Seventeen years ago, terrorist attacks in the United States on this day changed the world at large

by Iftikhar Gilani

September 11, 2001 led to a host of changes in the security outlook that included framing of new stringent laws at the expense of civil liberties, military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan resulting in the deaths of dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, besides terrorist group Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The tragedy guided a new global order – a boon for India – where its voice gained weight, with the world recognising its role in global and regional affairs. It also began an unprecedented military cooperation with the West; put an end to blockade on the transfer of dual-use technologies and recognised India as a nuclear power by signing Indo-US nuclear deal and securing membership of various export control regimes. According to noted author Fareed Zakaria, the attacks accelerated the process wherein India's role in combating religious extremism in Asia was seen as vital.

Terrorists used unconventional means to carry out the most dreadful attack in the recent history, consuming 2,753 lives. A US Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre, soon followed by a United Airlines flight ramming into the south tower in New York. A third plane flew into a wing of the Pentagon, right outside Washington DC, while another crashed at a field in Pennsylvania.

Ten days after the attacks, President George Bush while coining the phrase "war on terror" laid out ground rules. "We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime," he said.

His administration threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if the country did not cooperate in Afghanistan. Former Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, said the threat was delivered by the assistant secretary of state, Richard Armitage, in conversations with Pakistan's intelligence director.

President Bush's strategy of 'war on terror' come as a ray of hope for India that was struggling to develop security measures in the aftermath of several terror attacks. Our Parliament was attacked three months later in December 2001. The recently concluded 2+2 Dialogue between India and the US, which witnessed signing of the 'Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA)' completed a circle in defence relations between the two countries that started post 9/11. This pact will help India obtain critical defence technologies, and access critical communication network to ensure interoperability among the US and the Indian armed forces.

The COMCASA was third line among foundational agreements required to be signed to enable transfer of critical US military technology. India has already signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002 and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. Both countries are currently negotiating the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). This agreement will facilitate exchange of geospatial information between the two countries for both military and civilian use. Earlier in June 2005, the two countries signed the 10-year defence framework agreement which was renewed again in 2015.

According to the US 9/11 Commission report, while it cost Al Qaeda half a million dollars to organise and execute the attacks, the property damage in New York and Washington alone cost about $100 billion. The cumulative economic cost to the global economy has been estimated as high as $2 trillion. Brown University estimated the cost of those two wars at $4 trillion. Bruce Riedel, an American expert on security, South Asia, and counter-terrorism maintained that 9/11 was not only traumatic, but also a cheap investment that cost America dearly in lives and treasure.

Force To Reckon With 

  • West recognises India’s role in global affairs, ends blockage of transfer of dual-use technology
  • India and US complete the landmark civil nuclear deal or 123 Agreement in 2008
  • Washington and New Delhi start defence cooperation after the Sept 11 terror strikes
  • Two nations sign COMCASA, taking defence ties to new heights