This is the transcript for the Empire special Beyond bin Laden (Tuesday, May 03, 2011).

Narrator:
The world's most wanted man has finally been killed…

Barack Obama:

The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda.

Narrator:
…after a search that lasted more than a decade, triggered global wars…and cost the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Crowd chanting:

USA! USA!

Narrator:
But will America's trophy kill

American man with baseball cap:

Burn in hell Osama bin Laden!

Narrator:
Shatter or reinforce the al-Qaeda franchise. And what does it mean for Washington's wars in the Muslim world?

Marwan Bishara:

This is Empire.

Hello and welcome to Empire. I am Marwan Bishara. The United States has finally found and killed Osama bin Laden. With its leader, founder and guru gone, what will become of al-Qaeda, the organisation, the ideology, and more importantly the brand? By killing its arch enemy in Pakistan, the US has also removed the main justification for its costly war in Afghanistan.

So what is to become of its overall strategy in the Arab and Muslim worlds, are just some of the questions I will discuss with my guests, Tariq Ali, historian, political activist and author of The Obama Syndrome, Surrender At Home, War Abroad, among countless others. Fawaz Gerges, historian, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and author of, most recently, Journey of the Jihadists, Inside Muslim Militancy. And, last but not least, Vali Nasr, professor of international politics at Tufts University, former Senior Adviser to the Obama Administration for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and author of Forces of Fortune, The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World.

Marwan Bishara:

But first a recap of the long search for the elusive Osama bin Laden.

Narrator:
With the nation still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, it was only a matter of days before George Bush struck the tone that defined his foreign policy.

George Bush:

There's an old poster out west that I recall that said. Wanted, Dead or Alive.

Narrator:
That's because the White House was determined to overcome the impression that its reaction on the day itself was confused and uncertain. Even before the intelligence was in, the White House insisted Osama bin Laden was responsible. Yet almost immediately, the Bush administration began laying the groundwork for an approach that would go far beyond seeking retribution from just one man and his followers.

George Bush:

There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighbourhoods, and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror.

Narrator:
This set the stage to broaden the terms of conflict.

George Bush:

Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

Narrator:
George Bush made absolutely clear this policy was now set in stone saying, "The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority". Until he changed his mind, saying, "Listen, our objective is more than bin Laden". One month later, the vice-president took an entirely new approach. "Bin Laden himself isn't that big a threat." Possibly because the secretary of state had no idea where he was. "I have seen nothing that suggests we know where he is, whether it's Afghanistan, Pakistan or somewhere else." A few weeks later, the head of the CIA appeared to disagree with his boss, testifying that bin Laden remained an "immediate and serious threat". "Not so fast" replied the president, "I truly am not that concerned about him". Thankfully, by the beginning of April, the most senior military officer in the nation finally cleared things up. George Bush's top priority was not in fact a priority at all. "The goal has never been to get bin Laden."

The confusion over what to do with this man was clearly apparent at the very highest levels of the White House. To understand why, one school of thought suggests it was more politically-expedient for George Bush to allow bin Laden to remain at large. Osama on the loose helped justify the Bush/Cheney agenda. Another explanation is that, within weeks of the attacks, the White House was already thinking about new theatres of war. They could either devote forces to hunting down bin Laden, or lay the foundations to send them somewhere else.

And by March 2003, we learned where, as the invasion of Iraq for underway.

George Bush:

They are still a threat. They are still dangerous. And that is why it is important that we succeed in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and anywhere else we find him.

Narrator:
Naturally this philosophy had its political benefits as well. It had to, in order for the full breadth of this foreign policy vision to be seen through. Had Osama been captured early on, there's no guarantee the American people would have continued to support such an all-encompassing foreign policy, which is why the concept of the war on terror only shifted after George Bush left office.

Once Barack Obama became president his administration deliberately abandoned the phrase, the new president bringing with him a new rhetoric.

Barack Obama:

To the Muslim world we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

Narrator:
And that new rhetoric in turn revealing a shift in approach. What has changed in American foreign policy is the rationale, Barack Obama said so himself.

Barack Obama:

Shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the Director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al-Qaeda.

Narrator:
Now that the American president has returned to specifics, he faces a new problem, if he's going to continue the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's up to him now to explain why.

Marwan Bishara:

Fawaz, why don't you start us off? So, Osama bin Laden was not just a leader, he was the founder, the guru of al-Qaeda. With him gone, what does this really mean for al-Qaeda?

Fawaz Gerges:

Not much at all. It say, an important psychological and symbolic development, but it does not really change the strategic landscape, either in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Yemen, and also in terms of what has been now called home grown extremism or terrorism. Al-Qaeda, as an organisation, is no longer a potent organisation. At the height of its power, in the late 1990s, it numbered between 3,000 and 4,000 fighters. Now it's down to almost 200 fighters, basically on the run, being hunted by American forces in the Pakistan's trouble areas along the Afghanistan border. Most, 95 per cent, actually more than 95, according to American intelligence community, the mid-level lieutenants, the managers who plot big operations, have been eliminated.

