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Reflections on 20 years since 9/11 and the “Taliban to Afghanistan to Taliban (TAT)” outcome

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

Time is eternal but the clock keeps ticking and memories do fade. On September 11, 2001 (9/11), America and Americans experienced the most horrific terrorist attack carried out in a highly coordinated manner. By all accounts, it was done by a group of Muslims of Jihadi philosophy to terrorize the world. India had been the victim of many such acts of terrorism, big and small, by the Jihadis from across the border. Regrettably, however, the leftist-leaning media and the leaders in the West often characterized those Jihadis as freedom fighters. How can anyone forget the major terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 (11/26) and many other large-scale attacks around the globe? This article is to reflect on 9/11 and how America’s total lack of exit policy meant handing back Afghanistan to the Taliban on a gold platter.

America went to war in Afghanistan under the Taliban in 2001 for “tit for tat” retaliation but came back full circle but empty-handed in 2021 only with the TAT outcome. How shameful that we inherited the Taliban’s Afghanistan in 2001 in a very devastating state and twenty years later, America walked away leaving Afghanistan in a state of total confusion, anarchy, and chaos with significant potential to return back to terrorism and no human rights, particularly, for girls and women.

Back then, I was 20 years younger and more energetic like many readers. On that fateful Tuesday, as Assistant Provost at the College of Staten Island, I got to my office at the usual time not knowing what was to come. Our office was inundated with phone calls and campus staff kept flocking without a clear understanding of the ground reality. It was quite chaotic and confusing until the news about coordinated terrorist attacks beginning to emerge.

I was not at the epicenter but not too far either to feel the devastation, deaths, destruction, and despair. Many hundred students were already on campus before the downing of the World Trade Center’s twin towers and the unforgettable chaos that followed. The College tried to keep the classes going, the safest place for the students, in the midst of abundant distractions not knowing the whereabouts and safety of their family and friends. Our biggest challenge was to get the commuter students and staff to New York City. Thankfully, special buses were arranged for their safe return and a few stayed locally. In fact, I hosted one student in my apartment for the night.

What followed in the days and weeks after 9/11 can’t be erased from my memory either? The campus was on the highest alert for too long. One day someone noticed a suspect garbage bag which led to a scare and we had to call the bomb squad but found nothing. There was a kind of standoff between the well-meaning library staff feeling threatened and Muslim students who always held their usual Friday prayers in a library corner. It was abundantly clear that Islamophobia was already taking roots. It became a highly sensitive matter and took months for finding an amicable solution.

On a personal level, my wife and one daughter were in Fargo, ND, and another daughter studying in Philadelphia. My nephew from India had reached Staten Island just two days earlier on Sunday, September 9. Everyone everywhere was worried and scared about unfolding events for weeks. I had a flood of phone calls and emails with worried family and friends around the globe. The choked and temporarily blocked telecommunication lines made things worse.

To the best of my recollection, I flew to Fargo on September 19 from a barren and deserted Newark airport under extremely tight security. The traffic on the roads was unusually minimal. The plane to Minneapolis had only a handful of traveling souls. This was an unprecedented experience with mixed emotions- a bit frightening but happy going to see the family. My frequent travels between Fargo and Newark were chilling and emotional with increasing security and people staring with suspicion, particularly, an immigrant like me. Everyone looking different (non-White) was a suspect and assumed terrorist for months after 9/11. The plain-clothed security personnel was on every flight watching passengers like me with suspicion.

Those days the most saving grace for people like me was a Hindu name unlike for a person with a name like Ahmed or Mohammad. Apparently, America in 2001 suddenly became aware of the fundamental differences between tolerant Hinduism and violent Jihadism. One of the obvious reminiscences of 9/11 is the emergence of the Department of Homeland Security and the permanent presence of TSA at the airports in the U.S. and the heightened security globally. I wonder why the U.S. did not hold the Islamic nations, supporting and giving refuge to terrorists, responsible for the financial consequences, emotional trauma to the families of 9/11 victims, and 2o years of cumulative losses of human lives and financial resources on account of terrorism?

In the context of a majority Hindu populated India, with improved security against the acts of terrorism and the efforts to bring back Kashmir under one India, another type of terrorism has been taking roots in the U.S. This 9/11, not only Jihadis but many Hindu phobic individuals, the so-called intellectuals with suspect scholarship, are organizing a conference on “Dismantling Hindutva Globally.” These academically bankrupt professors are doing it to discredit, defame, and demonize Hinduism, Hindutva, and Hindus (HHH). It is abhorrent that the academic institutions are allowing their name without insuring an inhibited discourse, debate, and discussion about Hindutva, the core essence of academic freedom. The leaders of these institutions are failing in their moral and academic responsibilities by using academic freedom as a cover to sponsor the dismantling of HHH. Why not dismantle terrorism globally and White supremacy in the U.S. which exists even 20 years later?

Let us ask what did the United States achieve in 20 years with four Presidents (Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden), two trillion dollars spent for the war against global terrorism, and unaccountable loss of lives? In one statement- Taliban’s Afghanistan returned back to the Taliban on a gold platter with about $95 Billion worth of military and tactical hardware. Today’s Afghanistan leadership includes many with established terrorism, jihadi, and/or Islamic State background in key positions running the government. Taliban have the resources at their command and those in power cannot be trusted. Reportedly, the American weapons and other military gears are already available in the Taliban’s co-brother Pakistan’s markets. It is not a question if but how soon Taliban’s Afghanistan will start terrorizing the world again. Taliban’s legacy since 9/11 in the most basic form is a permanent fixture of the TSA-like security apparatus at the airports globally. It is not just the added expense and bureaucracy but the inherent assumption that everyone is a security risk making things very unpleasant. Did we not travel safely pre- 9/11 which is now unimaginable because of the increasing terrorist threats once again due to TAT?

As we close 20 years with the longest U.S.-led war ended, let it be a stark reminder that Operation Enduring Freedom initiated by the then President Bush has failed with thousands of innocent lives lost on the war-front and through acts of global terrorism. The current President Biden has used no wisdom or lacked it to pull out of Afghanistan so hurriedly. President Biden, in fact, is one constant on the American political landscape before, during, and now 20 years since 9/11. Is it the total failure of intelligence agencies and/or is the U.S. really at the brink of financial bankruptcy that a delayed and better managed pull out from Afghanistan was ruled out?

India must be wary that the terroristic and Jihadi attacks on India’s borders from the Taliban are about to get intensified. India and Hindus globally must remain vigilant against the attempts to dismantle their religious beliefs and values. When President Bush went to Afghanistan in 2001, he said it was a war against global terrorism and not against the Afghans and Afghanistan. Twenty years later, the Hindu phobic and jihadi elements are waging a war against the Hindu majority country of India and Hindus globally. It is not about the hindsight being 20/20 but the U.S. not having foresight 20 years ago when the wars were waged against Afghanistan and Iraq except a triumphant moment when Bin Ladin was killed in 2011.

In recent years, India has shown wisdom and gradual progress in containing terroristic activities inland and on the border but America showed little or no wisdom in bringing democracy and enduring freedom to Afghanistan. One must ask if we were to hand over the Taliban’s Afghanistan back to the Taliban why did we even try it in the first place? My advice to the U.S. is to get wiser not to get involved in offshore conflicts without a very robust strategy or simply focus on domestic issues? In twenty years, the U.S. and India are in a strategic alliance with their eyes on the rapidly emerging threat due to TAT in India and globally. Let us hope that the upcoming Modi’s visit will include both TAT and emerging threats to dismantling HHH on U.S. soil among other topics of mutual interest.


 

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.
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