The world after 9/11

Published: September 13, 2013
The writer is a former foreign secretary

The writer is a former foreign secretary

As he orated against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, President Reagan often quoted Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, with its vision of a United States great enough “to begin the world over again.” Indeed, one of his Republican successors, George W Bush, with the beginning of the new century, did change the world all over again. But in doing so, he turned it upside down.

The new world, America’s world of the new millennium, couldn’t be more chaotic and more violent. It remains burdened with the same old problems, perhaps in their acutest form. Historical grievances and outstanding disputes remain unaddressed. Armed conflict remains pervasive. Wars of aggression and attrition, invasions in the name of self-defence, military occupations, massacres and genocides, human tragedies and a culture of extremism and terrorism now define the New World Order.

The war on terror has not gone beyond retribution and retaliation. The economic adventurism of the 19th century is back. The global development agenda has been set aside, if not shelved. Internationally agreed development goals and commitments, including Millennium Development Goals, have been overtaken by new preoccupations driven by an overbearing global security agenda. The most alarming is the current US security doctrine based on ‘regime change’ wherever or whenever it so considers necessary for its own good.

The events of the last few years, representing a ‘critical threshold’ in the world’s new strategic matrix, have immeasurably shaken the international system which is no longer governed by the rule of law or universally acknowledged norms. The post 9/11 world has witnessed unprecedented erosion in the role, authority and credibility of the UN. Today, the UN is no longer the sole meaningful arbiter on issues of global relevance and importance. Washington, not New York, is the focus of world attention for actual decision-making on these issues.

It is against this ominous global backdrop that went through yet another anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. Being in New York on that fateful day 12 years ago, I remember witnessing the ghastly disappearance of the twin towers from Manhattan’s skyline that was to change not only the world history, but also the global geopolitical landscape. The belligerent mood in Washington was evident in its first call to the world. “You’re either with us or against us” was the message, loud and clear.

No wonder, the UN General Assembly and Security Council both overwhelmingly passed resolutions the very next day, i.e., on September 12, 2011, paving the ground for legitimisation of US military action against terrorists and their hideouts anywhere in the world. That was the beginning of the US-led war on terror, which rode on Nato’s military bandwagon, targeting a country that in reality had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Historically, however, it would be inaccurate to circumscribe the Afghan tragedy within the context of the 9/11 attacks. The genesis of the Afghan crisis is rooted in the chaos and conflict that engulfed this ill-fated country in the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war. The truth of the matter is that Afghanistan has been in a state of crisis for more than three decades now. But it is a crisis that has changed the course of history at tremendous costs to the world — especially to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US itself.

History is witness to the fact that the 9/11 tragedy was only a logical epilogue to the unclosed chapter of the long Afghan tragedy carried forward from the previous century. If the world had remained engaged with the people of Afghanistan, the situation today might have been totally different. The unpalatable consequences could have been avoided if a country as chaotic and as primitive as Afghanistan had been assisted in its gradual transition to global standards of ‘conduct and behaviour.’

And indeed, the Afghans are not the only victims of the resultant crisis. The Afghan situation, both during and post-Soviet era has had a direct impact on Pakistan’s social, cultural, political, economic and strategic interests. With an ongoing full-scale war on its own soil, rightly or wrongly against its own people, Pakistan continues to suffer immeasurably in terms of human and material losses, including an uncontrolled security situation.

Peace in Afghanistan is now long overdue. The US may have its own political agenda but both Afghanistan and Pakistan have already suffered for too long and cannot afford another cataclysm. Unfortunately, throughout the ongoing Afghan war, a basic lesson of military history ignored was that you don’t start a war unless you know how to end it. At least till now, other than the scheduled 2014 military withdrawal, Washington doesn’t seem to have any dialogue strategy, much less a peace plan to end the Afghan war.

