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May 2, 2011


Arshad M Khan

 Osama bin Laden is dead -- killed last night in an operation executed by U.S.
Navy Seals.  Because of him thousands died in the U.S. and Americans
continue to die in foreign wars.  Because of him Afghanistan has been
fighting itself and the U.S. for over a decade; Pakistan is bruised and
battered, thousands have lost their lives; and countless others have died
across the world.

 His organization, Al-Qaeda, was used by the previous administration to
justify (falsely) the invasion of Iraq - at the time fully two-thirds of Americans
had been convinced Iraq was affiliated with Al-Qaeda.  The only reliable
academic study (from Johns Hopkins) published in the prestigious British
journal Lancet puts Iraqi dead due to the war at up to a million, the displaced
at five million; the country is a shambles, a secular though indubitably nasty
regime replaced by a Shiite religious one, and women's rights turned back at
least a half century.

 Osama bin Laden was responding to grievances that struck a chord across
the Middle East: the question of usurped resources, the Israeli/ Palestinian
issue.  The means he chose left a swath of destruction harming most of the
people he purported to champion, and everyone is happy to be rid of him.

 It is ironic and unfortunate that he dies when Al-Qaeda is a spent force,
superceded by the Arab Spring revolutions of the young whose instruments
are Facebook and Twitter not the bomb and the AK 47; ironic, because their
means turned out to be incomparably more effective; unfortunate, because if
he becomes a martyr, it could well breathe new life into Al-Qaeda.  That is
why he should have been captured alive.

 On our side, we have to be careful to avoid the kind of triumphalism that
finds its way on to the recruiting videos of Al-Qaeda.  There are also those
here who never relinquish the linkage narrative currently accusing Pakistan
of actually hiding bin Laden.  Considering the assassination attempts on the
previous Pakistan President's life and the successful murder of the present
one's wife (Benazir Bhutto) both attributed to Al-Qaeda elements, the idiocy
of that construct is apparent to any but the most agenda driven.

 As time for withdrawal from Afghanistan nears, we have to negotiate
satisfactory terms with the Taliban. Pakistan's help and influence in this
regard is going to be invaluable.  It has helped the U.S. in Afghanistan before
(during the Soviet invasion) only to be spurned after its perceived
usefulness was over.  It would be foolish to make the same mistake again --
we also have a moral obligation as the country has been ravaged by the
current conflict.

 To seal the peace, we have to bring Pakistan and India together.  Kashmir,
the bleeding sore, has to be healed before the two nuclear-armed neighbors
do irreparable damage.  A concept for a lasting peace already exists:  
autonomy for Kashmir, with both countries relinquishing their occupied
halves, in a regional framework not unlike the European Community.  The
question is, who has the will to push it through and ensure long-term
stability and prosperity.