How to Catch Osama
Seven years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden remains as elusive as ever. Most analysts believe the al Qaeda leader is hiding out in Pakistan's tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. So, FP asked five Pakistani experts to tell us how to catch him.
Get Some Intelligence
By Shuja Nawaz
Osama bin Laden needs an extensive logistics network to stay active and in touch with his followers, and that presents an opportunity. Here's how I'd catch him.
Penetrate his network through double agents—locals and Arabs who could slowly work their way into al Qaeda's logistics chain. Over time, they could help map his activities and likely movements. Bin Laden cannot move easily without a sizable group of followers, so watch for the double-cab pickups that traverse the mountainous, wooded terrain of the northern Hindu Kush, his most likely hide-out. Look in Dir and Chitral districts, plus the contiguous Afghan provinces across the border. 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 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). Taliban leaders use satellite phones, which are easy to track. Thurayas are the preferred brand, and there's even a shop in Peshawar that sells them.
The United States and Pakistan must operate independently to prevent leaks. Organize the Pakistani cell as a fresh unit, using carefully screened Afghan and frontier experts from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence. Link them 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, and support it with a technology crew that can track electronic communications. Equip the commandos with fast-moving Apache and Mi-17 helicopters for rapid response. They'll need the latest night-vision goggles, not the obsolete models that the United States currently supplies.
Above all, avoid collateral damage. As Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, recently told an interviewer, "I traveled three months to recruit and only got 10-15 persons. One bombing by the Americans that killed innocents, and I got hundreds of recruits!"
Shuja Nawaz is a veteran journalist, analyst, and author of the recently released Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Partner with Pakistan
By Lt. Gen. Talat Masood (Ret.)
The Bush administration is looking for illusive, quick results when a long-term perspective is crucial for success. Frequent U.S. airstrikes by drones in Pakistan's tribal belt and the recent limited land operation in South Waziristan by U.S. forces have sparked anger throughout the country. Outraged moderates are joining hands with religious parties, asking the government to review Pakistan's alliance in the war on terror. The government will resist such pressure, but it will be hard to pacify the public if these strikes escalate.
Indeed, the Taliban and al Qaeda would like nothing more than to fight the Americans on Pakistani soil, giving the impression that they are resisting foreign aggression. It would be extremely politically difficult for the Pakistani military to continue counterinsurgency operations if the United States sent in ground troops.
The United States needs to face the fact that it will not capture Osama bin Laden without Pakistan's help. If U.S. policymakers have misgivings about elements of the ISI or other intelligence agencies, now is the time to address them, given that Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the Army chief of staff, and the present civilian government are serious about fighting terrorism and militancy.
Working through the tribes is the best approach. Bin Laden is most likely surrounded by several rings of security personnel who are extremely loyal, heavily armed, and constantly on the move. By relying on human intelligence supplemented by technical intelligence, it should be possible to identify his general location. Gathering information from the people will not be easy, however, as they fear reprisal from the militants. The Taliban and al Qaeda's second- and third-tier leadership under detention is another valuable source of intelligence. Capturing pro al-Qaeda warlords can help, as they have considerable knowledge about the location and movement of top leaders.
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. But the United States will not accomplish either symbolic or strategic victories against its enemy unless it has Pakistan as a partner.
Lt. Gen. Talat Masood is a retired general of the Pakistani Army.
Help the Pashtuns
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
To kill or capture Osama bin Laden, 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.
Errant airstrikes and cross-border raids that have killed innocent civilians have made a bitter enemy out of the Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Durand Line and make up the bulk of the Taliban. The Pashtun people are unusual in the sense that they would be willing to do things willingly if asked respectfully, but refuse point-blank if ordered to do so or threatened with force. Bombings and missile strikes won't force them to beg for mercy or cooperate with the attackers. They are made of sterner stuff. Their patience is endless and is born out by their suffering during the past three decades.
