Saturday, 18 January 2020

Laden And Ladenism

Updated: May 21, 2011 11:18 am

Osama bin Laden has been killed by the Americans, though many Pakistanis and Arabs do not believe so in the absence of such “hard evidence” as displaying his dead body or the burying ritual. One can understand the denial, coming as it does from the people for whom Laden was a hero. But that should not distract one from demystifying Laden and Ladenism. Who was Laden? There are some merits in the argument that the Frankenstein monster was in a way a creation of the Americans in their fight against the Russians in Afghanistan in 1980s. As we Indians know, our Gods always gave boons to “Asuras”, who, once empowered, attacked their benefactors. We have seen how the late Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi created and trained the likes of Bhindranwales and Prabhakarans and subsequently paid heavy price for it. We Indians, thus, should understand better the pains and anguish of the United States that Laden took away the precious lives of 3000 Americans in that horrible afternoon of September 11, 2001 at New York.

                The question is whether nations and leaders learn lessons and avoid the past mistakes. I am not so sure, because short-term imperatives, rather than long-term goals, often guide their decisions. Take the case of the United States. While adding to the aura of the likes of Laden in the 1980s in Afghanistan, it considered Pakistan to be an indispensable ally and funded Pakistan’s economy and military generously by overlooking the US law that demanded that any country pursuing a nuclear path was not eligible for receiving American aid. In fact, as it has been revealed now, it is with the American money that Pakistan bought and built its nuclear empire and in the process China benefited considerably.

                The Americans promoted the second myth soon after 9/11 that Pakistan would be one of their greatest allies in fight against Laden’s “global terror”. Since then it has given Pakistan as much as 20 billion dollars as the price for using the Pakistani soil to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was never deterred in pursuing such a policy despite the well-established facts that one can never win the fight against terror unless Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world for its active links with the world’s dreaded terrorists, Laden included, is defeated first. The death of Laden underscored this fact and that of Pakistan’s reliability as an ally like never before. Laden was not hiding in a cave somewhere, as Pakistani Army was making us believe, near the Afghan border. He was living luxuriously in the cantonment town of Abbottabad, that too, in the shadow of Pakistan’s premier army academy. Obviously, Laden could not have built his palace without the permission of the Cantonment Board, which, in turn, is chaired by the local military commander. Abbottabad, incidentally, is also the regimental centres of the Baluch and Frontier regiments and just 56 km away from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

                It is equally worth noting that other terrorist leaders captured in Pakistan since 9/11—including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s third in command, Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief, Yasser Jazeeri, Abu Faraj Farj and Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the coordinators of 9/11—were also found living in cities across Pakistan. None of them were in jungles and hills, or for that matter in Afghanistan. What all this underscores is that Laden and all his colleagues have always received the major protection from elements of the Pakistani security establishment to help them elude the US dragnet as long as possible. And there lies the third myth that needs to be exploded.

                It is often argued that there are only some rogue elements in the Pakistani establishment which support Laden and the Taliban, or for that matter, Islamic fundamentalism as such. Laden’s fortress in Abbottabad should dispel that notion. Let us have no illusion. The inescapable truth is that terrorism as an instrument of Pakistan’s strategic policy has the official approval. Last fortnight, one of former ISI Chiefs, Lt. General Asad Durrani wrote, “Terrorism is a technique of war, and therefore, an instrument of policy.” He asserted that it had been certainly Pakistan’s policy in pursuit of the country’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan and India.

                In fact, it does not require one to be a political scientist to understand that in the name of terrorism, Pakistan has been milking the American cow for years. If terrorism is eliminated, Pakistan’s very economic survival as a nation will be in jeopardy. The Pakistani strategy, therefore, has been to keep the terrorists alive and strong so that in the name of fighting them the country would get Western help in general and that from the United States in particular. And, as has been pointed out by an astute observer, all the Pakistani elites share this “strategy of duplicity” in some form or the other. Pakistan’s generals, judges, politicians, and bureaucrats have constructed two separate and equally effective narratives. To the West, they sell the bin Laden version of Pakistan: a fanatical nation, full of restless natives armed to the teeth with hatred and—if the West wasn’t careful—nukes. To ordinary Pakistanis, they sell the “Ugly American” version of the rest of the world: a big bad Uncle Sam and friends who were always burning Korans, knighting Salman Rushdies, and violating the Land of the Pure (the literal meaning of “Pakistan”).

                No wonder why despite providing $20 billion to Pakistan in counter-terrorism aid since 9/11, the US has received grudging assistance, at best, and duplicitous cooperation, at worst. Today, amid a rising tide of anti-Americanism, US policy on Pakistan is rapidly unraveling. Yet Pakistan has become more dependent than ever on US aid. In an internal document written a few years ago Bruce Riedel, a former CIA agent and advisor to several US Presidents, referred to Pakistan as “the most dangerous country in the world”. The magazine Newsweek then quoted Riedel in the title of a cover story. Riedel still stands by his assessment today. Pakistan, he writes, is a country where “every nightmare of the 21st century—terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the danger of nuclear war, dictatorship, poverty and drugs—come together in one place”. In addition, Riedel points out, the country is critical to the survival and development of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrates yet again.

                Now, let us deal with another huge myth that now that Osama is gone and democratic revolutions are about to sweep across the Arab world, there will be no more haunting of the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism. Nothing can be more perverse than this. Laden might have gone, but Ladenism still remains a potent force everywhere, including India, particularly the way Laden’s supporters (some of them in the Congress, India’s ruling party) are openly weeping and cursing the Americans.

                While he was alive, bin Laden retained tremendous symbolic power, some of it by dint of the US focus on and failure to find him, and some because of his operational power over the al-Qaeda base in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands. But worldwide, al-Qaeda is more decentralised, a loose global network of franchises and other terrorist groups for whom bin Laden served as a primarily symbolic head. Now, in addition to bin Laden’s well-known deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a number of other senior commanders have been in the organisation long enough to command similar respect and credibility. The organisation will still be able to funnel through young recruits by the hundreds or thousands all over, particularly in the Arab world, South Asia and South East Asia.

                In fact, Osama had chalked out a syllabus for franchises and let them execute this syllabus independently. The al-Qaeda sleeper cells have been established in the US and Europe, as terrorist attacks in the UK and Spain, and arrests in Germany last week have proved. One has heard of the al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). But there are plenty of others. This global franchise model means that it will be difficult if not impossible to ever say that al-Qaeda or terrorism is eradicated.

                We saw the other day how openly the Lashkar-e-Taiba staged an impressive rally in Lahore in memory of Laden. And most important, we have the Pakistani establishment which will always keep Ladenism live and kicking for its sheer survival.

By Prakash Nanda

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