8.7.11

Why Did Pakistan Harbor Bin Laden? The Answer May Surprise You

Most western journalists provide reasonable accounts of why Pakistan protected Osama bin Laden. Some claim that American financial aid to Pakistan is the main reason. CNN reported that, "Pakistan takes billions of dollars of American aid while providing safe havens to terrorists to build bombs and launch cross-border attacks on US troops in Afghanistan."

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, was critical of Pakistan and during a hearing he asked Vice Adm. William McRaven, who supervised the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound in Pakistan whether the top Taliban leader and al Qaeda ally Mullah Omar was hiding there. McRaven replied, "Sir, we believe he is." Graham pressed McRaven. "Do we believe he is there with the knowledge of the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate) and the upper echelon of the (Pakistani) army?" asked Graham. "Sir, I believe the Pakistanis know he is in Pakistan," McRaven said. Today, the United States is holding back $800 million in aid to Pakistan because of the bin Laden incident.

Time Magazine said that Pakistan harboring bin Laden is similar to keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in check. Assad is Iran's only ally among the Arab leaders, and he is a key patron of Hizballah and Hamas. Assad's regime is accused of using his authoritarian rule to send tanks and order his security forces to fire on unarmed demonstrators. But Time Magazine claims that, "The US will not create policies to overthrow Assad because he maintains stability on Israel's northern border; and keeping Assad prevents a civil war that would renew the volatile Sunni-Shi'ite conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq. Furthermore, if Assad is removed, the Muslim Brotherhood can rise to power and adopt an even more hostile position." So, a functioning Assad is necessary for peace in the region.

Along the same lines, a functioning bin Laden helps Pakistan keep stability in their region. Pakistan has its own agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir and this must include relations with the Taliban, who has a stronghold in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda would be instrumental for Pakistan to deal with the Taliban. Thus, as the US keeps Assad in power for stability, Pakistan kept bin Laden in power for its own stable relationship with Afghanistan. But financial aid and complex political positioning still doesn't clearly answer why Pakistan harbored bin Laden.

A convincing answer dates back to Muhammad's time. After the death of Muhammad, the next four caliphs attempted to build a religious foundation and restore order. When the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, a member of the Umayyad family of Mecca, rose to power, he was opposed by Muḥammad’s closest followers, the Muslims of Medina, because Uthman favored his own Meccan family during political appointments. Uthman was eventually murdered by Egyptian soldiers, and the people of Mecca demanded revenge. But Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was proclaimed the fourth caliph by the people of Medina, failed to avenge the assassination. This event reveals two important dilemmas in Muslim history that continue to this day.

Ali did not initially avenge the death of Uthman because to do so would mean that Ali would have to avenge fellow Muslims, a problem given that the justice of God made Muslims critical of exploitation. Avenging a death can be considered exploitation in the eyes of God. A second dilemma is the judgment of God. Ali refrained from making a judgment because only God knows what's in the hearts of men. The Egyptian soldiers who assassinated Uthman must have had feelings in their hearts that only God can judge, not Ali. Ali's dilemmas are similar to the dilemma of Pakistan harboring bin Laden. Pakistan avenging bin Laden for the US could have been interpreted as Muslim exploitation, and judging bin Laden and determining what feelings were in his heart is something that only God can do, not Pakistan. Like Ali, there was no alternative for Pakistan to not harbor bin Laden. Not harboring him would exploit God's justice and judging him would undermine God's judgment.

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Known Terrorist Groups

Al-Qaida has cooperated with a number of known terrorist groups worldwide including:

  • Armed Islamic Group
  • Salafist Group for Call and Combat and the Armed Islamic Group
  • Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Egypt)
  • Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya
  • Jamaat Islamiyya
  • The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
  • Bayt al-Imam (Jordan)
  • Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad (Kashmir)
  • Asbat al Ansar
  • Hezbollah (Lebanon)
  • Al-Badar
  • Harakat ul Ansar/Mujahadeen
  • Al-Hadith
  • Harakat ul Jihad
  • Jaish Mohammed - JEM
  • Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
  • Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan
  • Laskar e-Toiba - LET
  • Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the Philippines)
  • Abu Sayyaf Group (Malaysia, Philippines)
  • Al-Ittihad Al Islamiya - AIAI (Somalia)
  • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
  • Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen)
  • Armed Islamic Group
  • Salafist Group for Call and Combat and the Armed Islamic Group
  • Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Egypt)
  • Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya
  • Jamaat Islamiyya
  • The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
  • Bayt al-Imam (Jordan)
  • Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad (Kashmir)
  • Asbat al Ansar
  • Hezbollah (Lebanon)
  • Al-Badar
  • Harakat ul Ansar/Mujahadeen
  • Al-Hadith
  • Harakat ul Jihad
  • Jaish Mohammed - JEM
  • Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
  • Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan
  • Laskar e-Toiba - LET
  • Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the Philippines)
  • Abu Sayyaf Group (Malaysia, Philippines)
  • Al-Ittihad Al Islamiya - AIAI (Somalia)
  • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
  • Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen)
  • Jihad and the Internet

    Let’s not fool ourselves. Whatever threat the real Afghanistan poses to U.S. national security, the “Virtual Afghanistan” now poses just as big a threat. The Virtual Afghanistan is the network of hundreds of jihadist Web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West. Whatever surge we do in the real Afghanistan has no chance of being a self-sustaining success, unless there is a parallel surge — by Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders — against those who promote violent jihadism on the ground in Muslim lands and online in the Virtual Afghanistan.

    Thomas L. Friedman
    New York Times
    15 Dec 2009

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