Ten years after the trauma of 9/11,the chief perpetrator of the crime,and its angel of death,has finally met his own ignominious end. But the fear spawned by his vision of death and violence is not so easy to dispel. His American enemies took no chances. He was shot dead because alive,and on trial,he may have continued to inspire fundamentalist violence across the world. He could not be consigned into an earthly grave,which could become a symbol of martyrdom. So he has been swiftly consigned to the sea,to leave no trace on land.
The United States and President Obama,in particular,will enjoy a political and psychological high for some time. There may be a sense of closure for those traumatised by the 9/11 attacks. The success of the commando operation,and the professionalism with which it was executed,will restore some of the sheen to US military capabilities,battered lately by stalemates both in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been a surge of feel-good sentiment and patriotic emotion across the US which will undoubtedly strengthen Obamas image and his political fortunes. How he will utilise this unexpected political capital remains to be seen. It can and probably will dissipate fairly quickly if bad news continues to follow on the economic front. At the end of the day,the outcome of the 2012 presidential elections will be mostly determined by how Obama performs in delivering faster economic recovery to the United States.
The country that is likely to be most impacted by this latest turn of events is,of course,Pakistan. The fact that Osama bin Laden was able to live for some years undisturbed in a huge compound in the middle of Abbottabad,close to a military base,has shattered the countrys remaining shreds of credibility as a partner in the war against terrorism. Pakistan is at the frontline of the war on terror,but as an adversary,not as ally. Its public reaction so far reflects its acute discomfort,claiming that the operation was carried out in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated… wherever found in the world,and that the death of Osama is a setback to terrorist organisations around the world. The fact that the US did not trust Pakistan with the intelligence it had gathered on the target and did not,as in several other high profile cases,carry out a joint operation,speaks volumes by itself. If the so-called declared US policy involved independent US commando operations in the heart of Pakistan,what does this say about Pakistan safeguarding the countrys sovereignty? The protests about drone attacks in the tribal regions seem somewhat pathetic in the face of guilty acquiescence to this much greater assault on the countrys territorial integrity. Were not Pakistans nuclear
jewels supposed to deter just such attacks?
The latest developments underscore the fact that US and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and in the broader war against terrorism have never been aligned. Pakistan was forced to become a reluctant ally in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda after 9/11,in order to avoid a national catastrophe,delivered by an angry and vengeful America. Whether under Musharraf or under Zardari/Kayani,Pakistan has never wavered in its objective to see the backs of US troops in Afghanistan and to re-establish a Pakistan-dominated dispensation in that country. The myth that Pakistan may be supportive of the Taliban but opposed to al-Qaeda has now been busted. Both have been instruments in Pakistans Afghan strategy.
What the sanctuary to Osama and al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan also proves is that the war against terrorism cannot be segmented. The various terrorist groups nurtured by Pakistan and some tolerated by its establishment,are all interlinked in an unholy network,with each component assisting and supporting the other. The war against al-Qaeda will not succeed without targeting the likes of Lashkar-e-Toiba,Jaish-e-Mohammed or the different incarnations of the Taliban.
Pakistan has been playing a dangerous and high-stakes game in recent years,comfortable in the notion that its strategic location,its pivotal role in the world of Islam and its status as a nuclear weapon state gives it the space to pursue its perceived security interests vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan. The Chinese alliance has provided a further shield and the lack of reaction from Beijing is significant. What remains to be seen is whether the latest setback will lead to a serious rethink in Pakistan about the continued validity of the current strategy or whether there will be its obstinate pursuit regardless. Much will depend upon whether the US and the world are finally prepared to confront the reality which has been staring us all in the face for a long time,that is,a Pakistani state which considers the use of terrorism as a legitimate tool of state policy. The indulgence shown to Pakistan on different occasions,for example,in Pakistans clandestine acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles; the peddling of the bizarre myth that Pakistans proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and materials to Iran and Libya,was the handiwork of a private supermarket led by A.Q. Khan; that Pakistan was an unfortunate victim of terror,and only its reluctant sanctuary; and that much of Pakistans unfortunate behaviour could be explained by its fixation on the threat from India,which the latter was not helping to dispel,must be finally abandoned.
The key to how the situation will evolve post-Osama lies in the hands of the United States. There may be a temptation in Washington to use this latest example of Pakistani perfidy to extract its unwilling but unavoidable collaboration in the US exit strategy for Afghanistan. Pakistan may have to cut its links with the Taliban elements in its north-west tribal territory and carry out operations against its allies in that region. It may be forced to give up other assets which have targeted the Americans in Afghanistan. This may enable an uneasy peace to descend in the country and with Osama dead,the original mission in Afghanistan may be declared to have been accomplished. However,once the US withdraws its forces,mayhem is likely to return to Afghanistan,which will be a huge challenge for its neighbours,including India. If,on the other hand,the US uses this opportunity to truly address the dilemma both our countries confront in Pakistan,the situation may evolve differently. The heart of this strategy would be not to make short-term tactical gains in managing US withdrawal from Afghanistan,but to use the leverage it has gained to insist on a change of course in Pakistan,away from using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
If progress is made in this regard,a different environment may emerge in which a manageable,if not friendly,India-Pakistan relationship may become a reality. And only then will there be a realistic prospect of winning the global war against terrorism.
The writer is a former foreign secretary