By Siddharth Ramana
The death of bin Laden holds a significant impact for several states. This article seeks to briefly elucidate on three regions – the US, West Asia and Pakistan.
The US was declared public enemy number one by bin Laden, owing to alleged insults to the Islamic ummah, including supporting the state of Israel, the Saudi royal family and business and political interests throughout the Arab and Muslim world. The US was the worst affected country by al Qaeda’s terrorist acts, which included attacks against it and its interests across the world, including New York, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan. However, bin Laden has in recent years played a significant role in the domestic political landscape of the US, an example being the re-appearance of bin Laden in a videotaped message addressed to the American people on the eve of their presidential elections. At the time, President Bush was contesting for re-election, and it has been argued that bin Laden’s message polarized voting patterns in favour of Bush’s harsh militaristic policies in the Middle East.
For President Barack Obama, bin Laden could also serve to bolster his efforts at re-election, especially in light of continued criticism for his regional foreign policy handling, including the sensitive Af-Pak policy, which determines US withdrawal from South Asia. President Obama, in his first election campaign, had repeatedly spoken about the importance of prioritizing American interests in dealing with the al Qaeda over his predecessor’s emphasis on the stabilization of Iraq. Osama bin Laden’s death would also greatly improve Obama’s counter-terrorism credentials, especially since his tenure has seen a significant increase in attempted terrorist attacks on American soil from homegrown terrorists.
The death of bin Laden will be interpreted variously in the countries of West Asia. Among these, Saudi Arabia and its ruling family, which has faced intense criticism and condemnation from bin Laden, would top the list. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national, was stripped of his citizenship, and had orchestrated a number of attacks within Saudi Arabia in an attempt to topple the Saudi regime. While a number of fact-finding reports have indicted Saudi officials for patronizing bin Laden in various capacities, his death removes a key opponent to the ruling family.
Another country which would take strong note of his death would be Shia-majority Iran which has held under house arrest members of bin Laden’s family for political and financial gains from bin Laden himself and the Saudi government. Bin Laden’s death is also significant for Tehran, since it eliminates the leader of a global group which is perceived to be anti-Shia.
However, the death of bin Laden leaves the ruling Saudi class and much of the pro-West Arab world, with a significantly weakened argument that their rule remains the only bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism in an energy-rich region. It offers an opportunity for the US to reiterate its global hegemonic position in eliminating enemies. This is significant as it comes at a time of increased turmoil in the aftermath of the Jasmine revolution. The US would seek to establish this as a new chapter in its engagement with the region, reviewing certain policies which allowed bin Laden to gain legitimacy. This can be gauged from the opposition to President Saleh in Yemen, despite enhanced fears of al Qaeda in the Arab peninsula becoming the stronger branch of the outfit in the country.
President Obama, in his address confirming bin Laden’s death, made it a point to praise Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts which helped American forces reach the fortified compound. However, the very presence of bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan, in an area where senior military officials lived, will raise questions of integrity. The number of significant captures/assassinations of terrorist suspects inside Pakistan is a worrying trend, that the Pakistani officials are hesitant in addressing. For example, for years former President Pervez Musharraf argued that bin Laden was either dead or located in the Afghan section of the region, even as repeated high-value captures of targets in Pakistan repeatedly embarrassing the nation.
Significantly, while President Obama has praised Pakistan’s assistance in Osama’s discovery, contrary Pakistani press reports suggest that the Pakistani establishment has declined the honour, claiming it was in entirety an American operation. This can be largely attributed to efforts to deflect reprisal attacks. However, it has been essentially confirmed that terrorists find safe haven in Pakistani soil, and therefore shying away from any praise would further negate Pakistan’s standing in the counter-terrorism community. It can be expected that the inability of Pakistan to act of its own accord will force many more unilateral military actions against targets.
Research Officer, IPCS
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