The world is a much altered place seven years after terrorists struck in New York on 11 September 2001. If America is safer now, new frontlines have emerged in the war against terror, some close to India, perhaps too close.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Less than two years after that date, the US invaded Iraq. A democratic Iraq was to serve as a magnet to attract other countries of a volatile West Asia to become democracies. The argument was that democracies could not breed terror. It was an extraordinary departure from the accepted practice of international politics, one that shunned unilateral action. It has succeeded partially.
Failures emerged for two reasons. For one, it broke the post-World War II consensus in the West on how to deal with such situations. Europe wanted a consensual approach, one endowed with legitimacy by action being taken under the United Nations shield. At another level, the US did not appreciate the importance of securing Afghanistan. Discord with Europe and a costly engagement in Iraq prevented more troops being sent to Kabul.
Now, seven years after the first troops under a multinational force landed there, the situation has worsened even if there is realization that Afghanistan deserved better. With a weak government and plenty of internal strife, Pakistan has been unable to do much. It was an incongruous situation: Terrorists roamed with impunity across its porous border with Afghanistan and Nato troops could do little as technically Pakistan is a sovereign nation. In recent weeks, however, things have changed. The US launched regular attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas with ground troops.
How does the account square seven years later? After the vehement political opposition at home, there is greater acceptability of US President George W. Bush’s political ideas. Writing in the September/October issue of The National Interest, political scientist Amy Zegart argued that the freedom agenda has broader acceptability.
Both US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have signalled their agreement. The contours of the Bush foreign policy are likely to remain in place after he leaves the White House.
Where does this leave India? For long it has demurred from sending troops to any mission remotely connected with the war on terror. This paper has argued before that it should send troops to Afghanistan. Securing its interests there and helping Afghanistan are two faces of the same coin. India is a pre-eminent regional power; it is time it started behaving as one.
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