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In the end, he had no plan B

india Updated: May 02, 2011 23:02 IST
Hindustan Times
osama bin laden

It was a cliché to call Osama bin Laden the world's most dangerous man. It is now, after his death, a cliché to say the threat from Islamicist terrorism is not over.

That al Qaeda still exists and the pan-global terrorism that it has represented is still extant are statements of the obvious. But there is little doubt that bin Laden's death, and the nature of his death at the hands of US soldiers in a daring nighttime attack, are an enormous setback for al Qaeda and militant groups and solo terrorists who claimed inspiration from the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack.

So far, al Qaeda has survived as much on mythology as it has from its destructive accomplishments. One part of its legend arose from 9/11 itself, the greatest act of terrorism, and one carried out against the greatest power in the world.

The other part of its legend has been bin Laden, a man who claimed to have helped destroy one superpower in his youth and whose fugitive life was seen as evidence of the powerlessness of the remaining superpower.

Al Qaeda is a shadow of itself, not merely because of bin Laden's death. It has been growing paler over the past few years for a number of reasons.

One was that support for its brand of militancy in the Muslim world has been declining for years. The Islamic mainstream was horrified at the terrorism being practised in the name of its faith and revolted by al Qaeda's willingness to kill fellow Muslims, women and children.

Two was that bin Laden's original strategy of trying to replicate the destruction of the Soviet Union by drawing the United States into a forever war in Afghanistan was a failure.

The war may still be on, but the US is more in danger from its investment bankers than from jihadis. Bin Laden's limitations as a strategist became clear when he offered no back-up plan for his organisation. He continued to fight the same Afghan war without any real chance of success.

Three, and perhaps most important, is that the Arab Muslim from whose ranks al Qaeda arose has taken a completely different path to political salvation over the past month.

It is now almost forgotten that the founders of al Qaeda sought, more than anything else, the overthrow of the regimes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt's ruler has fallen - through mass political action whose Gandhian tactics were the polar opposite of those preached by bin Laden.

Which raises the question of where was bin Laden still relevant?

The answer, unfortunately, is probably Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. It is here, not in his Arab home, that bin Laden's blood-filled millenarian vision remains alive and well.

This is why India rightly warns that terrorism remains a global threat until the terrorist cancer in Pakistan is also excised, that the ghost of bin Laden is driven from the lands to its west, and that the US and the rest of the world rests on its laurels now only at their peril.

Bin Laden is dead. But his legacy lives on in a part of the world to which he did not belong.