By Bhaskar Roy
The elimination of the founder of the Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, by US special forces on the night of May 01 – May 02 in a safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was the culmination of USA’s top priority. It is a trophy, highly valued and should ensure President Barack Obama’s second term. President Obama had promised in his campaign speeches that he would do everything, even violate Pakistan’s sovereignty if need be, to get Osama. He delivered on his promise.
But this is not the end of international terrorism. The poster boy of terrorism is gone, but not terrorism. Osama had not been very active in directing terrorist attacks the last few years. He avoided any kind of electronic communication to avoid tracking. He used a few trusted human couriers, and the CIA tracked one of them for two years to finally locate his hide out in Abbottabad.
For long, Osama Bin Laden had worked to make Al Qaeda into a multinational terrorist organisation. He had chalked out a syllabus for franchises and let them execute this syllabus independently. The United States is the centre point, and allies of the US including Pakistan, are now targets of these terrorist groups. The Al Qaeda sleeper cells have been established in the US and Europe, as terrorist attacks in the UK and Spain, and arrests in Germany and elsewhere have proved. The Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are just examples. There are plenty of others.
At the end of the cold war, many analysts felt that the world would be a safer place. It proved otherwise. Though the fear of a world war receded and ultimately vanished, it let out of control conflicting parties which have made regions across the world unstable. Osama alive may have had some influence of direction on the franchises. Obama dead could lead to a Brownian Motion among terrorist groups – defeat all laws of physics. Nothing can be more dangerous than this.
Whatever role Pakistan may or may not have played in the elimination of Osama, it will be perceived by the Al Qaeda and its associates as the main collaborator of the US in this action. The Pakistani Army Chief, Gen. Asfaq Parvez Kayani is on record having told the Americans that some of the terrorist organizations were the army’s assets. Terrorists have a peculiar psychology. They only know how to execute jihad and killing. They have no permanent outside masters – as they grow they make their own agenda. They can turn on their creator as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has done as they perceived the Pak army and government had sold out to the US, the arch enemy, the infidel Satan.
Many of the terrorist organizations set up by Pakistan’s Military Intelligence agency the ISI and the army, like the Laskar-e-Toiba (LET), the Haqquani network and others have established close links with the Al Qaeda. The TTP is one of them. The Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar which gave sanctuary to and protected Osama Bin Laden and his group all these years is not going to take his killing lightly.
The configuration of the terrorists is likely to be reorganized. The Pakistan-Afghanistan Al Qaeda centre may be led by people like Ilyas Kashmiri, head of Al Quaida’s 303 brigade, Sirajudin Haqquani or someone else. The West Asia- Africa centre will be led by Egyptian cleric Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri. The LET which has acquired global presence can lead the European and American missions as are not as suspect as Arabs. Therefore, penetration of any one of these multiple organizations will not necessarily yield information on the others. Hence, the task becomes much more challenging.
The US, at the highest level of President Barack Obama, declared that no one not even Pakistan, was taken into confidence about this operation. The US has been saying publicly that sharing of intelligence with the ISI/Pak army was not feasible any longer these were leaked to the terrorists. US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen made this clear in Islamabad a week before the Osama operation. US counter-terrorism Chief, John Brenan has made it clear that Pakistan was informed about the operation only after the special forces had left Pakistani air space.
Howsoever Pakistan’s various spokespersons may argue, they are unable to provide a credible justification for Osama living in that compound without any questions even from local authorities. Granting that Osama may have arrived there a week or ten days earlier, the peculiar behaviour of the inmates of this building with 12 to 16 feet walls, electric fencing above that, and video camera monitoring visitors, should have raised questions among local security officials. After all, Abbottabad hosts Pakistan’s highest military training school hardly a kilometre from the Osama building. Even Lt. Gen (Rtd) Hamid Gul, a former ISI Chief known for his support to jehadis and visceral anti-Americanism and anti-Indianism, expressed surprise.
