In a country that suffers more than most from attention-span deficiency, it could be argued, tongue in cheek, that President and Commander-in-Chief Obama let his forces get to bin Laden too early for it to boost his campaign for re-election in November. In reality, the US presidential election would almost certainly still have been dominated by the state of the US economy, whatever had happened to bin Laden. Nonetheless, Obama’s successful strategy for eliminating bin Laden and degrading the threat from Al-Qaeda via targeted attacks on its leaders will still do him some good. His success contrasts vividly with the conspicuous failure of his Republican predecessor and will make it difficult for the Republicans to get their usual charge of Democrats being weak on national security to stick.
The fact that the special forces of a foreign power were able to penetrate undetected a military garrison town far inside Pakistan to eliminate bin Laden dealt a huge blow to the credibility of its corrupt and weak government. It also dented the image of the army, which has in the past regularly exploited its reputation for competence amongst Pakistanis to take over the state from floundering civilian politicians. The damage bin Laden’s assassination has inflicted on the prestige of the political and military establishment has helped to open the way for a new force in Pakistani politics, the Movement for Justice led by the former international cricket superstar, Imran Khan. After years of making little political headway, Khan has recently been drawing huge crowds to hear his message of mild Islamism, anti-US nationalism and, most importantly, anti-corruption. The odds remain long on Khan going all the way and remaking Pakistan by usurping the established political parties and entrenched interests of the security forces. But, although the stakes and the obstacles are much higher, Khan will console himself that these odds are no worse than those he overcame when leading Pakistan’s cricket team to World Cup glory in 1992.
Coupled with a general disillusionment in the West with the Afghan war and Afghan dissatisfaction at the conduct of it, the death of bin Laden has increased pressure on the US and its allies to accelerate their departure from the country
The achievement of the original objective of the invasion of Afghanistan – capturing or killing bin Laden – will perhaps have the greatest impact on Afghanistan itself. Coupled with a general disillusionment in the West with the Afghan war and Afghan dissatisfaction at the conduct of it, the death of bin Laden has increased pressure on the US and its allies to accelerate their departure from the country. The deadline for withdrawal has already been brought forward once and may come under further pressure during the US presidential campaign, or as result of any further revelations about misconduct by Western forces in Afghanistan. Some experts are worried that leaving before the Afghan military are ready to take full responsibility for security will further reinvigorate the Taliban and re-create the chaotic circumstances that brought Al-Qaeda to Afghanistan in the first place.
The core organisation of Al-Qaeda has been considerably, possibly terminally, weakened by the military campaign waged against it by the US and its allies. This success has reduced the risk of large scale terrorist atrocities in much of the world. The greater concern now is that the mastermind is being outlived by his ideas. Osama bin Laden’s ideology continues to inspire a diverse range of dangerous extremists who are autonomous from Al-Qaeda, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in and around Somalia, and disillusioned, lone nutters such as Mohamed Merah in Toulouse.
Now that the period of all-out military action against Al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism is almost over, even more attention will have to be focused on ongoing security cooperation to keep the extremists in check. Ideally, there should also be a renewed focus on resolving the problems and changing the societies that enable such ideologies to flourish in the first place.
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