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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Ecology of Terror Networks

I have been thinking about terrorism a lot lately. And I think, like the systems ecologist that I am, that terrorism has a distinct ecology. Simply put, the networks of global and regional terror love to inhabit certain socio-economic and ecological localities.

I also think that in a complex ecosystem comprising a myriad of other “life forms”, terrorism is managed in a very sophisticated manner. It is managed in the style ecologists would refer to as resilience–based ecosystem management. For instance, Al Qaeda, Taliban or Al–Shabab take systems perspective of their base and understand that it is a complex and coupled socio-economic system in which poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, corruption, women’s rights (especially keeping girls out of school and women out of work) and religious fundamentalism are critical system components.

The leaders of the terror networks understand transformation, threshold and feedback. They understand, in a very practical way, the non-linear relationships among poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, delinquency and how these play out to recruit the next pool of suicide bombers.

Moreover, the terrorists know better than to let a good crisis go to waste. Taliban and Al Qaeda followers were out provide relief, rescue and comfort to the Pakistani flood victims while the Pakistani president was out shopping. They understand the language of incentives, carrot and sticks. They make lofty and sensual promises to suicide bombers.

To get a more nuanced perspective of the ecology of terror networks consider for a moment where these networks are active; Yemen, the mountains of North Waziristan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia. I am not sure why these networks are not robust in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya or Tunisia.
These terror networks, in my opinion need a critical aggregation of poverty, grievance, religious delusion and more importantly, hopelessness in the now and hence a compulsive yearning for an after life.

The anti terrorism measures must understand the “ecosystem” logic of terrorism. The drones, although successful, will not end terrorism. I am not sure that providing oodles of aid money will dismantle the terror networks. Aid might just slow down things a little bit.

But there are deep socio-economic problems in Pakistan that no amount of aid or military intervention can solve. These are the control of land and politics. Feudal lords dominate Pakistan’s political structure. Most of the political parties are feudal oriented and a significant majority of the National Assembly is dominated by these kinds of people. Moreover, the same feudal lords hold most of the key executive posts in the provinces.

The feudal lords, by virtue of their ownership and control of such vast amounts of land and human resources, are powerful enough to influence the distribution of water, fertilizers, tractor permits and agricultural credit and, consequently exercise considerable influence over the revenue, police and judicial administration.

In a system such as the one , I would sign up for the Taliban any day. And no drones or official development assistance dollars would stop me.

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