Al-Qaeda does not have the capacity to carry out large-scale spectacular bombings along the 9/11 lines. In fact, despite its repeated threats since 9/11, it has not been able to carry out a single bombing inside the United States. As an organisation operationally it's a crippled organisation that, in fact, al-Qaeda has not just, I mean, suffered a major military setback, the greater setback has been in terms of loss of Muslim and Arab public opinion. That is al-Qaeda has lost Arab and Muslim hearts and mind. And the Arab revolutions, the so-called the Arab Spring in the last six months, has shown a huge divide between al-Qaeda's ideology and the universal aspirations of millions of Arabs.

Vali Nasr:

Well I think Fawaz is right on that account. I mean aside from whether al-Qaeda was operationally important anymore, it still was very important to the political narrative in the Middle East and in the Muslim world as a whole. And also in the way in which the west and the United States could engage the Muslim world. There was no closure to 9/11. He, in some ways, was sitting in the middle of the political debate internally and internationally. So I think it is now an opportunity. The combination of his death with the Arab Spring allows for a very different kind of political narrative. And even if there are remnants of al-Qaeda, and there might be terrorist attacks here and there, al-Qaeda's ability to define the political discourse is now gone. And it's also much easier for politicians in America to imagine new ways of approaching the Middle East, by ultimately arguing that they've taken care of business, quote unquote, and al-Qaeda is not an issue that should preoccupy foreign policy.

Marwan Bishara:

But beyond al-Qaeda, the organisation, and bin Laden, the man, what about the brand, the ideology, the philosophy, the slogans? This way of reformulating jihad, and global jihad, directed against the so-called imperial powers, the crusaders and so on and so forth. You think that has lost currency?

Vali Nasr:

Well to some extent. I mean there's a difference between the brand and the ideology. I mean some of the arguments that al-Qaeda was able to appeal to the Muslim publics are still there, but now there might be much more competition from the writings of other sources to address…

Marwan Bishara:

Meaning such as what?

Vali Nasr:

Such as either new thinkers are coming forward, even on the domestic scene the argument could be that the Arab Spring is addressing some of the arguments that jihad is absolutely needed to bring down all political orders in the region. But the brand itself was very much based on him. I mean the media, the international community, domestically, they made bin Laden into a larger than life icon, and it's almost like Che Guevara in the 1960s. And the fact that in the end he was not able to survive, and the manner in which he died, clearly makes a dent in the brand. But the issues have not gone away. Clearly a lot of the issues that al-Qaeda claim to be able to answer are still there and they still have to be resolved.

Marwan Bishara:

So Tariq he's what? He's a media construct. He's a media obsession. He's just a myth. Or he's more than that. Bin Laden?

Tariq Ali:

No, I think he's more than that. But he became the symbol of this small group of terrorists. And the attack on twin towers and the Pentagon was a sensational act. Sensational in media terms. Sensational in historic terms. And that gave him this image. And, of course, in the United States especially, they like to identify evil in one person and that person became Osama bin Laden. And that now plays against them, because they've now finally killed him in the way which state terrorism operates. Massive force, destroy him. Now what? The issues, as colleagues are saying, are there. Palestine continues to fester. Iraq is still occupied. Many, many Iraqis now are saying there's no reason for American troupe to stay here. When are you going to get out? The war in Afghanistan goes on. Drone attacks continue in Pakistan, without Osama. So these are questions now which have to be solved. And I think the point made earlier, that the Arab world itself is changing and has changed in some countries, is extremely important.

Marwan Bishara:

But you don't really take it seriously that this sort of an evangelical thinking that progress is coming and that things will get better…

Tariq Ali:

No.

Marwan Bishara:

…and hence there will be no more of this periphery [unsure of word].

Tariq Ali:

No, no. I don't think that. The big problem, if you like, with Osama's ideology, there were many. You know, the mode of operation was wrong, completely isolationist. But he had no social programme. If you read his essays and articles, which I've done, they're interesting. They're even well written. He attacks the despotisms in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, all that. But when you look to see what is your social programme? What are you going to offer the Arab nation, the Arab people? There is nothing. Very little homilies.

Fawaz Gerges:

Yeah. Several points here, I want to just follow up on what my colleague said. The first point, I think, one of the greatest misunderstandings of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is that the fact we have taken the global jihad, transnational jihad, advanced by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for granted. And, in fact, you cannot understand it has always been the global jihad, a tiny fringe current, a tiny fringe, historically in Arab and Muslim Societies. You're absolutely correct. Osama bin Laden was an icon, a symbol. A symbol of challenge for the United States of America. But you cannot underestimate also how the American war on terror elevated Osama bin Laden. Here you have the United States of America, the greatest military and political economic power on the one hand, and Osama bin Laden. You can imagine what has happened.

