The Osama phenomenon - I.A Rehman - Thursday 5th May 2011

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IT is difficult to believe that the story of Osama bin Laden has ended though his active role in it may have come to an end.
Equally clear is the fact that the circumstances of his extermination pose a new, and fairly serious, challenge to Pakistan.
The wave of jubilation across the US and Europe at Osama’s death is understandable; a large number of people had been convinced that he was mainly responsible not only for 9/11 but also for all the hardships and the erosion of their rights the hunt for him entailed.
Also understandable is the apparent disarray in the pro-Osama camp, which seems to be larger than the Pakistan Taliban, who have vowed vengeance, and the group that answered the Al-Dawah chief’s call for funeral prayers in absentia for Osama in Lahore. Before long the Osama loyalists will resume the pursuit of their leader’s dream of capturing the state of Pakistan.
They are likely to step up their attacks on important Pakistani institutions and personalities. Of this threat the authorities are to some extent aware, as indicated by their routine ‘high alert’ reports. One is not sure of their awareness of the second threat from the Osama followers, namely, a propaganda war aimed at putting the Pakistan government in the dock. The process seems to have already begun.
The controversy over the disposal of Osama’s body is unlikely to end soon. Seemingly innocent questions will be asked, such as whether throwing a corpse in the sea is allowed in Islam and whether the Islamic rites that are claimed to have been performed merited this description. The government of Pakistan will be asked to explain as to why and how the US commandos were allowed/helped to take Osama’s body, and possibly one of his sons, out of its jurisdiction.
Besides, quite a few issues have been raised about the US operation at a place not far from the Kakul Military Academy. The story that Osama’s presence in Bilal Town, near Abbottabad, was not known to any Pakistani agency and that the CIA carried out the final operation without intimation to Pakistani authorities is much too damaging to this country to be allowed currency.
Apart from questions about the breach of sovereign rights, one might ask that if Osama could live near Kakul undetected for years and US helicopters could land in Abbottabad without being challenged, similar acts could be carried out by others determined to hit Pakistan’s vital interests. In the sharply polarised state that Pakistan has become, such questions will be pounced upon by the opposition and it could harry the government without being lambasted as a friend of Al Qaeda.
Thus, pragmatism demanded adoption of an alternative version: that the Pakistani intelligence agencies had found out Osama’s hideout before the Americans did so, that they cooperated with the latter to the extent feasible, but for a variety of reasons they decided that no Pakistani should have Osama’s blood on his hands. While the president and the prime minister took this line and the ISI chief and the Foreign Office did refer to the Americans’ reliance on Pakistani intelligence reports, the official statement released by the Foreign Office on Tuesday carries a muted protest against the US decision to act unilaterally.
Further, the CIA chief has ended all confusion by confirming that Pakistan was neither consulted nor even informed about the Abbottabad raid. He has also rubbed salt in Islamabad’s wounds by declaring that Pakistan could not be trusted with his agency’s secrets. That means all the questions about the breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty and the inefficiency of its intelligence outfits have re-emerged in force.
All these questions could further divide the already fractured Pakistan society and the government should realise the hazards of allowing any prolonged controversy and speculation about the Get Osama operation. It must therefore constitute a high-level commission to probe all matters related to Osama, his hosts for a decade, their success in protecting the world’s topmost fugitive for such a long period, and the circumstances that led to his liquidation. The Osama loyalists are unlikely to accept any commission’s findings, however independently and fairly it may address the matters referred to it. But such findings could at least persuade a sizeable section of the people to stop viewing the matter emotionally.
This is not the time to undertake a detailed assessment of the Osama theory of jihad but the havoc caused by lack of clarity about his objectives is quite clear. According to the most charitable interpretation of his mission, he sought to free the Muslim communities of their oppressive and avaricious rulers by attacking their chief patron. This assumption has been belied everywhere. And, as a perceptive observer has noted, Osama’s followers have had nothing to do with the public awakening in Arab lands.
It is not impossible that history may deny the Osama brand of terrorism any nexus with a lofty undertaking and record only the colossal damage done to the world’s Muslim populations, not only in terms of loss of life, economic opportunities and political standing but also in terms of distortions in their thought processes. However, a sizeable population of Pakistan has fallen under the spell of Osama’s rhetoric and some of his defenders are quite prominent in public life. Therefore the need for a concerted effort to disabuse the youth’s minds is obvious The doctrine of terrorism attributed to Osama is the by-product of an apparently heretical movement, an irrational interpretation of Islam, a distorted view of history and a flawed strategy for Muslim people’s revival. The assumptions used by Osama and his associates to recruit dynamic elements should have been countered years ago. A heavy cost has already been paid for neglecting this task and relying on force alone for fighting terrorism.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has allowed the religious discourse to be dominated by extremely conservative elements who do not hesitate to bend the scriptures to suit their ends that are as un-Islamic as they are inhuman. This unforgivable policy must be replaced with a coordinated effort to free Pakistan of its bondage to the concept of a restrictive, illiberal and violent Islam. No such effort can begin unless Pakistan’s politicians stop building their power bases on the debris of an open, humane and tolerant faith.
Osama may be dead but the seeds of violence sown by him will take a long time to be gorged out of the Pakistani people’s mindset.

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