After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the phrase “post-9/11 world” became commonly used to describe a new world that had changed in a fundamental way on that date. The death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 will not have the same globe-shaking implications as his greatest crime, but it has served as a catalyst for significant shifts in the relationships between the United States and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, when talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is appropriate to say that we now live in a “post-bin Laden world.” It seems likely that May 1 will end up being a landmark date not only because of the immediate effects of bin Laden’s death, but because of the reactions that death has provoked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the U.S.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on the “Strategic Implications of Pakistan and the Region.” A bleary-eyed Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), the Committee Chairman, presided over the hearing only hours after returning to the U.S. from his visit to Pakistan in which he defended the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Continue reading
Scott Shane of the New York Times discusses the future of Al Qaeda in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Bin Laden has been synonymous with the terrorist organization since its founding, so this is the first succession crisis that the organization has faced. Shane reports that early propaganda efforts by Al Qaeda indicate that the succession has not gone smoothly. There is no obvious strong candidate to take on Bin Laden’s role, and heavy pressure by the CIA on Al Qaeda operatives makes it especially difficult for anyone to claim his leadership mantle.
In the meantime, Al Qaeda is encouraging individual acts of terrorism from its members. While the threat of such acts remains a real and serious national security threat to the United States, the loss of Bin Laden’s “long-term planning and vision” is likely to limit the potential damage that Al Qaeda can cause. It seems that Bin Laden’s death was much more than just a symbolic victory for the US in the War on Terror.
Yes, we have a new Middle East landscape with immense implications for the region and for American and allied interests. And yes, the killing of Bin Laden also has implications but they are also different. While the death of Bin Laden is important as a symbol of American determination to fight terrorism, it will not, of itself, stop attacks on America and others. Nor will it change in major ways the dynamics of the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine.
These changes in the regimes of Middle East countries, however, are likely for Israel making the “neighborhood” far less predictable and perhaps more dangerous unless a balanced peace agreement can be brought forth before too long. The requirement must be for all sides to see this as an opportunity. But getting there seems, at the moment, a “bridge too far” for the opposing sides unless America and the other key global players act more directly than they have in the past. As with the current Middle East unrest, waiting only means a much larger price to pay at the end when the Tsunami of instability and long term hatreds and frustrations hits.
Sunday night we heard the announcement of Bin Laden’s death at a compound near Islamabad. His passing is neither the end of Al Qaeda nor insignificant in a symbolic sense. He may likely be replaced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, who was Bin Laden’s chief deputy. But most experts believe that the decentralized nature of the terrorist network will mean that there will not be a meaningful degrading in their tactical capabilities. Yet President Obama’s action in ordering the attack clearly accomplishes a long-term American goal that eluded Bush and overcame especially Bush’s failure to provide adequate resources to press early the Afghanistan offensive and act in Tora Bora in December 2001at the onset of combat in Afghanistan.
RELATIONS WITH PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN
There are also implications with our relations with Pakistan. It is still not clear as this is written if Pakistan cooperated with us or was merely informed after the action. The place of the compound in a city largely under Pakistani military control and with so much external security profile makes it hard to believe that at some level the military or security forces did not know its purpose. But at the same time it relieves perhaps some of the political pressure on Pakistan since many intelligence experts and U.S. military had long thought he was in the country and thought that the Pakistan secret service may have known where is was.