Marwan Bishara:

But before that Fawaz, just on that point, so is it before the United States of America, the idea of what has happened on 9/11. The idea that modernity, popularisation of technology, globalisation, can amplify thousands of times that event. The idea that al-Qaeda then is not just a medieval organisation, it's also a very modern…

Fawaz Gerges:

Yeah, absolutely.

Marwan Bishara:

A group that uses image.

Fawaz Gerges:

You're absolutely right.

Marwan Bishara:

And even if they are French, but they could still have huge influence.

Fawaz Gerges:

No one is denying this. But imagine, I mean, if you have dealt with al-Qaeda and 9/11 differently, instead of declaring a global war against imagined and real enemies, that's what has happened. So think about it today, Marwan. On 9/11, on the morning after, the United States of America faced almost, and this is really the most generous account, 3,000 al-Qaeda fighters, the global jihadists. Where are we today? I mean think of the wars that are raging now in Afghanistan. There was no Taliban in Pakistan. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan changes the entire strategic landscape. Iraq. I mean, these are serious policy consequences of how the United States responded to Osama bin Laden. And also while you're absolutely correct about the whole, I mean, impact of that particular iconic event, that what happened on the morning after helps us really to understand the context where are we today, and the grave challenges facing international security.

Marwan Bishara:

Vali, do you accept the approach that al-Qaeda central, as we knew it, the whole idea of a band of militants in Afghan and Pakistan has already spread through the region maybe through the world and this ideology, this brand that we're talking now, is now adopted by various groups, marginal groups, throughout and whether they are coming out of London or various peripheries, or various cities in the south or the north, but there are various bases now for al-Qaeda.

Vali Nasr:

Well I think they said there are two separate issues. One is, as Tariq was saying, you know, what is the content of al-Qaeda's ideas and whether it has any further traction? Does it actually, this idea of a self-perpetuating jihad declared even by non-clerics and, you know, going after, as Fawaz has written, whether on the far enemy or the near enemy. Whether it still can be seen by Muslims as a solution to the political problems that they have on the table. That's one issue that I think is open to debate. We'll see how they react, especially given Arab Spring. The second issue is that bin Laden definitely proved, despite the numbers, that spectacular sensationalist acts can have a tremendous amount of disruptive capability, way out of the proportion of numbers. And there is some traction for this in the Arab world. I mean after all the most effective militaries in the Arab world are not owned by governments. There are these, as they call them, asymmetric non-state actors, is the Hezbollah's, Hamas'. You know, it's the Taliban's.

Marwan Bishara:

But these are local in their goals.

Vali Nasr:

Right. But goals is one thing, but you see the ideas, the tactics. And in other words there is value in terrorism as a military tool. Even governments are using it, in terms of perpetuating policies across the border. That I don't think necessarily we're done with that.

Tariq Ali:

No, no. I think you're probably right on that. The question I was going to pose is that, you know, if you look at how this organisation arose. We all know it, but it's worth repeating, they were radicalised in the global jihad led by the United States against the Russians in Afghanistan. That is when all these groups came to life.

Marwan Bishara:

But Tariq, now everyone forgets that bin Laden used to be the archangel…

Tariq Ali:

Everyone forgets. Everyone forgets that now.

Marwan Bishara:

…before he became the arch enemy.

Tariq Ali:

Exactly. That all these people from Egypt, from Algeria, from Yemen, came as fighters against the Russians.

Marwan Bishara:

And by the way from New York and London.

Tariq Ali:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Vali Nasr:

There's plenty of Hollywood movies about…

Tariq Ali:

Exactly.

Vali Nasr:

…you know, assets that you don't immobilise properly.

Tariq Ali:

No. But I think that their time is now. Not the fact that there will never be small groups of people who will carry out arms struggle, that there will be unless these problems are solved. But this particular group and its ideology I think is weak. And when I was in Yemen last year, I spoke to Iryani, the former Prime Minister of Yemen, and I said, tell me honestly. Because there's a lot of stuff, al-Qaeda of the Arab Peninsular is doing this. And I said, tell me honestly, Mr Iryani, how many al-Qaeda people are there in the Yemen? What's your estimate? You are close to the United States. You're the former Prime Minister of this country. He said, I said, 200. He said, at the maximum.

Fawaz Gerges:

And 50 and 300, yeah.

Tariq Ali:

Yeah. He said at the maximum. And when I went to the south of Yemen and talked to people, they came and whispered in my ear. I said, this is where al-Qaeda is supposed to have attacked you? And one guy said, you want to know where al-Qaeda is? They're based in the office next to the President. They used them constantly to get money.

