By Kamila Hyat
May 12, 2011
What does the death of Osama bin Laden really mean and what impact will it have on the future of militancy in Pakistan?
For days, there has been a frenzy following the news from Abbottabad. The jubilation of the US has been echoed in a few places at home; others have refused to believe that he is dead; there have predictably enough been a few protests – but a vast majority of people remains largely indifferent to the affair, despite the hype built up over TV channels and the open demonstration of grief by some comperes.
Perhaps the conspiracy theories based around the issues of whether or not Osama is truly dead, and whether it was really his body that was rather ignominiously dumped into the sea by the Americans, will begin to fade as more videos of the dramatic events at the house he occupied close to the military academy at Kakul are released.
Washington has indicated that the gory nature of the footage makes it reluctant to make it public. The images released so far show a man focused on his own self-image while the CIA states it has in its hands compelling evidence that Bin Laden remained effectively in control of his organisation.
It is impossible to know what the absolute truth is. Other accounts have spoken of an enfeebled man, who had little role to play as leader. The CIA is not the best source of authentic information. Beyond the top command of Al-Qaeda, within which a fierce power struggle is now said to be on and not all factions are behind Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and his quest to seize power, perhaps no one is really in a position to say – though we must wonder how much our intelligence agencies know and the degree to which they have infiltrated the world’s best-known terrorist outfit. It is hard to believe this has not happened at all.
The manner in which Pakistan has been left in the lurch by the recent course of events, has, of course its comic side. We are told there were desperate post-midnight conversations between baffled military leaders trying to work out whose helicopter had crashed in Abbottabad soon after the US action; no statement was issued from Islamabad hours after the saga as political leaders presumably tried to work out what to say and Pakistan has now been left wondering what to do with the wives and some 14 to 16 children of Bin Laden left in the country. No other nation seems to want them, and for now, a troupe of little Bin Ladens seems to be here to stay.
There are of course, other issues that are far more pressing. Will the death of Osama have any impact on militancy in the country? Will it make Pakistan a safer place and will it mean the training camps where candidates arrived from around the world to master skills such as how to hide bombs in their footwear or blow up buildings, will close down? It is perhaps too early to say.
We can assume that a hunt is on for other key targets – such as Zawahiri or Mullah Omar. Pakistan would be wise to do all it can to detect them itself – now that it knows failing to do so could lead to more raids of the kind that ended the life of Bin Laden.
Despite the threats made of action in case any further incursions of a similar nature take place, it is unclear what exactly the strategy would be if more US aircraft were to arrive – especially in a situation where we are unable to detect them in the first place, either due to the technology used by them or defects in our own radar monitoring systems.
For some time though, it has been clear that perhaps the biggest threat to Pakistan itself comes not from Al-Qaeda but from other groups that existed long before the Arabs began to arrive in the villages in the north. Some of the most brutal bombings seen over the last year have been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group that developed in Punjab in the 1990s as a splinter faction of the fiercely sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Its links with the Taliban, and possibly with Al-Qaeda, give it new strength and greater skill.
Other groups based in both Punjab and the tribal areas remain active. Now is undoubtedly the time to go after them in the hope that Bin Laden’s death has created some degree of disarray and demoralisation. There is as yet no evidence of any such plan – or in fact any real indication of how we intend to act in the post-Osama scenario.
It is important to keep in mind, for all the US propaganda, that he was not a fount of evil from which all wickedness stemmed. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Why was Pakistan chosen as the base of Al-Qaeda operations anyway? What were the factors that made its terrain seem especially suitable – and it would be foolish to focus of topography alone as we look at these matters. The answers could play a crucial role in determining our future as a nation and of militancy on our soil.
We have a Herculean task on our hands. The ‘Great Victory’ that our prime minister has spoken of in the aftermath of the Osama killing has not come. It will come only when we tackle the issue of madressahs run across the country, the bigotry that has invaded minds and warped souls, and the factors which make it possible for militant groups to recruit thousands of young men, even children, to their cause.
It is only when we succeed in tackling these issues that we can claim any kind of victory at all and secure for ourselves a more dignified future as a nation able to defend itself from threats that come both from within our borders and beyond them.
Source: The News International, Pakistan