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Bin Laden's killing will hasten US withdrawal from Afghanistan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The military operations carried out by the US and its allies against Al Qaeda following the September 11 attacks caused the Al Qaeda organization to turn its attentions to the ideological scene, radicalizing the Muslim youth and urging them to carry out terrorist operations against the West. Osama Bin Laden was vital for Al Qaeda, and it will therefore be difficult for anybody to replace him. In addition to this, Arab [mujahedeen] are no longer wanted in Pakistan, or by the Taliban; they now represent a burden, being the reason that the Taliban lost power [in Afghanistan], as well as the cause behind Pakistani becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. In addition to this, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who some believe is in hiding in Karachi, is now being strongly pursued by the Pakistani authorities in order to refute the accusations that they are harboring and protecting terrorists.

What is certain is that many jihadists, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, can and will continue to carry out operations at any given opportunity. The threat is ongoing and widespread, whilst all international security agencies unanimously agree that Osama Bin Laden did not directly order many terrorist attacks whilst he was alive [following 9/11]. In other words, attacks may take place as a response to the killing of Bin Laden, but these attacks would nevertheless most likely have occurred even if Bin Laden remained alive. In addition to this, the major figures within Al Qaeda will continue to be pursued, so as not to give them the opportunity to recover or replace their lost ranks, whilst Bin Laden’s death has also caused great change, on the political level, with huge attention now being paid to Pakistan. Under such circumstance, ordinary Pakistanis are not too concerned about Bin Laden, although the general feeling in the country is strongly opposed to US military operations taking place on sovereign Pakistani soil.

All the talk now is about relations between the US and Pakistan; these two countries that desperately need one other.

Pakistan has strongly defended itself against US accusations that it was aware that Bin

Laden was hiding out in Abbottabad. Pakistan has stressed, and this is true to some extent, that it has cooperated with the US intelligence services, and they previously arrested one of the Bali bombers, Umer Patel, in this same area [where Bin Laden was hiding out] in January. Islamabad also claims to have given the US the telephone number they believed was being used by Bin Laden’s courier, owing to America’s more advanced technology.

What worries Islamabad now is the dangerous precedent that the US has set by killing Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, something that has caused the Pakistani officials to be on the defensive.

The confusion that the Pakistani officials felt upon awaking to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a location close to Islamabad, prompted Pakistani political opposition figure Imran Khan to say “not even Bin Laden can feel safe in Pakistan.”

The killing of Bin Laden will lead to a change in the political landscape of Central Asia and India. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir warned the US, and other countries, against carrying out any similar operation to the Abbottabad raid. Pakistan’s major obsession, in all of its actions and relations, remains India, and the US raid on Abbottabad has potentially opened the door for India carry out similar operations on Pakistani soil which target their interests.

New Delhi’s hints in this regard have drawn the ire of the Pakistanis, who have stressed, in the strongest possible terms, that they will defend their national sovereignty, and will not accept any Indian threats [in this regard]. Islamabad has also said that they will be raising their concerns with the US, as they are well aware that Washington needs Islamabad with regards to arranging its strategic withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the other hand, Washington is similarly aware that Islamabad needs the billions of dollars of US aid that it receives every year.

US President Barack Obama is irritable with regards to the situation in Pakistan, and has insisted that it bears the responsibility for Al Qaeda’s infiltration of the Pakistani intelligence. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though her statements, is trying to calm the situation, however the relationship between the two countries is not good, but this is nothing new. If we return to the partition era [which resulted in the secession of Bangladesh], we will see how Pakistan, even then, was looking for an external power like the US to help it against its strong neighbor India. The Pakistanis have always felt betrayed at Washington’s insistence of having good relations with both countries, something that did not comfort either Pakistan or India. In light of the recent events, and with the voices that have been raised calling for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan given that the reason for their presence there no longer exists, namely now that Bin Laden has been killed, the Pakistanis are very aware that the US has no choice but to depend upon Islamabad due to its vital intelligence ties with the Taliban, and in particular to establish a political understanding that will allow the US to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.

From another point of view, the Pakistanis are aware that the war in Afghanistan has caused them a lot of problems, causing the radicalization of internal groups who the state has been fighting for years. However in the end, Pakistan wants to cement its strategic relationship with the US, and for this reason we will see a lot of give and take and bargaining between the two states, with the Pakistanis placing a price on their cooperation in Afghanistan. The frustration being felt in some circles in Washington towards the Pakistani positions are not important, and this is why we have heard the statements calling for restraint by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs Admiral Michael Mullen, which confirm the US support for the Pakistani government, despite the lack of trust that has emerged in the past days.

The first thing that Pakistan will do, after it lost face following the Abbottabad raid, is ensure that Washington keeps Islamabad’s fears of India in mind, not progressing its relationship with New Delhi, in order not to harm America’s relations with Islamabad.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is being awaited by other countries, most importantly Russia and China. Last week, Pakistani president Ali Asif Zardari began a three-day visit of Moscow, at the invitation of Russia Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The timing of this visit confirms Moscow’s appreciation of the role that Pakistan is playing in Afghanistan, and that in the event of US – Pakistani relations becoming strained, Russia is ready to submit Pakistan to membership of the “Shanghai Cooperation Organization” at the forthcoming summit in June. In addition to this, Russia is concerned by the expected security repercussions [of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan] for the central Asia region, and it recently negotiated the deployment of 3,000 Russian border guards to Tajikistan, and they will be stationed across the Russian – Tajik border. The fear is that the US withdrawal will lead to Islamist fighters moving into the Central Asian region, which Russia considers to be part of its interests, and so Moscow wants to ensure that this vital gas and oil producing region does not become subject to terrorist operations. This is why Moscow is changing its position towards the Taliban, for it is capable of living with an Afghanistan that has returned to the Taliban, so long as this does not include Al Qaeda.

Then there is China, which has commended Pakistan’s record in combating international terrorism, and expressed its solidarity with Islamabad following the Abbottabad raid.

The Afghan war monopolized the attention of the US, something which allowed Russia and China to reduce Washington’s influence on Central Asia and the Pacific region, whilst Moscow has also succeeded in reinstalling its influence in a number of former soviet countries.

The killing of Bin Laden, and the fast approach of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, will cause many countries to reconsider their positions, and we have not forgotten that Iran has returned to be a key player in Iraq following the US withdrawal there. The credit for this development goes to Osama Bin laden who was behind the terrorist operation that initially prompted the US to invade these Arab countries.