Marwan Bishara:

So you don't think they count because of their small numbers in various places?

Fawaz Gerges:

No, not numbers at all. In fact, this is really… I obviously did not make myself very clear. The numbers are really secondary. It's the ideology and it's basically the vision. Whether the global jihad vision has always had traction in the Arab world. No economic vision. No political vision. No vision for the future. But here I want to, again, bring some context.

Marwan Bishara:

But Fawaz, before we wrap up the first half, I want to read to you a quote from Osama bin Laden…

Fawaz Gerges:

OK.

Marwan Bishara:

…about Osama bin Laden from then candidate Obama to the Senate. At the time he said, you know, stressing the importance of taking on al-Qaeda, he said, "the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness". That the root causes of why the groups like al-Qaeda could do what they do and why they could have such people, are still and remain important.

Fawaz Gerges:

You're absolutely correct. And again, as Tariq suggested, I don't think we should really overlook the possibility or the likelihood that some groups will basically re-emerge out of the rubble of the global jihad movement, as long as the conditions are there. But I want to put some context. Few people remember that the global Jihad movement or current emerged out of the rubble of the local jihad current, what we call insurgent groups, resistance groups, against local dictators. I mean long before al-Qaeda, Hezbollah was born in early 1980s. Al-Qaeda was born in the mid-1990s. It tells you a great deal, how really current and recent this particular phenomenon is. I'm not suggesting that local insurgent groups, local resistance groups, like whether it's Hezbollah, Palestinian Hezbollah, or… I'm sorry Palestinian Hamas, or Lebanese Hezbollah, would disappear, because the conditions are there.

Marwan Bishara:

Besides they have nothing in common to al-Qaeda.

Fawaz Gerges:

Absolutely. This is the reality. But the question is if we had contextualised the global jihad current on the morning after. If the United States and its leadership basically put al-Qaeda in the right place. No one is suggesting al-Qaeda was not dangerous. But instead of saying that al-Qaeda is dangerous, a security nuisance, al-Qaeda was seen as part of an ideological framework, an ideology framework that resonates throughout the Arab and Muslim world. And this was the intellectual misunderstanding that led us to be the present.

Marwan Bishara:

And certainly the Arab Spring, in terms of mass popular mobilisation for radical change in the Arab world and its relationship with the United States and the west, you think that will be the solution?

Vali Nasr:

Well I think it's important, because combined with Osama's death  that you say that it has weakened the whole rhetoric, etc, the Arab Spring obviously suggests that there are other important political trends in the Arab world. That this is not only extremism and jihad versus authoritarian governments, or versus the west. That there is other things happening. And there is obviously an opening. I mean all of these issues that are on the table can be addressed alternately by different politicians in different ways. But I think the point that Fawaz made is important in a sense that, you know, you could even say that ultimately many of these people in al-Qaeda, either may have been there for different reasons. They may not be even ideologically necessarily relevant to their larger arena. But the question is, what is the threshold of the west for a terrorist attack I mean, if one in Yemen can send a underwear bomber or a cartridge that brings down an airplane, and if that is seen as an absolutely intolerable act, then even if there are ten people or 200 people…

Marwan Bishara:

Absolutely. You're absolutely correct.

Vali Nasr:

…it's going to become an issue.

Marwan Bishara:

Tariq, Fawaz, hold on to your thoughts, because we're gonna come back and talk about specifically that and what does this all mean for the United States in Afghan and Pakistan. But we will do that after we come back from a news break.

Part 2

Marwan Bishara:

Welcome back. With my guests, Tariq Ali, Fawaz Gerges and Vali Nasr. Since he took office, President Obama has refocused US strategic priorities on the war against al-Qaeda, surged American troops in Afghanistan and expanded the war to Pakistan. With bin Laden gone, but Obama's AfPak war going nowhere, Washington is left with more reasons to contemplate its next moves than to celebrate. Especially as the Taliban prepare their next spring offensive and the Arab Spring heats up throughout the region.

Narrator:
By eliminating Osama bin Laden, the US has achieved its main policy goal, but the circumstances of his death might force Washington to review the entire policy itself. In Afghanistan the Taliban is not in control and has no global ambitions, and American and coalition forces are no longer on the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader.

With no real al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, the objectives of the war have been met. So will these troops be removed? Unfortunately for Washington all the attention is now shifting to Pakistan, and this is where it gets complicated. Late last year the White House approved a new multi-billion dollar deal in military aid to Pakistan, on top of many billions more already pledged in trade and industry.

But finding bin Laden where they did, the Americans feel betrayed. Publicly. All diplomatic statements emphasized co-operation.

Barack Obama:

This is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

Narrator:
Privately however, that hasn't been the case for some time. Unmanned drone attacks have been operating for years, despite Pakistani reservations or outright objections. And the mission to kill bin Laden was deliberately carried out without the Pakistanis knowing anything about it. Now it's likely to get worse. Pakistan is no Afghanistan, and the United States cannot afford to start yet another war. But with his forces just across Pakistan's border, this could get more complicated very quickly.

