With bin Laden alive, many believed that America was unsafe. Does bin Laden’s elimination mean we can now relax, start carrying water bottles in the aircrafts, and get rid of all the safety measures? Does it bring an end to terrorism? There are no guarantees that death of bin Laden will result in cessation of terrorist attacks against America and elsewhere.
Though bin Laden is dead, and Al Qaeda deprived of its superstar and major brand symbol, the regional conflicts that allowed the exporters of terrorism to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan have not yet been resolved. Unless these conflicts are resolved, the area will continue to have destabilizing influence in South Asia and to the rest of the world.
Therefore, the death of bin Laden is only symbolic in the broad efforts to curb terrorism.
It has been an open secret that Pakistani military has trained, financed, and provided protection to jihadi fighters since the CIA-led Mujahidin war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan’s involvement in exploiting Islam and jihadi warriors goes way back. Pakistan, in its conflict with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir, and with Afghanistan over disputed Durand Line, has employed the rhetoric of Islam and trained jihadi fighters for decades. Since Pakistan is militarily weaker and has failed to win Kashmir despite fighting three major wars against India, resorting to terrorism has been its preferred strategy. The Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were considered important tools by the Pakistani military to win Kashmir and plant a favorable regime in Afghanistan. As a result, these outfits received covert and overt protection, support, and training by the ISI, Pakistan’s CIA equivalent. The reality is that the current conflict in Afghanistan is an extension of the conflict in Kashmir in which the United States became entangled. Without Pakistan providing sanctuary to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the attacks on Twin Towers would not have occurred.
With Al Qaeda weakened by relentless attacks by the United States and diminished support from greater Muslim populations, Pakistani military has no use for Al Qaeda anymore. The Arab spring has proven convincingly that Muslim populations in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere clamor for democracy and not Al Qaeda’s puritanical, intolerant form of Salafi Islam. The revolutions we have seen in the Arab world over the past four months clearly indicate that Al Qaida is politically dead. Therefore it is easy for Pakistan to let go of bin Laden whom it had been protecting for years. Betraying bin Laden simply helps Pakistan to focus on its true missions—victories in Kashmir and Afghanistan—and may also facilitate an early withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Pakistan hates U.S. presence in Afghanistan as it prevents the Taliban from overthrowing Karzai regime. The Taliban, with its trained and fanatic cadres, is considered an “asset,” a hedge against the day when the US and NATO leave; and Al Qaeda, with its fragmentary and weakened state, is of limited to no use to Pakistan anymore.
Despite suffering devastating attacks in its territory, a clear sign of blowback, by the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan continues to consider India as its enemy number one. The Kashmir problem is still unresolved; Afghanistan has a government more favorable to India; and, Pakistani military feels encircled by governments it considers existential enemies. In short, all the reasons why Pakistan supports and protects the terrorists still exist. The death of bin Laden, therefore, does not directly translate to an end to terrorism.
Unless Pakistan feels secure in its relationship with India, unless the status of Kashmir is resolved, and unless the aspirations of the Pashtun population across the Durand Line are satisfied, conflict in South Asia will continue. Pakistan will continue to support the Taliban and other Jihadi groups to destabilize Afghanistan, and by proxy, India. The disaffected would continue to use terrorism, as a conventional war is not winnable. The only way to bring peace to the region and end the ruinous war in Afghanistan is through American diplomatic initiative that brings India and Pakistan together to end their rivalry.
Killing of bin Laden will not resolve the conflict between India and Pakistan. Only a solution to Kashmir conflict would remove the source of terrorism in South Asia.
Sunil Dutta, Ph.D., is currently working on his Homeland Security program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, Naval Postgraduate College. The opinions are solely his own and do not represent the CHDS.