My first contribution to the ongoing hyper-covered story – this one for the Oriental Morning Post. Some more bits on this forthcoming. For the whole thing in Mandarin see here (have also pasted it below including images).

Is the War Over?

The death of Osama bin Laden is unlikely to make any major difference in the immediate war on terrorism, but nonetheless it is a big psychological victory for the United States. Historians will look back at this moment as a major marker in the conflict against Al Qaeda and her affiliates, and it is likely the beginning of a long trajectory by which the group slowly fades as the global force that it previously was. Coming almost ten years after Al Qaeda burst into the world’s collective consciousness, this is a significant moment that closes an important chapter in recent history.

The immediate impact to China of this event is going to be limited – but it is going to mark a shift in America’s involvement in South Asia and this will have major longer-term repercussions for the region.

The relief at his death was tangible in Washington, where less than an hour after the news had broken, crowds gathered outside the White House waving flags and singing the national anthem. President Obama spoke of “the death of bin Laden” as the “most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.” And for the large industry of commentators, thinkers and security officials that had been trying to track him down or read what his next move was going to be, this is indeed an important moment. At a personal level, as someone who has been following his movement as a researcher for many years, it feels like something important has indeed taken place. Some certainty that progress is being made by the forces trying to defeat Al Qaeda. Nonetheless, concerns remain about what this means in practical terms.

Osama bin Laden first founded Al Qaeda in the wake of his experiences as a young man fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. A young idealist who gave up a life as a Saudi prince to live the life of a travelling holy warrior, he decided that victory against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was not enough. Instead, he wanted to push on and defeat the other great power of the day America, showing the power of God’s message. And so he launched a global jihad against America and her allies, creating in Sudan, Afghanistan and finally Pakistan a set of mobile training camps were other holy warriors could come and train with him before being sent back to carry out their deadly trade wherever they were able.

And initially, the organization Al Qaeda (whose name translates as “The Base”) was directly ruled and controlled by this man. He was closely involved with the plotting of the organization’s first attacks: the 1998 double bombings of US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania that killed some 200 people; the 2000 attack on a US battleship off Yemen that resulted 19 deaths; and the 2001 attack on New York and Washington that led to some 3,000 deaths. It was this last attack that brought him to global attention, leading to American invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq and an explosion globally of interest in his extremist message of imposing Islamic shariah law violently around the world.

But this reaction also forced him to go underground. Reports to emerge from his inner circle show that he may not have been expecting the sort of reaction that his attacks got, and as a result his role as an operational manager for the group seems to have gone down as he withdrew into hiding.

Instead, the direct operational role of plotting terrorist attacks to advance his ideas has been taken up by many middle managers in his organization that have plotted and carried out numerous attacks around the world in his name. Plots in London, Istanbul, Tunisia, Bali, and across Afghanistan and Pakistan can all be linked to the group he founded. In addition to this, the message that he proclaimed found a resonance amongst other terrorist networks in different parts of the globe. Groups in North Africa, Somalia and Yemen all claimed some part of his message and started to publish messages in which they directly praised and thanked him for his leadership. And beyond these organized groups, young overexcited men and women seeking meaning in their lives found his message of global anti-Americanism appealing and tried to carry out actions in its name.

No matter how decreased his role as an operational leader was, however, his role as a figurehead for Al Qaeda and for the global Islamist movement was significant. His regular recorded messages from what we now know was a compound in Abbottabad were waited for with baited breath and listened to attentively by followers around the world. His continuing concealed existence was a symbol to radicals that the war was ongoing and that victory was maybe possible. And his death within this context is important both for those who are fighting for him and against him. This is a war of ideas and he was the lead messenger for the other side.

Of course, Al Qaeda’s many affiliate groups will use this as an opportunity to strike back at the west. Cells connected to the core network operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan will no doubt take this as a sign to attempt to launch attacks globally. And beyond this immediate reaction, in the medium-term we will continue to see regional groups from North Africa, Somalia and Yemen attempting to launch deadly strikes from their bases. Already this year we have seen numerous deadly attacks around the world and it is likely that they will continue. The war will go on.

But nevertheless, an important leader has been killed by what was an audacious and verifiable strike by American forces in Pakistan. This shows that the west is able to strike successfully and is indeed fighting a war in which it is slowly grinding its enemy Al Qaeda down, something that makes people fighting for Al Qaeda’s ideas on the ground increasingly question what they are doing. In much the same way that the civil unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya confused Al Qaeda since it showed that people could overthrow long-term dictators using public protest and did not have to resort to mass murder as Osama bin Laden and his friends called for, his death must make them wonder about what their prospects of victory are. No matter what is said, his death will help lower Al Qaeda’s global appeal to some degree.