Twelve years later, it is only looking for a ‘strategic stalemate’ in which it can withdraw, but not entirely. It plans to keep a certain size of military presence as a training-cum-counterterrorism mission. Those familiar with Afghan history know what it means for any foreign presence on its soil, no matter under what arrangement or nomenclature. But if history is any lesson, things never remain static. They keep changing as the world and its dynamics do with the inevitable process of change always inherent in the rise and fall of power.

And historically, the rise and fall of power has mostly followed long wars. The 12-year-long war in Afghanistan is about to end. With the Afghan endgame, the process of change, it seems, has begun. But what kind of change do we expect at the end of this long war? Again, if history is any lesson, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, World War I and World War II, it was the victors who installed peace to preserve the gains they had made. Do we have any idea who at the end of the Afghan war is going to be the victor?

With an ominous uncertainty looming large on the horizon, it seems the region is fast approaching a period of change with potential upheaval. The Afghan war was never an end in itself. It was only part of a Central Asia-focused ‘Great Game’ that will go on with far-reaching implications for this region.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • balbal
    Sep 14, 2013 - 12:03AM

    The world after 9-11 is more safer than before. There are few attacks in western countries specially USA. Bin laden is gone and now we know and differentiate between a fundamentalist and a liberal. Bravo USA, NATO & EU.


  • Iron hand
    Sep 14, 2013 - 12:23AM

    What rubbish. Islamist extremists are responsible for 90% of the conflicts in the world today. Recommend

  • Anjaan
    Sep 14, 2013 - 2:34AM

    Quote from the article – ” The Afghan war was never an end in itself. It was only part of a Central Asia-focused ‘Great Game’ that will go on with far-reaching implications for this region – unquote.

    – and once again, Pakistan will be the pawn of the western powers in this great game, in exchange of tens of billions of dollars worth of economic and military aid …. another windfall for Pakistan is on the way ….. !!Recommend

  • ModiFied
    Sep 14, 2013 - 3:11AM

    Forget about what all has happened to UN and other international organizations, life of common man world over has become very hard after 9/11. First impact came on air travel where we were welcome with plastic fork and knife. Security and body search became intimidating. One has to report to the airport at least 2 hrs before the flight takes of. Next came the hardship in opening bank accounts. Earlier we could open bank accounts anywhere with minimum documentation. Now ne needs a long list of documents. Then came spying on our email accounts and phones. Anyone can be picked by police anytime in the name of security. International terrorism is another gift of 9/11. n a way every single human being on the planet is affected by 9/11.


  • Unbelievable
    Sep 14, 2013 - 7:59AM

    Author forgot to mention that USA did nothing toor warrant 911, and that the world is better off without OBL or Sadam. Vast majority of post 911casualties are still Muslim on Muslim.


  • SM
    Sep 14, 2013 - 9:16AM

    Ya, the USA is just so innocent… We have heard that sob story for years but there ain’t no buyer for that pile of garbage the West has tried selling the world. 9/11 was the result of 500 years of western meddling in other nation’s affairs.


  • Feroz
    Sep 14, 2013 - 10:15AM

    Arsonists have lit a fire in Afghanistan starting way back after the Soviet invasion,trying to divide the people on ethnic lines and installing proxies. After the passing of UN resolutions the arsonists fled but continued sponsorship of terror attacks from their sanctuaries. When confronted with facts, the response was of hurt innocence.
    The World does not subscribe to a narrative based on propaganda, it draws conclusions from the acts of major players in the fiasco. The Afghan people are now aware of the trouble makers, trying to pass themselves off as friends. If Afghanistan is made to burn any further, they may reduce the neighborhood to cinders. Playing with FIRE and rearing Snakes with ulterior motives is a dangerous game, understood by all who have read the right History. However, some may never learn.


