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Central & South Asia
Bin Laden death: Views from Pakistan
While Americans breathe sigh of relief, many Pakistanis are apprehensive of the future after al-Qaeda leader's death.
Last Modified: 02 May 2011 11:46
A man watches television news on the death of Osama bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan [EPA]

Years on the run before finally being killed by the US forces - that is how Osama bin Laden met his end but the interest in his story will not wane easily - and definitely not in Pakistan, the country where he was killed.

To the surprise of many, he was not found in the lawless tribal region of Pakistan where he was believed to have been hiding but in a compound in an upscale and busy part of Pakistan's garrison city of Abbottabad - home to its military academy - and about 60km from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

And then the reports that his body has already been buried at sea, which the US authorities say has been done according to the Islamic Sharia Law, has raised many eyebrows in Pakistan.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, General Hameed Gul, the former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), said that "We knew all along that it (the war on terror) will eventually come to Pakistan".

"And now with this incident, they have the reason to justify what they have been saying all along that there are al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.

"Pakistan has been the target of this so-called 'war on terror'which began in Afghanistan, then was taken to Iraq and finally has come to Pakistan.

"The anti-Pakistan lobby can now say 'go for Pakistan'– they knew that they couldn't go against a nuclear Pakistan so the best way forward was to create internal problems and then ultimately come up with the stance that Pakistan’s nukes were not in safe hands."

The surprise factor

For many like Khurshid Kasuri, Pakistan's former foreign minister, the news has come as a surprise. He told Al Jazeera that "the news has surprised the entire world but it is not surprising that he was still alive.

"When I was foreign minister (2002 - 2007), there was incorrect information about Osama bin Laden's arrest – it turned out that a lookalike had been arrested.

"Again it is not surprising that he was not found in the tribal region, there had been rumours circulating that he was living in Karachi because he needed medical care.

"I myself read reports which clearly stated that he was not in the tribal region so it is not a surprise that they found him in a city.

'Political win'

Many Pakistanis believe that they have paid a heavy price for the "war on terror" being waged by the US.

Shahzad Chaudhry, former air vice marshal Pakistan Air Force, said: "We may ignore for a second if Pakistanis agree with the war or not, but we cannot ignore the fact that the government and armed forces have been heavily involved in this war.

"It is a massive political win for the US. And [president Barack] Obama will now be able to implement his Afghan withdrawal plan very easily.

And then there are doubts about the operation having been 'managed' as Gul said, "There is a big question mark over the timing – Obama can now say Mission Accomplished! And his re-election campaign will get a tremendous boost."

Speaking on Pakistan's Geo News TV channel, General Pervez Musharraf, former Pakistani president, said that "I do not believe the conspiracy theories that it has been managed."

"Incidentally, it has happened at a time when it will definitely benefit Obama. But it will be a crucial mistake on the part of US if they believe that the war on terror is over - that is not the case, a battle has been won but the war continues.

"So they shouldn’t think that it is alright to just wrap up and leave, that will be a huge mistake.

Pakistan role?

President Obama, in his announcement of bin Laden's death, acknowledged Pakistan's co-operation in the hunt for him.

However, it has not yet been established, to what extent did the intelligence agencies of US and Pakistan work together.

Gul said: "If they carried the operation without the cooperation of ISI, then it will definitely be seen as a direct attack on Pakistan’s integrity and its sovereignty.

"And if ISI and CIA co-operated on this operation then this entire rhetoric of tense relations between the two agencies was a complete drama."

"Given that the helicopters flew at night, and helicopters fly very low so there is no way that they could have escaped the radar of Pakistan intelligence," said Kasuri.

"So this indicates that there was a degree of cooperation. Now what we do not know is the extent of the co-operation."

Ayaz Amir, a Pakistan-based columnist, says it is highly unlikely that "the Pakistani intelligence agencies would have known where he was. They couldn't have played this high-risk game of knowing his whereabouts and pretending otherwise".

"And it is surprising that it took place near a very busy road, it shows sheer audacity that on his part that he chose to seek refuge in a compound in that area.

"The US forces couldn’t have carried out the operation on their own so the question is who gave them the tip-off?"

Many did believe he was already dead - including some CIA officials.

And General Pervez Musharraf, during his time as the president of Pakistan, also said that the man was probably dead but speaking to Geo News on Monday, he said that, "If I had the intelligence report, then I could have confirmed his whereabouts.

"I used to get agitated if someone made a claim that they knew where he was – I have to say I was surprised to find out that he was found in Abbottabad."

"When I held the presidential office, in terms of military operations, intelligence cooperation, human intelligence was always ours.

"We had zero technical expertise - no aerial surveillance so we started developing it. But we needed technical support from CIA and gradually we developed our own which was still not comparable to that of the US.

"The policy was clear that only Pakistani troops will operate, no foreign troops will operate. US forces were never allowed, Pakistani forces always operated independently."

And like many others Musharraf acknowledged that "US had always said that in case of actionable intelligence, we will act. But it is a violation of our country, we have well-trained troops."

Worry for Pakistan?

The initial surprise and disbelief have already started to transform into worry for many Pakistanis.

"Pakistan has the most to fear in terms of the reaction, from wherever al-Qaeda has strength in the Islamic World, including Asia and Middle East," said Kasuri.

"In the short term, there will be many more incidents by terrorists, these will be acts to avenge Osama bin Laden’s death......and not just in Pakistan but across the globe.

"In the medium term, US public opinion has been swayed, they feel that justice has been done and it will help Obama finalise his exit strategy from the region.

"In the long term, there will be a quiet debate in the US quarters on how did the phenomenon (of al-Qaeda) come about, they will not acknowledge it but they will talk about it.

Imran Khan, Chairman Movement for Justice, who staged a sit-in just over a week ago to stop NATO supplies to protest US drone strikes in Pakistan says that, "It will be very difficult for Pakistan now.

"If our leadership fails to handle it properly, there will be a backlash from Osama bin Laden’s followers who will hail him as a martyr and try to avenge his death.

"And on the other hand, the idea will be presented to the world and is already being presented by the US media that Pakistan is the hub of terrorism.

Just a symbol

Osama bin Laden, the man who indeed founded al-Qaeda although was no longer the chief operations commander of the outfit, will surely be missed by many of his followers.

Raja Zafar-ul-Haq of Pakistan Muslim League says that "he had just been a symbol (of terrorism) for the last few years but we must remember that the network is still present.

"There will be anger, and the target will not just be US but also Pakistanis so the Pakistan government as well as armed forces need to strategise."

Musharraf reminded of a true threat that he believes is very much present still, despite the death of the man.

"Al-Qaeda will not just crumble and disappear, whenever someone gefts eliminated from their leadership campaign then new people come and take charge, so we must all realise that it is a long drawn campaign."

"Technical training of Pakistani Taliban such as preparing and using IEDs, suicide jackets, all this training has been given by al-Qaeda... so it is actually al-Qaeda not Osama, that is Pakistan’s main enemy.

"No foreigner has the right to spread terrorism on Pakistan' soil."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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