Where is Osama bin Laden? He could be hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, or Afghanistan or maybe hanging out in the south of France. It shouldn’t matter. In the nine long years since 9/11, we’ve seen the world change and we’ve seen al Qaeda’s empire expand rapidly both in popularity and complexity. It’s no longer controlled by one man or one militia and continuing to fixate on the perpetrators of the “original sin” will hardly lead to success in the war on terror.
In Hillary Clinton’s most recent visit to Pakistan, she once again said, what is fast becoming the American government’s favourite catch-phrase when interacting with Pakistan: “Where is Osama?” This is followed by an insinuation of “we know that some elements in the [Pakistan] establishment know where he is.” Well if you know the people who know then why don’t you just tell us so that we could expedite the process of finding Osama and get on with the real task of reconstructing a world forever changed by the perpetrators of terrorist acts and the war
If the case of Pakistan is at all any kind of example to the world, then the world should be aware that al Qaeda is not just a hydra with many heads but it has spawned off and given rise to countless other terrorist enterprises that operate under their own leadership and mandates. If Osama is found and prosecuted by the Americans, it will not accomplish much, unless he is some kind of genius enterprise manager who is able to keep his fingers on the pulse of every rag-tag terrorist group out there and coordinate, sanction and finance their operations. If that is the case then taking him out will definitely hamper the functioning of Terror Inc but it will not put an
end to it.
For far too long, America has focused on the image of the perpetrators of these terror networks as people they could bomb out of caves. However, time and again, terror groups around the world have shown their skills and savvy in using technology and complex financial transactions to their benefit. Terror Inc seems to be a sophisticated conglomerate of smaller terrorist outfits that need to be defeated using a more refined approach than consistently harping on finding and prosecuting one man.
Clinton’s recent comments in Pakistan suggesting that the Pakistani government is hiding Osama (or at least knows about his presence) speak volumes about the lack of trust between the US and Pakistan. It also reveals that America is still fixated on a rather narrow approach to defeating the menace of terrorism. And it makes the Americans look either incompetent or petulant. If the US government despite all its military might, superior intelligence resources and effective diplomacy is unable to get past the layers of secrecy that the Pakistani government supposedly shroud regarding Osama’s location then either the former is incompetent or the latter is far more creative and competent than it lets on.
So in the interest of world peace, Ms Clinton should stop insinuating that we know where Osama is. If she knows something then please come out with it and save us having to play this game of cat and mouse. We have more important matters to tend to than finding one man. We are a nation at war with a variety of terrorist militias spanning the length and breadth of our country. We have young boys and girls being recruited by terrorist organisations each day and we have thousands that are pushed closer to it due to hunger, poverty and lack of justice. We need to focus our energy on formulating a comprehensive strategy to deal with rising militancy and its underlying causes. Finding Osama should be far down on our list of national priorities and yours.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2010.