By SUNITA SOHRABJI
Despite the capture and death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. military forces in Pakistan May 1, the war on terrorism is far from over, said several experts in interviews with India-West.
Al Qaeda is planning a series of retaliatory terrorist attacks, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Terrorism, Non-Proliferation and Trade subcommittee, told India-West in a May 2 interview.
The Southern California congressman and his staff have been monitoring discussions on several jihadist Web sites since bin Laden’s death. “Their primary focus seems to be revenge terrorist attacks. The capture and killing of bin Laden by U.S. forces has been an incredible blow to their morale,” said Royce, who also sits on the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.
Al Qaeda’s first priority will be to exact revenge on the current civilian government in Pakistan, said Royce, asserting that the U.S. would be the terrorist network’s next target.
“We’ve killed bin Laden, but we cannot let our guard down,” he said, adding that al Qaeda’s primary aim in carrying out such attacks will be to demonstrate its continued strength in the absence of its leader.
Bin Laden was shot and killed by U.S. Navy Seals in a large walled compound in the town of Abbottabad, about 30 miles from Islamabad. Royce characterized Abbottabad as highly popular with retired Pakistani military personnel and said bin Laden may have been hiding out there for more than five years.
“It is implausible to me that someone in Pakistan’s intelligence forces was not helping bin Laden,” said Royce, adding that it was also impossible for Pakistan not to have known that the world’s most-wanted terrorist was on their soil.
The U.S. must now put pressure on Pakistan to return other terrorists it has been sheltering, including the ones associated with the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, said Royce. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, which took responsibility for the attacks that killed 178 people over three days, is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
Congress must also re-examine its commitment to providing aid to Pakistan in the wake of bin Laden’s death there, said Royce. In March 2009, President Barack Obama endorsed the Kerry/Lugar bill which would provide $1.5 billion per year over the next five years in non-military aid to Pakistan, to build schools, roads and hospitals there.
Sanjay Puri, chair of the U.S. India Political Action Committee, agreed with Royce. “USINPAC has been saying for the past six years that we need more transparency in the aid we provide to Pakistan,” Puri told India-West. “The government of Pakistan owes an explanation to U.S. taxpayers as to why bin Laden was living a comfortable life there, and whether U.S. tax dollars were used to hide him,” he said.
The U.S. must re-examine its paradigm and provide direct aid to credible non-profit organizations in Pakistan which have a clean track record, can provide clear accounting, have a defined action plan, and are willing to be subjected to periodic reviews, said Puri.
In the wake of bin Laden’s capture, USINPAC is pushing for Congressional hearings on the role of the Pakistani military and its intelligence service in sheltering bin Laden. Puri said the congressional leaders he has spoken with have been very responsive.
Rafiq Dossani, executive director of the South Asia Initiative at Stanford University, told India-West that the India-Pakistan relationship will improve in the wake of bin Laden’s capture.
“An enormous irritant that was promoting terrorism in India and Pakistan has gone,” he said.
However, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a press statement May 2 that the killing of bin Laden on Pakistani soil underlies India’s grave concern that terrorists can find a sanctuary within that country. He urged the Pakistani government to immediately arrest the suspected terrorists named by the Indian government, including those involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
But Dossani characterized Chidambaram as a “loose canon” with his own agenda, and predicted that the Indian government would take a softer stance.
“This is a great achievement for America,” said Dossani, adding that Obama used a strategy of working with the Pakistani government and accepting their fragility, while being as hard-nosed as possible on the ground.
While Pakistan was kept absolutely in the dark about strategic plans to capture bin Laden, it was called in to assist on the tactical side, said Dossani.
Dino Teppara, chair of the Indian American Conservative Council, told India-West that the capture of bin Laden in Pakistan clearly showed that Pakistan is not an American ally, but instead an enabler of terrorism. “There are lots of questions about the level of complicity Pakistan has with al Qaeda,” he said. “We need to take a much tougher stance.”
Emmy Award winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, in a May 2 Webcast organized by the South Asian Journalists’ Association, said, “It was symbolically important to have killed bin Laden, but it’s not going to affect the war on terror at all.”
“We haven’t killed bin Laden’s ideology at all,” she said, adding, “Right now, as we speak, there are 20 young men waiting to sign on to al Qaeda.”