Some of us must debate the legitimacy of the operation that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden (OBL) and some others have to explore the veracity of the US’ claim. While helpful in a court of law, or to frame perceptions, things are but of little value in assessing what lies ahead. For that, we will accept the American narrative and kick-off with al Qaeda and its worldwide wars post-Osama.
OBL’s claim, as reported by Al Jazeera a few weeks ago, that he would exhaust America by making it run from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Yemen to Libya and, in due course, all over the place — even if bluster, makes strategic sense. Faced with a hyper-power obsessed with unilateralism, nothing else was likely to work. This one might work even if by default. Fighting fires, at times creating them, around the globe inevitably leads to imperial overstretch. And if Osama was, in fact, running circles around the US — sending decoys to Libya to lure the West in yet another quagmire, for example — he was merely expediting the process. The concept is so effective that its American version, the infamous “Star Wars”, broke up the Soviet Union. (Is revenge the reason that Russia withholds its veto on any United Nations Security Council resolution that could sink America in yet another unwinnable war?) No chance that Osama’s successors or any of al Qaeda’s affiliates will abandon this path.
The argument that after dispensing with its nemesis, America could declare victory or mission accomplished and pull out from Afghanistan is a good one. The premise indeed is that even if the US had agendas transcending OBL, by hanging in there, it risks the fate that befell other empires, who were sucked in and did not come out looking good. The problem is that the sole surviving — but just — superpower has dug itself too deep in the hole. More importantly, the vested interest of the ‘war economy’ would try to keep it there for as long as it can and would be amply supported by those who do not want Obama to get away with so much of political dividend; Osama’s scalp and now a home run from Afghanistan.
I have no idea how far the incumbent president can milk the Abbottabad cow in the two-year run-up to the hustings, but my concern is naturally more about its fallout on Pakistan — what with all this talk of incompetence, duplicity and what have you. It is possible, of course, that despite the history of this ‘safe house’, once even shared with the CIA, we were clueless about its famous inmate. Intelligence failures happen all the time and are an all-time favourite scapegoat. It is therefore one charge we can live with. What seems unlikely, however, is that the operation was launched without our help. Well, it could have been, but the chances of its detection and interdiction, and consequently the cost of its failure, would have made taking some of our military brass in confidence, even if at the latest possible hour, a worthwhile risk. That explains the presence of our security cordons and surveillance helicopters at the time of the raid. But to understand our subsequent denial of any complicity, one must speculate a bit.
Of all the sins, being a ‘trustworthy ally’ of the ‘Great Satan’, in Pakistan’s domestic politics, is the gravest. And therefore any charge of cooperating with America, especially in the hunt for the one person, who symbolised defiance of the mightiest of the worldly powers, had to be denied at all cost; even that of admitting incompetence in preventing the fateful raid. If in the bargain the US was left with all the credit, which it was not too reluctant to take, and we were left with all the humiliation, for those who have gotten used to eating the humble pie, it was merely one of those days.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2011.
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