So, who won the War on Terror?

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Exulting over the killing of terrorists is like rejoicing over having knifed Raktabeej, the mythical demon who would multiply with every drop of his spilt blood.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. So are most of his brethren and compatriots who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with him against the might of the American military. In the fifteen years since the War On Terror began, his organisation — the once feared al-Qaeda — is splintered, running for cover.

The country which he ruled with such impunity was under United States occupation for nearly a decade, and there’s a democratic government in place now. Surely, all that must add up to provide an easy answer — the U.S. — to the provocative question posed in the title of this piece. Right?


Osama might even have, albeit unknowingly, triggered America’s economic downfall by making the country spend trillions of dollars on its costliest and longest war yet.

Any serious student of war must realise that war is not a game of numbers, and its success is almost never measured in terms of number of casualties inflicted. There is always a strategic objective to be achieved. This is something Indians need to be reminded of everytime they boast proudly of India’s thrashing of Pakistan during the Kargil War in 1999, basing their arguments on the greater numerical damages suffered by the Pakistani side, and the fact that India, after much huffing and puffing, was able to wrest back its own territory. They forget that the war was waged by General Musharraf with the purpose of scuttling the imminent Kashmir accord between the civilian governments of the two countries, which would have robbed the Pakistan military of its raison d’être. That purpose was achieved beyond Gen. Musharraf’s wildest imagination.

Likewise, did Osama Bin Laden really expect to pummel the U.S. military into submission when he brought down the Twin Towers? Was that his aim? No. He merely did something outrageous to draw the U.S. out of its comfort zone, into a battleground of his choosing. Osama wasn’t really fighting the American military. No one would dream of doing that armed with just a few hundred Kalashnikovs. Osama waged a war against the American — or, more generally, the Western — way of life. He waged a war against democracy, freedom of expression and multiculturalism, ideals which were on a roll in the West, till September 11, 2001. Osama fought to, once and for all, destroy the growing bonhomie between Muslims and the West. He envisioned a world where these two communities would form polar ends of the world. From inside his grave, Professor Samuel P. Huntington must thank Osama for giving his prophecy — that religious and cultural fundamentalism would be primary driver of conflict in the post Cold War world — a realistic chance of coming true.

>Snowden’s revelations are not really an anomaly; they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Most worryingly, draconian laws such as the Patriot Act were largely welcomed, and citizens in the West have now succumbed to a trade-off between security and privacy, and the inclination is generally towards security, at the great cost of privacy. Even though corrections are being made now, the scales are heavily tilted in favour of security. U.S. airports have turned into a milder form of the Abu Ghraib for innocent citizens, and every pat-down that will be — and has been — carried out post-9/11 must fleetingly remind both the parties involved of one bearded man who changed the course of history from inside a dark cave. The rise of Donald Trump, riding the heady wave of Islamophobia and xenophobia, must also be directly attributed to this day exactly fifteen years ago, and the chain of events it set off.

Now, people who happen to lay their eyes on a man wearing a skull cap or a woman draped in a black cloth wish for x-ray vision, so that they could see the perceived bomb hidden inside. The Muslims have responded in equal measure. It is hard to think of even one American who loves his country as much as almost every new-born in the Middle East hates America. In addition, Osama might even have, albeit unknowingly, triggered America’s economic downfall by making the country spend trillions of dollars on its costliest and longest war yet.

As also evidenced by >statistics on terrorism, Osama has comprehensively trounced the War on Terror. The number of terrorist attacks globally has gone up annually over twelve-fold since 9/11. Al-Qaeda has only passed on its legacy to the likes of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and numerous others. These organisations have spread to countries hitherto untouched by terrorism. Yemen experienced 1,000 terror attacks between 2006-09, compared to 21 between 2002 and 2005. Currently, the country is a cesspool of global terrorism.

Afghanistan’s stability is under constant threat from Taliban. Our neighbour has seen innocent kids being shot at point-blank range. Syria and Iraq, the worst affected, have lost over half a million lives to airstrikes and terror attacks in the past five years. Algeria, Egypt, Somalia and Nigeria have their own struggles. The very existence of the latter two is under threat from terrorists. Most tellingly, the Europeans are constantly looking over their shoulder. Chancellor Merkel might have tried to avert the Clash of Civilisations, only to be thrown into >political wilderness in her own country.


Terrorist organisations feed off the sharp dwindling of resources — education, employment, food and water security — in an increasing number of countries. The heydays of terrorism are dawning only now. Even President Obama, armed with his mesmerising oratory and a military force unmatched in the history of humankind, should realise that his rhetoric to “degrade and destroy” terrorism remains just that — rhetoric. He might have weakened ISIS, but Islamic terrorism is the real-world equivalent of the mythological Hindu demon ‘Raktabeej’, every drop of whose blood gave rise to yet another demon.

Osama, when alive, was dangerous enough. Now dead, he’s transcended physical limits to morph into an idea — one that will keep hurting the West for decades to come.

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