Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Significance of Bin Laden's Death Seen as More Symbolic Than Strategic

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Significance of Bin Laden's Death Seen as More Symbolic Than Strategic

Article excerpt

Many European newspapers viewed the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. special forces on May 1 as being of symbolic rather than practical importance.

"The killing might well demoralize those around the globe who still regard bin Laden as a spiritual leader, a totem of resistance to the West. But in terms of operational significance, his importance was negligible," wrote Britain's Independent the following day.

"He was no longer the operational leader of al-Qaeda: that role had been ceded to his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri some years ago. And al-Qaeda itself has become less a structured terrorist organization, more a brand, a loose and inchoate network of jihadists," editorialized The Daily Telegraph, also in Britain, on May 2.

"Even with bin Laden dead, most counter-terrorism professionals expect that little will change," The Economist in London agreed on May 5. It went on to predict, however, that "the next few weeks will almost certainly see more strikes against high-value al-Qaeda targets as the Americans sift the information gathered from the raid in Abbottabad, a treasure trove of documents and computer hard drives, and put it to use before it goes stale."

"No shockwave swept through the Arab world as news of bin Laden's death spread, and that is perhaps the most fitting epitaph," noted the UK's Guardian of May 3.

"Never did a murdering monster more richly deserve a bullet in the brain," according to that day's edition of the British tabloid newspaper, The Sun. "Al-Qaeda's medieval barbarism does not appeal to newly liberated Arab nations. They want iPads and the vote, not bombings and beheadings," the newspaper added.

The view that the Arab Spring had made bin Laden's ideology bankrupt was echoed in Europe.

"The man who embodied international jihadism died just as the Arab Spring was dealing a blow to this totalitarian fantasy," opined France's Le Monde on May 2. "Since the Arab peoples are rising up in the name of democracy, not Islam or any return to the Caliphate advocated by al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was already dead in the water politically," it maintained.

But the "widespread satisfaction" at the death of bin Laden is "tempered by caution and warnings about the continuation of his legacy," warned the Spanish daily El Pais on May 2. "We should not lower our guard against Islamic terrorism and against possible acts of revenge."

Did Pakistan Know bin Laden's Whereabouts?

Whether Pakistan was complicit in hiding bin Laden was widely speculated upon, especially in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron recently accused Pakistan of looking "both ways" when it comes to terrorism. "Bin Laden was not only located in one of the most unlikely places for an international terrorist-the home of the Pakistan Military Academy....He was in a purpose-built bunker and had been there for some time," noted The Guardian on May 3.

"Betrayed? Of course he was," wrote Robert Fisk in Britain's Independent the same day. "By the Pakistan military or the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence? Quite possibly both. Pakistan knew where he was."

Asked that day's edition of The Daily Telegraph: "How do we respond to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's incredible assertion that bin Laden was 'not anywhere we had anticipated he would be,' or the ISI's utterly unconvincing profession of embarrassment at being caught on the hop? It is all smoke and mirrors. Throw in the fact that the country has nuclear weapons and the scale of the diplomatic challenge becomes clear," the newspaper added.

But amid cries that Pakistan should pay back substantial aid it receives from the West, in a May 4 editorial The Independent urged full Western engagement to continue with Islamabad.

"The danger is that post-bin Laden pressures will lead Washington to bypass the government and deal direct with the army, which is Pakistan's only strong institution," the newspaper wrote. …

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