Terrorism can be a very complicated and controversial topic to discuss as it is merely an umbrella term for many concepts. Concepts ranging from political, financial, to religious causes. Almost all groups who are accused of terrorism deny using terrorism as a military tactic to achieve their goals. There also lacks an international consensus on a legal definition of terrorism. As it is said, ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ The sheer diversity of these causes makes it very difficult to recognize and label an organization or group as a ‘terrorist group.’
Terrorism: Lacking a Unified Definition
There could be a group recognized as a terrorist group by one country, which could at the same time be supported by another as a non-government organization, a political party or just a nationalist group. Groups fitting this description include the Workers’ Party of Korea, United National Liberation Front, Irish Republic Army (IRA), the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Hamas, Hezbollah, the notorious Haqqani Network, and hundreds more.
Though recognized as terrorist organizations by most nations in the West, these organizations are thriving as political parties and nationalist groups in their respective regions. Hamas and Hezbollah even hold seats in the parliaments of Palestine and Lebanon despite being recognized as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the United States of America. While RSS is recognized as one of the biggest voluntary organizations in the world, it was banned three times by the Indian Government for ‘acts of terrorism.’
However, there are certain organizations and groups that are universally called upon as a ‘sponsor of terror’ or just a ‘terrorist organization’ by major world powers. Such organizations include the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Al Qa’ida Network and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a self-proclaimed Caliphate and government, which is considered as a terrorist group by almost all countries of the world.
Terror Organization Operations
Along with being diverse in their ideologies and strategies, such organizations also operate very differently. For example, RSS holds power and influence through their ‘volunteers’, while the IRA was a militant group and held influence through their paramilitary personnel. Hamas is a political party and therefore protected by the law and constitution while ISIL operates as a sovereign state. It is thus not possible to have a single legal definition for such a complicated phenomenon. The same can be said about the financing of such groups.
All kinds of organizations need funding to function. On our list, there is a diverse source of income for each organization. For instance, RSS is highly funded by its volunteers, other international organizations, and to some extent the Government. Hamas is a political party and is free to use public and government funds as needed. While ISIL, acting as a state, has its own economy altogether thanks to the export of petroleum from the oil fields under its territories.
While discussing the role of wealth and power as a motivation for the spread of terrorism, it can’t be denied that such organizations can be very wealthy and influential. Of course, all rebel and terrorist groups can’t be generalized. but almost all of these groups on our list have at least a distant goal of taking over the sitting government. In case of the RSS, which challenged the Government of India shortly after their independence in 1947, in adopting the tri-color flag and used its influence to install a ‘Hindu’ flag instead. All the while, the TTP has been demanding the implementation of Shariah law in Pakistan to replace the current constitution, which would give tremendous power and control to the organization.
ISIL is the most Successful Terrorist Group
Now, it won’t be outrageous to consider one of the most successful and dangerous terrorist group, ISIL, as an ideal for other such terrorist groups. According to Forbes, ISIL is the ‘wealthiest terrorist organization.’ This is based on their alleged illegal export of petroleum to Turkey, Iran, Kurdistan, and Israel. Forbes also claims ISIL as the biggest and most powerful organization of its kind, which would not be possible without financial independence from other organizations and terror-sponsoring states.
Business Insider claims that ISIL makes upwards of $12 million a month from extortion and other illegal practices in the city of Mosul alone, in addition to $3 million a day from their petroleum exports. Alongside, ISIL also has control of other daily life essentials. like agriculture, energy, water, and food which enables them to extort money from the crippled government. ISIL is reported to have control of over 40% of Iraq’s agricultural output, which has given the group an upper hand over the government which seems helpless in countering the genius organizational setup of this mafia-like government.
It won’t be unfair to claim at this point, that ISIL is more of an organized criminal mafia than just another violent rebel group with an ideology and a cause. The group seems more focused on their political, geographical, and financial expansion than their previously stated goal of a Khilafat, supposed to facilitate the people and not the other way around. The same can be said about Al Qa’ida, considering the influence it once held in Afghanistan and still holds in certain regions.
The Business of Al Qa’ida
Al Qa’ida has tremendously benefited from the drugs and arms trade in Afghanistan over the years and gained financial independence. It was reportedly in control of almost all arms and drugs trades across the region, including in Pakistan and Tajikistan. It is a very wealthy organization which is able to fund other terrorist fractions like Boko Haram and Al Shabab in Africa as well as have a presence in almost all countries of the Middle East and Africa.
There is also the political aspect of the rise and thriving of more and more terrorist organizations by day. All terrorist organizations are accused of working on a political goal for certain governments. The Government of Pakistan is accused of sponsoring the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and other rebel groups in the Indian Administered Kashmir by the United States of America and India, while Pakistan accuses India of running terror cells in Pakistan like the TTP.
The Houthi rebels of Yemen are reportedly supported by Iran and Syria as accused by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. While Iran accuses Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States of America to be responsible for ISIL. There is a trend in these accusations as countries who benefit from the ideology of a particular terror cell are accused of their creation and rise.
Supporters of Terrorist Organizations
There is no denying that there is a large group of ISIL sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and there is very little done about it. It also makes sense for the Houthis to receive support from Iran and Syria as they challenge Saudi Arabia as one of the major powers in the Middle East. Pakistan has also benefitted a lot from the war in Afghanistan in the form of foreign aid to modernize its military in the war against terror. India has benefited from the instability in its neighborhood as it had reduced any challenges to the power it holds in South Asia. Then there is the United States of America that seems to benefit the most from each conflict as they sell expensive weaponry to all sides of each conflict, like the $100 billion military deal with Saudi Arabia in 2017.
War is a business and that is why there doesn’t seem to be an end even after all the world wars. Where in the modern age we have moved away from active conflicts after the blunders of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such conflicts are now being replaced by more passive proxy wars, which seem to be working for the most part. The arms, oil, and drugs trades are blooming and there are a lot of people cashing in on it. Whether it be those running ISIL or manufacturing weapons. Money is not the only cause of the widespread terrorism throughout the world, but it certainly is one of the main ones.