  • Genius
    Sep 14, 2013 - 12:14PM

    Blaming others for our misery is the easiest thing to do. Blaming ourselves, if ever, is least of our consideration.The change we the, people direly need will come when we will change ourselves. We need to change our outlook and habits.
    We blame Satan for our faults and mistakes. Why do we NOT blame ourselves? The much needed change from slave mentality and consequential slavery will never come. Never. Not until we start taking blame and responsibility for allowing the opportunists to meddle in our affairs. Division among us, the people is the best favour we do to the opportunists.
    What is there to stop us all from coming in to unite? We all need the same fresh air to breathe. We all need food, water, clothes and shelter to survive. So where can any human differ with other human?
    The people throughout the world will suffer salvery for as long as they do not heed the words and warnings of all the thinkers, philosophers intellectuals who have come and gone wringing their hands in utter frustration to see that what people everywhere need to do they will not do and what they need not do they do. Hence continued slavery. The thing to do for people, all the people is to come to unite. Unite to work to make our world a very liveable place starting from our localities where we live and where everything good and bad happens.


  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Sep 14, 2013 - 1:49PM

    The genesis of the Afghan crisis is rooted in the chaos and conflict that engulfed this ill-fated country in the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war.”

    The genesis of Afghanistan crisis lies in 1971 defeat of Pakistan. The idea of Strategic depth was perceived in 1980s by the NDU professor General Mirza Aslam Beg(later Chief of Army Staff working under Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1980s). Since then, the Pakistan military establishment has been repeatedly accused of forming a policy that seeks to control Afghanistan, a policy often referred to by the media as “strategic depth”. This is given as the reason why Pakistan has supported certain factions of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The current Pakistan military leaders have denied these claims.


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 15, 2013 - 5:53AM

    The author also forgot to mention that 9/11 was a stroll in the park compared to what the US has been up to over the last 50 years or so. Further, the world is still waiting for America to come up with some real evidence in regard to what happened at 9/11 and who the real culprits were.


  • numbersnumbers
    Sep 15, 2013 - 9:47PM

    @Sexton Blake:
    “Who the real culprits are”!,,,
    You neglected to tell us just WHO they are since you think you know!
    BTW, Wikipedia has detailed discussions under “9/11” and “9/11 conspiracy theories” which you are free to edit if you think they are incorrect!!!!
    I am sure the world is breathlessly waiting for your “TRUTH”!!! NOT!


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 15, 2013 - 10:03PM

    Economy Stupid is half right, but unfortunately the problems facing Pakistan are not quite so simplistic. The problem is how to explain it simply. One can use up-market phraseology, such as strategic depth, which if one says it quickly fits nicely into an executive board room memorandum paper. However, the reality of the situation is that the equation has both easy and complex aspects to it depending upon which disparate part one wishes to explain. One could go back a few hundred years, but if we only go back to post 9/11 the words required to explain the problem are reduced by several thousand. Pakistan/Afghanistan both have a complex mixture of problems holding them back, which include economic, political, religious, social, and lack of freedoms within society, particularly for women, which Westerners take for granted. Since 9/11 Afghanistan, which previously, and now, had almost unsolvable problems has been invaded, and a government favourable to a foreign power has been installed. Pakistan, probably to its detriment, has been an ally of that foreign power, and has allowed it to severely punish various ethnic groups within Pakistan with very little negotiation. Those groups such as Pashtun/Taliban will remember this for a long time, and as a result I would suggest that Pakistan will be in for a rough time over the next few years. In effect, the problems of post 9/11 have been handed over to Pakistan.


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 16, 2013 - 1:06AM

    Dear numbers,
    I have some idea who the real culprits are not, but like you, and almost everybody else, except for one or two people, I do not know who the real 9/11 culprits are. Also, like you and everybody else I am still waiting for real evidence to be produced other than hearsay. However, you almost got it right, but not quite. The whole world of thinking people are breathlessly waiting for somebody to put his/her hand up and admit to the crime. In regard to me suggesting anyone I have to be somewhat circumspect. I often have to write submissions two or three times before ET will print them. Probably quite rightly. ET are reasonable, but obviously do not wish to offend certain categories of people. If you have viable evidence that would stand up in court I would be very grateful if you produced it. I wonder why I have a bad feeling I will be waiting a long time?


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