My Outlook op-ed on May 09
The death of Osama Bin Ladin has been making the titles of opinion pages in the Af-Pak region where it matters the most. In Afghanistan, there are different perspectives. Optimists of the Taliban talks say Osama’s death will help the negotiations process. Such views are shared both among some Afghan and the US officials and Western think-tank pundits. References are made about personal ties of Osama with Taliban leadership. They say it was Osama whom Mullah Omar refused to hand over to the US, not Al-Qaeda fighters, making the conclusion that with his death, Taliban leadership feel easier to cut ties. The top US commander in Afghanistan General Petraeus also says “the deal between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida was between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, not the organizations.”
The common myth is that Taliban is a national movement for local control in Afghanistan, not with global aims. But the fact is that, Taliban have never fought for power or rule, otherwise they would have easily handed over bin Laden to the US and saved their rule in 2001. The driving force for their fighters and leadership is the Salafi Jihadi ideology. And there is no local or global difference of goals in such Jihad. It all depends on Taliban’s capability. If they have the means and resources to reach and carry out a major attack in the West, elements of Taliban will certainly do.
In reaction to Osama’s death, the most authentic Afghan insurgent group, Taliban’s so-called Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Omar, in a statement said, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan extends its deep condolence to the family of the martyr, to his follower and to fighter Mujahideen of the way of Truth and to the Islamic Ummah [nation] on this occasion of the great tragedy.” In the official statement Taliban said, “Sheikh Osama bin Laden was the ardent advocate of the legitimate cause of the occupied Palestine. He was an indefatigable fighter against the Christian and Jewish aggressions in the Islamic World.”
Groups of frontline Taliban fighters have vowed to avenge Osama’s death. According to Reuters, in a video message Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan have said Osama’s death is a motivation to continue Jihad. “We will continue with our Jihad and sacrifice against infidels until the judgment day and we will avenge our martyrs.” Another field commander Dawran Safi has said “we created special units for avenging the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. We will avenge him and follow in his footsteps.”
If Taliban had no operational, tactical and strategic links, they would not be able to launch the regrouping after 2004 and an intensifying insurgency since 2006, which was only possible with Al-Qaeda’s support. The other day, Afghan intelligence, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spokesman while addressing a press conference in Kabul said Osama was an important player behind the intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan.
NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal was saying Osama’s death is a success in this war, and “Afghans feel safe now after Osama’s death.” Hours after this statement, Kandahar was terrorized by groups of Taliban suicide bombers, who besieged the city for more than two-days, in revenge for Osama’s death, panicking the Afghan security forces who despite the help of foreign troops, were unable to control the situation.
The fact is that Osama was not playing it all alone. He was hiding in a house for the past six years, sending messages only through couriers. The ground commanders of the movement are more crucial than Osama himself. How could bin Laden alone make all the financial support and Jihadi fund raising for Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Middle East, while hiding in a compound in Pakistan, communicating through people-couriers? Indeed he was an inspirational icon and manager, but the actors are more crucial. Al-Qaeda was not all in the person of Osama Bin Laden that will evaporate in the air after his death.
The US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was saying Osama’s death could be a “game-changer” in Afghanistan. I don’t believe Osama’s death will make any difference to the situation in Afghanistan. There are far more evil Al-Qaeda leaders for his succession. More dangerously, local Af-Pak militants are now in the top cadre of the organization. Osama’s hideout in Pakistan for the last six years has brought non-Arabs in the leadership of Al-Qaeda. After the influx of their fighters and leadership in the safe havens of Pakistan’s tribal areas in 2001, they built deep ties with militant outfits having regional goals. Af-Pak guerilla commanders are now among the leaders of Al-Qaeda. The organization has also given rise to Al-Qaedism. There are half-a-dozen local militant sectarian and Kashmir-oriented groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, 313 Brigade who were with local goals previously, but now operating on international level as evil as Al-Qaeda.
Taliban groups in the safe havens of Waziristan are linked with Al-Qaeda. A single example is the group of Maulvi Nazir, Taliban commander in Waziristan who is behind insurgency in Afghan provinces of Paktika, Zabul and Helmand. In a recent interview to Asia Times Online, he said “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same.” The US and NATO is now looking for talks with Taliban, who have the same view what Maulvi Nazir says.
The Haqqani Network, who are behind insurgency in Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces, has grown stronger links with Al-Qaeda during the last years. Many Kashmir Jihadi commanders have come close and affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The funeral prayers for Osama in Pakistani cities were called by Jamaat-u-Dawa, the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was behind the Mumbai terror attacks. It has been with the help of such local militant groups that Osama bin Laden was able to hide in a compound next to Pakistan’s military academy in Abbottabad 60 miles away from capital Islamabad. Such Kashmir-centric militant outfits are now affiliates of Al-Qaeda, with clear global agendas. Veteran reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad says, “Al-Qaeda had restructured its organization as a parent body of local Jihadi organizations world over. They called those local Jihad youths as Ibnul Balad son of the soil.”
It has been years that local Af-Pak militants are in the top command of Al-Qaeda. One example is a former Kashmiri Jihadi, Ilyas Kashmiri who heads Al-Qaeda’s global military operations. He is considered one of the most dangerous militant commanders in the world. After joining Al-Qaeda in 2005, he was behind regrouping of Taliban and redefined insurgency in Afghanistan by his military expertise of the guerilla warfare. He taught the insurgents with special operations tactics targeting foreign troops, bases and Afghan security compounds and with particular focus on cutting NATO supply lines.
Osama’s death is a blow to Al-Qaeda for organizational reasons, but it won’t affect their operations, and certainly not a game-changer in Afghanistan.