Osama bin Laden Dead: US Strategy Misconceived, Says Hamid Karzai
Discovery of world's most wanted man in Pakistan safe haven shows west's entire military strategy is wrong, claims Afghan president
Hamid Karzai's reaction to the news of Osama bin Laden's violent death in Pakistan could be best summed up as 'I told you so.'
Speaking in front of a packed hall in his palace in Kabul, the Afghan president said the discovery that the world's most wanted man was holed up in a garrison town in Pakistan proved that the west's entire military strategy is misconceived.
"Year after year, day after day, we have said the fighting against terrorism is not in the villages of Afghanistan, not among the poor people of Afghanistan," he said. "The fight against terrorism is in safe havens. It proves that Afghanistan was right."
In recent months Karzai has become increasingly strident in his criticism of the US-led coalition, saying it has focused on counter-insurgency operations in the Pashtun south of the country rather than the Taliban safe havens over the border.
He also hinted that the Pakistani state itself was complicit in hiding the Saudi terrorist leader, saying Bin Laden had "hidden himself in the military bases of Abbottabad".
But the Afghan president appealed for peace with Pakistan, saying "I want good relations with the neighbouring countries whatever they have done." And he called on the Taliban to stop killing their fellow Afghans, asking "who are you fighting for?".
Although the killing of Bin Laden will strengthen Karzai's argument with the US, some analysts and officials expressed fears that his demise could hasten the end of the huge US-led military and development effort in Afghanistan.
"While thrilled to see the removal of the worst enemy of Islam who inflicted irreparable damage to image of Islam and Muslims, my concern is his death becomes the justification for US premature disengagement from the region," one senior Afghan government official who specialises in foreign affairs said.
It was a view echoed by Ahmed Wali Massoud, an Afghan politician and brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary resistance fighter who was assassinated just days before the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the orders of Bin Laden.
"Already the US has been thinking about shifting its policy on the war on terror and there is a risk that the American public will continue to question why their troops are still fighting there," he said.
But Massoud warned that his killing would not make "any practical difference to the war in Afghanistan".
"Symbolically this is huge because he was such an iconic figure, but this is not the end. Al-Qaida is still there and there are so many other groups that are just as ideologically strong.
"The younger generation of the Taliban have come up and they now make up the bulk of the Taliban ideologically and are not very different from al-Qaida itself. We believe there is still scope for operations in Afghanistan, because the threat is still here."
Despite recent reports that al-Qaida has tried to re-establish a foothold in Afghanistan, particularly in mountainous areas of the north-east where US troops have pulled back, analysts have long declared that the group is largely irrelevant to the fighting in Afghanistan.
But other experts said that far from being a setback, the killing of Bin Laden could improve the chances of peace. Michael Semple, a former EU diplomat who was expelled from the country in 2007 for talking to the Taliban, said the death of Bin Laden "removes any illusions that al-Qaida was a force to reckon with in Afghanistan".
"This gives America an ideal opportunity to play its needed role in responsibly winding down the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Semple, who works as an academic at Harvard.
He added that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the US military outfit that runs "kill and capture" operations against insurgents, needed to take a back seat after a huge intensification of its efforts in the last year.
He said: "This of course will require diplomacy rather than just counter-terror. JSOC has played its role, now it's time for state".
The fact that the raid happened inside Pakistani territory where the Afghan Taliban enjoy sanctuary could also put pressure on the insurgent high command to come to the negotiating table, he said.
Taliban spokesmen said they were suspicious of early media reports of Bin Laden's death and said they would reserve comment until they were certain it was true.
But one Taliban commander, who escaped from Kandahar prison last week, told the Guardian he had no doubts and was "very sad" at the news because "the Americans will be happy".
"In the Islamic countries Osama is a respected person. I hope Muslims join with us after this killing and stand beside us against the Americans," he said, speaking by phone from an unknown location.
He warned it would make no difference to the strength of the insurgency inside Afghanistan. "We have lost thousands of people, but every year we get stronger," he said.
"We do not rely on foreigners to fight or us. Almost 500 people escaped with me from Kandahar prison and they were all Afghans. There were no foreigners."
On the streets of Kabul this morning public reaction was muted.
"Thousands of people die every day and he is just one of the thousands," said Zaikira, a 49-year-old money changer. "It won't change the war. We have had fighting in Afghanistan for centuries, and it will continue for hundreds more."