Commentary

The Region Reacts to News of Bin Laden's Death

Middle East In Focus

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In the age of instant communication, news of Osama Bin Laden's death spread quickly. Almost as instantaneous was the reaction from various quarters of the region. Even though there was a difference of opinion on whether Bin Laden's death was good or not, there is almost unanimous consensus on one thing: the killing of al-Qaeda's number one does not mean the end of the challenges that the United States and its allies face in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In fact, more attacks are likely, at least in the near future.

In Saudi Arabia, the death of the Saudi-born Bin Laden was welcomed by government officials. The Saudi Press Agency reported, “An official source has expressed the hope of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the elimination of the Al-Qaeda leader will be a step towards supporting international efforts to combat terrorism and to dismantle its cells, as well as the elimination of the deviant thought that stands behind it, especially as the people of the Kingdom have been among the ones most targeted by this terrorist organization through its crimes, killing of innocent people, which is forbidden by Allah, the terrorizing of innocent people, and the destabilization of security and society.”

The message coming from the Occupied Territories is less unified, even though both Hamas and Fatah have vowed to work together. According to a Reuters report on Asharq Alawsat,“Hamas condemned on Monday the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden as the assassination of an Arab holy warrior, differing sharply with the Palestinian Authority, the Islamist group's partner in a new unity deal,... Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, told reporters. In the occupied West Bank, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority welcomed the death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan of the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11 attacks,...PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.”

The fact that Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan has proven embarrassing to the Pakistani government, which is now trying its best to deflect attention away from itself. As Sunniya Pirzada suggests on Al Jazeera, “While Americans rejoice, many Pakistanis are apprehensive of the future after the al-Qaeda leader's death.” Pirzada quotes in the same article General Hameed Gul, the former head of Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence (ISI) who defends his governments’ efforts: “Pakistan has been the target of this so-called 'war on terror,' which began in Afghanistan, then was taken to Iraq and finally has come to Pakistan. 'The anti-Pakistan lobby can now say 'go for Pakistan' — they knew that they couldn't go against a nuclear Pakistan so the best way forward was to create internal problems and then ultimately come up with the stance that Pakistan’s nukes were not in safe hands.'...Ayaz Amir, a Pakistan-based columnist, says it is highly unlikely that 'the Pakistani intelligence agencies would have known where he was. They couldn’t have played this high-risk game of knowing his whereabouts and pretending otherwise.'”

In a wide-ranging interview, the Pakistani prime minister declared that Pakistan does not “allow use of its soil against terrorism.” According to the Pakistani APP,“Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Monday said Pakistan will not allow use of its soil for terrorism against any other country. While giving interviews to the French magazine Politique Internationale and a foreign news agency, the prime minister said Pakistan suffered thousands of lives of its soldiers, civilians, women and children in the fight against terrorism....Gilani said it was an embarrassment for the whole world that Osama could not be captured earlier despite the latest technology....The prime minister said ties between Pakistan and the U.S. are not hostage to a single incident, and they have to move forward in their bilateral relations.”

The Indian government, on the other hand, is trying to make the best of an embarrassing situation for its archrival Pakistan. It comes as no surprise that one of the government ministers expressed his disapproval of Pakistan’s continued sheltering of terrorists. According to India’s The Hindu newspaper, “[T]he killing of global terrorist Osama bin Laden was a matter of grave concern, as it proved that terrorists belonging to different groups find sanctuary in Pakistan. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a statement that perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, including the controllers and handlers of the terrorists, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan.”

The response to the news on the street has also been divided. Khaleej Times publishes a report by Reuters reporting this divided sentiment: “Those who revered him prayed the news was not true, but many in the Arab world felt the death of Osama bin Laden was long overdue. Some said the killing in Pakistan of the Saudi-born al-Qaeda founder was scarcely relevant any more, now that secular uprisings have begun toppling corrupt Arab autocrats who had resisted violent efforts to weaken their grip on power....For some in the Middle East, bin Laden has been seen as the only Muslim leader to take the fight against Western dominance to the heart of the enemy — in the form of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. On the streets of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s native land, which stripped him of his citizenship after September 11, there was a mood of disbelief and sorrow among many.”

What about the near- to medium-term consequences of the demise of al-Qaeda's number one? Ron Ben-Yishai, writing on Ynet, believes “Osama Bin Laden’s assassination carries mostly symbolic value. It will not bring an end to terror activity inspired by Global Jihad’s fanatical theology, which Bin Laden helped craft and shape in his role as al-Qaeda’s leader. The assassination will also not prevent the terror attacks that will aim to avenge the arch-terrorist’s killing. However, the United States managed to rehabilitate its global image, even if slightly so. American citizens are feeling better today, and that’s what it’s all about....Bin Laden’s assassination is no doubt a grave demoralizing blow to Global Jihad, yet fanatical, murderous Islam is still there, with or without Bin Laden. We can assume that he will be succeeded by his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who will apparently continue to issue audiotapes with ideological principles and instructions to followers via al-Jazeera.”

