9/11 repercussions continue to reflect 20 years on

It was around 7 pm Indian Standard Time on a September Tuesday evening, 20 years back. I was a kid back then. My father came into the living room and switched on the television in a hushed and worried way.

I wondered why! As soon as the TV switched on, I could see why. The news channels were flashing a tragic footage from busy Manhattan streets in New York. The twin-towers of World Trade Centre (WTC) in Lower Manhattan, in the biggest terror attack on American soil, were hit by two planes hijacked by the terrorists. Minutes later, another footage from Virginia displayed how the terrorists had hit the US Army headquarter at Pentagon.

Within hours, as world was coming to terms with the terror attack that left over 3,000 people dead, some of the iconic structures of the world’s only superpower had turned into rubble. The dreaded terrorist had used hijacked American planes to do the dirty work for them. Then came, a customary speech by then US President George W Bush.

“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve,” he said from his Oval Office.

His approval ratings soared to as high as 90%. Mr Bush put the onus of terror attack on Al Qaeda – led by Osama Bin Laden. It was none other than the US that had funded Bin Laden in his fight against Soviets in Afghanistan and now the Americans were themselves on the receiving end, facing the heat from one of the most dreaded terror supremos in the world. The US wanted Osama – dead or alive.

What followed next was the beginning of a new chapter for both Afghanistan and the US. The US and its allies sent their troops to the Central Asian country. Afghanistan, which shares almost porous borders with neighbouring Pakistan, was ruled by Taliban back then. The US said that the Taliban were providing sanctuary to Bin Laden. When Taliban didn’t hand over Bin Laden to Americans, the US went all guns blazing – trapping the US in its longest war. It has been 20 years, since then.

Fast forward to August 2021 and the Taliban has seized the power back from the US-backed government. The US and allied troops are out of Afghanistan. Bin Laden, after switching his hideouts multiple times, was killed in a night raid in military town of Abbottabad in Pakistan, a decade after 9/11 on 2 May 2011.

While the US was able to decimate the Al Qaeda’s top rung in its War on Terror, it also led to a war in Iraq – and it has been alleged multiple times that the war in Iraq was on basis of fabricated evidence of the country’s then dictator Saddam Hussein having Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The 20-year war, also led to more radicalised and more heinous terror groups like Islamic State. The industry of terrorism still thrives across the globe.

But the biggest repercussion of 9/11, in my opinion, can be seen in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Post the 9/11 terror attack, there was an overdrive of hyper-nationalism in the world. This overdrive led to two major things. The first, it culminated in election victories of right-wing strong men across the world – Donald Trump in US, Narendra Modi in India and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

The other one is scarier. In the aftermath of 9/11, military security became the focus of nations across the globe. The budgetary spending in the defence sector surged over the years. But this increase in defence budgets came at the cost of social sector allocation – education, health, etc. So, when the pandemic struck, we had military equipment to battle biggest of bombs, but all that armoury was useless in front of an invisible enemy in the form of virus.

(The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and they do not reflect the opinions or views of the organisation.)