September 11, 2001- Was It Worth It?

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The smoke rises from the burning twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in this September 11, 2001 photo. — Media photo

On this 20th anniversary Taliban are back in power, USA has to negotiate and trust the same people whom it was at war with

Mushtaque Rahamat Clarion India

THIS year marks 20th anniversary of the most horrific terror incident on the face of this planet earth. On this fateful day terrorists rammed aeroplane full of innocent men, women and children into the Twin Towers killing all passengers and people working in the tower and around.

Soon afterwards, USA along with its NATO allies launched an aerial attack on Afghanistan driving out Taliban – an ultra-conservative Islamists who had come to power after marshalling over other fighting groups and warlords except Northern Alliance. Thus, America’s nation building and war on terror started.

Ensuing war on terror and nation building saw two long and seemingly unjust wars: Afghanistan, a medieval country by most standards; and Iraq, a relatively safer and peaceful country though under the ironclad rule of a dictator.

Osama Bin Laden and his band of zealots had long held USA responsible for all the ills afflicting Muslim countries especially Middle Eastern nations because of its almost unconditional support to kingdoms and dictatorships. Predicaments of Palestinians at the hands of Israel, which Al Qaeda regarded as an illegal state established solely because of unquestionable support of the USA, was another issue very dear to Bin Laden and his blood thirsty terrorists. He and his organisation Al Qaeda though used religion to upend the global orders and establish new geo-political set up for the Muslim Umma united by border-less singular vision of Islam.

He and his co-conspirators envisaged the truncated role of USA in the lands of Muslims especially Middle East and had liked USA to let its support to Kingdoms and Dictators slip away gradually by tormenting American and American interests. The slew of bombings, before September 2001, of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in 2000, ramming of a small boat filled with explosives into the USS Cole as it was refuelling in the port of Aden, Yemen, were all targeted with the same objectives in mind.

Soon after driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan USA trained its guns on Iraq which had played no role in September 11, 2001. In fact, Saddam Hussain, a dictator, had kept radicalised Muslims under check and had not given any room to organisations like Al Qaeda to prosper. This ill-fated war on Iraq opened a new can of worms for the world to manage. A relatively peaceful country turned into the killing field for sectarian conflicts, fed into regional instability, gave birth to ISIS and largely radicalised the disillusioned population of Iraq.

Human, Economic and Social cost

According to the Watson Institute of International and Public Affair (Brown University) the war on terror since 2001 has resulted in more than 801,000 deaths directly, this does not take into account the deaths that occurred later due to complications directly or indirectly, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen. The USA, its allies and contractors took almost 8,000 body bags home.

According to the same report millions of people living in the war zones have also been displaced by war. The US post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 38 million people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria. This number exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.

Wars are costly economic decisions and exact steep prices on the nations going for war and in the process wars annihilate the economies of the countries on whom it is imposed. According to Watson Institute through Fiscal Year 2022, the United States federal government has spent and obligated $8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This does not take into account the opportunity cost of these capital had these been deployed somewhere else. Since these spending have mostly been financed through borrowing, its interest payment will also run into billions for many years to come.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, counted 80,000 dead and $150 billion loss to Pakistan’s economy due to the spill over effect of the war in Afghanistan.

The post-9/11 saw encroachment of basic human rights across the world, nation’s enacted laws to curb social rights, freedom, and increased surveillance throwing privacy out of the window. USA, majorly, operated black sites; an illegal place to keep arrested individuals suspected of terrorism charges – Abu Gharib prison, Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo Bay. The liberal democracies who propagated personal liberty, freedom and justice detained individuals, in most cases, illegally and kept them indefinitely without trial.

Loss of ideals

Al Qaeda immediately after the assault on Afghanistan was incapacitated and never ever was able to muster support and acquire capability to inflict damage to USA and its allies, though its progeny ISIS did caused some significant loss of human lives in some western countries notably in France. Al Qaeda, as a result of the USA and its allies’ war on terror, has lost moral grounds which it used to enjoy earlier in the Middle Eastern countries, especially. Its raison d’etre of using violence to achieve its political objectives evaporated. The cause of Palestinians and Kashmiris, which Bin Laden espoused, were forever reduced to terrorism instead of armed struggle for self-determination. The world public opinion sharply turned against all armed struggle, nations and communities were repulsed with the violent methods leaving some of the genuine struggle without moral support. This was the real loss to organisations like Al Qaeda as, no longer, they could garner public support. The whole concept of boundary-less Umma evaporated and left the vulnerable to redefine their fights, methods of struggle and keep themselves away from the tag of terrorism.

AsMichelle Goldberg said in her opinion piece (New York Times, 9th September 2021) “The danger jihadist terrorism posed to our country, while serious, was never truly existential; Al Qaeda fell apart shortly after its greatest triumph. Yet the damage Sept. 11 did to the United States was more profound than even many pessimists anticipated.

“The attacks, and our response to them, catalysed a period of decline that helped turn the United States into the debased, half-crazed fading power we are today. America launched a bad-faith global crusade to instil democracy in the Muslim world and ended up with our own democracy in tatters.”

The American dream of nation building lies in tatters today in contrast with hubris, triumphantalism, and super expanded ego of September 2001. Goldberg further captures the reality as “but this epoch of aggressive jingoism, ethnic profiling, escalating paranoia, torture, secret prisons, broken soldiers, dead civilians and dashed imperial dreams have left freedom in retreat both globally and here at home.

With $8 trillion spent, around 8,000 US and Allied forces and more than 801,000 people dead, the sheer loss is too big to miss. Al Qaeda had pulled off unprecedented hitherto unheard mass murder on the soil of USA. The traumatised USA egged on by politicians, intellectuals, and the general public launched an unprecedented war on an enemy, which was not of its stature, without realising the long-lasting impact it is going to have.

Bin Laden has been dead for almost a decade now. But Al Qaeda is thriving, in 2001, there were few hundreds of Al Qaeda members; now they are in thousands spread over far more countries than existed before.

On this 20th anniversary Taliban are back in power, USA has to negotiate and trust the same people whom it was at war with. USA is licking its wounds of defeat at the hands of rag clad, bare footed Taliban.

This September 11, 2021 we know what has been lost. Humanity!

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Mushtaque Rahamat is Australia-based writer. He did his PG in History from Aligarh Muslim University. The views expressed here are author’s personal.

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