Haaretz's Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel also think that Bin Laden's death “is a symbolic victory for the U.S. and Obama” since, “Despite the hours of celebration in the United States, the killing of Osama bin Laden is far from being a deathblow to al-Qaida, nor will it end the activities of the myriad groups operating under the global jihad umbrella....But, and this is a big "but," his killing is nothing less than a triumph for American military deterrence. It is a symbolic victory in a war whose battlefield is public opinion and where symbolism rules supreme….Bin Laden will probably be succeeded by an operational successor. It may be Ayman al-Zawahri (unless he was wounded in the attack) and perhaps a less familiar figure. But no successor would be able to recreate the kind of aura surrounding bin Laden. But from now on, any replacement or successor will know that he is living on borrowed time.”

Marwan Bishara of Al Jazeera looks at the geopolitical implications of the Bin Laden's demise: “Certainly Washington has less reason or justification to wage a war in Afghanistan now that bin Laden is no more. It might also find more readiness among certain Taliban leaders in the absence of the thorniest issue of al-Qaeda, to make a deal that insures a power-sharing arrangement in favour of the Taliban in return for curbing the use of Afghanistan by al-Qaeda to export "terrorism." Bin Laden will continue to be a distraction for the short term, especially if some al-Qaeda groups muster revenge attacks. But, in the long term, it is the historical transformations in the Arab and Muslim world that will eventually close the book on al-Qaeda.”

Siraj Wahab, however, writing on Arab News thinks, “The al-Qaeda leader's death will not change the Afghan scenario.” Wahab cites “popular Pakistani broadcast journalist Dr. Shahid Masood,” who argues, “While the killing of Osama bin Laden in an American operation deep inside Pakistan has provided the United States with an excellent political victory, it will have no great effect on al-Qaeda’s operational capability. [Masood] also said Afghanistan's Taliban movement will not be negatively affected....Masood felt that Bin Laden’s killing would result in a huge backlash worldwide. “The lower rung or the second tier or the third tier of whatever is left of al-Qaeda will be more agitated than ever,” he said. “My sources in Pakistan tell me that there will be a violent reaction from organizations that may not necessarily be linked with al-Qaeda but do share the terror group’s ideology. It is a fact that there are many smaller groups that take their inspiration from al-Qaeda, and there is every possibility of more al-Qaeda-like groups emerging on the scene. These are the groups that may react violently to avenge Bin Laden’s death,” he said.

The editorial note of the Gulf News sends a similar message: “The killing of Bin Laden is still only one step in the fight against terror. Bin Laden has had over 20 years to build a substantial international organisation, which is all the more dangerous as it is a loose alliance of like-minded people is many countries, ready to help and cooperate whenever needed, but without one central control. This makes Al Qaida very hard to eliminate, so the fight now needs to continue as strongly as ever to root out these dangerous terrorists and expose them to their followers for the sham that they are.”

For Iranians, the death of Bin Laden means the United States no longer has a reason to remain engaged in the region. According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, “Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Monday that, with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s death, there will remain no excuse for foreigners to send troops to the region to fight terrorism. 'The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that foreign countries now have no excuse for military buildup in the region to fight terrorism,' said Mehmanparast on Monday in reaction to news on Bin Laden’s killing by U.S. troops. He said, 'We hope the event will put an end to war, bloodshed and killing of innocent people and will lead to restoration of peace and tranquility to the region.'”

Others in Iran have expressed disbelief at the news. Press TV reports, “A senior Iranian lawmaker has raised doubt about the U.S. claim that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been killed by American forces near Islamabad. 'We are not sure how accurate the announcement made by the United States is, as they have in the past claimed that Bin Laden has been killed,' head of the Parliament’s (Majlis) National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi was quoted by ISNA as saying on Monday. 'Today 47 or 48 countries have military forces in Afghanistan,' he said. 'They haven't accomplished much even if, in fact, they (the US) are telling the truth about having killed Bin Laden after ten years,' Boroujerdi concluded.”

Concerned about domestic developments, Iraqi politicians have expressed the view that “Bin Laden’s killing was expected [and] won’t have impact on Iraq’s situation.” In a statement published by the Iraqi Aswat Aliraq, “The Official Spokesman for the Iraqi Government, Ali al-Dabbagh, has said on Monday that the killing of Usama Bin-Laden had been expected, because he had been behind a lot of bloodshed, adding that his murder won’t have any impact on the security situation in Iraq. 'The end of Bin-Laden in the way that took place had been expected, because he had [caused] a lot of bloodshed, so he died in a most horrible way, as a Divine punishment; and I don’t think Iraq shall witness any impact for his murder,' Dabbagh told Aswat al-Iraq news agency. Dabbagh said: 'Bin-Laden shall be an ignored piece of paper, because there are other new leaders that [have] appeared after his generation, that are more violent and bloody than Bin-Laden, such as Zarqawi, who was killed in Iraq….’”

The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also believe that their internal politics will not be affected by Bin Laden's death. Haneen Dajani writes in the UAE daily The National, “The UAE Interior Ministry Undersecretary, Gen. Seif al Shaafar, [who] said more attacks are expected....'Terrorism will not end with the murder of bin Laden or al Zawaheri,' he said. 'Al Qaeda has built wide networks that will continue to operate.' However, the general said, authorities do not expect the UAE to be at risk because it generally has not been a target for such groups....GCC countries were safe, he added. 'We don't have these types of problems…. [GCC countries] have been merciful with everyone; they give aid to the whole world. From a humanitarian perspective everyone appreciates them.'”

 


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