Except in the Pakistan-Afghanistan salient which has long been considered to be the cradle of Islamist fundamentalism the death by surgical strike by US Navy SEALs of the charismatic Osama bin Laden has produced but sporadic demonstrations and slogan shouting. Inside Pakistan the strike against the Frontier Constabulary training centre was horrendous even by Al Qaeda standards.
This was followed up by other acts of terrorism, the most dramatic one being the attack on the Naval base at Karachi on 22/23 May where the militants were successful in destroying two surveillance aircraft and killing 10 security personnel. More such strikes can be expected in this region but whether these will have a ripple effect over the rest of the Muslim world is too early to tell. One thing is clear, the upheavals in the oligarchies of North Africa and Middle East have not shown signs of being dominated by Islamist tendencies of the Osama kind. Having said that the role and responsibility of the Pakistan army in being unable to protect its mentor and its own establishments could well invite more reprisals in the near future.
While Osama bin Laden has been engaged in “jihad” since he was 22 years old, he came into the limelight only after the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, were reduced to rubble on 9/11 by Al Qaeda militants, ostensibly at his behest. Since then Osama got labelled as the most wanted terrorist in the world and the United States of America spent 10 long years and countless billions of dollars to hunt him down.
During this period, Osama bin Laden acquired for himself a fearsome reputation of being an evil genius and an astute strategist capable of masterminding the most diabolical plots to create terror anywhere in the world. His ire was basically directed at the USA and the rest of the Western world . Euphemistically he called his fight against the Western world jihad. India was also in his cross-hairs and he was actively contemplating unleashing his “Mujahideen” or holy warriors on India, however, thankfully this did not come to pass because of the immense and constant pressure exerted on him by the USA and their allies post 9/11.
Profiles of bin Laden
Until his death at the hands of the SEALs of the US Navy on 01 /02 May 2011, he had a larger than life image of being a person in complete control of himself and his evil empire. However, as per Munir Ahmed and Sebastian Abbot of Associated Press, Pakistan’s military paints a far different picture than the United States of Osama bin Laden’s final days: not the terror mastermind still trying to strike America, but an aging terrorist hiding in barren rooms, short of money and struggling to maintain his grip on Al Qaeda. Disputes over money between him and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, led the group to split into two factions five or six years ago, with the larger faction being controlled by Al-Zawahiri. The Pakistani military officers who gave this information on conditions of anonymity, did not provide the source of their information. The Americans however, paint a different picture of him. According to them, from the videos purportedly captured by them from bin Laden’s hideout, it appears as if he was a narcissistic man who used to dye his beard in order to project a youthful image on the various videos. He was also unsure of himself in that he used to rehearse his speeches in which he often flubbed his lines. That notwithstanding, he was in the process of finalising a plan to attack the American rail system. If some of what the Pakistanis claim is true, then it is fair to assume that perhaps bin Laden was losing his hold over Al Qaeda. On the other hand, if we were to go by what the Americans have stated, then the conclusion is that he was very much in control of the situation.
Whatever was the truth, it is of no consequence now as Osama is dead. “The King is dead”, is it “Long Live the King”? To answer this question, we need to take a look at the manner in which the Al Qaeda network and the terrorist organisations associated with it take this news, their capabilities and weaknesses and as to whether or not any of them is likely to retaliate. Of equal importance will be the issue of who succeeds him and the psyche of his successor and the reaction of the Islamic world to the news of his death.
Al Qaeda, Arabic for “the Base,” was founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s, with the express aim of ridding Muslim countries of what he called the profane influence of the West and replacing their governments with fundamentalist Islamic regimes. From its humble origins in the late eighties, Al Qaeda has grown phenomenally. Its popularity peaked post 9/11 when it succeeded in taking by surprise the sole super power of the world and humbling it by the devastating strike on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A question often asked is how big is the Al Qaeda? An exact answer to that is difficult to give as the Al Qaeda is decentralised. Estimates range from several hundred to several thousand members. The so called victory of 9/11 boosted the image of the Al Qaeda in the eyes of other terrorist organisations, which got attracted to it like iron filings to a magnet. These terrorist organisations are widely dispersed, spreading from North Africa to South East Asia and include the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asian Republics. A quick assessment of terrorist organisations connected to or associated with the Al Qaeda, their strengths and weaknesses and their possible reaction to the assassination of bin Laden will be in order at this stage as it will give us an insight as to whether such organisations are motivated enough to plot revenge for bin Laden’s death and if so will they do it in conjunction with Al Qaeda or at their own accord. Lastly, it may even give us an insight into who will give strategic direction to this organisation in the future.