Marwan Bishara:

Vali Nasr, now we know more than ever that there isn't much of an al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, not recently anyway, so why America wouldn't seriously consider withdrawing now from Afghanistan?

Vali Nasr:

Well it potentially could. Already it has committed to the idea that they would support a political settlement between the warring factions, that would have the support of the region. The question is, you know, how would you go about that? Obviously there is now particularly given that it's a budget crisis that you have in the west, in England, in the United States, there's much more of an interest to essentially have a point to declare victory and leave. I mean Osama bin Laden's death definitely provides that point. And the question is that you have to come up with a diplomatic strategy that would work. You could work your way to finish this war. And I think the Afghan government, the Taliban, the Pakistanis, they all also are pretty much concluding that two things are gonna drive us. One is bin Laden's death, the other one is Arab Spring. Because it's actually proving to be far more costly and demanding in form of resources than anybody anticipated and it may go on for a number of years. And the Taliban they also have a easier time basically saying, well he's dead, al-Qaeda's pretty much gone, so, you know, the demands that you had on us about having to break relations with them, probably are not as important as they were yesterday. And you probably will attest to that. So I think it's an opening. It has to be exploited.

Marwan Bishara:

Tariq, it seems to me that we keep speaking about the Arab Spring in their world, but spring in Afghanistan means spring offensive. Taliban and in fact I'm preparing for the spring offensive. So probably expect a heated summer.

Tariq Ali:

Yep. I think there is no doubt that the American war in Afghanistan has now reached a critical stage. They have not been able to wipe out the Taliban. All the areas which they take, they have to withdraw from. They know that this war is not going well. Behind the scenes they are negotiating with the Taliban. They've made offers to the Taliban to join a coalition government. The Taliban has said, we will happy to consider that but after all foreign troops have left. So this business has been going on now for five or six years, even when bin Laden was alive. They could now accelerate that procedure and say there has to be a national coalition government, and get the local powers involved. And these local powers, I would say, are Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China. China, crucially, it's on the border. But it's got a lot of money. Pakistan for obvious reasons. Iran for obvious reasons. And Russia for obvious reasons. And these four countries, I think, should be given the responsibility for setting up a national coalition government and asking the United States and the NATO forces to leave.

Marwan Bishara:

So national coalition government that would include the Taliban?

Tariq Ali:

Of course.

Marwan Bishara:

And I suppose, Fawaz, that the wind of opportunity, you were just talking about earlier, in the sense that there is no longer commitment towards anyone, because Taliban's commitment was to bin Laden, the person. And they actually don't have any love lost for al-Qaeda. Not the Taliban.

Fawaz Gerges:

Absolutely. Now we have between 20 and 50 al-Qaeda operatives, according to the CIA. That is down to 20.

Marwan Bishara:

Shot by 100,000 soldiers, by the way.

Fawaz Gerges:

Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

Just to remind our viewers around the world.

Fawaz Gerges:

Yes, so you have on 27 approximately, depending on estimate, 27,000 Taliban fighters, between 27 and 17,000. The estimate now is that al-Qaeda is down to 20 or 25 or 50 operatives in Afghanistan. I think the big point here is that President Obama has bought the terrorism narrative. You cannot understand why the United States is deeply embroiled in Afghanistan shifting sands, without understanding the fact that the United States lumps the Taliban, a regressive, social movement, a huge, regressive of course, it's not progressive, with al-Qaeda itself.

Marwan Bishara:

But presumably they're divided between the counter-terrorism and the counter-insurgency? And the Bidens of the world are more counter-terrorism.

Fawaz Gerges:

There are multiple perspective within the American. We know. But the reality is the surge in Afghanistan tells you a great deal.

Marwan Bishara:

That they want both, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Fawaz Gerges:

You talked about al-Qaeda and the Taliban, almost ten years after 9/11 the United States of America has never accused the Taliban in Afghanistan of plotting or carrying out a single global jihadist operation against America. Never. That even point one. In the late 1990s, the Sharia council of the Taliban, based on documents that, you know, we've all seen, captured by America, the Taliban, the sharia council of the Taliban, decided to either kill Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and expel him from Afghanistan. Even in the late 1990s, the dominant wing within the Taliban, a majority, believed that the al-Qaeda was doing a great deal of harm to the Islamic [Imalad]. It was Mullah Omar himself who basically vetoed the decision by the sharia council. The reality is, and that's why the exit of Osama bin Laden, and I agree with Vali on this point, might hopefully provide closure to this particular terrorism narrative, and allow President Obama to take a second look at the Afghan theatre.

