Friday, 1 January 2010

Momentous Moments: 2000-2009 - Looking back at the first decade of the third millennium

By Syed Akbar
The first decade of the new millennium has left behind a mixture of woes and hopes: Woes ranging from the mad cow disease in Europe in 2000 to human madness in the form of terrorism, sectarian violence, communal carnage and wars. And hopes ranging from finding solutions to the problem of global warming and climate change to discovering water on Mars and the moon, and sequencing human genome to find cure to a myriad diseases and health issues.

The decade 2000-2009 gave a new direction to almost all spheres of human life — politics, science and technology, medicine, entertainment, music and films, economics and space exploration. If politics saw Barak Hussein Obama, a black, taking over the reins of the world’s most powerful nation, the USA, medical research unravelled the genetic secrets of man, with the sequencing of the human genome, while economics gave a new currency — Euro — to Europe, the most advanced continent on the earth. The music and entertainment industry in India finally received world recognition when music maestro A.R. Rahman won two Oscars for his musical score for Slumdog Millionnaire, which won eight Oscars in all.
India achieved the “space superpower” tag, when it successfully sent the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft to the moon in 2008 and discovered the presence of water there, although the mission ended abruptly a year later. The decade is witness to hundreds of important events that had triggered an array of woes and hopes.
Some important events during 2000-2009 are: spread of dangerous epidemics like anthrax in 2001, severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 and swine flu (human influenza H1N1) in 2009; completion of the human genome project in 2003, cloning of Dolly the sheep in 2003, first successful partial face transplant in 2005 in France, vaccine for cancer of cervix in 2006, creation of artificial DNA in Japan in 2008, Cerns Large Hadron collider test in 2008, tsunami in 2004, attack on world trade centre in the USA and the Indian Parliament in 2001, Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008, invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001 by the USA and its allied nations, Godhra and Gujarat riots in 2002, Mumbai terror in 2008, and killing of Saddam Hussein in 2006 and LTTE chief V Prabhakaran in 2009.

Fall of Twin Towers

The world saw the rise of a new brand of international terrorism following the attack on world trade centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. About 3,000 lives were lost in the attack involving three hijacked commercial planes. A new outfit Al-Qaeda surfaced on the world terror horizon, giving the superpower a bitter taste of terrorism in the post cold war era.
The US and Nato invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 and overthrew the Taliban government there. The US war on terror that began with the attack on twin towers continued through the decade with little success. Though the US has shielded itself from further terror attacks on its soil, many countries including India have become easy targets of terrorists. Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and other terror groups took birth and operate from, is now feeling the pinch of terrorism, with the Taliban, which it once supported, turning against it.
Terrorism has turned into a major global threat since 9/11 leaving no country safe from terror attacks. There have been several incidents of terror bombings post 9/11 — in India, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Spain, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The prime culprit, Osama Bin Laden, however continues to elude the US agencies on his hunt.

Attack on Indian Parliament

India suffered from the first well-organised terror attack of the decade when a group of Pakistan-backed LeT terrorists entered Parliament building complex on December 13, 2001, killing nine security guards and parliament staff. All the terrorists were Pakistani nationals. They disguised themselves as commandos to enter Parliament in a car. That the security at Parliament can be breached easily was evident when none manning the premises bothered to verify the “security stickers” pasted on the vehicle carrying the group on mission terror. The terror operatives had deliberately chosen the Indian parliament as their target as it is the bastion of democracy and secularism. India, however, did not learn lessons after the Parliament attack. Though the USA and the UK had secured themselves by high profile security measures after 9/11 and 7/7, India continues to be the soft target of cross-border terrorism thanks to several chinks in the Indian security system. There have been several bomb blasts in the country post Parliament attack.

Completion of Human Genome Project

What makes human beings human, and different from the rest of the animal kingdom? What makes man an intelligent creature? Modern man has been roaming the earth for more than 50,000 years, exploring the things around him. But he hardly thought of what lies inside him. The search that began 13 years ago to demystify the human genes and their constitution concluded in April 2003. The Human Genome Project turned out to be one of the great achievements of man. The project rediscovered human beings or Homo sapiens (the wise man in technical parlance). Man for the first time could understand the complete genetic blueprint that Mother Nature had designed to make human beings perfect in all aspects and respects. The project revealed that there are probably about 20,500 human genes. It was a massive project involving sequencing of three billion base pairs of human genome. It laid the path for finding out the root cause of diseases and solutions. The human genome project enabled man for the first time to understand what he is and what constitutes his being a human being.

