Perhaps it’s only my sense of irony. But I love the thought that Bin Laden had lived in Abbottabad since 2005. The town is only 35 miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The suffix “abad” means “developed by” or, better, “made fertile by.” So Islamabad, the capital built from scratch, means made fertile by Islam. Abbottabad means made fertile by Abbott. That’s Major James Abbott, a British colonial officer who founded the town in the nineteenth century.
The question, now that Bin Laden is dead, is what difference his death will make to global terrorism. The many ‘franchise’ operations of al Qaeda — in Yemen, Mali, Mauritania, and in other countries — will continue to operate.
Most dangerous is AQAP, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, operating from Yemen. In the ongoing chaos of Yemen and the uprising to oust President Saleh, AQAP claims to have captured the entire Yemeni province of Abyan, adjacent to the key port of Aden. The American born Muslim preacher, Anwar al Awlaki, operates there. He was in touch frequently with Major Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and actually trained the Nigerian who failed in his efforts to blow up a plane en route Detroit.
So terrorist threats to the U.S. and other countries persist. But two significant changes have greatly diminished the threat. Bin Laden’s death is the first. While out of operational control of recent terrorist acts, he was the spiritual and charismatic ‘father’ of terrorism and was a potent symbol of the “virtue” Muslims would acquire by damaging the United States and overthrowing its Arab “lackey” rulers. That symbol is gone.
So are many of the Arab rulers targeted by Bin Laden. The Sauds still rule their country – they were Bin Laden’s favorite target. But others are gone or going – Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh, Qaddhafi, maybe even Assad. Al Qaeda essentially played no role in their overthrow. The movements that produced the earthquake of the Middle East were not inspired by the Jihadists but by a popular thirst for democracy, dignity, respect.
Osama’s death is not the end of the road for terrorism. But it can be used to help solve the chief conundrum of U.S. foreign policy – Afghanistan. Remember that we invaded that country in 2001 because its rulers, the Taliban, harbored al Qaeda and, in turn, were financed and protected by them. We are the foreign occupiers and have been fighting in Afghanistan against Afghans since then. Now is the time to cut a deal – to bring the Taliban back into the Afghan government under a basic agreement that will prohibit any part of the country from harboring terrorists.
U.S. Special Forces killing Osama and U.S. successes in blunting the coming huge Taliban ‘spring offensive’ will make it likely that the Taliban will be ready for serious negotiations.