By D Suba Chandran
Ten years after, the US would undoubtedly view the killing of Osama bin Laden as the greatest victory of the War on Terror. The rhetorically sound Obama made another mesmerizing speech on 9/11, informing the US and the rest of international community about the American commitment to take the war against terrorism to its logical conclusion. But will he? Does the US, facing an economic decline, have the political will to take the GWOT to its logical conclusion? What will the al Qaeda do? Will it break up and disappear into thin air?
It is important to analyze what is likely to be al Qaeda’s game plan. In this context, two issues need to be looked into: first, what would happen to al Qaeda’s structure? And second, what would happen to the groups that are not necessarily a part of the al Qaeda but owe allegiance to it?
In the last two years, drone attacks in FATA have substantially neutralized key leaders of the al Qaeda. However, it is too early to say whether the second rung leadership of the al Qaeda has been completely wiped out. Given the secret nature of the organization, there is not much information about who is likely to take over the al Qaeda. Starting with al Zawahiri, numerous names are being floated as likely leaders of the al Qaeda.
However, the real threat to international peace and security from terrorism may not emerge only from the al Qaeda. Irrespective of al Qaeda’s organizational structure after the killing of OBL, what needs to be closely followed is the work of al Qaeda appendices. For this one needs to understand how since the 1990s, al Qaeda has really become a base for various groups and affiliate organizations.
The al Qaeda Black Hole
Al Qaeda was never a single organization with a clear structure. Rather, as the name explains, it has remained a base since the 1990s. During this period, there were multiple radical groups in Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and even Xinjiang, that begun to be attracted to the al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In the mid 1990s, with the Taliban gaining ground and the al Qaeda preparing its own base within Afghanistan, both al Qaeda and Afghanistan became a radical black hole attracting extremists using Islam as an ideology. Not only groups but also individuals from Yemen, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Chechenya, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang and Indonesia made al Qaeda and Afghanistan their radical Mecca.
In this process, the al Qaeda and Afghanistan not only caught the attention of radical Muslim youths from Islamic countries but also from secular countries of the West. Muslim youths from Canada, USA, UK and the rest of Europe visited Afghanistan via Pakistan; intelligence agencies of these countries should today have a list of all those youths who made these trips. Although for reasons of sensitivity western liberal countries would like to underplay or ignore the above visits, it is important that intelligence agencies pay more attention to them due to the following possibility.
After OBL: Will there be a Radical Big Bang?
With OBL gone and international forces planning to leave Afghanistan by 2014, what will the above groups and individuals do? Will they continue to stay and fight a united jihad, or will they go back to their respective countries and start multiple jihads?
If there is such a big bang, where will the radicals be thrown into? Clearly, every country/region mentioned above should have enough intelligence about their citizens and groups who have had links with radical groups abroad, especially the al Qaeda. For a long time these countries were unwilling to take adequate action against their own citizens who were engaged in terrorist activities abroad. From UK to Indonesia, countries ignored and pretended such a phenomenon; some countries hid behind a legal clause that there was no adequate procedure to go after such radicals.
The “I don’t care as long as they are not here” approach may have suited these countries for a while, but the time has come for the respective governments to ensure that if a big bang were to occur, it does not end up in violent reprisals.
The foremost concern, apart from the fact that radicals discussed above may return to their homelands, is to map their movement, activity etc. Many countries, particularly in the West, have taken extra precautions to critically examine the entry of citizens from other countries, especially from radical hot spots. However, they have not taken adequate measures to find out what their own citizens may be up to during visits made by them to these hot spots. Internal mapping therefore should be followed up with external coordination.
Ten years after 9/11 and with the killing of OBL, the GWOT is likely to become the ‘Global War of Terrorism’. Osama’s death is most definitely not the end of global terrorism.
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS & Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia
email: [email protected]