The Americans have every reason to celebrate the elimination of Osama bin Laden! After all, he was the inspirational leader of al Qaeda, which was credited with having masterminded the worst-ever terrorist attack on the US, as well as many other atrocities elsewhere.
It is worth recalling that it was not merely the death of nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 attacks that hurt the Americans, but its audacity and scale against America’s most visible symbols of power, that left the nation stunned and embarrassed. More than anything, this explains the intensity of the country’s anger and outrage, a sentiment deftly used by the Bush administration to reorient domestic policies, as well as claim rights for the US that had little sanctity in international law.
The US, however, failed to recognise its own role in the growth of intense anti-American sentiments in many Muslim countries, primarily in the Middle East. The region not only had to endure brutal rulers (mostly propped up by the US), but also from repeated humiliations, arising out of US support for Israel. In such a situation, extremist dogmas, however irrational they may sound today, held sway for large numbers of Muslim youth. Osama’s ideology flourished on this fertile ground!
With Osama’s death, an ostensible purpose of the US invasion of Afghanistan has been achieved, but the larger objective of destroying al Qaeda remains. This is because Osama’s death will have minimal impact on al Qaeda’s effectiveness, as he was not a hands-on commander directing operations, but more of a symbol that inspired many to rally to his cause. Moreover, al Qaeda has morphed into a hydra-headed organisation, with subsidiaries and affiliates the world over that are likely to launch ‘revenge’ acts of terror. In fact, what will greatly contribute to ‘dismantling’ al Qaeda would be a fundamental change in US policy towards the Muslim world, including a concerted effort to resolve the Palestinian issue.
While Obama savours this victory, feelings in Pakistan are mixed. Relief at Osama’s elimination has been overshadowed by a host of fears and concerns. Admittedly, both US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have praised Pakistan’s help in the war against terror, but only in general terms, while affirming that it was an entirely American operation. This is bound to raise questions, here and elsewhere. For one, it reconfirmed the long held impression that elements within our intelligence and security agencies continue to harbour sympathies for the terrorists, an allegation made by Secretary Clinton herself a year ago. This will be picked up by others, as already echoed by the Indian and Afghan leaders. In Washington, too, Congressional leaders have alleged ‘divided loyalties’ within our intelligence and security agencies, while calling for special hearings on US relations with Pakistan. Hopefully, these would not be turned into a witch hunt, but will nevertheless generate renewed pressure on us to ‘do more’. The world is no more inclined to accept our alibis and protestations!
Osama’s elimination will also strengthen American belief in its capability to undertake any mission, anywhere. If this leads to greater arrogance and disdain in its approach to Pakistan, it will only complicate relations with Islamabad and also stymie the common struggle against the terrorists. It is, therefore, imperative that any ‘post-mortem’ of the operations should lead to greater trust and deeper cooperation between the two countries, especially with the approaching endgame in Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, there is considerable disquiet as to how foreign forces could have penetrated deep within our territory and carried out a commando operation, of which we were unaware. This calls for a reassessment of our strategy to deal with such situations. But in all this we must take our elected representatives into confidence, through an ‘in camera briefing’, if need be. We cannot afford any ‘day light’ between the political leadership and professional organisations.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2011.
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