What the end of bin Laden means

When President Barack Obama announced the death of bin Laden in an address from the White House, he was correct in cautioning that this did not mean the end of al-Qaeda. Over the decade since 9/11, the network has expanded, spread, morphed, and broken off into what have come to be known as “al Qaeda franchises” round the world. These franchises have shown their ability to plan and carry out attacks in their area of operation independently of bin Laden. Only last year, a plot to carry out a bombing in the United States with explosives packed in couriered parcels was uncovered in the nick of time; the plot was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AIQM). Last month al-Qaeda warned it would unleash “a nuclear hell storm” in Europe, giving rise to fears that it might have a nuclear bomb. Much, however, depends on how Washington conducts itself from this point onwards. For starters, President Obama needs to rethink the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan certainly has some soul-searching to do. Its political leaders and officials always rejected suspicions that the al-Qaeda leader was holed up in their country. It is deeply troubling that the 54-year-old bin Laden, for whom the U.S. had announced a bounty of $50 million, had made a home not in some remote inaccessible corner of Pakistan, but in one of its most pleasant cities, close to the capital, in a house that was so big it could not have escaped notice. That it was located less than a kilometre from the Kakul Military Academy is even more troubling. Is it believable that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies did not know about the presence of the world’s most wanted terrorist?

While much blame can be apportioned to the way the U.S. has conducted itself in the region, for Pakistan the killing of bin Laden on its soil is a moment of truth, somewhat similar to the discovery that the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks were launched from its territory, only much bigger in its implications. In India, which has tried to overcome the public’s hostility towards Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks through a series of peace moves under the personal initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it will certainly be hoped that the death of bin Laden strengthens the hands of those forces in Pakistan who want their state to shut the door on militancy, extremism, and terrorism once and for all.

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