On September 9, 2001, as America and, by extension, much of the rest of the world went about their usual Sunday, the prologue to what would be known as ‘9/11’ was already written in Afghanistan.
The killing of Afghan Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud by two al-Qaeda suicide bombers may not have been noted as a critical turning point in world affairs at that time, but it was a localised tipping point that would lead to a sea change on a global scale. Exactly 10 years ago today, Osama bin Laden was not a household name; the term ‘war against terror’ was yet to be coined; Saddam Hussein was just another dictator ruling over another country in West Asia; India was still trying to convince the world that Pakistan was not laying its cards out on the table when it came to sponsoring terrorism; and the Taliban were a bunch of black-turbaned fundamentalists who were at war with Massoud’s forces in what then seemed like just a civil war in a country left to itself after the departure of Soviet forces more than a decade earlier.
The fact that bin Laden used this particular moment as a jumping off point to launch an attack on the US, would be known only two days later. In hindsight, it becomes clear that bin Laden used the death of Massoud to weaken anti-Taliban forces, thereby preparing the ground for handling the retaliation that would follow after the 9/11 attacks. The attacks by al-Qaeda operatives were part of a chess move that would bring a superpower to wage war in a region that it was wary to wage war in.
A decade later, much of the masterplan of bin Laden lies unfulfilled. The al-Qaeda leader himself is dead, his organisation weakened and America untouched by further terrorist wreckage, even as the rest of the world, India included, has seen a litany of attacks since that fateful day when Massoud was liquidated to set in motion a global chain of events.
The dangerous digression of the George W Bush administration waging war in Iraq hasn’t made things easier to keep focus on a war that was started on the basis of an asymmetrical strategy. Over the decade, the focus has returned to where it should have never wavered from: the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. If anyone’s attention may have wavered, this week saw the Pakistani Taliban claim responsibility for bomb attacks in Quetta, Pakistan, that killed at least 24 people.
The Taliban stated they had avenged the arrests of al-Qaeda operatives by Pakistan. Such causal connections with ‘9/11’ will continue. But as we, in India, know all too well even before September 11, 2001, or for that matter September 9, 2001, entered the global bloodstream, ‘9/11’ was a strong brand identity for disgruntled, violent entities to maximise their cause. While a globalised world continues to see these un-random acts of utter violence as the legacy of what happened on a September day in America, essentially, they are localised acts of terror that require localised acts of counter-terrorism.