By Kurt Jacobsen and Sayeed Hassan Khan
Published in Dawn
HAS Obama unwittingly called his own bluff? The spooky so-called mastermind Osama Bin Laden is rubbed out, courtesy a Hollywood-style hit squad operation. What more is there to say?
Everything, actually. But nervous authorities want to curb jubilation so as not to give the exasperated American public any funny ideas about pulling their stupendously expensive military apparatus out of battered Afghanistan.
Many American tycoons are profiting from these perpetual small wars and, with those profits, calling all the shots in Washington. Yet Bin Laden was apparently out of the active terrorist equation since almost 9/11 itself, cut off from real command except for his role as a symbol for a tiny contingent of angry Arab youth. Can the troops, ‘kill squads’, drones and all please go home?
The quick answer from impervious, imperial Washington is, nothing has changed since Bush told us that everything had changed. The top brass and the arms dealers are addicted to hunting monsters largely of their own making everywhere.
That’s a pricey enterprise for a US leadership that tells its citizens that the country is broke, as if it is the citizenry’s fault and not that of the bankers, brokers and other sleazy-money magicians.
The few Americans who still swallow the official line that the US is in Afghanistan solely to destroy Bin Laden’s organisation are about to face the stark fact that the government has been lying. By poll data, at least two-thirds of Americans want to withdraw troops from Afghanistan now. The declared purpose of the ‘war on terror’ was to snuff out the reputed leader and financier of 9/11, not to crush the Taliban or install the phony democracy Afghanistan now has. George W. Bush showed remarkably little zest in ferreting out the alleged culprit — ‘alleged’ because the US could not prove anything at the time.
Here was a serenely arrogant empire doing what it pleased, gunslinger-style, to destroy an ultimately pathetic, if widely hated, figure.
According to their own ever-shifting accounts, American spokespersons found Bin Laden himself really posed no threat. Al Qaeda was a brand name anyone could adopt. So Bush probably had a point: Bin Laden really wasn’t worth fretting about anymore except as a mobilising figurehead to keep enough of the American public on the government’s side — a war for feeding vast profits into Wall Street, energy companies and other well-connected industries.
Bin Laden was doing invaluable service for American elites by staying alive. Accidentally or not, he fulfilled the dearest desires of Washington’s second-rate right-wing ideologues. Bin Laden and Bush, and their allies, played happily into each other’s hands at the cost of the rest of us. The former sensed that his arrogant enemies would pounce on the opportunity to attack Muslim lands, gut civil rights at home and bankrupt the economy. Once any ‘mission’ is set in motion, as any bureaucrat knows, a hundred additional reasons are concocted to enable it to continue beyond the stated goal.
Yet the US cannot afford to act as the world’s policeman nor even the world’s hit man. The US economy remains on its knees, or at least for 90 per cent of the citizens who find they do not count anymore. Americans reside in a class society where the rules, once somewhat fair, have been reordered to award the rulers total licence. Bin Laden was an excuse, not the reason, why the US plunged so deeply into the Middle East and South Asia.
Does Pakistan owe the US an abject apology for Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad? Must amends be made? Why exactly?
Never forget that Bin Laden surfaced during the 1980s’ Afghan war under the patronage of the US and the Saudis. Bags full of high denomination dollars were stuffed into the tattered pockets of Afghan refugees in Pakistan to lure them to serve the holy cause of expelling the Russians. Later, and not without many warnings, Bin Laden turned against his masters. During the mercifully short rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, an Islamic mini-caliphate on the model of the earliest Islam was imposed.
Scarcely anyone wants to relive that miserable experience but, foremost, Afghans now want Americans and Nato out.
Bin Laden was briefly a major figure among the Taliban but soon, for his own authoritarian reasons, had to distance himself.
Reporter Robert Fisk met him several times and noticed that Bin Laden preferred Fisk be escorted by his own Al Qaeda guards. Bin Laden clearly felt safer in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, where he was dependent on the fickle Taliban.
Now that he is beneath the waves, there is no central figure to direct the movement, although there will be groups of Muslims who will assume a franchise on Al Qaeda. The next phase will likely be an armed version of Trotskyism, one that will acquire its devotees both among the upper-class and ordinary Muslims without the remotest chance of success.
Bin Laden left no concrete or coherent legacy, except for a vague exhortation to form an Islamic caliphate. Obama never had a better chance to end the military mayhem in Afghanistan yet he looked intent on passing it up. Pakistan owes the US the most abject of apologies only if US forces depart soon. If they don’t, then Bin Laden never mattered and it will be the US that ought to be doling out apologies for all the lies its spokespersons have been telling about its motives in the region.