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Osama’s Killing: Regional Implications

Sumita Kumar is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • May 03, 2011

    What are the implications of Osama bin Laden’s elimination in a US-led operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan? How will US-Pakistan relations evolve since Pakistan’s duplicity with respect to the war on terror has been exposed? The jubilation in the US at the killing of Osama, and the implicit anger that Osama was found right in the heart of Pakistan, rather than along the Pakistan-Afghan border or even in the tribal areas of Pakistan, has given way to suspicions about the sincerity of Pakistan in cooperating with the US in anti-terror operations in general and disclosing the whereabouts of Osama in particular. Anger against Pakistan is reflected in the comments of various Senators and Congressmen in the last 24 hours. Such anger could result in demands for cutting down a substantial part of American aid to Pakistan, though a complete turn down of US aid is not likely. Pakistan’s duplicity has been exposed a number of times before, yet substantive aid continued to be disbursed. Even now, an opening has been provided by President Obama himself, who has evinced hope that Pakistan would continue to cooperate with the US in rooting out the al Qaeda and its affiliates. Also, the US led coalition’s dependence on Pakistan for routing NATO supplies through its territory remains.

    Osama’s killing could also result in enhancing American military and intelligence efforts in Pakistan even in the face of protests. It is conceivable that on the one hand actions like these could take place, and on the other the US would continue to humour and pamper Pakistan with fine words and a continuation of critical aid. On the Pakistani side, it can lead to massive protests against America by Islamic extremist organizations and a demand for complete withdrawal of American special forces and intelligence personnel from Pakistan. The next few years are likely to witness a highly tense and tortuous relationship between the two countries. At the same time Pakistan may face the brunt of intensified attacks from the Islamic extremist organisations.

    Will Osama’s death and US success lead to the hastening of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan? This is not likely, as nothing has changed on the ground. While the top leader of al Qaeda has been eliminated, the links of al Qaeda to the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban remain strong, and the idea of establishing an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ still exists in the collective consciousness of those involved. Even important sections of the Afghan Government would like the US to stay, because their own Afghan National Army and Afghan National police are not yet strong enough to face the challenge from the Taliban and the various warlords. The chances of a speedy exit of US forces from Afghanistan can be said to be minimal, given the imperative of providing stability in Afghanistan. The one thing that could possibly bring about a change in the situation would be if major success is achieved in eliminating the top cadre of the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network.

    Will the elimination of Osama weaken militant organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and will it lead to a decline in terrorism? This does not seem likely. The elimination of Osama will be a big setback, because, if nothing else, he was a symbol of Islamic resistance to the West, and it was easy to mobilize Muslim youth in his name. He was also a great fund raiser, and due to him financing the Islamic movement was easy.

    Yet, given that the motivation of the Islamic movement which includes al Qaeda and Taliban in the Af-Pak region is so strong, and the Pakistani establishment provides such strong support to the Afghan Taliban, and charity organizations from Saudi Arabia have institutionalized the flow of funds to the Islamic movements, it would seem that the death of Osama will not weaken the Islamic extremist movement in the Af-Pak region. The ideology of al Qaeda has been imbibed by various terrorist groups, and to that extent the latter will continue to operate in a manner that fulfills their objectives. The euphoria over the killing of Osama may subside in a few days. However, the challenges posed by the continuously evolving terrorist organizations will remain.

    If the above is correct, the elimination of Osama, though a great feat by the US special forces, will largely be a symbolic event. Terrorism is not going to end and the situation in Afghanistan will not change (unless Mullah Omar is taken out by the Americans) and US-Pakistan relations are not going to change due to America’s continued dependence on Pakistan. However, the real gainer will be President Obama personally, whose prospects for a second term may improve.