By Dr Subhash Kapila
The United States in a swift, dramatic and precisely executed Special Forces military operation liquidated Osama bin Laden deep within Pakistani territory in the wee hours of May 02, 2011 morning. Osama bin Laden was holed up in a fortress-like structure in close proximity to the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul near the Pakistan Army garrison town of Abbottabad.
Ever since US President Obama officially confirmed the targeted liquidation of Osama bin Laden soon after the military operation was executed lasting forty minutes and the dead body of Osama bin Laden spirited out of the Pakistan Army garrison city, the global media and Indian TV Channels went into an overdrive with their journalistic accounts and analyses of the United States success in liquidating Osama bin Laden after a relentless pursuit of over ten years.
Osama bin Laden was in the cross-hairs of three successive US Administrations for liquidation starting with President Clinton. He ordered cruise missiles strikes on Osama’s bases in Pakistan-Occupied Afghanistan in 1998 in response to the bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush ordered the US military intervention in Afghanistan resulting in the Taliban regime change and Osama’s fleeing to Pakistan. On both these occasions, Osama escaped US wrath as he was forewarned by the Pakistan Army of US strikes against him. This time around President Obama ordered that Osama be killed on April 29 after actionable intelligence was at hand that Osama was holed up in proximity of the Pakistan Military Academy, which probably was intended to be a shield. This time the United States did not include the Pakistan Army in the decision-making loop and Osama could be liquidated by US swift action.
The symbolism and significance of Osama bin Ladens’ liquidation lies not in the death of United States most hated and most wanted terrorist and that Al Qaeda type of terror would immediately cease. The true significance lies in what it portends for United States policy formulations on Pakistan and United States future strategy in Afghanistan.
More significantly it should drive home to United States policy planners that Pakistan is not a dependable and trustworthy partner of the United States. Pakistan needs to be designated as a terrorist state by Washington not only in relation to have given sanctuary to Laden for a decade but also that it would most likely to continue hosting Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban hierarchy and a host of other Jihadi terrorist outfits like the LeT.
The United States must now adopt punitive measures against the Pakistan Army and its ISI to drive home the message that hosting terrorists and double-dealing the United States does not pay. If the United States does not do so then it should be prepared for another repetitive cycle of Jihadi terrorism emanating from Pakistan and new Osamas sprouting in Pakistan courtesy of the Pakistan Army. Pakistan must be made accountable for effective sealing of its borders with Afghanistan so that greater success attends US military operations in Afghanistan.
It is not the intention in this Paper to recount what stands reported in the media but to attempt an analysis of the strategic implications of the United States belated liquidation of Osama bin Laden who targeted the citadels of US power both military and financial in Homeland United States on 9/11 in 2001. Osama bin Laden had seared the collective psyche of the United States on 9/11 and with his directed earlier bombings in 1998 of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
This Paper intends to analyse the salient strategic implications arising from the targeted liquidation of Osama bin Laden under the following heads:
- Pakistan-United States Strategic Denouement Can be Expected to Intensify
- United States Imperatives to Review US Policy Formulations on Pakistan
- Osama bin Laden Liquidation: Blowback Impact Within Pakistan
- Islamic Jihadi Organizations Worldwide Last Ditch Battle Against United States
- Post-Osama Added Imperatives for Continued United States Embedment in Afghanistan
- Impact in the Arab World
Pakistan-United States Strategic Denouement Can be Expected to Intensify
Pakistan and the United States have been in a state of strategic denouement in the immediate run-up to Osama’s liquidation by the United States. This arose basically from the Osama-centric US military strategy which has been a constant ever since the US military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.
Pakistan Army’s double dealing the United States both in Afghanistan and continued retention of Osama in Pakistan Army protective custody and not handing him to the United States, had been a sore point between the two nations. Things reached a show-down with Pakistan Army Chief obdurately refusing for over a year US pressures to mount military operations in North Waziristan where the Al Qaeda and its foreign and Pakistani affiliates were holed up. Consequently, the United States despite Pakistan Army Chief’s objections increased its drone strikes in this region without reference to Pakistan Army.
The US Special Forces operation deep within Pakistani territory and in the midst of a Pakistan Army garrison town also seems to have been an independent US operation after electronically jamming of Pakistani radars. The Pakistan Army is likely to have been informed well after the liquidation of Osama
The United States having smelt success of its military operations in Afghanistan in spite of Pakistan Army non- cooperation can now be expected to be less mindful of Pakistan Army sensitivities.
If push comes to shove, then the United States with its awesome political, military and financial leverages over Pakistan Army can be expected to become more assertive in its demands on the Pakistan Army. Resultant scenarios arising from the above can result in an intensification of the strategic denouement presently dominating Pakistan-United States strategic relationship.
At the extreme end of such a spectrum hovers the eventuality of US military intervention in Pakistan to defang its nuclear weapons arsenal.
United States Imperatives to Review US Policy Formulations on Pakistan
The Cold War has been long over and Pakistan has conclusively demonstrated its lack of interest in securing US interests in Afghanistan and the region. The basic premises of US policy formulations on Pakistan therefore stand rendered as redundant, contextually. Strong imperatives therefore exist for the United States to review its policy formulations on Pakistan.
This imperative acquires an urgency if Pakistan’s actions last month are taken into account when the Pakistani Prime Minister on a visit to Kabul along with the Pakistan Army Chief bluntly told Afghan President Karzai that both Pakistan and Afghanistan stood let-down by the United States and that like Pakistan, Afghanistan should seek an alternative strategic relationship with China.
