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Friday, May 06, 2011

End of Osama bin Laden, trouble for Pakistan

Islamabad will have to stand up to tough questions from Washington: what was Osama bin Laden doing in high security garrisoned Abbottabad? Shahid Husain reports from Karachi

There is jubilation in the air in the US as well as other western countries over the killing of Osama bin Laden. In all likelihood President Barack Obama will win the elections in the next term despite the worst recession the US is facing for the last several years.

But in Pakistan, enlightened and progressive forces, despite heaving a sigh of relief over his death, now apprehend the worst type of backlash once NATO forces in Afghanistan start leaving – and like the Afghan War which ended in the humiliation and ouster of the Soviet Union – Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular will bear the brunt of suicide bombing, a fresh injection of the arms and drugs culture and enhanced terrorism. Needless to say, narco-money will also play a more dominant role.

Osama Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces which intruded into Pakistan territory, without taking the Pakistani government into confidence, indicating its mistrust of the Gilani-Zardari duo.

Mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed
The mansion where Osama bin Laden
was killed by US Special Forces.
The distrust is also understandable because since long, remnants of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have been playing a double game.

The influence of fundamentalist forces in the ISI can be gauged from the fact that apparently they are not even willing to listen to the Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Both, according to wellknown south Asian security specialist Stephen Cohen, are secular, professional and the best generals in the Pakistan army.

Unlike the meek and thoroughly corrupt civilian governments, they are also tough negotiators and have the gall to terminate the supply lines of NATO forces from time to time. This does not mean taking sides with the army vis-à-vis the fragile civilian government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. On the contrary, what is needed in Pakistan is a third option led by enlightened and progressive forces.

According to a story published in the prestigious The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, “The Obama administration is demanding an explanation from Pakistan on how Osama bin Laden was able to hide in the country for so long before he was killed by US Special Forces.”

Hasan Askari-Rizvi, Pakistan’s top defence analyst, agrees that the Pakistan government will have to face tough questions. “The current strain and distrust that marks the relationship between Pakistan and the US will continue to persist and Washington may ask Islamabad to become vigilant for searching other senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders,” he told TSI.

Mourn the death of Osama Bin Laden
Members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa at a prayer meeting in Lahore to mourn the death of Osama.

Laden was hiding in a luxurious mansion in the vicinity of the Military Academy in Abbottabad, some 30 miles from capital Islamabad. John Brennan, a counter-terrorism adviser to the US President, told journalists at the White House: “People have been referring to this as hiding in plain sight. We are looking at how he was able to hide out there for so long.”

Barack Obama said: “The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden.” The world might have become “safer” for US citizens, but not for the billions residing in other parts of the world because under one pretext or the other, consecutive US governments along with their allies have been attacking sovereign countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Interestingly, their stated aim may be to democratise these countries, but the real purpose seems focused at their energy resources. The Guardian noted that “Although Obama, Hilary Clinton, the secretary of state, and Brennan expressed the importance of Pakistan in helping to fight al-Qaeda, the presence of Bin Laden so close to the capital and just streets away from the principal training ground for the country’s officer corps threatened to create a fresh rift in US-Pakistan relations.

According to it, “Members of Congress threatened to withhold economic aid to Pakistan over the affair,” The Guardian newspaper said.

Hasan Askari-Rizvi agrees. “The US will use economic assistance for building pressure on Pakistan by delaying assistance, raising the issues of accountability and how the funds are being used,” he states. “Carl Levin, a Democrat who heads the powerful Senate armed forces committee, reflected the scepticism in the US about Bin Laden’s ability to remain hidden in Pakistan,” said the Guardian story.

“I think the Pakistan Army and intelligence have a lot of questions to answer, given the location, the length of time and the apparent fact that this facility was actually built for Bin Laden and its closeness to the central location of the Pakistan Army,” he told a press conference, the Guardian newspaper said. “The US will step up pressure on Pakistan to hand over Taliban leader, Mullah Omar and Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, if they are in Pakistan. The death of Bin Laden could also lead to a rethink of the scale of the US involvement in Afghanistan,” the newspaper further said.

However, despite threatening postures, the US leadership is eager to further use Pakistan with sops and doles, never mind if they never brought solace to 180 million people of this impoverished country and only served the interests of civil and military bureaucracy, landed aristocracy and elitist politicians.

“Clinton, anxious not to alienate a partner that may yet be needed for actions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, emphasised America’s “close cooperation” with Pakistan. In fact, co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound in which he lived,” the Guardian newspaper cited her as saying.

Which leads to a key question: If co-operation with Pakistan helped the US locate the compound in which Laden was hiding since long, then what is the justification of a threatening posture and a demand from Pakistan to explain as to how Laden was able to hide in the country for so long before he was killed by the US Special Forces? The demand is self-explanatory. Is it because the US knew where Laden was hiding and killed him as a ploy to ensure that President Obama wins a second term?

Says Imiaz Ali, senior journalist at The News, “It is not necessary that in the death of Osama, Obama will win the election. Bush Senior, despite winning the Gulf War, lost the elections in second term.”

The government of President Hamid Karzai, whose jurisdiction is limited to Kabul, is equally worried because once the US-led coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, it will not be able to resist the onslaught of the Taliban.

An Afghan government official has been cited to have said that he feared the death of Laden would give “justification for US’ premature disengagement from the region.” How long does the Afghan government want to rule on the crutches of the world’s sole superpower?

In fact, according to all indications, the US is eager to pull out from Afghanistan but wants an honourable exit and is already negotiating with “moderate” Taliban groups.

Despite spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan, the Americans have not been able to break the resistance of the Afghans. It brings back memories of the ill-planned Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan that relied on bad intelligence. The US had then quickly sided with the resistance forces and created monsters in Afghanistan.

These monsters are now threatening the very social fabric of Pakistani society in the form of suicide bombing, bomb blasts, sectarian strife and a plethora of other problems in a country where people are tolerant, peaceful and have respect for each other’s rituals.

Mutahir Ahmed, professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and an expert on Afghanistan, is of the view that the military establishment in Pakistan will now have to face a tough time. “So far the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) has not issued any statement. Since Musharraf ’s time, Pakistan has been in a state of denial and has claimed varyingly that either Osama is dead or he is not in Pakistan, but all high value al-Qaeda operatives were being apprehended from urban areas of Pakistan,” he said.

Adds Ahmed, “One wonders if the nuclear installations in Pakistan are any safer. Kahuta is not far from Abbottabad. If the Americans can intrude in Abbottabad violating Pakistan’s air space, why can’t they go further. India will also insist with greater vigour that Pakistan was involved in the Mumbai carnage.”

Moreover, the US seems to have ignored the interests of regional powers. Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Central Asian Republics, Kuwait. etc, have vital interests in the region and nobody knows who is behind the suicide bombings and acts of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan since these are sort of proxy wars.

Even in Karachi, the financial capital of Pakistan, target killings and suicide bombing have assumed routine proportions and every political party vehemently denies that it has anything to do with these incidents.

Apparently, sectarian outfits, funded by Middle Eastern countries, carry on such exercises and have been so conditioned since Zia’s era that they don’t even know that they are being used.

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