Counter-Terrorism: January 6, 2005



India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan have been dealing with terrorism for several decades and have learned many lessons. Most instructive are the lessons in urban terrorism. Urban warfare is probably the most difficult form of combat, and when practiced by terrorists, the most deadly. 

All three countries have diverse populations, much like the United States. That said, inter-ethnic and sectarian relations in all three have been much more violent. Pakistan has sectarian violence (usually Islamic fundamentalists against the secular government) and inter-ethnic violence (primarily perpetrated by the Muttehida Qauri Movement). India has had a lengthy terrorist/insurgent problem in Kashmir and occasional trouble in Punjab with Sikh terrorists. Sri Lanka has had to deal with the Tamil Tigers. All of the terrorist groups have set up global networks for support usually raising funds by getting donations or engaging in criminal activity.

Urban areas are probably the prime targets for terrorist attacks in the United States. A city like New York has numerous targets ballparks (Yankee and Shea Stadiums and Madison Square Garden), museums (numerous ones in New York), transportation targets (like JFK International Airport) and tourist attractions (Times Square). New York is also the financial capital of the United States, and attacks there can cause an economic hiccup.

What is most interesting is how these three countries have faced a major problem: coordination between national, provincial, and local authorities. That said, they have had problems doing that. This is nothing new or surprising. For example, in the United States, not only do federal, state, and local authorities sometimes clash (for instance, a number of big cities, like New York, prohibit their law enforcement agencies from reporting illegal immigrants to the federal government), but federal agencies often clash with each other. The rivalry between the FBI and Secret Service is one huge example. Nothing is more furious than a turf war between bureaucrats. Or a simple failure to communicate can cause problems in a recent exercise, a local cop unaware that the exercise was ongoing ended up killing a Special Forces trainee who didnt know the local cop hadnt been briefed in on the exercise.

Local cops are probably the people who will get an idea something is not quite right, and that will often result in a terrorist being captured. These local cops know their beats pretty well where the crooks hang out, what gangs operate where, and who the crooks are. They have networks of informants folks who know what is going on. They are most likely to come across a potential terrorist as well often through random encounters like a traffic stop or answering a routine call.

The big issue is local support for the police. American police agencies work hard at it, and generally have good results. However, a controversial shooting will severely strain relations with the local population for the short term. Local populations who dont like or trust the cops wont tell then when someone suspicious is in the area this is a problem often faced in South Asia, where tribal or ethnic loyalties could make approaching a cop hard to do. India faced this in Punjab, where Sikhs did not trust the cops because they were from one of the other religions (Moslem or Hindu), and the cops were seen as being 
biased against Sikhs.

Local cops also might run into language barriers relatively few cops speak Arabic or Tamil, as opposed to Spanish. This means that even if they get a wiretap, they might not understand what is being said. The shortage of translators means that information probably wont be discovered until it is too late.

That said, lessons have been learned in South Asia and are highly applicable to Iraq. Pakistans efforts in community policing have worked well in establishing a level trust of the local cops among local communities. India learned how to deal with touchy inter-ethnic strike in Operation Black Thunder. Sri Lankas mistakes in dealing with the Tamil Tigers show what NOT to do. The lessons learned by others will probably help the United States stabilize Iraq, and to prevent attacks on American soil. Harold C. Hutchison (


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