15 May 2011

The Osama theory

I'm no fan of conspiracy theories, so I assume that bin Laden is in fact dead, as reported. He was being kept under the watchful eye of Pakistani intelligence and military (or at least a certain section thereof) and obviously had nowhere else to go. Now, as Tariq Ali put it, "The only interesting question is who betrayed his whereabouts and why." And, of course, there's the question of why he was being kept in a safe house in the first place.

Pakistan's government has been trying to maintain the role of America's ally in the war on terror, even though Pakistan has suffered thousands of casualties in that war, and even though there is huge anti-American sentiment among its people. The Pakistani secret services, moreover, clearly are not a unified corps who always sing from the same song-sheet. It's quite plausible to assume that Pakistan secretly did know, and yet didn't know, that it was harbouring America's most-wanted.

We have also learned that Pakistan and the US had a deal which went: Pakistan agrees that the US can take out Osama unilaterally if they locate him on Pakistani soil, and the Pakistani government will protest vociferously in public, after the fact, as if they were innocent and outraged. So it is also plausible that the riddle of Osama's 'stay' in Pakistan can be put down to a combination of complicity and incompetence on their part. But that still doesn't help us to know exactly who was protecting him, and who betrayed him and why.

My theory about the motives for protecting him goes like this: 1. Osama always had networks high up in the Pakistani forces, and 2. he was paying them good money, and 3. his survival helped to keep the Americans involved in the region, thus helping to keep the local military in business.

The next big question is the legality of killing the man. Bin Laden declared himself an enemy of the US and had shown himself capable of organising attacks. But, at the time he was shot, despite the original reports, it appears that he was not offering any armed resistance. He could have been taken a prisoner of war, if considered to be an armed enemy, or he could have been arrested for trial. Instead he was assassinated, in my opinion. This is the rule of the gun, not the rule of law. It is sheer revenge, and not justice; but it has predictably helped to boost Obama's domestic popularity.

If the world's most powerful nation is prepared to set this kind of example to the rest of them, then it doesn't bode well, even though one can have no sympathy for those who use terror as a political weapon. If war is diplomacy by other means, then terrorism is war by other means.

Getting back to Osama, a quick assassination was clearly expedient, however, as taking him alive into custody would then have dragged the whole matter out, and would have placed pressure on the US government to put the man on trial and to produce their evidence. This would have meant exposing and compromising their most valued sources.

So far, the Pakistani military have suffered their first suicide-bomb reprisal attack. The world can hardly be said to be a safer place thanks to this recent assassination.


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