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By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – One year after the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden early May 2, 2011, al-Qaeda and its affiliated militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan are said to have lost considerable strength.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Afghan Taliban also seem to have drastically curtailed operations since the bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad, and analysts maintain that al-Qaeda is now more dependent on the TTP than on the Afghan Taliban.
“Osama was the most wanted man in the history of the world,” Prof. Syed Hussain Shaheen Soherwordi, at the department of International Relations of the University of Peshawar, told Central Asia Online. “His death is a big blow for al-Qaeda and the militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Even al-Qaeda is struck by the leadership crises since the death of Osama.”
Soherwordi compared the case to that of the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers. The cornering and slaying of their leader in 2009 ended a civil war dating back to the 1970s.
“The killing of Osama is equal to breaking the backbone of al-Qaeda,” Soherwordi said. “He was a calm man and knew when and where to proceed and when and where to retreat, while Ayman Al Zawahiri is a short-tempered leader and cannot be Osama.”
Militants vowed to retaliate
After the death of bin Laden, militant groups pledged to retaliate.
“We stress that the blood of the holy warrior Sheikh Osama bin Laden is precious to us and to all Muslims and will not go in vain,” an al-Qaeda statement declared on a jihadi website last May.
The TTP also warned of attacks. “We have pledged to strike ten targets in revenge for the killing of bin Laden, and the first attack was against Pakistan’s Mehran naval base,” Waliur Rahman, a leader of the TTP said a year ago. The group promised to lash out abroad, too.
But one can count only a few major terrorist acts since then.
Terrorists did attack Pakistan Naval Station Mehran May 22, but their high-profile acts since bin Laden’s death have been relatively few: twin suicide bombings at the main gate of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) headquarters in Shabqadar May 13, unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Karachi Criminal Investigation Department Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar in September and April, and a September suicide attack that failed to kill Frontier Corps Deputy Inspector-General Brig. Farrukh Shehzad in Quetta.
“How badly the (TTP) suffered during the last year can be judged from their dwindled operations,” Soherwordi said. “As far as the Afghan Taliban are concerned, they were not ready to sit for any talks ... but soon after the death of Osama they agreed to initiate the process of dialogue. The overall network of the al-Qaeda is not on the screen, which speaks volume of the damage it has suffered since the death of bin Laden.”
Just a few days before the first anniversary of bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda’s Dawa Wing appointed Farman Ali Shinwari, a 30-year-old tribesman from Landi Kotal, Khyber Agency, as al-Qaeda’s new leader in Pakistan.
According to a media report April 30, Shinwari is said to have had close links with terrorist leader Badr Mansoor, who was killed in 2010. Reports suggested that Shinwari reached the top slot because he has computer skills and knowledge of the tribal areas.
Attacks fall off
Al-Qaeda and other militant groups have suffered since the death of bin Laden, Pir Rahamdil Shah, editor of the Pashtu daily Wahdat, covering Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Pashtun belt closely, agreed with Soherwordi.
“We can see that operations that were continuing during the life of Osama are no more active, either in Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world,” Shah said. “The main reason is that the command of the organisation has weakened.”
In Afghanistan, a country once ruled by the Taliban, only the Haqqani Network seems to be active, he said.
“The network has on a number of occasions claimed to be as active as it used to be during the life of Osama, but in fact its activities (are) only 25%” of what they were, said Shah.
However, Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based writer on militancy, disagreed.
“There is still no leadership crisis in al-Qaeda, and that is why I believe the death of Osama bin Laden is not going to prove a big blow, as claimed by many analysts,” he told Central Asia Online. He attributed the drop in militant attacks to the winter, rather than to a lack of leadership.
Popularity of al-Qaeda, bin Laden plummeted
Aside from a lack of leadership, approval of al-Qaeda and bin Laden have fallen to new lows among Muslims. A study released April 30 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found large majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and other Islamic countries have very unfavourable views of both bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
The study, conducted March 19-April 13, found the range of negative/positive views of al-Qaeda ranging from 98% negative/2% positive in Lebanon to 55% negative/13% positive in Pakistan.
Similarly, confidence in bin Laden among Pakistani Muslims dropped from 43% in 2003 to 18% in 2000-2010, before rising three points in 2011. That increase is within the poll’s margin of error.
Report should bring closure
The Abbottabad Commission, meanwhile, has been investigating bin Laden’s death. Although it was supposed to complete its report within a year, the inquiry is continuing.
The commission’s goal is for its report to be made public.
When that happens, it could signal the end of the bin Laden saga in Pakistan, some say.
“After the commission gives its detailed report, the chapter of Osama should be closed forever, just as his compound has been bulldozed and his family have been sent back to their home countries,” said Yawar Ali, a University of Peshawar student. “We should look forward to make our country peaceful, prosperous and strong. Osama was a dark chapter that should be closed now.”