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Debashish Mohanty asked: What is the difference between state terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism?

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  • Adil Rasheed replies: There are many definitions of terrorism, yet none has been universally accepted as yet. Today, security experts usually focus on the more accepted features of terrorism and then classify its sub-types, such as non-state terrorism, state terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism.

    For instance, one of the key features of terrorism is political and/or religious violence. In addition, this violence is mainly directed towards people — often civilians — and not just property. Thus, terrorist violence often targets people by killing, injuring, kidnapping, torturing them etc. as a means to create terror among masses to meet their political or communal goals.

    While terrorism is generally associated with non-state actors, there are instances when states are also accused of being directly involved in conducting acts of terrorism. This is different from legitimate forms of violence that a state’s military and/or security agencies employ to protect their citizenry and ensure security.

    State terrorism refers to that kind of terrorism with which a state illegitimately targets certain individuals or groups in order to instil fear in a target audience beyond the direct victim. Political scientists regard the Soviet police state and German Nazi regime in 1930s and 1940s as early examples of state terror, while others point to World War II bombings of civilian populations in London, Dresden, Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima/Nagasaki as their more violent manifestations.

    On the other hand, state-sponsored terrorism is a term used when a terrorist group receives support from a state. This support could be in the form of funding, training, supply of weapons, providing shelter within its borders, as well as other ways of logistical and intelligence assistance. Pakistan is notorious internationally as a state-sponsor of terrorism. The country has been accused by India, the United States, Iran, and previous regimes in Afghanistan for being a sponsor of terrorism. Its sponsoring of jihadi groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, etc. is thus well known.

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.

    Posted on October 19, 2023