The significance of all of this to China is somewhat low in the short term. China was, and is, seen as a second tier target by the group. But in the long term this signifies that American attention and involvement in Afghanistan and South Asia is going to decrease. President Obama had been looking for a way to get out of the wars he inherited since he came into office and this will now give him a clear signal that he accelerate this process. Ten years on from Al Qaeda’s most successful strike against the west in September 2001, the United States government has the lead plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo and has now killed the ideological head of the group. While American security planners know this is not the end of Islamist inspired terrorism against them, politicians know that the problem will now slowly be relegated into second place in the public’s attention. And this means that a process that had already started with President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan last year will continue as the President tries to extricate his nation from the religiously fuelled civil wars that are causing so much misery in South Asia.

The danger to China comes in the details of how the assassination strike was carried out. Early news reports indicate that the operation was conducted by American forces with limited Pakistani knowledge or awareness, something that is unsurprising from the perspective of the current high tensions between Pakistan and the United States. But it also seems as though Osama was living in a rather obvious compound not far from the capital, under conditions that seem like they should have been noted at the nearby military bases. The suggestion therefore is that the Pakistani government is still not tackling the beast of radicalism within its country effectively, and this means that a terrorist haven of some sort still exists on China’s borders.

This is of course something that also remains an American and western problem. In the past few years, we have seen a number of large-scale and high profile plots be organized and directed from Pakistan and in the wake of Osama’s death these will continue. Clearly, American and NATO security forces in Afghanistan will need to continue to fight on the ground to make sure these plots are not able to succeed and until Afghanistan can at last become a safe and stable country from where such plots cannot be organized. But the death of Osama means that the heart of the issue from a western public’s perspective has been removed and Al Qaeda will increasingly be spoken of in the past tense. Politicians will focus on it less and the public will generally move onto worrying about other threats – unless, that is, there is another attack in America that is larger or on the same scale as 9/11.

The result will be a continuing de-escalation of American and NATO presence in Afghanistan. Some presence will remain to make sure plots that are still being organized are disrupted before they can reach western shores, but the overall presence will go down. This means that it will be increasingly up to those in the region to try to address the long-term strategic issue of Pakistan as a center of extremism and as a nuclear-armed state with individuals in positions of influence who still seem in some ways sympathetic towards extremists that have supported international terrorists.

Osama bin Laden’s death is an important marker in the conflict against violent Islamist extremism, but it is not the end. It is, however, going to seen by historians as one of the steps along the path to the end.

战争结束了吗 

 作者 潘睿凡   发表于2011-05-03 02:54

乌萨马·本·拉丹的死并不见得会为目前的反恐之战带来什么重大变化。

  潘睿凡

英国伦敦激进主义化研究

国际中心副研究员

“基地”组织的许多分支将会以此为契机展开对西方的全球反攻。此外在中期预测上,我们也将继续看到来自北方、索马里和也门的区域性恐怖组织从他们的基地发起死亡攻击。今年全球各地也已经发生了多起恐怖袭击事件,而且他们仍可能继续。战争将会持续。

在获悉本·拉丹被击毙的消息之后,美国朝野对反恐战争是否结束持不同的态度。政治漫画网

  乌萨马·本·拉丹的死并不见得会为目前的反恐之战带来什么重大变化,尽管如此,这对于美国仍可称作一次心理上的伟大胜利。这很可能会成为一个转折点,“基地”组织的势力将逐步衰弱并最终销声匿迹。当历史学家们书写反恐战争史的时候,这也将成为“9·11”事件发生近十年以来重要的一笔。

此事件对于中国的直接影响十分有限。但美国在取得这一成果后必然会对其在南亚的介入策略做出一定调整,因而这对于此区域的长期影响不可忽视。

在华盛顿,拉丹的死讯明显地令大家感到欢欣鼓舞。消息传来不到一个小时,就有人群聚集在白宫外,挥舞着旗帜并大唱国歌。奥巴马总统也称“拉丹死讯”是“目前我国在打击‘基地’组织的努力中最卓著的成就”。而对于大批的评论家、智库学者以及长期以来一直致力于追逐和捕捉拉丹动向的安全官员们来讲,这的确是个重要的时刻。从他们的个人角度来看,他们多年来为之努力奋斗的目标终于实现。这标志着反恐斗争的确取得了一定程度的进展。但是,对于这一事件的实际意义,大家还存有许多担忧。

“基地”组织是年轻时的本·拉丹在阿富汗反对苏军入侵时建立的。那时这个年轻的理想主义者放弃了自己在沙特的王子生活而成为一名战士,他认定,在阿富汗战胜苏军还不够,他还将继续下去并击败世界上的其他强权——美国,从而传递神的讯息。于是他发动了一场全球范围的伊斯兰圣战,以美国及其盟友为目标,在苏丹、阿富汗和巴基斯坦建立起一系列移动训练营,在那里其他的圣战战士得到训练,随后被送回去进行他们的死亡事业。