To earn the Pashtuns' goodwill and support, the United States and its allies will need to detach them from the Taliban and, in turn, detach the Taliban from al Qaeda. Lumping them together allows them to unite to fight a common enemy. But the Taliban and al Qaeda are different entities with separate agendas and, therefore, must be dealt with differently. Once that is done, bin Laden and other foreigners will find it hard to claim local support and seek sanctuary among the Pashtuns.
How can the United States win them over? One major source of Pashtun rage is the insecurity and killings in their areas, which prevent new jobs and development. Yet 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.
Pashtuns, moreover, are angry that their main province—the North-West Frontier Province—has no proper name. They'd like to rename it Pakhtunkhwa, land of Pakhtuns (or Pashtuns), just like Punjab for Punjabis, Sindh for Sindhis, and Baluchistan for Baluchis. Although economic development is crucial, greater provincial autonomy within Pakistan would address some of the Pashtuns' concerns.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is resident editor of The News International, a daily newspaper in Peshawar.
Be Careful What You Wish For
By Hasan-Askari Rizvi
Eliminating top al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri via unilateral U.S. military action in Pakistan's tribal areas will undoubtedly be viewed as a major triumph in Washington policy circles. But be careful what you wish for.
First, al Qaeda is now a symbol of resistance for a large number of shadowy, anti-American groups based in different countries that function independently of the organization's central leadership. The decapitation of al Qaeda will be only a temporary setback for them.
Second, what if unilateral U.S. action in Pakistan's tribal areas does not kill or capture the al Qaeda leadership? Failure will only further destabilize Pakistan's fragile civilian elected government, which faces daunting domestic challenges and a powerful military whose current withdrawal from active politics is tactical rather than strategic.
Pakistan's central predicament is not bin Laden per se, but the utter failure of former President Pervez Musharraf and the present leadership to mobilize the country against terrorism. Most Pakistanis think that their government's involvement in the war on terror does not serve the national interest, and anti-U.S. sentiments go far beyond Islamic circles. Unilateral strikes will only fan those flames.
In short, getting bin Laden in a unilateral strike would hardly signal victory in the war on terrorism. The complex situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan requires a more comprehensive and long-range approach, involving supporting the civilian government in Islamabad, establishing a credible government in Kabul, and working jointly with the Pakistani military. Unilateral U.S. military action may or may not displace terrorist groups from the tribal areas in the short term, but it will certainly destabilize and fragment Pakistan in the long run. And nothing would make Osama bin Laden happier than seeing Pakistan become the next failed state.
Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defense analyst based in Lahore.
Dry Up the Cesspool
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Seven years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden continues to elude the countless fortune seekers, professional spies, intelligence agencies, and Predators prowling the Afghan-Pakistani border. Ground operations have also revealed little. Pakistan's recent offensive around the Taliban stronghold of Bajaur has so far produced more than 250,000 refugees and hundreds of dead Taliban and Arab fighters. The only new intel is that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second in command, recently visited the area with his wife. The GPS coordinates of al Qaeda's top leader remain as fuzzy as ever.
But this may scarcely matter. Like Lewis Carol's hotly pursued mythical Snark—who turned out to be just a Boojum at the end—bin Laden's eventual capture or death, however satisfying, is likely to be irrelevant.
Al Qaeda has morphed into a mind-set, a way of thinking that transcends borders and individuals. The speed with which new militant leaders have succeeded slain ones stands as proof. 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.
Even as al Qaeda and its Taliban allies spread their octopus arms into more and more areas of the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), there is some good news. 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.
These gains need to be followed up. The cesspool in which extremism thrives must be drained. The Pakistani state must firmly enforce its writ and protect ordinary tribal folk who resist religious extremism. It will need to put more Pakistani boots on the ground in FATA, address the causes of human misery in these poverty-stricken and lawless no-man's lands, and cleanse intelligence agencies of pro-Taliban and al Qaeda elements. It may be a tall order, but it is immensely more important than getting bin Laden's head.
Pervez Hoodbhoy is chairman of the department of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad and is a prominent commentator.