a very sharp perception of the problem of terrorism, resulting in a fairly well coordinated international response. Top political leaders have shown remarkable analytical abilities in dealing with the problem. The quickness of the American response has shown the US political and administrative system at the highest level, as being able to garner desired inputs.
Appreciation of the problem has been remarkably acute. The much maligned duo of George Bush and Tony Blair has actually shown foresight and prescience. They have been rare leaders who saw potential damage to the world, of an unbridled wave of Islamic terrorism. They can be faulted for their choice of target in so far as Iraq was concerned. Even their motivation for choice of that particular target can be found questionable, but having targeted Afghanistan and Iraq, thereby turning them into magnets attracting the entire world’s Jihadis, there is no way US or UK can just walk away.
Accurate estimation of enemy response: Presidential mandate
President Bush has obviously been let down by divisions in his ranks and the effort has been marred by bad staff work. Even the line leadership has not done adequate homework. The enemy’s response was underrated and adequate preparations for invasion/s were not made. Besides lack of local knowledge and culture, training and equipment were inadequate or wrong for the task at hand. Even the required number of translators remains unavailable. Inspite of the US being gloriously wrong on Iraq and the execution shoddy, Presidential leadership per se has been right. It got its basics correct on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
What critics fail to grasp is that the attack on World Trade Towers on 11th September 2001, was a symptom and not the disease. American reaction to 9/11 notwithstanding, assault of Jihadis on Western Nations and their system would have taken place anyway, exception being Iraq where Islamic fundamentalism is riding piggy back and taking credit for what is substantially a nationalist movement now hijacked by sectarian and ethnic differences.
For success in the war on terrorism, one of the most vital inputs is clear headed, committed and efficient leadership of the highest grade at all levels of the political, military and administrative set-up in all the countries concerned. An international consensus amongst top political leaders needs to be followed by focused execution conducted under resolute leadership.
And finally, the rest of the world needs to know that the forces fighting this brand of terrorism are there for the required duration, to ensure eventual success.The foreseeable results to the world, of any slackening of resolve now, are too terrible to even contemplate.
Sarabjit Singh is Former Director General Police, Punjab and presently on the faculty of The International Symposium on Economic Crime at the Jesus College, Cambridge and can be contacted on saberjetsingh@rediffmail.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 28 2007. 11 19 AM IST