The hunt for Osama bin Laden continues in the caves of Afghanistan with the clear objective being to neutralize or capture him. Faced with the prospects of capture, he might even go down fighting and attain martyrdom in the eyes of some. Whatever be the reason, if Osama was to be eliminated would that lead to a more aggravated situation in the global campaign against terrorism? Would that spread convulsions in the Islamic world? Will it create more difficulties than already exists? All these seem highly unlikely.
Osama is one of the biggest myths of our times. If there was a strategy behind the 11th September attacks, it has clearly failed. They were designed to ignite a religious war by drawing a severe backlash from the US and the western powers. The self-righteousness of the holy cause espoused by Osama had been strengthened over a period of time. Osama’s series of triumphs through terrorist attacks had conferred an aura around his messianic mission and also increased his charismatic attractiveness. Ineffective retribution had imbued an illusionary invincibility on him.
Now, the determination exhibited in the US military campaign to get him is going to puncture that invincibility. In a way, the US led military action is demolishing a large number of myths that had been built around the Mujahedin, Taliban and Osama. The myths that were being perpetuated regarding the Taliban have been undermined. We have seen the Taliban routed and yet to see the protests in the Islamic world. Eventually, if Osama is neutralized it will also demolish one of the biggest myths. Will the Islamic world rise up in his favour and declare Jihad? No one will rise in his favour in Afghanistan for sure. Some may do so in Pakistan. But we have seen the fate of the Pakistani Jihadi’s captured in Afghanistan. Back home, the military regime in Pakistan has incarcerated the important Islamic fundamentalist leaders without much of a serious backlash. In the Arab world, for their own safety and survival, the unpopular regimes with the support of the coalition are all geared up to crush any revolt that may arise.
Radical Islamists and the media have helped in the perpetuation of Osama’s myth. There are numerous militant leaders of radical Islamic outfits who keep declaring Jihad against the US, Israel and India but it is Osama who receives the media glare, creating an artificial support base for him and increasing his prospects for mobilization. In the absence of Osama, other Islamic radicals who do not have Osama’s stature or charisma will not have his abilities to mobilize. Al-Qaeda is not a mass political or revolutionary movement. It does not have a political base to sustain itself. Its damaged network may retain the capacity to engage in terrorist strikes, but it would lose its capacity to mobilize. This will have a sobering effect on the discourse built around Jihad by radical Islamic militants.
From an organizational point of view, would some day another Osama replace him? Hard to say. But it can be safely assumed that leadership with the motivation, determination and tenacity like Osama and V. Prabhakaran—the leader of the Tamil guerrilla group in Sri Lanka—do not emerge every other day. And therefore when the leadership of such organizations is neutralized, it damages the movement seriously. When Abimael Guzman, the charismatic leader of the Shining Path in Peru was captured in 1992, a mortal blow was stuck at his movement. When Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party was captured, his movement was severely wounded and changed course. In India we have the experiences of Bhindranwale, leader of the Khalistani movement and in Sri Lanka Rohana Wijeeweera, the leader of the JVP. We have seen the violent Khalistan movement die out and the JVP having changed course drastically after their leaders were eliminated. Unless there is a clear designated successor and the organizational structure is intact, the organization cannot be effective. With the reported killing of Ayman Zawahari, the founder of the Islamic Jihad of Egypt and possibly a designated successor, there is no significant leadership left to lead the Al Qaeda. It may die a natural death or its remnants continue to carry out terrorist acts without clear goals. But for sure, the world will be a safer place without the Al-Qaeda and the likes of Osama.