The horrendous attack on the Twin Towers at New York 18 years ago by a band of Al Qaeda terrorists sent out on a suicide mission in the name of Jehad, remains a reference point for the international community even today in evaluating the threat that Islamic radicals continue to pose for all democratic nations.
While the U.S. no doubt is engaged in reevaluating the scenario following the failure of the year-long negotiations its representative Zalmay Khalizad had with Taliban on Afghanistan, the threat of this new terror rooted in Islamic fundamentalism is on top of the national security agenda, particularly for India.
The run up to 9/11 was laid by the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine in the Pak-Afghan belt after the US — waking up to the innate hostility of the Taliban government of Mullah Omar at Kabul — worked for pulling down the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that had been installed by Pakistan in 1996.
Flush with the credit for the success of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan — that had been allowed by the U.S. to be run on the slogan of Jehad — Pakistan sought to acquire its sway on that country with the help of Taliban which had been historically strong in KP -- Afghanistan region and commanded an important position in the Islamic spectrum of Pakistan.
Al Qaeda-Taliban duo carry the legacy of the first Jehad of modern times launched by the Wahhabi radicals in the middle of the 19th Century against the Western occupation of Muslim lands. These radicals remain wedded to the fundamentals of Islam of the Pious Caliphs — with all its harsh Do's and Don'ts — and are ever ready to sacrifice themselves for the cause of faith.
The U.S. was happy that in the era of Cold War it got the faith-based support of a large number of Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia against the nationalist regimes of the Arab and Asian regions — like those of Nasser of Egypt and Sukarno of Indonesia who had gravitated towards the USSR.
The Islamic radicals lay dormant in the Muslim world retaining their aversion towards the US-led West till the participation of Osama bin Laden and Taliban in the fight against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan gave them new strength and a new home ground in Pakistan.
The U.S. clearly overlooked three things. First, that before 9/11 Pakistan had no problem with Islamic radicals and the wide network of Deobandi Madrasas churning out Taliban had been a feature of the socio-religious scene in that country. When the 'war on terror' was launched by the US-led world coalition against the new global terror following 9/11, Pakistan had to be coerced into joining it — India had come on board already — and as the years rolled on it became clear that Pakistan had been duplicitous about taking on Al Qaeda and Taliban who had been its close allies in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of the recognition it got from the American
policy makers as a 'front line' ally in the 'war on terror' Pakistan stepped up India specific cross border terrorism using outfits like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen that had been traditionally under its control.
It took advantage of the U.S. administration making a distinction between 'good terrorists' and 'bad terrorists' for reasons of the American self interest during the war against Islamic radicals. President Donald Trump has finally called the Pak bluff and much to the relief of India declared upfront that Pakistan was providing safe haven to the entire range of Islamic militants and terrorists.
Secondly, the learning from the fiasco of U.S. reaching a peace pact with Taliban in Afghanistan — for which Pakistan had pretended to lend a helping hand — is that diplomacy had its limits and should not overrate its role in bringing round an opponent who was irreversibly committed to the path of conflict and violence. Zalmay seems to have allowed himself to be duped into commending a peace pact that Taliban had no intention of honouring after it had sensed the US desperation about pulling out of Afghanistan. The US negotiator should have never agreed to hold talks totally at the back of the existing democratic leadership ruling the country. A suicide attack by Taliban on a U.S. army truck at Kabul killing an American soldier at a time when Zalmay had already submitted a peace pact, exposed the hollowness of the exercise and led to his recall. There is a new situation in Afghanistan and India must work with U.S. and other major powers to ensure continuance of a democratic regime in Afghanistan.
Finally, the US will do well to see how India is dealing with a rogue neighbor that has tried to subjugate peace loving Kashmiris — with their value system defined by Kashmiriyat — to the violent hate-filled creed of Salafism brought in by the hardened terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba infiltrated by Pakistan into the Valley from across the LoC. India's move of the Centre taking direct charge of J&K through a Lieutenant-Governor (LG) for the time being is for providing protection and development to the people there in the face of Pak-sponsored terrorism.
It is a matter of satisfaction that the U.S. and other democratic countries have stood by India on the false narrative of human rights violation in Kashmir whipped up by Pakistan.
The writer is a former Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau