Pax Indica: Why they killed bin Laden now

The military-jihadi complex is likely to grow stronger

In today’s Pax Indica column on Yahoo, I warn that India has at best two summers before cross-border militancy and terrorism rise again.

You might remember a Shekhar Suman gag on Zee TV’s Movers and Shakers several years ago: An angry George W Bush announces that the United States will bomb the place where Osama bin Laden is found to be hiding.

Hearing this, Vajpayee looks under his bed, pauses, and with a characteristic flick of his wrist says: “Thank God! He isn’t here!”

Over in Rawalpindi, General Musharraf looks under his bed, sighs in relief, and says: “Thank God! He is still here!”

Shekhar Suman, more than most Western analysts, got the plot right. Keeping Osama bin Laden out of Washington’s hands was vital in order to prevent having to publicly deal with revelations of how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex not only was connected with al-Qaeda, but might also have been involved in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks. [Read the rest at Yahoo!]

The Osama card has been played

Because al-Afghanistan is now more valuable than al-Faida

According to television reports, Osama bin Laden has been killed by US forces at a mansion outside Islamabad Abbottabad. If this is true, it supports the long-held contention that Mr bin Laden was not hiding in a cave in the Hindu Kush, but rather, living it up in a safe house in a Pakistani city.

His death also means that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex gave him up. This will allow Barack Obama to declare victory and pull US troops out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani army can then orchestrate an post-US dispensation wherein its proxies first share power with the Karzai regime. And then, sometime in the near future, take over power.

That’s how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex would like it to play out. They’ve played the Osama card rather well. They got their al-Faida. Now they want their al-Afghanistan.

Update
In the world of realpolitik, the United States is unlikely punish Pakistan for the decade of duplicity, subterfuge and violence that consumed innumerable lives and astounding amounts of money. Rather, it is more likely to want to leave with a dispensation in Afghanistan that provides plausible reassurances of not playing host to terrorists targeting the United States. It will try to make these reassurances credible by ensuring anti-Taliban anti-Pakistan elements remain powerful within the Afghan establishment. It will perhaps retain covert action capability to back this up with direct action. That said, it will accede to Pakistani demands for a role for its proxies and pro-Pakistan elements to acquire some power.

Indian strategists and analysts would do well to dust-off their memories, records and papers from the early 1990s. It is not question of if, but when, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will redirect its attention towards India. The singular challenge for India is to prevent a relapse of the 1990s.

Update [2 May, 1724 IST]: According to a subsequent briefing by senior US government officials, the operation to kill Osama bin Laden was carried out without the knowledge and support of Pakistani agencies. If this is true, the Osama card was not played by the Pakistani military establishment, but rather, snatched from their hand by the United States. Even so, the implications, in terms of US withdrawal plans and the future of Afghanistan, remain the same.