The ‘war on terror’ in the post-Bin Laden era

By Mahmood Monshipouri:

Nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, the United States has finally killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the hope of winning the so-called “war on terror”.

But closing this chapter on terrorism has raised a myriad of questions about the most effective ways to deal with looming problems ahead. What will the Obama administration make of this event? Will it intensify its military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or will it reduce that presence in the wake of Bin Laden’s killing? How will the complex U.S.-Pakistan relations proceed from here? Is Pakistan a sanctuary for terrorists and their network affiliates? Is the Obama administration determined to avoid any rupture in relations that could endanger the counterterrorism network that it has so painstakingly constructed in Pakistan over the last few years? There can be no doubt that the killing of Bin Laden is a major setback for Al-Qaeda. This transnational, decentralized, and ideological terrorist network, however, is likely to continue striking Western targets in the future. While Bin Laden and his terror network provided the much needed alibi for the Bush administration to launch its costly and counterproductive military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq—wars from which Al-Qaeda and its leaders benefited immensely by recruiting their foot soldiers — his demise could and should open a new dialogue about the way forward.

Perhaps the most crucial question relates to the extent to which Pakistan has been a sanctuary for members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. If Pakistan’s involvement has been extensive, then the center of gravity of terrorism has clearly shifted away from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has given $10 billion worth of military aid to Pakistan. The fact that Osama bin Laden lived in a compound near a well-known military academy, not too far from Islamabad, has raised questions about whether the Pakistani army or intelligence is incompetent or under a more sinister assessment whether they have been in cahoots with the terrorists. Both the Pakistani army and intelligence officials deny any knowledge of Bin Laden’s location — a claim impossible to verify or repudiate at the moment. Given the multiple centers of power in Pakistan and the complexity of Pakistani politics, U.S.-Pakistan relations remain strained. What accounts for the problematic nature of these relations is the schizophrenic frame of mind in which they treat each other: There is no trust between them, and yet they cannot abandon each other. Pakistan needs cash and arms from the United States, and Washington needs Islamabad’s assistance in bringing about some modicum of stability to Afghanistan by creating a reconciliation of sorts with the Taliban. It is worth noting that the recent Arab revolts in North Africa and the Middle East have already undermined Al-Qaeda’s narrative of violent change. To restore their sense of lost dignity, the vast majority of the people in the Middle East have chosen the counter-narrative of peaceful democratic change, as evidenced by the 2011 uprisings. Victory in the so-called “war on terror” will be only attainable if the United States and the rest of the Western world support pro-democracy movements and uprisings in the region, rather than supporting despotic regimes under the rubric of “stability” and “security.” Support for corrupt, autocratic, and oppressive regimes in the name of the “war on terror” will almost always foster more and more extremism, forcing the American people to bear hefty costs of fighting ongoing wars. Addressing the political and economic grievances of the people in the region is the most effective tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Let us not get confused in the fog surrounding the killing of the leader of a terrorist organization, whose narrative has already collapsed into irrelevance.

Mahmood Monshipouri is professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University. He is working at a book entitled Terrorism, Security, and Human Rights (forthcoming)

Originally from Tehran Times, Iran

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