The Times of India
The world today may seem no safer than it was 20 years ago when Al Qaeda terrorists brought down the Twin Towers, starting a
US-led and US-named global war on terror. Taliban is back. The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimated in 2018 that the number of active terrorist groups was 67, the most since 1980. And as per a new report from the Costs of War project at Brown University, the US spent $8 trillion during its two-decade-long war on terror that also took 9,00,000 lives. So did terrorists win?
Certainly not. Despite Taliban’s return in Afghanistan, the multiple terror groups in Africa, and the persistence of the Islamic State
outfit, democracies haven’t been thrown off track. No terrorist movement nor any state that sponsors terrorism has been able to provide a
better life for those they claim to represent. True, ISIS did briefly control territory in parts of Iraq and Syria,establishing its so-called caliphate. But it was short-lived, proving that nihilistic, violent movements can hardly build viable states or provide good governance.
Of course, terror groups do retain the capacity to disturb democracies. Their nuisance value has increased in the last 20 years, thanks in large measure to increasing globalisation and advent of new technologies. It’s precisely to counter this that some
democracies have diluted some of their core principles.
Post-9/11, Western governments reinterpreted their privacy laws, boosted surveillance and armed their security agencies with powers overriding legal checks. India, too, went the same way with terrorism given as a justification for some of its most draconian laws. Parallelly, widespread Islamophobia and refugee fatigue in some countries became enablers for right-wing populism, in the West and India.
And then, there was the rise of authoritarian China. A rise that, ironically, can also be traced back to 2001 when Beijing was admitted
to the WTO. In fact, many argue that had the US not been distracted by global terrorism, its opposition to China’s WTO entry would have been stronger. China subsequently went on to strengthen its hold over the global economy and today stands ready to adopt a transactional
approach to groups like Taliban.
But it’s clear that mollycoddling terrorists as a state policy has disastrous consequences. Just look at the basket case Pakistan has become by following that strategy. Overall, 9/11 did change liberal democracies. But terrorists didn’t throw any democracy off track. Warts
and all, that’s not such a bad record.
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