Vali Nasr:

Well I mean they secondly would have to come and, you know, at some point whenever you end up in these things, whether it's Maoist in Nepal, or Hezbollah in Lebanon, there's always gonna be debate about laying down arms first. And that's between Afghans, I'm not talking about the outsiders. And there's always this issue of fighting and talking. The Taliban want to fight their way to the table, to come with a strong hand, these are the Karzai. The Americans also want to fight their way to the table to have a better bargaining position. But the reality is that the Taliban know they cannot win Kabul. Just as much as you say the international forces may realise that they cannot win. And now with bin Laden out of the way, that might be good. But there is also another consideration, it's not just the actual al-Qaeda numbers, there are two particular groups that are worrisome to the outside. One is the Haqqana network, which has been very close with at least the al-Qaeda elements, both within Pakistan and the outside. And the other is the Lashkar-e-Taiba. And the worry there is when the Mumbai issue happened they had operatives in the US. They collect money in the UK. And they also have showed up in Afghanistan periodically. So there is going to be some degree of wanting to make sure that these guys don't come in. You know, the Arabs are gone, but this thing we talked about earlier, the utility of terrorism. The fact that, you know, you might be able to say there are elements of the Taliban that are just tribal leaders.

Marwan Bishara:

But do you think that will require a military solution?

Vali Nasr:

No, it requires that, you know what, the military solution is to get you to the table now. But when you get at the table you have to have a deal that is gonna hold.

Marwan Bishara:

No, I mean for the Haqqani group. . Do you think they will have to be dealt with militarily?

Vali Nasr:

Well, no, well they are being dealt with militarily, both on the north side of the border and now there's a lot of, when we say that the Pakistanis are to go into north Waziristan, basically argument is that they also have to put pressure on the Haqqanis. But the Haqqanis are actually very hardened fighters, going back to the Afghanistan period. They're not, you know, your tribal commanders. But, you know, these are the sort of things that have to get sorted out.

Tariq Ali:

Well I mean look, you have to see that within Pakistan the military has been, since they were asked to abandon the Taliban, their only victory they have ever won, the Pakistani Army was to take Kabul with the Taliban. They were asked to unwind that, dismantle They did it, but it created enormous tensions inside this army. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, all these groups, were set up by the ISI. They know who they are. They know what the personnel is. They know how they function, but they let them go. And the reason they keep them going is because they know that the war in Afghanistan will have to come to an end sooner or later, the west can't stay there, and then they will be the dominant power in the region. Which is why I'm saying, it's much better to involve Russia and Iran as well, and not allow the Pakistani to do it on their own.

Marwan Bishara:

Tariq, let's stick to this question of Pakistan now. So what worries you more? The fact that when they killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan that the Pakistanis didn't know about it, or that they could have probably knew about it?

Tariq Ali:

Look, I have been arguing for some time. In fact, I wrote it in 2006, according to my sources, that Osama was in Pakistan. Probably in a safe house, and probably by the intelligence agencies. Now we see that this safe house was just next to the Pakistani Military Academy, near a military town, Abbottabad, where lots of officers live. I will not believe that the Pakistani intelligence, or top layers within Pak, did not know. It's incredible and unbelievable. Whether they knew this attack was coming, we are not 100 per cent sure.

Marwan Bishara:

So that is far worse than if they didn't know.

Vali Nasr:

Well you see the thing is then that means they're complicit.

Tariq Ali:

Yeah. Of course, but look, the other thing is this. That if they knew he was there and actually leaked the news, they're not going to announce it to us, and nor the Americans. But if you look at the WikiLeaks, the deal between the Pakistani government and the US, you can use your drones, but please we have to say, we didn't know and even denounce you. So please accept that. And the Americans said, we'll accept it.

Marwan Bishara:

Sounds like the Yemenis.

Tariq Ali:

Yeah.

Vali Nasr:

But, you know, you look at it. The point is not whether the Pakistanis necessarily knew where he was, the point is that when the Americans began to zero in on where he was, they decided they cannot afford to let Pakistan know. So if you're the American decision makers, and we're talking about winding down this while you're sitting on this side of the border, regardless of why you got there, you're saying that on that side of the border, where there is the Haqqanis, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Osama bin Laden, are all basically, you know, protected by the same establishment. So the question is, you know, you cannot finish the Afghan war without having some kind of a guarantee that that's not gonna come back north of the border.

Fawaz Gerges:

And this brings me to… I mean I think we were talking about Afghanistan. The real war is being waged in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, as you well know. Again, more than 85 per cent of America's drone attacks are taking place in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba and others. The question on the table is does America's military engagement really produce better conditions on the ground to bring about the settlement.

Marwan Bishara:

In Afghanistan you mean

Fawaz Gerges:

In Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact the radicalisation, Marwan, and probably, you know, both my colleagues know more about Pakistan, the radicalisation of the middle class, in particular in the military. Most of my colleagues in Pakistan tell me that this is an extremely worrying sign.

