THE foreign minister’s recent refusal to call Osama bin Laden a terrorist in an interview with an Afghan media outlet is perplexing and defies logic. There are times to be diplomatic and parry sticky questions. However, this certainly didn’t appear to be one of those instances.

Asked by Tolo News if he disagreed with the prime minister’s reference to Osama bin Laden as a ‘martyr’ in the National Assembly (during a discussion on the US operation in Abbottabad that had killed the Al Qaeda chief) last year, Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that the prime minister’s remarks had been taken out of context. On being asked if he (Mr Qureshi) regarded him as a martyr, he said: “I will let it pass”.

Mr Qureshi could have used this opportunity to clearly state that Pakistan considers the late Al Qaeda mastermind a terrorist. However, his non-committal comments sent the wrong message to a global audience.

Pakistan’s top leadership needs to be absolutely clear when it comes to describing fighters like bin Laden.

Read: 10 years after his death, Bin Laden's memory lives on in Abbottabad

Once upon a time, during the heady days of the Afghan ‘jihad’, bin Laden and other ‘Afghan Arabs’ like him may have been in the good books of the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan due to their usefulness against the Soviets. But in the post-9/11 era, bin Laden’s activities fell within the purview of terrorism. At one time, Al Qaeda was considered public enemy number one for governments around the globe, with the terrorist outfit staging bloody attacks across the world, and targeting civilians without discrimination.

Furthermore, after Osama bin Laden’s death, though Al Qaeda’s destructive prowess may have waned, other, even more bloodthirsty militants took its place, as Al Qaeda became the prototype for militants worldwide. For example, the self-styled Islamic State group, that emerged from the deserts of Iraq, was basically the new avatar of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Also, bin Laden was an ideological hero to many militants in Pakistan, who had no qualms about taking on the state and spilling the blood of the innocent. Few would disagree that bin Laden was the most influential religious militant of the current era, inspiring terrorist groups across the world with his ideology and tactics. Therefore, there should be no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ and the message our government should be sending to the world is that Osama bin Laden was very much a terrorist.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2021

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