The difference a year doesn’t make

Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary is a reminder that the Af-Pak region is still ill at ease

Written by RahimullahYusufzai | Published: May 8, 2012 3:17:05 am

Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary is a reminder that the Af-Pak region is still ill at ease

Symbolism marked Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary. United States President Barack Obama flew to Kabul on May 2 on an unannounced visit to join Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the signing ceremony of the strategic partnership agreement outlining the relationship between the two countries once the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. The Taliban too chose May 2 to announce the launching of their annual spring offensive involving “new and tested war tactics”. Without saying so,it appeared that the Taliban wanted to put bin Laden’s death behind them and move on to the 11th year of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Even in death,the al-Qaeda founder remains relevant. He had a larger-than-life existence,and this is still true. On the run and in hiding since 9/11,bin Laden had become a lonely figure by the time he settled down to a relatively longer stay in Abbottabad. Increasingly,al-Qaeda’s strength had been diminished due to a combination of US drone strikes and Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal areas. On his part,though,bin Laden continued to come up with ambitious plans for terrorist attacks,despite the lack of resources. Now that he is gone,al-Qaeda has yet to recover from the setback,even though his successor,Ayman al-Zawahiri has been trying to raise the morale of his men. Al-Qaeda isn’t finished,but it is finding it difficult to attract new recruits and muster finances.

By aligning with Pakistani militant groups,al-Qaeda,despite its depleted strength,continues to pose a threat to Pakistan. Though unconfirmed,the recent reports about the appointment of a Pakistani militant,Farman Ali Shinwari,as its new head for Pakistan,is another attempt by it to use Pakistanis to fight their own government and security forces.

Unlike the US,for which bin Laden’s death was a major achievement,for Pakistan it was an embarrassment. Even a year after the raid,Pakistan’s government and people are still trying to find out the truth about the US Special Forces’ raid in Abbottabad,as a majority of Pakistanis belive that bin Laden wasn’t killed in that compound. The Abbottabad Commission,set up in last year to probe the incident,has interviewed about 120 eyewitnesses,civil and military officials,analysts and even bin Laden’s three wives,but its findings aren’t complete and no deadline has been given for finalising its report. In view of Pakistan’s experience with judicial commissions formed to probe major national events and tragedies,there isn’t much hope that the Abbottabad Commission will independently accomplish its task and find the truth. Besides,there is no guarantee that all its findings will be made public and its recommendations implemented.

Pakistan’s uneasy relationship with the US became even more distrustful after the Abbottabad incident. The gulf between the two countries widened when US airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year and provoked Islamabad to evict American soldiers and drones from its Shamsie airbase in Balochistan,block NATO supplies through Pakistan and boycott the second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. Such has been their animosity that NATO supplies through Pakistan are still blocked,the US has continued its drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas,and the two countries continue to differ on how best to fight the war on terror and bring the Afghan conflict to an end.

Despite efforts at fence-mending,Pakistan’s relationship with the US will remain distrustful until they agree on finding a role for the Taliban in post-2014 Afghanistan. Though the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement isn’t the final word as another,more difficult,deal on security matters will be negotiated over the next year,it is likely to become a hurdle in persuading the Taliban to agree to a power-sharing accord with the Afghan government. US-Pakistan relations won’t become friendly in the likely event of the Taliban deciding to continue to fight and the US applying pressure on Pakistan to stop the Taliban and their Haqqani affiliates from using its territory to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

The writer is resident editor of ‘The News’in Peshawar and has interviewed Osama bin Laden

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