Pakistan cannot fudge any more unless, of course, the US overlooks these issues. Washington still has a lot of interest in Pakistan, and the state of Afghanistan is linked closely to it. The AfPak game has changed significantly.
After a day-and-a-half of claims by Pakistan’s “pride brigade” or “ghariat brigade” as described by Dawn journalist Nadeem F. Parcha, that Pakistan was an equal partner in this operation, President Asif Zardari and the ISI have confirmed that Pakistan was not involved. The “ghariat brigade” has been honed by the ISI. Their specific brief is to confuse issues and defend whatever the Pakistani establishment (army and ISI) does including the “26/11” Mumbai carnage.
It is now obvious that the house in which Osama lived was an ISI safe house. And there is no doubt that Gen. Kyani and Lt. Gen Shuja Pasha (ISI Chief) gave their blessings to Osama’s presence in Abottabad. Osama has been hosted in ISI safe houses before, as meetings between Pakistan’s rogue nuclear scientist Dr. AQ. Khan and his colleagues with Osama and his team took place in such safe houses between 1998 and 2001. That brings us to the Al Qaeda threat that they have nuclear weapons stashed away in Europe which will be used if Osama was killed. The claim may be a bluff, but no can rest on that.
Pakistan has now declared officially that no such operations in Pakistan will be tolerated again. Obviously, this is the Pak Army/ISI threat to the US that it has jeopardized its interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the relations between the two countries will survive despite such turmoil. The US has geostrategic interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan and it aims to stay in the region. The Pak military establishment may be suffering from myopia if they think China and Saudi Arabia will come forward to support their terrorist warfare ideology against the US. Both these countries have their own interests with the US, and neither will openly support a policy that uses terrorism as a weapon. And, Pakistan is largely dependent on American aid and American influence with international donors.
Pakistan is even more split after this incident. Several leading Pakistani news papers have sharply castigated the authorities especially the army and the ISI for leading the country down the drain. These voices had been rising for sometime, and the Osama Bin Laden incident has become a shame on the whole country. But this realistic journalism is smaller than the “ghariat brigade” and some Urdu media who seem to live in their own world of self-delusion, denial, and xenophobia. H. Khan wrote in the Pak Defence Forum.cm (May 03) that “all these institutions (incompetent civilian government, its impotent elected parliament, its misdirected judiciary, its corrupt civil servants and its crooked military establishment) …… lie to each other, lie to foreign countries, they lie to the people of Pakistan and most important of all they lie within themselves”. This is, perhaps the most succinct description of the state of Pakistan today-made by the leaders, not the people.
Within these lies and deceptions including auto-suggestions’, for the immediate future the GHQ in Rawalpindi must realise that CIA Director Leon Panetta is moving in as Defence Secretary, and US/NATO forces commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus is taking over as Director, CIA. Iraq veterans are coming to Afghanistan. Given the known views of both Panetta and Petraeus, who will also control release aid to Pakistan, the future for fudging will become severely limited.
The Indian response to the Osama Bin Laden episode has been precise and correct. Pakistan must produce and prosecute the perpetrators of “26/11”. India has given all the proof to the Pakistani authorities. The pressure must mount on Pakistan, but talks must continue.
However, calls to declare Pakistan a terrorist state would be misplaced and counterproductive. First this will not happen. Second it will become difficult or even impossible for India to conduct relations with Pakistan. Emotions must not influence state craft. We need to support those Pakistani people who are rational, and the Indian media must carry their views.
Attention, however, must be paid to those Muslim readers in India who have suddenly come forward to adulate Osama Bin Laden. They may not represent the Muslims of India and may be exploiting the incident for political gains. But these leaders like Bukhari and Madani have their own followers, and ISI moles among them. Tough action, within the law, is called for without worrying about Muslim votes. Most Indian Muslims do not subscribe to the ideology of terrorism. Our political leaders across the board are out of touch with contemporary India.
Elimination of Osama Bin Laden is not the end of the story. If anything, the world, including India, must be prepared for a new surge with new complexities which our intelligence community must address.
(The author is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience. He can be reached at [email protected])