In the days to come, the death Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad at the hands of the US military is likely to raise more questions about Pakistan’s intention in fighting terrorism than as a major achievement of Pakistan-US cooperation in the war on terror.
Islamabad, as it is obvious from the bland tone of the Foreign Office statement, cannot even openly claim any deep responsibility out of fear of repercussion from supporters of al Qaeda and militant jihadis within the country. The fact that he was living so close to the capital city undetected for so long will give cause for many to point a finger at Pakistan and say “didn’t we always say that?”
The pro-jihad, pro-GHQ media will most likely spring into action and decry the story as yet another propaganda campaign. One possible argument will be that Pakistan is being denied the glory of facilitating the operation.
Geo-politically, this capture could result in an acceleration of the already-planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan since the United States has now attained one of the primary objectives of its military presence in South Asia. However, this withdrawal may not necessarily mean lead to scaling down of CIA operations in Pakistan.
Indeed, the success of this operation will provide an excuse to US intelligence in keep probing in Pakistan to eliminate various sources of terrorism. The world will also be less sympathetic to Pakistan’s military and its capacity or willingness to challenge terrorism in the country.
While analysts are likely to focus more on what will this mean for the future of US-Pakistan relations, there is a need to look at the event as opening up possibilities for the country. It is certainly a good opportunity for policymakers, especially military commanders, to review the national and military strategies on fighting forces of terror.
Many people are already talking about an impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which, in turn, means that Pakistan will no longer remain a frontline state. The change in status will have a set of consequences, including a lesser flow of outside resources. However, the most important consequence is that Islamabad would have to think about building its own capability to fight networks of terror that that sprung up and strengthened inside Pakistan – some which are even al Qaeda franchises.
Harkatul Jihadul Islami, Jaishe Muhammad, Sipahe Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and Lashkar-e-Taiba are some of the many organisations that were allowed to spread their network and physical infrastructure into the ‘settled’ areas of Pakistan such as Punjab and Sindh.
These organisations have deep links with al Qaeda and have allegedly collaborated with Osama bin Laden’s terror network against targets in Pakistan and South Asia at large. The larger Asian region is concerned about the linkages as recent stories have emerged regarding individuals coming from Indonesia and many countries in Europe to train in Pakistan.
From a broader perspective, this may be an opportunity for the various elements of the Pakistani state to consolidate their thinking on how to fight the menace. It could develop the will to fight terrorism and keep people better informed about the militant elements which have penetrated the state and society at large.
Most of the militant outfits now have developed influential ties within the mainstream political parties as well. These militant forces might not conduct a vicious attack on the Pakistani state just yet. But they are likely to use the chaos to re-group and consolidate through manipulating the public discourse on terrorism run through the private and public media.
What is most certain is that the right-wing media (which is actually the bulk of mainstream media) will begin turning the event around on its head to classify this as some sort of super conspiracy against Pakistan.
The bottom-line is that the capture of Osama is a historical event which may not necessarily streamline Pakistan’s own policy on fighting the war on terror. That is unfortunate because with reduced US interest in Afghanistan, Islamabad would increasingly face the consequences of dealing with the local militant elements.
These private warriors, viewed by some as ‘strategic assets’, may now prove costly for the state’s security because Islamabad will have to fight this battle alone.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2011.
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