The killing of Osama bin Laden brings an end to one of the most contested chapters in the history of terrorism worldwide, reasserts America’s position as the world’s most powerful nation, allows its troops to honourably exit from Afghanistan and at the same time shows up the Pakistani state as being both secretive and divided over the use of terror as an instrument of policy.
The news of Osama’s death was greeted with diverse reactions in India, with the Ministry of External Affairs describing it as “a historic development and victorious milestone in the global war against the forces of terrorism.” The foreign office did not name Pakistan, remaining content with the reference that there existed the need to “eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries that have been provided to terrorists in the neighbourhood.”
The home ministry, however, was not afraid to pull its punches. Stating that Osama’s death took place “deep inside Pakistan,” home minister P Chidambaram’s office did not take long to connect the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist with the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.
“We believe that the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack, including the controllers and handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attack, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan. We once again call upon the Government of Pakistan to arrest the persons whose names have been handed over to the Interior Minister of Pakistan as well as provide voice samples of certain persons who are suspected to be among the controllers and handlers of the terrorists,” said the statement.
Home ministry officials pointed out that Osama bin Laden was living in the mid-size town of Abbottabad, barely 50 km from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad and not somewhere in the mountains of Tora Bora on the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier. This clearly indicated that Pakistani intelligence agencies, the ISI, was not only in full knowledge of Osama’s activities in Pakistan but that it was playing a double game with the Americans by pretending not to know otherwise.
The officials would not talk of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s renewed attempts at making friends with Pakistan, only saying the time had come for Islamabad to come clean with its stand with the Mumbai attackers.
But analysts also pointed out that just as US President Obama had complimented the Pakistani government for sharing intelligence these past years – even though US officials clearly indicated that this time Asif Ali Zardari had only been told about Osama’s killing when the operation was over – India should apply pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Mumbai attackers and at the same time enhance diplomatic contact, including opening up initiatives that involved ordinary people.
The analysts felt that with Osama bin Laden out of the way, this might in fact persuade the Prime Minister to push ahead with his Pakistan initiative. “India will hope that the US will put pressure on Pakistan to deliver on the Mumbai terrorists, thereby paving the way for the PM to go ahead with making historic peace with the people of Pakistan,” the analysts said.
In Pakistan, the government looked keen to distance itself from the US operation, aware that Osama’s death could be used by Islamic fundamentalists to declare him a martyr and turn their anger on the people.
Equally, prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani did not want to let such a major event pass by without claiming some of the credit. He described the US operation as a “victory,” pointing towards the “extremely effective intelligence sharing arrangements” with the US and other countries.
Perhaps the most significant impact of Osama’s assassination will be on Afghanistan, where US troops are already embarking upon a time-table to withdraw from next month to mid-2014. With the Saudi mastermind’s death, the US withdrawal will likely be speeded up, even as the Americans put in place tougher systems for political reintegration which will enable the Afghans to take more effective control of governance.
This means that Hamid Karzai’s decision to open talks with the Afghan Taliban to integrate its leadership into governance structures is not only vindicated, but that he would do so with a stronger hand.
Considering Karzai’s father was himself assassinated by the Taliban, analysts said, it will now be easier for him to come to terms with sharing power with the Taliban.
Analysts said they would keenly watch for the fallout on the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban, such as Mullah Omar, who is said to reside in the Pakistani city of Quetta, on the Sirajuddin Haqqani network, which is based in North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan, as well as on the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network.
They pointed out that the head of the US joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, had only a fortnight ago grumbled publicly about the ISI’s continuing close linkages with the Haqqani network.
Clearly, Osama’s assassination will have huge impact on the ISI as well as on the Pakistan army’s policy of seeking to control both anti-India insurgents such as the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT) as well as Afghan Taliban leaders, so as to be able to fill the vacuum when US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
Osama’s death will be a big blow to these relationships, the analysts felt.
Indian officials also pointed out that it was unlikely Pakistan’s intelligence agencies would give up its policy of terror, especially as they believed it had served them so well in the past.
But just as the September 11, 2001 incidents had changed the world, the death of Osama bin Laden was an opportunity for Pakistan to pull back “from the road of religious extremism and fundamentalism” and allow itself to return to being a “normal state….India could help with this process, if Islamabad so wished,” the officials said.
In the short term, however, the officials said it was likely that Osama’s subordinates would unleash a vicious cycle of violence, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including suicide bomb blasts and other dramatic events so as to underline the power of its writ.
Indian officials said they expected heightened disturbances at home, too, and cautioned on the need for a general high alert.