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Brace for turbulence

Updated May 02, 2011
This illustration taken on May 2, 2011 in Kaufbeuren, southern Germany, shows the websites of different newspapers reporting on the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He was killed on May 1, 2011 in a daring raid by US forces in Pakistan, triggering celebrations across the United States as President Barack Obama declared "justice has been done." – AFP Photo

 

With Osama bin Laden dead, Pakistan will have three major worries to contend with. Though these relate to three different aspects of Pakistan's state policies, they all emanate from the same source: Pakistan's troubled relationship with Islamic terrorist organisations and their targets – that is, the United States, Europe and India.

These aspects pertain to Pakistan's internal image as a member of the international community, the country's internal image in the eyes of its own people and the increasing or diminishing threat of terrorist attacks in the coming days and months.

Not that Pakistan has a great international image to speak of. But whatever trust or goodwill the country has been trying to build, vis-à-vis Aghanistan, India and the United States, in the recent past has suffered a serious blow.

For years Pakistan has denied that bin Laden was in Pakistan. Now with irrefutable evidence of his death taking place in Abbottabad, Islamabad has had the egg on its face. It will be difficult in the months and years to come to live in the same denial mode that Pakistan has been trying to live in even in the face of mounting international evidence and pressure that the main leaders of both al- Qaeda and Taliban are living and operating from its territory and that the country must do something to get rid of them.

Now that the evidence is there that they are/were/have been living in Pakistan, hence international pressure is bound to increase even more. How Pakistan chooses to deal with such a situation will determine whether Pakistan gains some of its lost image or continues to have its reputation tarnished further.

Secondly, the fact that the most wanted international terrorist, and a sworn enemy of Pakistan's state and government, has been residing within a stone's throw from the country’s military academy is something that will continue to disturb and upset many in the country.

How could the intelligence agencies not know about him? Why have the military and the government been so un-informed about the presence of potentially the most dangerous man on the earth residing within the vicinity of perhaps one of Pakistan's most sensitive military sites?

Expect talk shows, newspaper columns and blogospehere to be flooded with questions likes this in the next few days and weeks. The questions are important, indeed. How can a foreigner without any travel documents – valid or otherwise -- live along with his wife, children and armed guards in highly sensitive and supposedly high security areas? Why did the Pakistani government and the military never find out that the world's most wanted man was living right under their noses without any lawful authority? Was the Pakistan army chief addressing a military passing out parade only a few days ago only a few kilometers from where bin Laden was? How dangerous such a situation was?

The flip side of this debate is already making itself felt on the television channels. This pertains to questions about Pakistan's sovereignty. How on earth could an American military operation take place in the heart of the country – in fact, a short distance from its military academy? What about the breach of Pakistan's airspace and the sanctity of its national boundaries if the American attackers came from Afghanistan?

If, however, they were already in, why could Pakistan not have a tab on their movement within its own territory? Did the government in Islamabad know about the get-Osama operation? Did the military and the intelligence know about it? If yes, how much did they know and what was their role in the operation? If no, why not? These questions will be asked by political leaders, mainly from the right of the political spectrum, as well as very vocal media and intelligentsia.

Lastly, post-bin Laden, terrorism may enter a new, even more uncertain, phase in Pakistan. There may be an immediate 'reaction' from bin Laden's supporters among the Pakistani Taliban as well as other religious and sectarian militant groups in the shape of suicide bombings and other attacks against the symbols of state, security and government in Pakistan as well as against civilian targets in the urban areas.

More alarmingly, there may emerge some new individuals and groups – so far unknown – who may take up bin Laden's cause and increase terrorist activity in Pakistan in particular and across the globe in general. After all, this is what we witnessed in the wake of military operation on Islamabad’s Lal Masjid in 2007 – an incident that raised the level of terrorist incident and their lethality to unprecedented levels, courtesy new groups of militants and terrorists either led by the masjid's follower or inspired by the reports of perceived military brutalities there.

In this scenario, Pakistan must brace for more difficult, more uncertain and more turbulent times.

The writer is the editor of Herald magazine.