How the world – and India – has changed in the 20 years since September 11
The sight of the burning towers of September 11, 2001 remains etched in public memory, even two decades after the appalling terrorist attack. The events of September 11 marked both the culmination of the old and the start of new geostrategic currents.
India had been besieged by a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist insurgency in Kashmir since 1989. The wave of Islamic terror, however, was simply not treated with the seriousness it deserved internationally. As India battled terrorism, leaders of the Western power bloc such as the United States and the United Kingdom – closely allied as they were with Pakistan, the ultimate perpetrator of cross-border terrorism – conveniently minimized the problem.
But September 11 forced that pretension to end and laid bare the ideological fanaticism that was the driving force behind Islamic terrorist groups. Even then, Pakistan remained an important, albeit untrustworthy, ally of the United States in the war on terror that began in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In 2011, Osama bin Laden was eliminated by US forces on Pakistani soil, not far from the Pakistan Army Officer Training Academy. Fast forward 10 more years, and Pakistani security mandarins are publicly complaining that President Joe Biden has not called their prime minister.
At the same time, the two decades that have passed since September 11 have seen a dramatic shift in Indo-American relations. As the foundation was built following the Pokhran nuclear tests, with President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000 marking a turning point, September 11 was an important catalyst in bringing India and the United States closer together. Above all, unlike Pakistan, India has never offered itself as a client state to any country, and the Indo-American relationship has progressed as one between partners.
India faced two heinous terrorist attacks shortly after September 11 – the December 13 attack on Parliament was followed by the Kaluchak massacre on May 14, 2002, when 31 people, including 10 children and 8 women families of Indian soldiers were killed by three Pakistani terrorists. But India has never really imposed costs on Pakistan despite such a serious provocation. Even in the aftermath of the horrific 11/26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, India chose to abide by what has been termed “strategic restraint”.
In recent years, we have seen this euphemism thrown in the trash, as two factors have changed nationally. First, there has been the emergence of a determined national leadership that has a strong democratic mandate to rule and accompanying political stability. Second, the Indian economy has achieved high growth and gained weight. Based on these changes, India has broadened its options for a military and diplomatic response in the fight against cross-border terrorism, which the rest of the world has also recognized as a serious problem. Compare India’s response to events such as the terrorist attack on Parliament, the Kaluchak massacre and the 11/26 terrorist attack in Mumbai with the response observed after the Uri attack in 2016 and the attack of Pulwama in 2019. In these last two cases, India has proceeded with conviction and confidence to assert itself and defend its interests, by taking military measures that have reset the strategic calculation.
Economic change in India, attributed to the efforts of Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, underpins India’s growing influence in the world as well as the evolution of Indo-American relations since September 11. One of the main reasons the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal was reached in 2008 was that key members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, otherwise committed to non-proliferation, wanted to participate in the nuclear trade in India. .
Recall that India’s economic success is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 1990, Pakistan’s GDP per capita (in constant 2010 US dollars) was $ 737, higher than that of India and China. India dominated China and Pakistan in 1960, but three decades of anti-market and inward-looking economic policies have bludgeoned the country’s potential. It was not until 2001 that India’s per capita GDP surpassed Pakistan’s, 36 years after Pakistan took over India in 1965. Today, economic growth is attracting countries who wish to invest and trade with India, adding arrows to democratic India’s diplomacy. to shiver.
Whether it is geopolitics that drives national economic changes or changes in economic policy that reshape strategic relationships is a question debated by scholars. In the case of India, where external pressures initially pushed economic policy in a more draconian direction, one could argue that having exhausted all options, India took the path of liberalization in 1991, perhaps. be a decade or two later than it should have. This delay cost him a big geopolitical price. Even the pause in reforms under the Congress-led UPA government, especially during the period 2004-2009 when doctrinaire Communist parties wielded enormous influence, was very costly.
Over the past two decades, China has taken a step ahead of India. In 2000, the GDP per capita (in constant 2010 US dollars) for the two countries was $ 1,768 and $ 827, respectively. In 2019, China was $ 8,242 and India was $ 2,152.
The two decades since 9/11 have seen the world move away from unipolarity, with China becoming the new pole challenging the US-led world order. The pandemic-induced economic and health crisis has only accelerated these trends, with several countries realizing that the supply chain’s dependence on China is undesirable. India has also launched a series of reforms and policy changes to increase its share of the manufacturing sector in economic output. China’s economic weight gives it financial and military influence that few countries can counter or resist, and countries like Pakistan are now enthusiastically becoming Chinese client states.
The years following September 11 saw radical changes in geopolitics and the global economy. Over the next few decades, India could potentially take center stage in world affairs, provided it soaks up the lessons of the past and moves faster on the path of economic liberalization. Liberalization is not only necessary to reduce poverty and achieve prosperity, but it is arguably now the main national security strategy.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 11, 2021 under the title “India Advantage”. The writer is co-founder of public policy think tank India Enterprise Council and author of A New Idea Of India.