In his 2005 book Future Jihad, Walid Phares, a leading commentator on global terrorism, portrayed a grim Urban Jihad scenario, like the virtual terrorist takeover of Mumbai earlier this week. In an interview to Venkatesan Vembu, the Director of Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation of the Defence of Democracies, and the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad, speaks on the dangers of jihadism, and outlines strategies for winning the war against it.
Who do you think carried out the Mumbai attack?
This attack is part of an ongoing struggle between jihadis and the Indian state: in October, Indian security forces arrested several Indian Mujahideen members. Those arrests were a response to attacks in other cities. So, it’s part of a chain.
Do you see the signature of the Al-Qaeda?
Al-Qaeda is the centre of a web; these organisations are learning from its multidimensional operations. The Al-Qaeda is sitting among the Taliban. In Pakistan, the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed are interlinked.
We’re dealing with a force, stretching from Afghanistan to India. In India, jihadis are applying the Al-Qaeda model, even if they are not a part of it.
What was the motive for the Mumbai attack?
At one level, to instil shock and awe worldwide, much like the 9/11 attacks. On the regional level, there may be another motive. Jihadis in Pakistan have been under pressure, especially under the new President (Asif Zardari), because of the ongoing military operations in Waziristan. The jihadis’ strategic objective was to break down the rapprochement between India and Pakistan. If that happens, Pakistan will be forced to pull back units operating against the Taliban and move them to the border with India.
That would ease pressure on the Taliban.
Indian citizens are seething with rage, sensing a Pakistani link to the attack. How should India respond to Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to go after jihadis?
This matter has to be internationalised: if we leave it to India and Pakistan, then anger will take over. The US, Europe and Russia should convene a meeting against the jihadi challenge.
Second, the Pakistan government must send out a strong signal that it will combat terrorism. Perhaps the Pakistan prime minister should visit Mumbai and declare from there that both countries are united in the fight against terrorism. Third, inside Pakistan, terrorist organisations must be given a strong message that ‘any attack on India is an attack on us’.
Why should not India launch aerial strikes on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan, just as the US does when its troops in Afghanistan are attacked?
Such aerial attacks won’t solve the problem. What we need is an international framework for ground-level attacks. Pakistanis must feel they are a part of an international and regional consortium. Once they’re in, you can launch activities and say, ‘The Pakistanis are part of it’. Even if in reality they may not be. The Pakistan
intelligence service is penetrated by jihadis, and the Pakistani government doesn’t know how deeply it’s been infiltrated.
The Obama transition team seems keen to bring pressure on India to address the Kashmir issue.
When Obama is in the White House, he will have to look at the realities. The problem is not Kashmir, but the jihadis in Kashmir.
What is the objective of jihadis?
First, to establish a Taliban-like regime — characterised by suppression of minorities and women — in all Muslim countries or regions. After that, they want to crumble 21 Arab countries, 52 Muslim states and recreate a ‘Caliphate’ that will go against human rights, including the rights of Muslims. And then there is the use of weapons of mass destruction. In jihadi ideology, there is no such thing as ‘balance of terror’ or ‘mutually assured destruction’ — because in the view of a suicide bomber, life is not ‘here’, it’s on the ‘other side’…
How can the war against future jihad be won?
We need an international coalition against jihadis that would go across ideology, regions and cultures. India has not supported the campaign in Iraq, and is not present in Afghanistan, and yet it is targeted by jihadis. It’s the same with Russia, countries in Europe, and the Arab world. Mumbai should be the moral and psychological 9/11 of the world. What has happened in that city will and can happen in all cities. Even if all jihadis in the Mumbai attack have been captured or killed, that model is now a living model. You have to have international action in the same way Nazism and Fascism were fought. You must have an international charter against the radicalisation of young minds.