By Murtaza Haider
His life epitomised violence, but his death proved more fatal for others. The number of civilian casualties caused by terrorist violence in Pakistan was higher in the months following Osama Bin Laden’s (OBL) death than the months preceding it.
After years of unsuccessful manhunt, OBL was finally tracked down and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Shortly after midnight on May 2, 2011, helicopters carrying American soldiers flew into Pakistan and exposed Pakistan’s pervious air defence and the hideout of the world’s most wanted. Within minutes OBL was dead. American helicopters flew out of Pakistan’s air space before Pak Air Force could scramble jets to intercept alien intruders. Hours later, OBL was buried at sea. The world will be a safer place now, we were told.
Despite the tall claims by Western and NATO leaders, and secret hopes of many government heads in the Muslim world, Pakistan (if not the rest of the world) has become even a more violent place since OBL’s death. Many in the West now try to assert that the escalation in violence is not because of OBL’s death. I agree with their assertion. But I would also like to contend that killing OBL did not deliver any tactical or operational advantage against al Qaeda and other religiously motivated militants active in South Asia. In fact, the safety situation, at least in Pakistan, has taken a turn for the worse.
Of the 6,871 deaths in the 12-months leading to OBL’s death in May 2011, 4,200 (61 per cent) were those of the insurgents and militants. Only one in three deaths were those of the civilians. However, in the 12-months following OBL’s death, the trends started to reverse. While one observed a slight decline in bloodletting (6,389 deaths in the year following OBL’s death against 6,871 deaths in the year preceding his death), the decline was primarily because of the huge drop in the death of insurgents. The civilian deaths in fact increased even higher in the 12-month period starting in May 2012 such that the civilian casualties accounted for more than 50 per cent of all violent deaths. The insurgents death accounted for 37 per cent in the 12-month period starting in May 2012, down from 61 per cent in the year preceding OBL’s death.
These numbers offer irrefutable evidence for the fact that OBL’s death did not result in a decline in violence, as was asserted by many security experts and political leaders. We have killed the Lernaean Hydra, claimed the modern day Heracles, President Barak Obama. “The death of Bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda,” announced President Obama immediately after OBL’s death. The words offered little comfort to Pakistanis who knew that more death and destruction would soon follow.
In fact, Pakistanis were not the only sceptics about the claims that the world will be a safer place after OBL’s death. An international poll conducted by Gallup International in 25 countries, including Pakistan and the US, in May-June 2011 asked people if they expected terrorism to decline after OBL’s death. Only one in five expected terrorist violence to decline. Even in the US, a mere eight per cent expected a decline in violence. Another 34 per cent expected terrorist violence to increase while 45 per cent of the surveyed Americans expected no change. Almost 80 per cent of Pakistanis expected violence to either increase or remain the same after OBL’s death. In addition, the survey revealed that only one in four Pakistanis believed that the person captured and killed in Abbottabad was indeed OBL.
OBL had nothing but death and destruction to offer to the people who hosted him. While he lived in Afghanistan as a guest of the Taliban, he did not strive to provide education or public health facilities to the Afghans. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in inheritance windfalls, he did not try to create jobs or revive the Afghan industry. He could only offer pipe dreams of global dominance through a violent struggle, which would eliminate those who dared to oppose his medieval notions of statehood.
OBL was not relevant to the main discourse on development, prosperity, and security in Afghanistan or in any other Muslim majority country. For this reason alone, several polls conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project revealed that OBL’s popularity amongst Muslims had fallen significantly. In Pakistan alone, the confidence in OBL halved from 46 per cent in 2003 to 21 per cent in 2011. In Jordan, OBL’s fortunes plummeted from a high of 61 per cent in 2005 to 13 per cent in 2011. Another Pew poll in early 2012 revealed that al Qaeda had also lost favour with the masses in Muslim majority countries. In Pakistan, 55 per cent held an unfavourable view of al Qaeda against 13 per cent who favoured it.
Even the global news media had lost interest in OBL. In April 2011, only 63 news stories were reported in major global news publications in which OBL was mentioned in the lead paragraph (Source: Factiva). The number of stories increased significantly to over 8,000 in May 2011. However, since May 2011, on average 300 news stories have appeared each month suggesting a passing interest in OBL’s legacy.
On May 11, 2013, almost two years after OBL’s death in Abbottabad, Pakistanis will cast votes to elect their leaders. The very act of casting a vote for any candidate will be a vote against the murderous ideology of OBL. His spiritual descendants, the Taliban, are attacking political rallies across Pakistan to discourage the masses from voting. People should know that every vote withheld will be a vote in OBL’s favour.
Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.