Tsunami in Indian Ocean

The earthquake that struck underneath the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 left behind a trail of death, destruction and human suffering. About 2.30 lakh people were killed in 11 countries, including 10,000 in India. It was the first major natural calamity of the millennium. About three lakh people were rendered homeless as sea waves rose to a height of 100 ft, inundating whatever came their way. The earthquake that triggered the tsunami measured between 9.1 and 9.3 on the richter scale. Nature’s fury was so strong that the earth shook for about 10 minutes, making the human planet vibrate 1 cm, creating a series of earthquakes thousands of kilometres away in Alaska.

Indian mission to the moon

The idea that what lies on the moon has always fascinated Indian astronomers and astrologers since the Indus Valley Civilisation, 5000 years ago. The Indian Space Research Organisation took up the challenging task of finding answers to this riddle. ISRO’s moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched on October 22, 2008, successfully found answers to some of these questions. But unfortunately the mission had to be abandoned mid-course after the lunarcraft developed technical glitches beyond repair. The Chandrayaan-1 gave a major thrust to India’s space programme and raised the hopes of space scientists and astrophysicists all over the world on the future manned mission to the moon and the red planet, Mars, in the next two decades. The Indian moon mission discovered traces of water on the lunar terrain, which will pave the way for further research and future human colonisation on the Earth’s only natural satellite.

Invasion of Iraq by US-led coalition

The United States had thrown Iraq into utter chaos and civil war resulting in the death of about two lakh people in the last six years after it invaded theArab nation on the pretext of controlling the “weapons of mass destruction”. The American invasion on March 20, 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein boomeranged and the US and its allies are still fighting it out to install a democratic and stable government and free Iraq of civil violence. The US theory of weapons of mass destruction proved hollow with no chemical or biological weapons found with the Iraqi forces.
The execution of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006 further fuelled the civil war in Iraq, but a troop surge in 2007 brought down the violence to a certain extent. Hopes of return of peace to Iraq strengthened after Barak Obama became the US President with a promise of complete pullout of American forces.

Godhra and Gujarat riots

The burning of a bogie of Sabarmati Express, carrying karsevaks from Ayodhya, at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002 and the subsequent communal riots all over Gujarat, left an indelible black spot on the secular and democratic image of India. The Godhra tragedy claimed 59 karsevaks and 1,500 people lost their lives in the communal carnage. About a lakh people were rendered homeless and hundreds of places of worship razed to the ground.
The Modi government in Gujarat received international condemnation for the communal violence, which human rights groups described as“pre-planned and well-organised”. The US government cancelled the visa of Narendra Modi to address a business meet there. Eight years later, the political blame game is still on, even as justice eludes the victims and their kin.

Explosion of space shuttle Columbia

The explosion of space shuttle Columbia, as it was re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003 killing all the seven astronauts on board, came as a rude shock to National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States and space scientists around the world. India-origin astronaut and mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, who was on her second mission in the space shuttle, died along with six other crew members. The space disaster temporarily halted other space missions for at least two years. The mishap also came as a setback to other future manned space missions. The NASA, in its “Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report”, came out with a set of recommendations on making future space manned missions safe. The NASA suggestions gain significance in the backdrop of Indian Space Research Organisation’s plans to send man to the moon in the next 10 years. Further, NASA too is planning space vehicles for its manned mission to the moon, Orion.

Mumbai under terror siege

Cross border terrorism struck on November 26, 2008 when a group of well-trained terrorists from Pakistan virtually held Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, to ransom for three days. As many as 195 people died in the terror attack, 308 were injured. The Mumbai attack exposed the severe security lapses along the Indian coast. The terrorists entered Mumbai by sea in fishing trawlers without being stopped by the National Coast Guard. The Taj and the Oberoi hotels bore the brunt of the attack and it was only after the Central government pressed into service the elite National Security Guard commandos, that the terrorists were contained and killed. International condemnation forced the Pakistan government to finally accept that the terrorists were its nationals and that the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab was trained in terror operations on its soil.

End of LTTE in Sri Lanka

Twenty-six years after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the most dreaded terrorist organisations in the world, took full control of north and east Sri Lanka, the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean declared on May 16, 2009 that it had defeated the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE began its separatist movement in May 1976 and when the Sri Lankan government refused to concede its demand for separate nation for Tamils, it took to arms, attacking public and private properties and killing thousands of civilians and security personnel. The Indian government first felt the heat of the LTTE when its operatives assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. LTTE is also credited with inventing suicidebelt and use of women in suicide attacks. LTTE founder Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in a military operation by Sri Lankan government on May 19, 2009, bringing an end to an era of terror regime in the island nation.

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