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Hard Lessons from 9/11

Omkar Goswami


My mind goes back ten years ago. Somewhere around 7 pm in Delhi on 9/11, my son called me on the mobile as I was driving home from work. “Baba”, said he, “Are you near a TV?”. “No”, I replied. “You better get to a TV right away. A plane has crashed right into the World Trade Centre!” I rushed home, switched it on, watched in horror, first alone, and then with my son, at footages of the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, crashing into the north tower; then shortly afterwards, as the second plane, United Airlines 175, smashed into the south tower; followed by hours of dumbstruck shock seeing the mayhem wreaked by Osama bin Laden’s terrorists.

Excluding the 19 suicidal hijackers, 2,977 men and women were killed in the World Trade Centre, in the Pentagon, and in the four planes that crashed — two into the World Trade Centre, one into the Pentagon and one in a field at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The world changed. Forever.

Ten years later, what has the US and India learnt from 9/11?

As far as the US goes, there have been many positives, and a few serious negatives. In less than 15 months of 9/11, the US put in place the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which, through a single authority, controls citizenship and immigration, customs enforcement and border protection, transportation security (these are the guys who screen passengers in US airports and ports), the coast guard, the secret service and a few other agencies. The DHS currently employs over 216,000 people; works through a widely networked and unified IT system; and has a federal budget of almost $99 billion for 2011.

Despite it spanning so many critical and often conflicting federal departments, the DHS works. The proof: since 9/11, there has been no significant jihadi terrorist attack in the fifty states of the USA that could claim even a single life. There have been several attempts including two in Time Square, New York City. But well over 99 per cent of the jihadi plans were intercepted by the DHS intelligence apparatus and squashed before the event; and thankfully for the tiny residual, there has been no fatalities.

However, the larger price that the US has had to pay is monstrous in terms of human lives, material and budgetary outlays. In Iraq, 4,474 US citizens have been killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, with well over 800 people being killed each year between 2004 and 2007. And Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan has already snuffed out 1,762 US lives. It could be argued that there is light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq. Not so in Afghanistan. Despite the occasionally successful drone attacks in the North West Frontier Provinces and the spectacular mission to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Afghanistan is more dangerous than ever before. It has a possibly corrupt and certainly inept president, innumerable warlords — small, medium and not so medium — and is a jihadi open zone, where terrorists of all ages come and go at will.

Worse still, the consequences of 9/11 have unfortunately begat a rampant and fundamentally violent stateless entity that goes by the name of Pakistan. The war on Osama has created thousands of clones across Pakistan, who think nothing of bombing mosques, schools, hotels, market places, major intersections, railway stations and any place that attracts people — all in the cause of martyrdom for a completely bigoted notion of Islam. They also think nothing of crossing the border and doing the more of the same throughout India, be it in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Pune and elsewhere.

Here are the facts of terrorist attacks in India since September 2001, which have killed ten or more people. 2001: J&K assembly (35 killed) and the Parliament in New Delhi (12). 2002: Akshardham in Gujarat (31) and J&K (30). 2003: Train bombings (11) and two car bombs (52), both in Mumbai. 2004: Assam (16). 2005: pre-Diwali blasts in Delhi (59). 2006: Varanasi bombings (28); Mumbai suburban railways (200); Malegaon (37). 2007: Hyderabad (the first killing 13, and the next, 42). 2008: Jaipur (63); Ahmedabad (45); New Delhi shopping centres (21). 2009: 26 November in Mumbai, Kasab et. al. (168). 2010: German Bakery, Pune (13). 2011: Opera House, Mumbai (21) and High Court, New Delhi (12). That adds up to 909 victims, and counting.

So what have we learnt from terrorist attacks? The facts suggest that we have learnt little or nothing. An effete Shivraj Patil has made way for the seemingly tough P. Chidambaram. But the attacks continue unabated. Look at the cops in whichever city you live and ask yourself whether you can count on them to save you. The US DHS protects its country. As terrorism focuses on soft underbellies. The softest being India.

Published: Business World, September 2011


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