9/11 in Retrospect

By Arifa Noor Sept.12th, 2011 Ten years after 9/11, the decade following that fateful day in September seems t o be a tale full of sound and fury, signifying little for world politics. At a time when everyone is writing reams on the significance of this event, such a categorical dismissal may not go down well. But it still needs to be said. When the attacks took place in the US on September 11, 2001, the clamour was tha t this event had triggered off a world conflict on the scale of the recently end ed Cold War. An unimaginative but understandable prediction. People tend to view the future in the prism of the past. Having but recently eme rged from a worldwide conflict, analysts and historians were scrambling to find a new two way rivalry that would allow them to define the world in familiar term s. Used to a bipolar world, they wanted to find another conflict that entailed t wo ideologies and two camps. The result was a narrative built around the west an d Islam or the West and radical Islam (for the politically correct westerners an d Muslims who did not want to accused of Orientalism). But did Osama Bin Laden and his men provide a worthy successor to the Eastern bl oc? The Cold War lasted a good fifty years and divided the world into two blocs, for cing a third set of countries to form a non aligned movement (however aligned ea ch one of its members were) and led to wars from Latin America to Africa to Asia . The enemy was known, identified and publicly so. If one of the earliest leaders of the Cold War (British Prime Minister Winston Churchill) used the term iron cu rtain for Eastern Europe, one of the last (US president Ronald Reagan) called th e Soviet Union the evil empire. The enmity was not kept a secret. It was also a war about competing ideologies followed by two sets of states. And as both had publicly declared war on each other, the end had to come with the d efeat of one side. And it did â one bloc and ideology was defeated and destroyed. By the time the Cold War ended, Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc both collapsed. All the states within reformed their political and economic systems. For instanc e Eastern Germany merged with Western part and adopted the economic and politica l system of the latter. Second, communism was no longer an ideology or system of governance that was an option for governments once the war ended; most of the states shifted to free ma

rket economy and most outside of the Middle East were pressured to turn to democ ratic processes. Did 9/11 bring about a similar face off and a similar end? There was the â westernâ on the one side. But on the other side, there was a group of men whose ideology was not very clearly defined. At best, Al Qaeda was a cult. Not a single state sided with the Bin Laden-Zawahiri combine. How did this face off match the Cold War? Letâ s not forget that the western world did not declare war on the Islamic world or even a part of it. Within days of the event, the American president was clarifyi ng to whomever was willing to listen that the West was not at war with Islam or Muslims. More so, within a year of the invasion of Afghanistan, there was not even a west ern coalition that agreed on a common basic agenda, leave alone on their enemy. The so called coalition of the willing that led the war in Iraq was the butt of many jokes and hardly anyone remembers any country other than the United States and United Kingdom that went in. These were the only two wars that stemmed from 9/11 but one had few links with A l Qaeda. Soon after removing Saddam Hussain in Iraq, it was clear that he or his regime had no links to Al Qaeda; Washingtonâ s intelligence saying so was incorrect. ( The second war will be addressed a little later.) In contrast, the Cold War led to wars as varied as Afghanistan, Korea and Vietna m to name just a few. Each of them lasted as long as a decade and created region al and international dynamics. For instance, the war in Vietnam affected the reg ion (as has the war in Afghanistan) but even after the Americans withdrew, they remained concerned about the appeal of communism in South East Asia. As a result , Washington took a special interest in South East Asia and its economic develop ment; the trade concessions it offered led to the East Asian tigers and their mi racle growth remained a major debate in economic development till after the Cold War. Similarly, the Soviet Unionâ s invasion of Afghanistan led to a proxy war in the coun try and also prompted the US to set up the international jihad factory. Not only were terrorist camps set up, but also the international financial links to feed this production line. In addition, ties were nurtured that allowed men from all over the world to head to Afghanistan and Pakistan to get training. This intern ational jihad factory continues to operate till now. At the time this plan was h atched it was so grand that it was fed by and on the Saudi-Iranian rivalry as we ll as the Indo-Pak tensions. In contrast, neither of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq had any significant regi onal implications, leave alone international ones. Take Iraq. Unlike the neo con predictions that democracy in Iraq would lead to o ther authoritarian regimes in the Middle East collapsing, nothing happened. And the Arab spring when it finally happened was triggered by a number of events and issues but none of them was linked to the US invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has led to mayhem and war in both Afghanistan an d Pakistan. But beyond this, the American intervention has changed little. Despi te a ten year involvement, Afghanistanâ s state and society is no different from what it was a decade ago. The massive aid inflow has achieved little and now that Wa shington is negotiating with the Taliban, there are chances that the very Pashtu ns that Washington went into Afghanistan to throw out of power will make a comeb ack. The grand plan to change or develop Afghanistan has been abandoned and repl aced by the achievable goal of eliminating Al Qaeda â a rag tag force of misfits at

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best. And then there is Pakistan. A decade ago, it faced an economic crisis and was co nsidering implementing reforms including a value added tax as the first step to expand its tax base. It was isolated in the world and its military dictatorship was under pressure. Any of it sound familiar? Nine-eleven gave the Pakistan of 2001 an artificial breath of life. Money flew i n and the state was able to delay swallowing the bitter economic pill it is now being forced to ingest. General Musharraf was allowed to strut around the world stage and Pakistan for much longer than he deserved. But now the country is back at the political and economic cross roads it faced in 2001; we are grappling wi th the same political and economic reforms package plus debating what the countr y should do to its jihad factory; its army and its relation with India. In other words, Pakistan just got a ten year breather to ignore all of its probl ems. Nonetheless, some may argue that it is in the Pak-Afghan-India backyard that 9/1 1 had an impact and where its blowback will continue to be felt. But this is all that 9/11 was about â Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We need to understand that what happened on 9/11 was a result of the Cold War ri valry that led to the proxy war in Afghanistan in the 80s. The jihad factory tha t was set up then continued after the Cold War ended and led to 9/11. And since then, the US and its allied are trying to dismantle what they set up earlier. Indeed 9/11 was not the beginning of a new world conflict or a new era in world politics but simply the last remnants of the Cold War. Outside of this region, 9/11 will perhaps only be remembered for the blow it dea lt to the declining power of the United States. Super powers, after all, come an d go. The Second World War gave the world the United States as a world power; th e Cold War brought the end to its only rival, leaving behind a uni-polar world o r the age of the hyper power. But this too had to end. And the beginning of its end started the day the planes rammed into the World Trade Centre. Hubris or imperial overstretch then led the US into two wars which coupled with the countryâ s economic mismanagement may finall y lead to a new and different era with new super powers. Not a bad achievement for a cult led by a Saudi misfit. This much a bunch of men can perhaps achieve but to spark off a world conflict? Not really. We should re member that as we commemorate 9/11. Arifa Noor is Dawnâ s resident editor in Islamabad.

Source: The Dawn, Karachi

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