Things come full circle at times. What started with the 1998 blasts in the United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam ended in Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2. But it was the horror of 9/11, the two aircraft moving into New York's World Trade Centre towers, which will remain a defining image of the 21st century. Fittingly enough, nemesis came for its perpetrators in the shape of an operation second only to Israel's Entebbe raid.
How long are we going to beat the drum of Pakistani complicity? It was foolish to have squirreled away Osama bin Laden to Abbottabad of all places, with the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul next door, and numerous army formations all around, including the Baloch and the Frontier Forces Regimental Training Centres and the Army Medical Corps headquarters. Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Shuja Pasha belong to the Baloch and Frontier Force respectively. The Pakistani establishment wasn't clueless; it was complicit.
Was it bin Laden's charisma or ideology that preserved him so long and made the Taliban stand by him at the cost of losing its hold over Afghanistan? Or was it his 'sacrifice' in leaving a life of luxury and giving his $50 million wealth to the cause?
Bin Laden's 'ideology' was a part of his charisma. He was no ideologue like Sayyid Qutb or Hassan al-Banna, the doctrinal bulwarks of the Muslim Brotherhood. But if your ideology is 'kill', especially Americans, you will score good marks with certain people. What was his ideology? He hated West Asian regimes — that vast warren of dictatorships and monarchies that had truck with the West or were members of the United Nations and were regarded as un-Islamic. What dribbles down to us is mostly his rant and racial hatred, like his 2002 statement: "The war is between us and the Jews. Any country that steps into the same trench as the Jews has only itself to blame." He linked 'Zionists' and 'crusaders', and blamed them for the Iraq invasion. His ideology never went beyond nihilism.
Islamabad, too afraid of a backlash from its own jihadis, provided sanctuary to bin Laden. The Pakistani public, who showered rose petals on the killer of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer must share the blame. What will be the effect of bin Laden's death? He had become a derelict, a fugitive living in a safehouse for over five years, more a symbol than a leader of terrorists. But symbols matter. The burst of Arab Spring had already bypassed bin Laden and his ideology. Power can come through protest and the ballot and not necessarily through the barrel of the gun. In the long run, al-Qaeda would need inspiration. There are two likely successors: the Egyptian second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Yemeni Anwar al-Awlaki. Already, a split in the outfit between Gulf Arabs and Egyptians is being talked about.
Pakistan can no longer remain cocooned within its self-generated myths — that it is the victims, not producer of terror; that Mullah Omar, like bin Laden, is in Afghanistan; that Pakistanis are anti-jihad; that the country is the face of moderate Islam. Or that absurd shibboleth that Pakistan is the bridge which the West can use to reach out to Islamic radicals. No West Asian country has nursed fanaticism, hate and blood lust the way Pakistan has done. It has given jihad a bad name. We have also had enough of those military-manufactured myths that justify Pakistan's control over Afghanistan for 'strategic depth' against India. The US could also do well by discarding certain myths, especially its belief that it can do nothing in Afghanistan without Pakistan's help.
Myths are related to collective perceptions, with images playing a part in their longevity. Saddam Hussein's image took a beating when he was caught in a squalid dug-out. Bin Laden's stock would also fall if the unconfirmed reports that he did not fight back and allowed his wife to shield him turned out to be true.
Keki N Daruwalla is a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The views expressed by the author are personal.