Marwan Bishara:

Because of the drone attacks and the so-called collateral damage?

Fawaz Gerges:

That every single in the last two years. Every single home grown plot an attack. Basically we can trace it to the Afghanistan Pakistan war.

Tariq Ali:

Exactly.

Fawaz Gerges:

Most of the interrogation, the transcripts we have, most of the suspect say they have been radicalised by America's war. In particular Iraq used to be, from 2004 to 2008, the major cause of home grown terrorism.

Marwan Bishara:

So we are watching, Fawaz, then a repeat of the same mistakes of the past in that region that led to the rise of al-Qaeda.

Fawaz Gerges:

And I wanna come back to the big point is that about President Obama and the reality is despite his rosy rhetoric, despite this visionary, intelligent, brilliant President, that he is himself hostage of a particular narrative no Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'm not suggesting that they are not threats in Pakistan. I mean, think about how the threats have been exacerbated because of this particular global war on terror.

Marwan Bishara:

Vali and Tariq, please take us to the next stage. And I have a huge problem with this whole AfPak strategy from one strategic sense, is that historically Afghanistan has always been the periphery to Pakistan but, for some reason, for the last two years, the Obama administration has been treating Pakistan as if it is the periphery of Afghanistan. When it is few times greater, bigger in nuclear power and far more complicated than Afghanistan, and yet it's been treated as a periphery. And hence now it is becoming the collateral damage of the war.

Tariq Ali:

It always happens in imperial wars, when sometimes they can't win them, they blame all of it on a neighbouring country. The Vietnam war, they said Cambodia was the problem, they went and destroyed that. It didn't do anything in the long run. Now in Pakistan you have on both sides of the border, Pashtun tribes. Many of them link to each other historically. Many of them inter-marrying. You can have a border with villages on either side and this is a border which goes for thousands of kilometres. Impossible for anyone to control this border. That's one thing. The Pakistani military actually have gone out of their way to help the Americans by creating one million refugees, cleaning some parts of the border.  So you have internal refugees in Pakistan today. The situation is a mess. Then you have a social and economic crisis in Pakistani. Because we have one of the most corrupt governments in the region, which does nothing for the ordinary people. On top of that you have drone attacks. So are we surprised that people are getting angry? What surprises me is that more people are not going in this direction.

Fawaz Gerges:

It really is.

Tariq Ali:

That really surprises me, which is a good thing. And we chose that Pakistanis in general are not sympathetic to religious extremism, but push them, push them, push them, and who knows what will happen.

Marwan Bishara:

In fact, elected a number of secular…

Tariq Ali:

Absolutely.

Marwan Bishara:

…leaders in Pakistan

Tariq Ali:

In every election the religious extremists have got less than 10 per cent of the vote.

Fawaz Gerges:

Absolutely. Which just tells you a great deal about the weight of social forces there.

Marwan Bishara:

Vali, you wanted to jump in.

Vali Nasr:

Well, you know, a military campaign has its own logic. In other words, for whatever reason, once you have troops on the ground in Afghanistan but not in Pakistan, there are going to be more dollars going to Afghanistan than is going to Pakistan. I mean the reality is that for every dollar of assistance that goes to Pakistan, 30 dollar goes to Afghanistan. And that's because there is actual troops on the ground. That's the way the congress works. That's the way this mentality works. Now, you know, the issue of drones is obviously an important issue in the sense of particularly politically it's a sensitive issue.

Tariq Ali:

Two thousand civilians have died.

Vali Nasr:

Well the numbers of civilians is what the Pakistani military has pretty much put out in the public. But the reality is that it has had a lot to do with downgrading al-Qaeda for instance. When we give these numbers. And, you know, in Iraq was the same. You know, there was these campaigns that, you know, special forces did. It was probably even more important in disrupting, dismantling, you know, going after them, not giving them space, etc.

Tariq Ali:

You could have warned them about that before the Americans occupied it.

Vali Nasr:

Well, but I mean, you know, when you gave a commander at some point, doesn't matter why you got here, your job

Fawaz Gerges:

Actually in Iraq, the special operation forces targeted the various resistance groups, the secular and the Baathist resistant groups, it was really the Iraqis themselves that did the great deal of damage to al-Qaeda, when the shift took place in Iraq itself.

Marwan Bishara:

And do you think they killed more than they groomed new recruits?

Fawaz Gerges:

That is the question.

Vali Nasr:

There is obviously public, what you call it, spin on this on both sides.

Marwan Bishara:

What's your spin?

Vali Nasr:

No, no, the spin is that I think it's difficult to tell. There is a lot more anger in urban cities of Pakistan than where actually the drones are hitting. I mean, journalists who sometimes go in the Fatah they say there is… Because much like Iraqis, they hate al-Qaeda.

