20 years of 9/11; the legacy of war on terror

The attacks on the eleventh of September, 2001 put into motion a long chain of events that have shaped of the concepts of security and terrorism.

26/11, UD terrorism attaacks, taliban, rise of taliban, US and Afghanistan, US invasion of Iraq in 2003
On Sptember 11, American Airlines Flight 175 closes in on World Trade Center Tower 2 in New York, just before impact. (Reuters Image)

By Dr Aparaajita Pandey

As the world continues to talk about the US and Afghanistan, it seems we have come a full circle to where it all began. The world changed the day the twin towers fell and it changed irrevocably. The global security dimensions and infrastructure, geopolitical strategies, and the nature of combating terrorism has witnessed not only a complete overhaul but also expansion in magnitude that was unfathomable before the 9/11 attack. The attacks on the eleventh of September, 2001 put into motion a long chain of events that have shaped of the concepts of security and terrorism.

This is not to say that the concept of counter- terrorism was invented in the 9/11 aftermath, however, it would not be inaccurate to point out that the evolution of the concept was most certainly catalysed by the event. The former President George W Bush was quick to act and as NATO entered Afghanistan, what most consider the first wave of counter – terrorism began. The ‘Global War on terror’ can’t not and should not be seen as an isolated act of combating terrorism. It has been one of the longest and most rapidly evolving counter- terrorism policies across the globe. It is believed that the global war on terror has been expounded to the world in phases or waves. The very first one being the NATO forces entering Afghanistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure of al-Qaeda.

The second phase is said to be the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This led to the complete dishevelment of the Iraqi military infrastructure, consequent anarchy, and an environment which would foster the rise of further terrorist activities. It would not be preposterous to believe that the seeds for the rise of the Islamic State that had spread across Iraq and Syria were sown in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

The global war of terror also took into account domestic threats. The US established the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. The establishment of department of Homeland Security and thereby brought all agencies of domestic intelligence gathering and law enforcement entities under a singular head. An accumulation of intelligence data and a greater focus on detection of threat led to better anticipation of possible acts of terror inside the US territory. It also included certain controversial methods of data gathering that have been heavily critiqued and are still opposed by many.

The fourth phase of this war on terror was to export the American way of fighting terror globally. The US has spear headed counter -terrorism operations across the world and offered the training programmes, became a part of joint military exercises, the US has also augmented its role as one the largest weapons exporter in the world. The counter – terrorism approach of the US has targeted countries that have suffered from domestic threats and regional terror outfits. The multi-pronged approach by the US began as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks, however, since then it has evolved into a comprehensive policy involving collating intelligence on a global level, preempting acts of terror, joint military exercises, providing support military infrastructure and training to countries, and also executing counter – insurgency activities in countries either individually or as a part of their military alliances.

The war on terror has not been a linear operation that has produced a definite result. Some would argue it has produced no productive result whatsoever. While domestic terror threats in the US may not have been commonplace in the US since 9/11, it is not to say that terrorist activities have stalled or even stymied since then. Most countries including those that are US allies have suffered many horrific terrorist attacks. There is also a cycle of violence that has begun that gets more convoluted with each attack and counter – attack. The legacy of the global war on terror involves not just the destruction of terrorist outfits but has led to the demolition of governance structures of entire countries. It also involves harrowing tales of human – rights violations. We now live in a world where generations have grown up witnessing wide – spread human rights violations and revocation of their civil liberties. While it can be argued that this was the proverbial necessary evil however, that does not lessen the long – term impact it has had on practicing of law enforcement, imprisonment, investigation, and counter- terrorism.

The growth of intelligence collection and surveillance technology is also a ramification of the global war on terror. The magnitude of surveillance that has fueled the invention of better technology for the same purpose and the consequent data gathering and analysis is unprecedented. While it may be protested, wide – spread surveillance is here to stay.

While the global war on terror may have evolved into more unostentatious counter- terrorism, the very terrorism it fights has also evolved. As the world enters a constantly changing and unpredictable world of cyber-attacks, biological and chemical weapons, and generations that feel wronged, marginalized, and alienated; we would need to devise a policy that involves more than counter- terrorism. We need a policy to rebuild societies and re-establish governance structures. The face of counter – terrorism is bound to change in the coming times one can hope that it also has a humanitarian side.

(The author is an Asst. Professor at Department of Public Policy, Amity University, NOIDA and a PhD from Centre for Canadian, US, and Latin American Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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