14 Years After 9/11 Unilateral Approach to Terror Must Be Debunked

America’s ill-advised war on terror continues; only, the target of its ire has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
The second tower of the World Trade Centre explodes after being hit by a hijacked airplane. (Photo: Reuters)
Snapshot
  • The world is now more dangerous than ever before; much of this danger is a consequence of terrorism and insurgency
  • The Islamic State (IS) and Boko Haram lead the list of perpetrators of mass killings
  • First as tragedy then as farce: The ill-advised war on terror has only shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq
  • The refugee crisis that has spilled into Europe is a part of the osmotic influx that began with 9/11
  • The US policy towards the scourge of Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors is inconsistent and obdurate

A straw poll conducted over the last week among global security experts concluded that the world is now more dangerous than ever before – and much of this danger has emanated from terrorism and insurgency. It is estimated that over 1 lakh people have been killed in the current year and most of them fell prey to perpetrators wedded to an ideology which glorifies such mass killings. The IS (Islamic State) and Boko Haram lead the list.

In September 2001, the US was groping to identify al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden. The phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ entered the global lexicon. Subsequently, in October that year the US launched its attack on Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Its Emir – the one-eyed Mullah Omar – provided shelter to the al-Qaeda leader and refused to hand him over to the US.

The Charade of Terror

A 2011 news report about the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. (Photo: Reuters)
A 2011 news report about the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. (Photo: Reuters)

While Laden was (not so) mysteriously located and neutralised in May 2011 by US Special forces in Abbottabad, a military cantonment in Pakistan, the Mullah Omar tale is as curious and illustrative of the many charades that envelop the 9/11 trajectory. In the end of July 2015, the death of the reclusive Taliban supremo, who had not been sighted since 9/11, was tantalisingly revealed – one detail at a time.

Predictably, the fact that Mullah Omar had found both shelter and medical assistance in Pakistan till his demise in 2013, helped to substantiate what was conjecture till then – the duplicitous role of the Rawalpindi security establishment in cynically playing all sides of the terror charade.

On the 14th anniversary of 9/11, a disturbing sense of déjà vu prevails. Prior to 9/11, the Taliban was in the saddle in Afghanistan, and girls were forbidden from going to school. Women could not wear socks, lest they were deemed ‘sexy’, as was the black humour at the time in Kabul. And the Pakistani intelligence agencies were invested in nurturing this regime.

Fallout of 9/11

The Tribute in Light illuminates the sky behind One World Trade Center. (Photo: AP)
The Tribute in Light illuminates the sky behind One World Trade Center. (Photo: AP)

14 years later, the recurrence of certain patterns is eerie, though the gender status is not as oppressive. Over these years the US has shifted its focus first to Iraq – ostensibly to prevent a deviant regime (Saddam Husain) from acquiring WMD (weapons of mass destruction) since it was deemed to be supporting Islamic terrorism in the region. The ill-advised global war on terror that began in Afghanistan moved to Iraq and the regime change in Baghdad marked the beginning of a bloody turbulence and related melt-down that has now afflicted large swathes of West Asia all the way through North Africa to the Maghreb.

The post-Saddam sectarian backlash in Iraq morphed into the emergence of the IS and the breakdown in Syria with affiliates in Africa spreading their own mayhem. The refugee crisis that has now spilled into Europe is part of the osmotic influx that began with 9/11. In sum, the grim assessment that the world on the 14th anniversary of 9/11 is more dangerous than ever before is valid.

Need for a Uniform Approach

US President at the time of 9/11 attacks George Bush with the then Indian PM Manmohan Singh. (Photo: Reuters)
US President at the time of 9/11 attacks George Bush with the then Indian PM Manmohan Singh. (Photo: Reuters)

India and the US have been among the principal targets of this form of terrorism in different ways, and their experience precedes 9/11. For India, the time was May 1990 and US assets, it may be recalled, were attacked in the early ’90s in East Africa and the Gulf.

However, the US policy towards the scourge of Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors exudes an obduracy and inconsistency – that while being explicable is very costly in terms of American treasure and life. The reluctance of the White House to quarantine the Pakistani military and Rawalpindi’s selective support to terror groups adds to the frustration in both Kabul and Delhi.

The Taliban and their Haqqani affiliates are emboldened, while the elected government of President Ashraf Ghani has conveyed its displeasure to Pakistan in no uncertain terms, but to little avail. Arriving at some degree of policy harmonisation between Washington, Kabul and Delhi about the DNA of 9/11 should be the objective over the next year.

(The writer is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi)

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