Osama bin Laden is dead. Long live terrorism. This may sound inappropriate at this time of historic victory in the global war against terrorism, but it is true. The Pakistani government has been in a state of constant denial about bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, not unlike their denials about the presence of “global terrorist” Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan. Now it is up to the international community to decide how it will deal with Pakistan, now a proven global superpower in IT. No, IT does not mean Information Technology here. In the context of Pakistan, it means International Terrorism. The question is if the international community does not confront Pakistan and call its bluff, when will it ever do so?
The death of bin Laden is certainly a setback to the jihadist forces. But it is not going to be the end of the road for al Qaida in particular and jihadists in general. There are three potent reasons for this. One, the chief of al Qaida (which tellingly means “The Base” in Arabic) had been lying low for years, despite his off and on messages through audio and video tapes. This may be for two reasons: his physical condition and his possible incapacitation due to his well-known kidney ailment that required him to take dialysis treatment frequently; and the constant degradation in al Qaida’s strike capabilities. Two, the marked erosion in al Qaida’s rank and file had substantially weakened the terror outfit – something which is borne out by the fact that bin Laden could never have a repeat performance of 9/11 on the American mainland for past almost ten years despite his repeated threats. Three, probably bin Laden and his co-strategists in al Qaida had seen the writing on the wall years ago and had accordingly changed strategy by changing the command, control and operational structure of al Qaida.
Today, the al Qaida is not what it was a decade ago. Bin Laden had rewritten the rules of global terrorism. Till his arrival in Afghanistan in 1996, the common practice was non-state actors getting funding and logistical support from a state. Bin Laden reversed the trend of terrorism being state sponsored. During the five-year-long Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001), here was an individual who sponsored a state (Afghanistan) as the Taliban government functioned with his money and protection. After suffering heavy attrition from American and allied forces in the wake of a military operation almost a month after 9/11, the al Qaida started changing its character and modus operandi. It was no longer a monolithic outfit. It evolved, changed and completely transformed into a pot pourri of several terror outfits, each drawing inspiration from and owing ideological allegiance to the al Qaida. That is how one explains the birth of several al Qaidas like Al Qaida in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaida in Maghreb (AQIM).
It is because of the decentralization, diversification and multiplication of al Qaida that it has become a monster that cannot be killed or defeated with the killing of its topmost leader, even if that leader is of the stature of bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man who carried a reward of $ 25 million on his head. The bin Laden legend will continue to live for years and decades among the jihadists the world over whose photos will adorn key chains, cigarette lighters and individual homes.
The second most important in the bin Laden saga is the role of Pakistan. For almost a decade, Pakistani rulers had been crying themselves hoarse in denying bin Laden’s existence in Pakistan. The then military dictator of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf had given several contradictory statements. In one such statement he said bin Laden is not in Pakistan. In another he claimed that bin Laden was dead already. The fact that bin Laden was killed in an American surgical strike by select elite commandos just 56 kilometers north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad shows the complicity of the top brass of Pakistani military and intelligence who obviously used bin Laden as a trump card to deal with the US even though he was in the heart of Pakistan, away from the Drones-battered tribal areas. It is impossible for the movers and shakers of Pakistani military establishment to have not known the fact that bin Laden was hiding close to the national capital. It also strengthens the suspicion that other top guns like Ayamman Zawahiri and Mulla Omar may also be hiding in Pakistani cities.
The killing of bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan is extremely embarrassing for a nation that is probably no longer aware of the term ‘embarrassment’. Inevitably, even in the face of this mother of all embarrassments, Pakistani political leaders, top military officials and so-called “patriotic” commentators will try to wriggle out of the situation as indeed the voices emanating from Pakistan suggest. One Pakistani journalist has gone on record telling an Indian television channel that there was no way that the Pakistani military could have been in the know of bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan. Indeed such obfuscation campaign has already started. The Pakistani journalist mentioned above argued that if the Pakistani military were in cahoots with bin Laden, he would have been kept in a safe house under the guard of Pakistani forces.
Osama bin Laden is dead. Long live terrorism. This may sound inappropriate at this time of historic victory in the global war against terrorism, but it is true.
The Pakistani government has been in a state of constant denial about bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, not unlike their denials about the presence of “global terrorist” Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan. Now it is up to the international community to decide how it will deal with Pakistan, now a proven global superpower in IT. No, IT does not mean Information Technology here. In the context of Pakistan, it means International Terrorism. The question is if the international community does not confront Pakistan and call its bluff, when will it ever do so?