起初,“基地”组织由他直接管理和控制。该组织的前几次攻击他都亲自参与谋划:1998年针对内罗毕、肯尼亚和达累斯萨拉姆的美国外交机构的袭击造成近200人死亡;2000年在也门炸伤美国军舰造成19人死亡;2001年的“9·11”事件杀死了近三千余人。而正是“9·11”以后,美国才发动了对阿富汗和伊拉克的军事行动,本·拉丹的恶名全球皆知,对于这个极端激进的伊斯兰恐怖者及其以暴力推进伊斯兰教法行为的关注激增。

但世界的反应也令拉丹不得不转入地下活动。一些从他身边圈子里传出来的消息表明,这样的结果多少出乎他的意料,而且躲躲藏藏也严重影响了他对于恐怖组织的管理。

后来那些体现其“思想”的恐怖袭击,则实际是由他们的“中层干部”以拉丹的名义策划和组织完成。那些发生在伦敦、伊斯坦布尔、巴厘以及阿富汗和巴基斯坦国内的恐怖阴谋都与“基地”组织及其分支有关。但除此以外,还有其它的恐怖组织响应拉丹。在北非、索马里和也门的恐怖组织也发布消息对拉丹表示赞誉和感谢。除了有组织的恐怖行动,还有一些需求生命意义的过度兴奋的年轻人,为拉丹的全球反美号召所吸引,在尝试以他的名义展开活动。

无论拉丹“行动指挥”的角色如何被减弱,他都还是“基地”组织和全球伊斯兰极端运动的偶像。他从隐藏地(现在我们知道是在阿伯塔巴德)时不时发布的一些录音,被他世界各地的追随者所期盼和倾听。他这种持续的隐蔽状态成为极端主义者们的一种标志——圣战仍在继续而且还有可能成功。因而在这种意义上,拉丹作为“圣战”的标志性人物,他的死讯对于反恐斗争的双方是具有重要意义的。

显然,“基地”组织的许多分支将会以此为契机展开对西方的全球反攻。此外在中期预测上,我们也将继续看到来自北方、索马里和也门的区域性恐怖组织从他们的基地发起死亡攻击。今年全球各地也已经发生了多起恐怖袭击事件,而且他们仍可能继续。战争将会持续。

无论如何,通过美军在巴基斯坦无畏且确凿的打击,终于消灭了“基地”组织的一个重要头领。这既证明了西方世界有进行成功打击的能力,也表明一场以粉碎“基地”组织为目标的战争确实正在进行展开——这些,都可以在某种程度上回答一些人心中日渐加重的疑问:十年了,我们究竟在干什么?而拉丹的死也许会令“基地”组织的人产生动摇,他们的“胜利”究竟应是什么含义?近来发生在埃及、突尼斯和利比亚的情况会让他们看到,还有其他的方式可以改变世界,而不必像拉丹倡导的那样。不管他们到底怎么想,拉丹的死讯将有助于减弱基地组织在全球的吸引力。

短期内,拉丹之死对中国的影响不大。中国被基地组织视为次等目标。但长远看,这意味着美国在阿富汗和南亚的关注和介入会减少。奥巴马总统要摆脱他继承的几场战争,而现在是一个加快步伐的好时机。我们可以从刺杀行动的细节中推测出中国的风险。据媒体报道,此次行动巴基斯坦并不知情,在美巴关系紧张的背景下,这毫不令人吃惊。但拉丹住在离伊斯兰堡不远的一处很显眼的住宅中,照理说很容易被附近驻扎的军队发现。这表明巴基斯坦政府仍未有效打击在其国内活动的激进主义势力,也意味着中国的边境仍存在着一个恐怖主义者的天堂。

这当然会成为美国和西方的问题。过去数年中,我们目睹数起大规模高调的恐怖袭击阴谋在巴基斯坦组织、流出实施,拉丹死后,这些活动将会继续。显然,美国和北约阿富汗安全部队需要继续奋力确保粉碎这些阴谋,直到阿富汗最终成为安全稳定之地。然而在西方公众看来,拉丹之死意味着问题的核心已被移除,“基地”组织将成为“过去时”。政治家将更少关注它,公众也会转而担心其他的威胁——除非有另外一次与“9·11”程度相当的袭击。

结果将是减少美国和北约在阿富汗的存在。一些军事力量将继续留存以确保粉碎那些仍在组织的恐怖计划,但总量将会减少。这意味着,该地区将更加需要靠自己的能力来试图解决巴基斯坦的长期战略问题。巴基斯坦作为极端主义活动中心和核武国家,似乎仍然同情那些支持国际恐怖分子的极端主义者。

拉丹之死是在与伊斯兰极端主义的斗争中的重大事件,但这并不是斗争的终点。历史学家将会看到,这不过是通向终点的一步而已。(白澜 译)

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