The Diplomat speaks with South Asia analyst Shanthie Mariet D'Souza about the implications of the death of Osama bin Laden for Afghanistan.
How important was Osama bin Laden at this point, either as a symbol or in more practical leadership terms?
Osama bin Laden was a symbolic figurehead. Post 9/11 al-Qaeda has functioned as franchisees and local chapters and carried out its operations by outsourcing to local groups. Bin Laden provided the inspiration and ideological content, but this didn’t affect the local operational aspects of the movement. So it has been clear that despite the killings of key leaders like the No.3 and No.4 of al-Qaeda, for example, the local chapters were able to carry out their operations.
Is his death likely to inspire extremists or is this a serious blow to al-Qaeda?
It’s not the end of the al-Qaeda movement, although it is a temporary setback. What is worrisome are the statements from groups in Pakistan linked with al-Qaeda vowing to retaliate against Pakistani and Americans. Moreover, the dispersed local chapter and sleeper cells have the potential to wreak havoc. So we can't get complacent. It’s imperative that governments in South Asia and outside cooperate to eliminate and deny the space for these groups to co-exist.
Will the bin Laden killing have any implications for the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan?
Yes, it might provide the right conditions for the American drawdown of forces. What would be interesting to see is if the United States will use enough force or diplomatic skill to get the Quetta shura of the Afghan Taliban leadership on the negotiating table. Without dismantling the sanctuaries and terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, and breaking the linkages of these groups with al-Qaeda, it would be foolhardy to see an end to the Afghan conflict.
What's your opinion on how bin Laden is viewed in Afghanistan?
The Afghans initially saw him as a hero when Osama played a major role as mujahedeen fighter against the Soviets. During the Taliban regime, the Taliban-al-Qaeda nexus was viewed with suspicion by the Afghans as the Arab fighters of al-Qaeda brought in foreign ideology of the Wahhabi/Salfi brand. This turned into resentment when Afghanistan was put under sanctions for harbouring Osama. The missile attacks and the US intervention following 9/11 attacks led to Afghans distancing themselves from the al-Qaeda. So his death doesn’t mean much to the Afghans.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and co-editor of ‘Saving Afghanistan.’