Does anyone care about bin Laden any more?

October 2, 2008

May file photo of Pakistani TalibanThere have been many contradictory reports this week about whether Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, had died. Pakistan’s Geo television channel said that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban had died of kidney failure after a long illness, while a Taliban spokesman dismissed the report.

I’m not going to add to that speculation here. What does strike me, though, is that the attention paid to talk of Mehsud’s death was greater than that given to reports that frequently do the rounds about the fate of Osama bin Laden.

In a detailed profile in the Long War Journal, the author writes that Mehsud is now considered to be  “a threat as big as, or bigger than, even Osama bin Laden”. A guerrilla leader credited with uniting many of Pakistan’s often disparate militants under the banner of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan late last year, Mehsud gained worldwide notoriety when he was accused of involvement in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto – an accusation he has denied.

So does Osama bin Laden matter any more?

File photo of Pakistani tribesmenAs the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, it is Mehsud, rather than bin Laden, who is seen as the leader of a movement that has fuelled a series of bomb attacks inside Pakistan, and challenged any attempt by the Pakistan Army to tame the tribal areas along Pakistan’s border which are home to both Pakistani and Afghan insurgents.

Then when people talk about the insurgents attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, again rarely does bin Laden’s name crop up.  The Los Angeles Times writes of a “trio of warlords” with bases in Pakistan, blamed for a surge in violence in Afghanistan. The three, also mentioned in this piece in the U.S. Army Times,  are Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, both veterans of the campaign against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, and Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, believed to be hiding somewhere around the Pakistani city of Quetta in Balochistan.

All are said to have links with al Qaeda, while retaining their own separate motivations, identities and loyalties. Where does that leave bin Laden? Has he become just a name? An idea?

And did he ever have the reach and power that was ascribed to him? Or has he always been what one commenter on an earlier blog described as just “a guy living in a cave”?



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