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This is a review on Paul Wilkinson’s paper “Insurgency and Terrorism”, which explores the arguments presented by him on the concept of insurgency, different types of insurgency in the contemporary international system and the relationship between insurgency and terrorism. This review starts with a brief summary of Wilkinson’s paper followed by critical analysis of his work. To substantiate the arguments, this paper includes relevant examples, case studies and historical evidence.

Wilkinson starts his paper by introducing the concept of insurgency and different types of insurgent movements in the contemporary system. He argues that insurgency is a rebellion or rising against any government in power, which is mostly manifested as a low intensity conflict (Wilkinson, 2).  But then he draws attention towards the exceptional cases where these low intensity insurgent movements have gathered so much support that they turn into conventional warfare. For instance, the Bolshevik forces in the Russian civil war, the Taliban in the latest civil war in Afghanistan and the Chinese communists. He further argues that in the post Cold War world, the difference between the state of insurgency and the state of belligerency seems meaningless. His argument seems valid because if we observe the pre Cold War and post Cold War world, the number of low intensity conflicts in the post Cold War era has increased considerably. Wilkinson (3) illustrates it by presenting a survey of conflicts by PIOOM, according to which high intensity conflicts have declined in number, while the number of low intensity conflicts and the violent political conflicts has almost doubled.

Another important point made by Wilkinson is that the predominant type of insurgency which exists today is motivated by ethno nationalism and ethno religious movements waging armed struggle for achieving ethnic separation. To achieve their goals, they employ mass terror and carry out ethnic cleansing. Wilkinson (6) quotes Christian P. Scherrer, who presents main types of armed conflicts and their frequency in the period 1985-94. According to Scherrer’s report, the frequency (in percentage) of the ethno nationalist conflicts is 44.1. The case of civil war between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in Rwanda also reveals that how the Hutu’s turned against the Tutsi’s in 1994 and over 800 000 people were killed in an unimaginable genocide over just three months. Tutsis were systematically targeted by extremist Hutus and killed based on ethnic identity (BBC News). Other than that, after the cold war, ethnic tensions erupted into armed conflicts in the former Soviet Union and the Marxist-Leninist insurgent movements in the Third World lost the support of the Soviet Union.

Wilkinson asserts that religious fundamentalists and their insurgent movements pose a threat to the state. They wage a holy war to overthrow the regimes which they regard as evil, and to restore observance of true religion. This is the most lethal conflict because in most cases, their religious fundamentalism is wedded to a political agenda. For instance, in Swat valley of Pakistan, the government allowed implementation of Shariah, on demand of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to restore peace in the region. But then it was forced to withdraw its decision because TTP did not stop and, despite making the pact to withdraw, they moved into Buner district and challenged the writ of the government (Roggio). This combination of religious fanaticism and a nationalistic political agenda can cause intrastate conflict. In Afghanistan, since 1979, over 1.5 million people have died in this conflict (Wilkinson, 7).

While talking about ethno nationalism being the predominant political motivation behind contemporary insurgencies, Wilkinson presents two factors. Firstly, he describes the importance of ethnic identity and argues that despite globalization, ethnic distinctiveness still remains important and it has a powerful influence on human behavior. Secondly, there remains a mismatch between the legally recognized sovereign governments and frontiers, and the demographic map of ethnic groups. By considering the issue of the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan established in 1893, Wilkinson’s assertion seems correct because the Pashtun nationalists never accepted this border on the basis of ethnic divide between the Afghan, and Pakistani Pashtun tribes. The nationalistic Pashtuns continuously state that the Durand Line is void and that they should have full rights over the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and Baluchistan. In an article titled, “Pak-Afghan Relations: The Durand Line Issue” by the Institute of Policy Studies, it is stated that, “successive governments in Afghanistan and some intellectuals denounce the Line because it bars tribes of the same race, language and culture from intermingling, and because, in their opinion, it has given rise to disunity among tribes and families. In this sense, one might say, they object to the Durand Line on moral grounds”. Also, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many ethnic groups started to reassert their identities and challenged the status quo, and pursued various separatist movements by armed struggle.

Talking about different forms of armed struggle used by the insurgents, their effectiveness and how they are interrelated, Wilkinson is trying to establish a link between these different forms of insurgencies. He presents some cases and argues that many revolutionary wars have moved through a low-intensity phase, and then developed into a conventional warfare between armed forces. For instance, the struggle between Bolsheviks and white Russian forces in which the whites were defeated. Also, the war between Mao’s Chinese communists and the nationalists, in which the communists defeated the nationalists (Wilkinson, 10). He correctly asserts that the guerilla tactics used by these insurgents are significant, but they are not self sufficient for achieving victory. He calls these tactics “the natural weapon of the strategically weaker side” (Wilkinson, 10).  To make their movement successful, the insurgent need very strong leadership and popular support.  

Contrary to the stance of Wilkinson, who argues that terrorism does not lead to wider insurgency and only a small minority of terrorists exceed in expanding their struggles, terrorism is another tactic used to achieve political goals and this is tragically an effective way of suppressing the opposition. Historical evidence also proves that this tactic has been used by totalitarian regimes and religious extremists to create mass terror or to exert pressure on the government. For example to control and persecute whole population, Nazis used mass terror. Also attacks on shrines, armed forces and public places by the Taliban in Pakistan show us how this tactic is being used effectively.  By establishing a link between guerilla insurgency and terrorism, Wilkinson is right in his assertion that although there are cases in which the insurgent leaders used terror against the civilians, for example, the case of Pol Pot in Combodia, who conducted mass terrorism on the scale of genocide, many guerilla leaders, like Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung, opposed the use of terror against the population because they wanted to gain the support of the public, on which they depended heavily.

The threat posed by the low intensity conflicts could not be neglected, especially in the post Cold War era when these conflicts have grown to almost double. There are different motivations behind these insurgencies including ethno nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Different forms of armed struggle start from low intensity conflicts and then develop into conventional warfare, and the guerilla warfare used by the weaker side although continues to prove effective in insurgency capabilities, yet it is not self sufficient to achieve desired goals. Terrorism is also used as an auxiliary weapon to create mass terror, yet there are cases in which the use of terrorism by the insurgent leaders has been discouraged in order to gather popular support.

Works Cited
"BBC NEWS | Africa | Rwanda: How the Genocide Happened." BBC News - Home. 18 Dec. 2008. Web. 13 Apr. 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1288230.stm>.
"Pak-Afghan Relations: The Durand Line Issue." Institute of Policy Studies. 2008. 13 Apr. 2011 <http://www.ips.org.pk/international-relation/the-muslim-world/986.html>.
Roggio, Bill. "Taliban move on Buner despite promise to withdraw." The Long War Journal. 10 Apr. 2009. 13 Apr. 2011 <http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/04/taliban_move_on_bune.php>.
Wilkinson, Paul. “Insurgency and Terrorism." In Terrorism Versus Democracy: The Liberal State Response. London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001, 1-18

Written By: Motahir Saleheen

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