How the world — and India — changed in the 20 years after 9/11

Synopsis: After the 9/11 attacks, geopolitics changed dramatically. Even democratic nation-states underwent a change to respond to non-state actors.


It was September 11, 2001, when planes struck the twin towers of the USA. The attack on the superpower by non-state actors highlighted the new threats that states were forced to deal with in the coming days. But this highlighted the emerging powers of non-state actors.

The power of non-state actors

The non-state actors like terrorist groups found a haven in unstable regimes like in Afghanistan. Economic globalization allowed them to build their economic and trade nexus. Technology provided them with the means to communicate and coordinate. All these allowed the terrorists to carry out complex operations like attacking the twin towers, right at the heart of the great superpower. They also sought to change the power equations in the Middle East.

What is the terrorist agenda in the Middle East?

The terror groups wanted to create a caliphate in the Middle East. They were met with strong resistance from Middle Eastern countries. This reduced their power. Moreover, Arab states view countries like Turkey, Iran as greater threats than these terror groups.

Though the Middle East was able to control the groups, we see that the USA had to leave Afghanistan.

How did the democratic nation-states respond to terror threats?

Nation-states have only emerged stronger. They tightened the norms to control the digital world to secure the communication channels. The air travel norms were strengthened and these have ensured that there has not been any incident like 9/11 after that. Moreover, states increased regulation and control over arms like nuclear weapons to ensure they don’t land in the hands of terrorists.

How did India Respond?

India has been facing the problem of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism since 1989.  Unfortunately, the USA and UK sided with Pakistan during this time.

However, this changed after India’s 2nd nuclear test and the 9/11 attack in the USA. Though the USA continued to rely on Pakistan, it considered Pakistan as an unreliable partner. This was further proved when Osama bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan.

Indian response to terror attacks had been that of “strategic restraint”. It was limited to diplomatic actions. This was evident in attacks on the Indian Parliament (December 2001) and the Kaluchak massacre (May 2002). However, now we witness that India has adopted a policy of imposing costs on Pakistan by striking across the border, e.g. Balalkot airstrikes.

This capacity of India has been built over its strong economy and strong global linkages. Despite the economic disaster of 1991, India emerged stronger after LPG reforms.

India was however late as China started its reforms in 1971 and that gave China the edge in economic and global power. However, as China export-driven model is coming under strain, India has bright chances of challenging and even overtaking China in the economic sphere.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

  • How the world — and India — changed in the 20 years after 9/11” published in Indian Express on 10th September 2021.
  • “Two decades after 9/11, the nation state remains robust” published in Indian Express on 10th September 2021.
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