Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Whatever Osama bin Laden once aspired to, it was not to be passed around the table like a bottle of port in the British Raj nor worse, handed on quickly in a child’s game of Pass the Parcel. Yet that is the fate which for now appears to be chasing him.
For years, the default assumption has been that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last month, I heard a Pakistani official say that bin Laden was last heard of in Pakistan’s traditional enemy India in 2003 – in Bangalore and Hyderabad to be precise -before he disappeared without trace. Then Fox News came up with a story about how he was living in luxury in Iran. Not to be outdone, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad then suggested he was more likely to be hiding in Washington.
Anyone want to guess where bin Laden is reported to be next? He definitely seems to be acquiring the taint of the unwelcome guest.
President Barack Obama has just pledged to make a new start for United States relations with the Muslim world: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said in his inaugural address. "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." (Photo: President Obama delivers his inaugural address, 20 Jan 2009/Jason Reed)
It's not clear what he plans to do. One idea he's mentioned is to deliver a major speech in a Muslim country in his first year in office. There's already a lively discussion on the web about where he should go. During his speech, CNN showed a shot of the crowd with some people holding up signs urging him to deliver the speech in Morocco.
Osama bin Laden is no longer involved in the day-to-day planning of attacks, Germany’s spy chief says, arguing that al Qaeda has turned from a centralised force into a regionalised “franchise company” with power centres in Pakistan, North Africa and the Arab peninsula. Does this weaken or strengthen the Islamist militant group? And how does it influence its operations, planning of attacks and its efforts to recruit new followers?
Ernst Uhrlau, who heads the BND foreign intelligence agency, Germany’s equivalent of the CIA, says al Qaeda’s “concept” has changed significantly over the past few years. “After the centralisation phase and the break-up of its bases in Afghanistan, when it had the backing of the Taliban government, we have seen a regionalisation over the past four years — something like a franchise company.” “Today, there is al Qadea in the Maghreb, al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, in Iraq, in Yemen,” Uhrlau told Reuters in an interview this week. (more…)
Is U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama going to heed calls from Pakistani-Americans to tone down his statements on hunting militants inside Pakistan ?
Democrat Obama and Republican candidate John McCain face off in a final debate in New York state on Wednesday night.
There 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.
Both the United States and Osama bin Laden are losing support in Pakistan, according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes report released this week (download the full PDF report to see details on Pakistan).
The poll, conducted before the resignation of former President Pervez Musharraf, showed faith in U.S. intentions towards democracy was weaker than ever - only 20 percent believed the United States favoured democracy in Pakistan, down from 39 percent in 2005.
Speculation the United States is preparing to send commandos into Pakistan’s tribal areas to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban militants is gathering momentum. Pakistani fears of a U.S. attack were reinforced by a surprise visit to Pakistan this weekend by the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he was reported to have expressed U.S. frustration that Islamabad was not doing enough to tackle militants on its border with Afghanistan.
The Daily Times says in an article from Washington that Mullen had been expected to ”read the riot act” to the government. It quoted an unnamed ”well-informed source” as saying that U.S. patience was close to running out. When it did, the paper said, there would be unilateral US military action, both covert and overt, in Pakistan’s tribal areas.