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Sunday, 6 December 2009

Looking for Bin Laden’s Address

Elias Harfoush

Ever since Obama’s name has been connected to that of Osama, through the wordplay practiced by the American right in its incitement campaign during the presidential elections, the fate of these two men has also become connected. Barack Obama’s presidency could have been different if it had not come in the wake of the greatest US campaign against Osama Bin Laden, a campaign that has so far failed to achieve its main objective, the one announced by its prime leader George Bush when he launched his famous slogan: “wanted, dead or alive”. Thus the measure of Obama’s success, having criticized shifting the war against Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from pursuing Osama Bin Laden to pursuing Saddam Hussein, became proving that he is more capable than his predecessor of achieving such a goal.

Bin Laden’s leadership of Al-Qaeda, if he still effectively exercises such a leadership, could also have been different had Obama not been the current US President. It is doubtful that the pursuit of the leader of Al-Qaeda would have been as intense as we are witnessing now, had Republican President John McCain resided in the White House. Proof of this is the fact that all of the attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda in Europe after September 11, particularly the terrorist bombings in London and Madrid, in addition to the plot to detonate airplanes across the Atlantic, the main architects of which had been Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, did not move the zeal of the Western security and intelligence apparatus in pursuit of the two men as is taking place today, because of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the bombings which, nearly on a daily basis, reap lives in Pakistan’s mosques and military barracks.

Thus the question has returned to what it was in the wake of the war waged by US warplanes in the mountains of Tora Bora in Eastern Afghanistan, exactly eight years ago, in December 2001: Where is Osama Bin Laden? Where could that tall bearded man, recognizable without mistake, of whom it would be difficult for any human being on the face of the earth above the age of five not to have seen a picture, disappear to? How and where can he protect himself, despite there being a fifty million dollar reward for his capture, a reward exceeding what any lucky person could win at any lottery in the world?

The answer: Bin Laden moves between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In other words: where he was eight years ago! The latest news of him “appearing” is what a prisoner in Pakistan told BBC correspondent in Islamabad Orla Guerin about someone he knew who had met with Bin Laden in the Afghan province of Ghazni during the first two months of this year. The importance of such a “revelation” lies in the fact that it comes at a time when Western governments, and particularly those of the US and UK, are intensifying their pressure on the government of Pakistan to arrest the leader of Al-Qaeda, who resides there, according to the intelligence of these two governments. This is what Hillary Clinton said plainly during her latest visit to Islamabad, and what British Prime Minster Gordon Brown repeated a few days ago before his Pakistani guest Yousuf Raza Gilani, the latest to have shouldered the responsibility of supervising the Pakistani nuclear button. This is why security experts on Al-Qaeda issues, among them correspondent for British newspapers The Guardian and The Observer, Jason Burke, author of the book “Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam”, and BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, have found that the story of Bin Laden in Ghazni is exactly the kind of story Pakistan’s intelligence has an interest in spreading, in order to divert the attention away from the pressure being exerted on it to pursue Bin Laden. Their explanation of why Bin Laden is in Pakistan is a simple one: operations being carried out by Western warplanes in the airspace of provinces located in Southwestern Afghanistan make it difficult for him to find a safe location in these regions, whereas such a safe haven would easily be available to him in Pakistan’s Waziristan region, where the Pashtun Mehsud clan holds sway, a clan extremely loyal to the leaders of the Al-Qaeda organization and to their ideas.

Whatever Bin Laden’s address may be, it will be difficult for Barack Obama to announce his success to the American people in the war on terror (even if he changes its name) if he has not succeeded at capturing or killing the leader of Al-Qaeda. As for the extent to which such a capture, if it were to take place, is likely to put an end to terrorism and to the ideas of Al-Qaeda, this would require yet another war!

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