Osama bin Mohammed bin Awed bin Laden is ‘now history’. Since his death on May 2, billions of words have been written about him and trillions of sound bites added to the airwaves. From Robert Fisk to Mohammad Hanif every top journalist and writer in the world is engaged in analyzing the OBL phenomenon. To borrow from Hanif Muhammad piece in The Guardian, ‘there were no celebrations. And there was no mourning. It didn’t occur to anyone to make an Obama effigy; no American flags were burnt. There were no heated debates about whether Osama was a martyr or not”. The stark truth is that there was not any reaction of consequences in the Muslim World including Pakistan over his death or the way this scion of a wealthy Saudi family projected as an iconic figure of “Muslim resurgence” was done to death. Is it disquiet or disenchantment? A difficult question to answer, I do not know if he ever rises like phoenix from his grave at the bottom of sea and create a colossal tsunami of magnitude that changes geography of the world. I don’t know if his al- Qaida born with bang dies with a whimper and he is relegated to the pages of history and forgotten.
I am not the right person to talk about al-Qaida, its programs and mission and reach. Osama and al-Qaida have not been my subjects of study and my knowledge about the whole phenomenon is almost pedestrian. However, in this column I will try to look at his death from a myopic and subjective perspective.
The most important poser that haunts my mind is that if his death will have any bearing on the resolution of the Kashmir problem and India and Pakistan relations. Truth is Kashmir has never been on the radar of OBL or his al-Qaida. There is no evidence about Osama during past twenty years having mentioned Kashmir except in a videotape telecast from Aljazeera television in 2004 and equally there have never ever been reports of al-Qaida influence or presence in Kashmir. It has been the global activities of the organization including 9/11 happenings and their impact on the South Asian region that have brought Kashmir indirectly within the ambit of the al-Qaida phenomenon.
It is not his death but place and circumstances under which he was killed that sets one thinking as what will be its impact on the South Asian region in general and resolution of the Kashmir problem in particular. The Americans troops came to the garrison town of Abbotabad unhindered as if they were driving on Washington beltway to Pentagon office. And killed number “one enemy” to their country and carried his body along without being intercepted by saber jets. The United States President did not think it worth informing beforehand his counterpart in the allied country about the operation it was conducting. He has no regrets about dwarfing his counterpart to incompetent Lilliputian.
There are scores of chinks in the USA narrative that has been building after the death of al-Qaida top leader. Every statement made during past week has left behind trails of contradictions that makes look the whole narrative a concoction. I am not joining the debate if not taking alliance partner into confidence speaks about hubris of the only superpower in the world, or trust deficit between the allies or the typical behavior of a ‘Client state’ but I am trying to make a different point if Kashmir was going to lose the primacy that it had indirectly assumed in the ‘war on terror’.
Majority in Pakistan has been looking at the USA action in Abbotabad as ‘molesting’ Pakistan’s sovereignty. The opposition calling Pakistan government to resign is not that much of a significance that many squarely blaming Pakistan army of negligence and incompetence. Minus an odd number of critiques of army in media the elite of the country overwhelmingly has been looking at the army as the most ‘efficient’ institution that has held country together at difficult critical junctures of its history. Most of the contributors to the recently published book, Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State edited by Maleeha Lodhi looked towards the army for playing a yeoman’s role in pulling out the country out of the bloody menace of terrorism that has seen thirty five thousand people killed during past ten years. Two other books Pakistan-Unique origins; Unique destiny by Javid Jabbar and Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Leven also see countries army as the only ‘efficient institution.’ The army may have many a stories in its defence to tell but the USA action has taken toll of its reputation. Ayesha Siddiqua, Defence analyst known in India and abroad for her book Military Inc, a critique of role of Pakistan army has in her article published on Sunday blamed armed forces of napping at all important junctures. To quote her: “September 6, 1966 — senior army officers in Pakistan slept as Indian troops rolled towards the Lahore border. Fast-forward and we have senior Pakistani generals apparently asleep while American SEALS launch an operation in Abbotabad. This also happened when the US fired its Tomahawk missiles in the 1990s on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This latest incident drives one lesson home: We cannot pretend to sleep peacefully at night since those whose job it is to guard us seem to be failing.” She is not alone in her criticisms of army allowing the USA molesting sovereignty of an ally -a nuclear power. Many others have been raising their voices against forces for being caught ‘napping’. The army top brass may be able to pull itself out of the crisis but it will not augur well for the region if the crisis uproots the fragile sapling of democracy that is yet to strike roots in otherwise sandy soil.
If the crisis over USA dishonoring sovereignty of Pakistan deepens and snowballs into a major crisis that further drifts apart the allies. And breaks down the partnership between the countries two engaged in fighting terrorism thus delaying peace in Afghanistan are big questions. It is equally an important question, if this breakdown tilts balance of power in the region and sees China cast into a new role – more proactive. So far China has not only remained aloof from the happenings in Afghanistan but largely immune to USA role in the war torn country. It is a very flux situation that leaves scope for no country to rejoice but has potential of pushing the region into yet another phase of uncertainty. Instead of digging at each other India, Pakistan and China should narrow down their differences, addressing issues confronting them and work towards preventing the region slipping into a dangerous crisis.
How this drifting scenario in the region is going to further perpetuate uncertainty in South Asia is yet another question that stares in the face. Many in Washington were convinced that peace in the region was connected with the resolution of the Kashmir problem. ‘Kashmir was gate to peace’ had become an important phrase in the US Afghanistan narrative. This belief in fact had gained currency during the election campaign of Barrack Obama. The 2nd November 2008 statement made by the then US presidential front-runner Barack Obama that the United States should try to resolve the Kashmir dispute, while backing American efforts to promote a better understanding between India and Pakistan had a set tone for future USA policy in the region. He had further cushioned his understanding of bringing peace in South Asia and it having Kashmir connection in his interview with MSNBC. Barack In joint article titled “From Great Gamble to Grand Bargain- Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Published in Foreign Affairs November-December 2008 Barnett R. Rubbin and Ahmed Rashid had seen path to peace in South-Asia through Kashmir. True, the K-word became louder after during 2008 but Kashmir has been a part of India-Pakistan and USA narrative. The United States has been all along distinctly visible on the centre stage in India and Pakistan relations. And it has been nudging both the countries to resolve their all disputes including that of Jammu and Kashmir. In the post 9/11, it was this nudging that was manifested in the Kashmir related CBMs after 2005 and the two countries covering a lot of distances that brought them nearer to signing an agreement on Kashmir that could have become basis for the resolution of the long standing problem.
I leave at a question. Can Washington and Islamabad afford to drift apart at this juncture?
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