Haven’t we seen this before? Oh yeah. Remember how we used to drag Nazi war criminals out of the dens of their houses in towns like Ypsilanti, where they were working at jobs like church custodian. Even though it’s imperative that criminals of the magnitude of Nazis and bin Laden be caught, capturing an individual of advanced age who’s been harmless for decades doesn’t make for a lot of p.r. bang for the buck.
This is exemplified by Juan Cole’s 9/11 post at Informed Comment, in which he declares the original al-Qaeda is dead. “I conclude,” he writes, “that Bin Laden, if he is alive, is so injured or disfigured that his appearance on videotape would only discourage any followers he has left.”
Nevertheless, the administration would like to present him to the American public as an Election Day gift for which we only need reciprocate by voting for John McCain. Of course, that’s unlikely, especially with our now strained relationship with Pakistan. However, an article in the new Foreign Policy titled “How to Catch Osama” (unlike most of their articles, available online) offers some helpful suggestions from four analysts.
Lt. Gen. Talat Masood (Ret.) of the Pakistani Army reminds us of what we all know: “Today, bin Laden is a source of inspiration for Islamist radicals, not an operational commander. Thus, although his capture may be an important symbolic victory, it will not be a strategic defeat for al Qaeda or the Taliban.” His suggestion is also obvious: “The Taliban and al Qaeda’s second- and third-tier leadership under detention is [a] valuable source of intelligence. Capturing pro al-Qaeda warlords can help, as they have considerable knowledge about the location and movement of top leaders.”
A Peshawar newspaper editor, Rahimullah Yusufzai, also states the obvious: The “United States will above all need to win friends and allies in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Unfortunately, U.S. policies are doing precisely the opposite.” Nor is his suggestion original: The “United States has promised just $750 million over five years for Pakistan’s tribal areas, peanuts compared with what it is spending in Afghanistan. Substantial, targeted development funds by the United States and its allies are needed to bring the tribal areas up to par with the rest of Pakistan.”
We’re also familiar with Islamabad physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy’s observation: “Extremist organizations feed off ignorance, cruelty, misery, poverty, pain, and injustice. Their ranks are being swelled by those wrongfully or mistakenly targeted—the innocent victims of U.S., NATO, and Pakistani artillery and air power.” But he provides a helpful reminder that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are already subverting themselves: “A people’s resistance is developing against atrocities targeting Shiites, massacres of tribal elders, destruction of girls’ schools and colleges, and the virtual elimination of revenues from areas dependent on tourism.”
The most concrete suggestions though are offered by author Shuja Nawaz, who warms to the subject in a big way. Here he speaks of his belief that, whatever the state of his health, bin Laden remains on the move: “Bin Laden is not likely to settle in the more open, vegetation-free zone further south. Inventory the hujras or meeting houses that have been hired by foreigners [presumably Pakistani] through local Taliban and other sympathizers (bribes will get you everywhere in the tribal areas, so use cash to find out what you need to know).”
Here’s Nawaz’s most intriguing advice: “The United States and Pakistan must operate independently to prevent leaks. [Link] carefully screened Afghan and frontier experts from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence. … to a small team of commandos tasked solely with ferreting out the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Locate the team inside Pakistani Army headquarters to avoid any leaks from ISI.” In other words, the commandos must operate without pressure from either the United States of the ISI. Sign this guy up!
Whether or not capturing bin Laden takes the wind out of those he inspires, it still needs to be done for the sake of justice. Heretofore, the administration has been too soft on the Pakistani government and failed to pressure it into coughing him up. On the other hand, its destructiveness elsewhere in the Middle East has alienated its people to the extent that HUMINT has become impossible and SIGINT limited by the wildness of the Pakistani-Afghan border country.
Our failure to apprehend Bin Laden is not only an example of the administration’s deep-seated disrespect for justice, but an insult to the country that was grievously harmed by bin Laden. Most troubling of all, though, has been the lack of an outcry on the part of Americans that he hasn’t been caught.