Pakistan Army hath no fury like when scorned by the United States. The Pakistan Army and its ISI had facilitated and financed and provided the wherewithal to the Islamic Jihadis who perpetrated the horrific 9/11 bombings in New York and Washington.
Recklessness is a hallmark of Pakistan Army Generals and the United States should be prepared for the same.
Osama bin Laden Liquidation: Blowback Impact Within Pakistan
The blowback impact within Pakistan of the US liquidation of Osama bin Laden needs to be viewed in three perspectives, namely, the impact on the image of the Pakistan Army, the impact in Pakistani Heartland, and the impact on Pakistani Islamic Jihadi organizations. Also, impact if any on Pakistan Army’s continued provision of safe havens for the Afghan Taliban in Quetta along with its leader Mullah Omar.
The Pakistan Army has a serious image problem arising from this liquidation, and particularly the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani and his DG ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha both conspicuous as close to the United States in public perception and being fawned upon by all US dignitaries.
In Pakistani public perceptions, the United States could not have mounted a military operation on its own deep within Pakistani territory without assistance of the Pakistan Army. Therefore on both counts Pakistan Army stands considerably lowered in public perceptions and the Pakistan Army can be expected to do something drastic against the United States as a knee-jerk reaction to retrieve its image.
The Pakistani Heartland stands seared by terrorist bombings by Al Qaeda and Taliban affiliates and other than from Islamist right wing political groups channeling Anti-Americanism, nothing more should be expected.
The impact on Islamic Jihadi groups affiliated to the Pakistan Army can be logically expected to retaliate with violent actions both within Pakistan and externally. Rendered vulnerable by Pakistan Army’s inability to forestall Osama bin Laden’s liquidation by the United States and further fearful that they will be the next targets of US focused ire, such Islamist Jihadi groups can be expected to fight viciously for their survival and continued relevance.
The last perspective of whether the Pakistan Army would continue to host Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban in Quetta, the answer is yes and the situation can only change if US drones start targeting them there.
Islamic Jihadi Organizations Worldwide Last Ditch Battle Against the United States
Osama bin Laden had virtually ceased to be the central controlling authority of the Islamic Jihadi organizations existing worldwide. Pointed out in one of my Papers years back was that “Al Qaedism was a bigger threat than Al Qaeda” The United States needs to respect this reality and resort to imaginative strategies to root out Al Qaedism worldwide kept alive by fragmented groups.
Islamic Jihadi organizations worldwide thrive on questionable financial deals and practices and the United States needs to enlist support of the international community to plug this menace.
Nevertheless the United Sates in the immediate aftermath of Osama’s liquidation needs to be vigilant against a last ditch battle from Islamic Jihadi organizations thriving on Al Qaedism, They may be in fragmented existence all over North Africa, East Africa and the Middle East but they could pose a serious threat to US security interests.
Post -Osama Added Imperatives for Continued United States Embedment in Afghanistan
United States strategy in Greater South West Asia so far stood predicated on the premise of Pakistan’s utility and role in securing US security interests in the region. That American hope with the passage of events in the last decade in terms of Pakistan’s demonstrated performance when it was under Pakistan Army rule and thereafter under Pakistan Army thumb seems to have been a false hope.
Pakistan’s foreign policies under continued Pakistan Army control has for the last ten years been in contradictory modes to US interests in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in the region. Pakistan can therefore be written off as a strategic asset of the United States. Was it a wonder that US National Intelligence Estimates years back had predicted that the viability of Pakistan as a nation-state cannot be predicted beyond 2015.
Even if Pakistan continues to exist thereafter it would not be as a US strategic asset but as a strong Chinese military ally and in collusion with China challenging US presence in the region.
Strong imperatives therefore exist for United States to continue forcefully embedded in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to ensure the stability of Greater South West Asia.
Impact in the Arab World
Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen of Yemeni Arab descent. His exploits in Afghanistan and his masterminding 9/11 and challenging the United States could logically lead to the conclusion that liquidation of such a mythical figure could lead to violent upheaval in the Arab world.
However the recent political upheavals in the Arab world for political transformation by democratic means of protests by the Arab youth clearly demonstrates that the politics of violence as propagated by Osama bin Laden no longer appeals to the Arab youth who constitute more than 30% of population in Arab countries.
The above indicator would demonstrate that Islamic Jihad as an instrument of political transformation stands rejected. The Arab youth seem to have opted for democratic modernity and not medieval systems of governance.
In terms of follow-up US policies it would entail encouraging political transformation of the Arab world into democratic societies rather than supporting autocratic regimes
The United States targeted liquidation of Osama bin Laden deep within Pakistani territory could turn out to be the most defining moment for the United States strategic formulations in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Objectively, it suggests that it is time for the United States to disengage from its tenuous strategic relationship with Pakistan and strongly opt for a continued embedment in Afghanistan.
The salience of this imperative become stronger when viewed in the context of the Pakistan-China strategic nexus getting intensified to prompt US exit from the region. Pakistani overtures to enlist Afghanistan in this nexus even as it swears to a strong Pakistan -US strategic relationship should worry policy planners in Washington.
Hopefully, the targeted liquidation of Osama bin Laden by the United States should prove to be a strong deterrent to other Islamic Jihadi outfits thriving in Pakistani sanctuaries and elsewhere and also disabuse the minds of those who propagate that American power was on the decline. What was on view yesterday was the strong leveraging of United States political, military and financial power inspite of a nuclear weapons equipped Pakistan Army, to prosecute its strategic ends deep inside Pakistani territory.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])