Taking Stock on the Anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s Death

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

One year since the death of Osama bin Laden, regional newspapers and commentators are taking stock of the consequences for the Middle East and for the broader phenomenon of terrorism. Judging from the headlines, there are few who think that the death of al-Qaeda’s leader has dealt a mortal blow to it or its associated groups. Nor do they think that the challenge in Afghanistan has become any less daunting for the United States. Unfortunately, grumblings from Pakistan mean that the way forward might be at least as treacherous as what preceded it.

The Peninsula editorial leads with the question on everybody’s mind: “One year on, is the world really a safer place? Does the spectre of terrorism threaten us any less? The answer does not lie in a ‘yes’ or  ‘no’,  but in looking around us….The fear of Osama’s legacy lives on, from the Rockies to the Urals and from the North Sea to the Antarctic. In another continent, militia given to tribalism and links to al-Qaeda keeps killing people and spreading the fear of the gun….Though Bin Laden is dead, his spectre continues to haunt the world. World powers, busy fighting recession and economic shocks should not gloss over the fact that the fight against terrorism has to go on with the same intensity pre and post Bin Laden.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Mshari Al-Zaydi reminds readers that even the Arab Spring did not de-fang al-Qaeda: “[T]he automatic link between the agenda of armed extremist currents and the Arab Spring does not make sense. What do the young men and theorists of al-Qaeda have to do with the Arab Spring? Why would the Arab Spring be a reason for the decline of these groups? I can’t understand this arbitrary link….al-Qaeda and all those representing its ideology have other inclinations and dreams which have nothing to do with freedom and democracy. Al-Qaeda is still proceeding with its plan and course and will try and exploit all existing variables in its favor. With this in mind, there is nothing better than when a regime — any regime — loses its grip on power.”

There are those who are also critical of U.S. policy and its approach to solving the region’s problems with military action.  The Gulf Today editorial urges the U.S. “to look at roots of militancy…. More than 10 years after launching the war against Afghanistan and one year after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the U.S. is nowhere near rooting out al-Qaeda. If anything, the U.S. approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan has only created more militants who seem to have pledged to fight the U.S. to their end….there does not seem to be any reason to believe that there is any direct link between the various militant groups seeking to wage war against the U.S. and its allies. By side-stepping the reality that decades of misguided and biased policies and aggressive military approaches are behind the growing anti-sentiments in the developing world, Washington is only creating more militants.”

Adding to the less-than-triumphant chorus is David Ignatius, who suggests in an op-ed for the Daily Star that “Bin Laden is dead, but has done better than we think…. In the year since Osama bin Laden’s death, it has been a comforting thought for Westerners to say that he failed. And that’s certainly true in terms of al-Qaeda, whose scorched-earth jihad tactics alienated Muslims along with everyone else. But in terms of bin Laden’s broader goal of moving the Islamic world away from Western influence, he has done better than we might like to think….His movement is largely destroyed, but his passion for a purer and more Islamic government in the Arab world is partly succeeding. In that sense, the West shouldn’t be too quick to claim victory.”

Meanwhile, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, commentary has focused on the agreements the U.S. is trying to finalize with Islamabad and Kabul in order to consolidate the gains it has made in combating the Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaeda. Zahid Hussain reports on the Pakistani daily Dawn that “[f]urther complications have emerged after the recent coordinated attacks in Afghanistan allegedly mounted by the Haqqani…. Some U.S. intelligence officials alleged that the Pakistani military is now actively backing and arming the network….It has also given the U.S. administration an excuse for further delaying the apology for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in last November’s Salala attack. The incident and the initial reluctance of the U.S. to offer an apology has been the major cause of breakdown in relations between the two countries.”

The Khaleej Times editorial also highlights Pakistani-U.S. disagreement: “One single word is widening the breach between the two…. And that is a proposition to say: sorry. Pakistan-United States relations are at their lowest ebb. Islamabad, which demands an apology from Washington for the air strike that killed more than 24 soldiers in November last year, is refusing to resume supplies to the stranded NATO forces inside Afghanistan through its territory….The point is both the countries are at pains in striking a realistic equation when it comes to bilateralism. Moreover, when they come to engage in terms of trilateralism, and that too with Afghanistan, it is as if they are reading from a Greek chapter….The U.S. cannot be at ease by offending Pakistan, and likewise no permanent peace can be restored until and unless the Americans leave behind guarantees for a serene Southwest Asia. The early they mend the fences, the better.”

The National is also extremely critical of U.S. handling of the Pakistan relationship: “U.S. shortsighted policy only hurts its ‘ally’ Pakistan…. When the United States officially withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, it will leave behind a neighborhood that is even more unstable than it was a decade ago….For the neighbor to the south-east, however, that day cannot come soon enough. Washington has long overstayed Islamabad’s welcome, which was coerced in the first place….Pakistan’s long-term stability relies on it tackling the militants within its own border and across the Durand Line in Afghanistan. The U.S. ‘war on terror’, paradoxically but undeniably, has consistently undermined the regional stability that would truly threaten the Taliban and their allies.”

Pakistan is especially important since the prospects for U.S. progress in Afghanistan can be so tenuous. But not everybody wants a grand peace bargain between the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban. In a recent article on Afghanistan’s The Daily Outlook, the suggestion is made that “the bulk of Afghan people…oppose president Karzai’s appeasement policy towards [an] increasingly violent Taliban insurgency. They are tired of Karzai government’s inability and incapability to protect them against continued terrorist and suicide attacks carried out by the Taliban and other insurgents in the capital as well as in the provinces. One major reason for this is lack of transparency and openness in decision-making processes is that President Karzai and a close circle around him pursue their own interests.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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