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Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

By Manzoor Ahmed

 It is not just Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden who has been “pushed deep underground” — relative peace as the world had known from terrorism prior to 9/11

has itself been pushed underground.  

 That relative peace may never return, going by the trend of the last nine years since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 shook then world and has it in turmoil.

 Nine years after the 9/11 attacks, President Barack Obama, trying to undo much that his predecessor, George W. Bush, initiated as a response to those attacks, said the US has “forced Osama bin Laden deep underground”, but Americans will face an expanded terror threat for years to come from other al-Qaeda extremists “willing to die to kill other people.”

 His government is no less determined to kill or capture the 9/11 architect, he said. But Americans must remember the fight is with al-Qaeda terrorists, not the much wider world of people of Muslim faith.

 By coincidence, 9/11’s anniversary fell on the day Muslims across the world were celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of the holy Ramzaan (or Ramadan) month   

 On the eve of the anniversary, a day magnified by heightened tensions over a planned mosque near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor’s threat to burn Quran, Obama sought to reinforce religious tolerance.

 “We are not at war against Islam. We’re at war against terrorist organisations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.”

 That the threat from terrorists is very real was underscored in a report issued by a group led by the two former 9/11 Commission chairmen that said the terror threat “has become more complex, as al-Qaeda and an array of affiliates and allies in countries like Yemen and Somalia take on a broader strategy.”

 Clearly, nine years after the Sep 11, 2001 terror attacks, the US is looking at the terrorism issue differently, with experts saying that the biggest threat to the country comes not from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, or from the Middle East, but from home-grown terrorists.

 The 42-page analysis by the non-partisan National Security Preparedness Group, warns of the growing threat of home grown terrorism and the role played by US citizens and residents within Al Qaeda and allied organizations.

 Headed by former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton and former Republican New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, the panel describes an increasingly wide range of “US-based jihadist militants” who do not fit “any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile.”

 “A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that US citizens and residents have played in the leadership of Al Qaeda and aligned groups,” said the report by the two experts, who also headed the 9/11 commission.

 “In many ways, trying to catch home grown terrorists is more complicated – the suspect is no longer a poor kid from Pakistan who has come to the US to attack. Now he (or even she) could be an MBA from Connecticut or a college student from Minneapolis,” the panel said

 The Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was a young American of Pakistani descent with an MBA, it noted.

 “This level of threat is likely to persist for years to come,” it said.

 The report makes the case that part of the reason the group’s reach is diminished is because its core leadership is under siege.

 Counter-terrorism officials concur that the core al-Qaeda leadership – believed to be in hiding in Pakistan along the mountainous border – has been hurt and degraded over the past nine years, and has been struggling for funding.

 Conceding that efforts to capture or kill bin Laden have so far failed, Obama said that al-Qaeda leaders are “holed up” in a way that has made it difficult for the group to operate.

 This, very candid admission by Obama is what he has said before in different words – with little effect on the Pakistani leadership.

 Obama was only repeating what he himself has said and what his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton recently said while in Islamabad.

 Each time the US has officially made the charge, the rulers in Pakistan, be it former president Pervez Musharraf or the present prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, have resorted to pro-forma denials.

 The matter rests there, so far as the public discourse is concerned. In the meanwhile, the US leads the effort to molly-coddle Pakistan by funding its plans and refurbishing its military might in the name of “fighting terrorism.”

 What is in store for India, that continues to be a direct victim of terrorism, long before and long after 9/11 happened?

 There is little respite for India since the failing state of Pakistan continues to promote terrorism even as it cries hoarse about being its victim.  

 Pakistan’s ISI has targeted groups in India, funding and arming them to carry out its proxy war, and at the same time, getting its proxies in Afghanistan to attack Indian interests, including, on two occasions, the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

 There hasn’t been any major terrorist attack after the Mumbai massacre of Nov 26, 2008, except the German Bakery blast in Pune last February that shattered the peace of more than a year.

 This relative calm could be for different reasons. One, the ISI is too preoccupied with its domestic Taliban that have targeted it, including its headquarters.

 Two, the terrorist groups based in Pakistan, which Islamabad likes to describe as “non-state actors”, are unable to penetrate the more effective security cordon put in place by India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

 Three, Washington’s warnings to Pakistan after the Mumbai attack, delivered personally by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, may have had a deterrent effect.

 While these are, at the best surmises, what needs to be noted is that the jehadis are reassessing their tactics and waiting for more conducive times to strike.

 They have switched from setting off bombs in trains and market places to launching a frontal assault on India’s financial capital.

 There is little doubt that the sponsors of terror in Pakistan are still around and perhaps planning their next move.

 While the terrorists targeting the US or Europe are mostly on their own, especially the Al Qaeda, the India-centric jehadis like the Lashkar-e-Toyaba seem to have the direct backing of ISI and the Pakistan Army.

 This support is provided not by rogue elements in these two outfits, but has an institutional basis. As much is clear from the belief that Pakistan regards some of these terror groups, such as the one linked with the Haqqanis, as its “strategic assets”.

 The bottom line is two-folds.

 The Obama administration, while displaying the will to fight terrorism and capture Osama bin Laden, has been burnt by its home-grown terrorism. And Obama has just conceded that there is a limit to which it can penetrate Pakistani territory to get Osama and his deputy, Ayman el-Jawhari.

 American, as of now, is unwilling to cross that limit.

 The other conclusion, both unpleasant and alarming, is that the writ of the civilian set up in Pakistan that the world is keen to boost in the name of democracy, does not run in many areas: the Pakistan Army and its ISI, the nuclear policy, the policy towards India particularly in Kashmir and finally, in its own tribal areas.

 Pakistan‘s civilian leaders are either unable or unwilling to prevent the army-ISI-jehadi nexus so far as India is concerned. Either way, it is bad news for India.

 That being the case, since the “Ground Zero” of global terrorism will continue to remain active, America too is not going to be finding it easy to fight terrorism, leave alone capturing Osama bin Laden. (ends)  



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