Fawaz Gerges:

Some of them. Some of them.

Vali Nasr:

Some of them. No, they dislike al-Qaeda. But, you know, when you go to Lahore or Karachi, that's not where the drones are going. There's a lot more anger, because they see it as a violation of their borders…

Fawaz Gerges:

Absolutely. And their sovereignty.

Vali Nasr:

…and sovereignty.

Tariq Ali:

But we had this episode with Raymond Davis, killing two Pakistanis in the streets in Lahore. It's not just drones. It's a presence of American special forces now all over Pakistan, in every city there.

Vali Nasr:

Well, you know, the problem is that you have two countries who supposedly are allied in a war on terror. But they don't necessarily trust one.

Marwan Bishara:

In Pakistan and the United States.

Vali Nasr:

In Pakistan and the United States. And also you have a complicated issue of, you know, the terrorist groups, guerrilla groups, etc, which, you know, don't even the relationship with Pakistan is not as simple as the relationship of say al-Qaeda forces to Jordanian government, or to the Egyptian government. It was a very clear boundary where it stood.

Fawaz Gerges:

Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

Let's end this note, and going back to what you said earlier, Tariq. Cause it seems to me unless this thing is regionalised, there's gonna be no particular solution, not with drones and not with occupying forces. I have a feeling this needs to start by respecting people's maybe minds and sentiments as people as states. And maybe starting with the mutual respect that President Obama talked about with Pakistan. That there is a national interest for Pakistan in Afghanistan, and that there is an Indian Pakistani conflict going on within the region, and there is a serious effort needs to be done for the region, or towards the region.

Tariq Ali:

As far as India Pakistan is concerned, that's a big issue. But that can only happen by both these paths. I mean India is not a small state, it's a huge state now, and a growing state.

Marwan Bishara:

A regional power, a global power.

Tariq Ali:

Exactly. If the Indians, I have been arguing, have to take an initiative, not just with Pakistan but all the smaller states in the region, and I think what would work there would be some style of union, not which challenges the sovereignty of each country, but which opens borders, carries our trade, disarmament, that is what needs to be done. But it sounds utopian at the moment, because it is caught up in two issues. One Afghanistan, and the Indians are present there too in different ways. And second, Kashmir. These issues have to be sorted out. They haven't been sorted out. The west has basically not shown any interest in Kashmir at all, but at the moment Afghanistan is critically important. I think unless there's an exit strategy to pull out from Afghanistan, whether Osama's dead or alive is going to have nil impact at all. They have to decide to change what has been going on in Afghanistan, pull back, get out, try and create something creative and then maybe we can see some movement forward.

Marwan Bishara:

Fawaz, either has to be an escalation, or it has to be a withdrawal of some sort?

Fawaz Gerges:

Well here it's called empire. The programme here is called Empire.

Marwan Bishara:

Yes.

Fawaz Gerges:

And I think your question goes to the very heart of how empires really act and behave. And that's unfortunately, at this particular moment in history, the United States is really acting like old empires in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Relying more on military might, as opposed to a different strategy from everything we know. And this is really, I mean, just fundamental. Pakistan will not collaborate, will not co-operate in Afghanistan, unless it's strategic dues, strategic interests, are taken into account. That is, its back door that is Afghanistan and is Kashmir. Final point, we talked about the United States seizing the moment in the Arab world I hope that the exit of Osama bin Laden, the United States would seize the moment and the Pakistan Afghanistan Indian theatre and try to find a due strategic settlement.

Marwan Bishara:

Vali Nasr, yes or no. Do you think Washington is ready for that kind of a deal in Afghanistan Pakistan?

Vali Nasr:

Yes, there has always been. I mean the Secretary of State has said again that, you know, the United States will support a political settlement between the Afghan government.

Marwan Bishara:

Is it serious?

Vali Nasr:

Well of course it's serious. But, you know, the political deals as we know that end conflicts can take a long while.

Marwan Bishara:

Tariq, Fawaz and Vali, we're gonna have to wrap it up. And I will be back with a final thought.

Two events have dominated the world's news agenda over the last few days. While terribly different, both stories were covered with the same fanfare. The first is a fairytale of healing, happiness and love that transcends class and generational gaps. The latter portrayed as a drama thriller of search for justice and victory against hatred that transcends borders and religions. But if the Royal wedding was an occasion when the international media felt entitled to take time out from journalism, it seemed to abandon journalism altogether with its hyper-coverage of the US killing of Osama bin Laden. The emphasis on good vanquishing evil, light against darkness, and heroism against all odds, lacked objectivity, context, history and nuance. Media executives must have been thankful that President Obama ordered the operation to take place after the wedding, because I wonder what their priority would have been otherwise.

Well that's the way it goes. Write to us with your suggestions and visit our website. Until the next time.

Source: Al Jazeera