Timely dissection of Pakistan before and after Osama
Book: "Pakistan: Before and After Osama"; Author: Imtiaz Gul; Publisher: Roli Books; Pages: 291; Price: Rs.395
The dramatic killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in May 2011 stunned the world, more so since it took place in Pakistan that maintained it knew nothing about the world's most wanted terrorist.
Pakistan, a country that has been savaged by relentless terror attacks in recent years, was left red-faced by Osama being gunned down in Abbottabad town. The killing sparked intense speculation and left behind a host of unanswered questions.
More than a year later, Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani defence and security analyst, has attempted to answer the dark questions that the world has wanted to know. He has taken a step forward and even tried to look at post-Osama Pakistan.
The well-researched book reiterates that it was a phone call in August 2010 between Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a key courier for Osama, and an old friend that led US intelligence officials to the high-walled hideout, some 125 km north of Pakistan's capital Islamabad.
The author says the Americans at large have scoffed at the possibility of the involvement of some top Pakistani civilian and military officials in the operations. "For them the thought of prior information to any Pakistani sounded preposterous."
He, however, adds that the mistrust of Pakistanis runs so deep within the American public that "it was hard to inform them even of a commonsensical argument like Why would (US President Barack) Obama risk the lives of 79 SEALs before ensuring their safety on ground?"
While the author's argument does carry Islamabad's viewpoint, it fails to categorically put an end to the question whether the Pakistanis actually knew about it or were completely in the dark as the US says.
Gul points out that like other Islamists who took part in the Afghan war, Osama's armed resistance sought to install an Islamic superpower by replacing the dominant players in the international political order.
"Regardless of who turned Bin Laden into a hero, he certainly created and propagated a different, radical worldview that continues to influence people all over - from the Arabian peninsula to Europe to the Americas - evident from the arrests of excessively brainwashed followers of Bin Laden."
Looking ahead, the book says that just as the search for Osama has been a preoccupation for the past decade, the whereabouts of his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri are now likely to engage the US and Pakistani intelligence.
But where could al-Zawahiri be hiding today?
"The city that would most suit him and provide him the peace he needs to strategize his takeover is Islamabad," says the author, who adds that "it will be no surprise if American or Pakistani intelligence were to scoop him from Rawalpindi or Islamabad one day."
The book dwells on the rocky Pakistan-US ties and says that different geo-strategic objectives and mutual mistrust continue to cloud the relationship. "Divergent views on the endgame in Afghanistan have also kept rocking the CIA-ISI relationship and resulted in turf wars between the two agencies."
On the way ahead for its ties with the US, Gul notes that Pakistan's relationship is likely to remain bumpy and "fraught with possibilities of occasional altercations that at times spark fears of an armed conflagration as well".
The author frankly says that rather than "emulating a ten-time bigger India, Pakistan needs to drastically improve government and management of utilities...National strength rests in internal political and economic stability and not in borrowed nuclear technology or money".
Post-Osama, Pakistan faces a double whammy -- on the one hand, the US-led world looks at it with suspicion and, on the other, the country has lost over 40,000 of its citizens and security personnel in terror strikes.
Calling for an urgent civilian-military consensus, the author fears that in the absence of a clearly defined foreign policy, and a drastic review of its main contours, "Pakistan's frictions and fracas with the US, India and Afghanistan will keep causing upsets".
(Rahul Dass can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)