An eerie silence has settled over the West since the shocking revelation that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US forces at the beginning of May. It is the calm before the storm, and a big storm is due.
President Obama confirmed that Bin Laden was killed by “Operation Neptune Spear” on 1 May 2011. The mission took just 40 minutes. The most powerful country in the world took just 40 minutes to kill a man it had been hunting for ten years. There was no grand finale; it was almost something of an anti-climax. But the worldwide reaction to the news was another thing altogether.
It was on a scale hitherto unforeseen and really, it was somewhat alarming. Obviously the USA erupted in celebration, with people standing in front of the White House chanting “USA! USA!” This was unsurprising, but arguably foolhardy.
It was the explosion of groups and “likes” on the social network site Facebook that really shocked. Within 24 hours of the news emerging, there were hundreds of them. They took a range of forms; there was one for everyone.
There was the basic “The soldier who killed Osama Bin Laden = Ultimate Lad”; a particular favourite among men it would seem. For the Harry Potter fans there was “The awkward moment when you realise that Osama Bin Laden made seven horcruxes.” Other jokes included “I bet Osama Bin Laden regrets using the Facebook location app now”. Then there were the plays on words, such as “Osama Bin Laters” or “No hard feelings Bin Laden, it’s only a bit of Talibanter”. Some perhaps deserve credit for quick-wittedness, they were arguably quite funny, but the severity of the matter was perhaps lost on many over the “Disney” weekend that brought us a royal wedding and the death of the “bad guy”. Before we jump to declare “another bank holiday” the ramifications of this event should be considered.
There are very few people in this world who would contest that Osama Bin Laden was evil, or even that he deserved to die, but that does not excuse the US’ actions. The US forces entered Pakistan without government knowledge, let alone permission, and proceeded to shoot at unarmed men. Osama Bin Laden’s retreat into his bedroom is supposed to be viewed as a “hostile” act. The operation was streamed to the White House live – the video feed was leaked and quickly hidden. The world needs to see it, but it is unlikely that it could justify America’s actions in what looks a planned execution.
On 6 May al-Qaeda confirmed the death of its leader but vowed to continue its attacks against the US and her allies. The UK would certainly be included in that category. Our state of high alert should not be loosened now simply because over a month has passed with no retaliation. So far the West has been lucky with no reported incidences of retribution; Pakistan has not fared so well.
When those in the US are counting their blessings that al-Qaeda has not yet successfully retaliated against them, the damage that has been inflicted on Pakistan as a result should be considered. By the beginning of June 150 people had been killed as the victims of a string of suicide bombers. Karachi’s Mehran naval base was stormed by well-trained militants who blew up two surveillance aircraft and held out for 17 hours.
It is not a pleasant prospect, but it appears that the worst is yet to come. There are no easy answers to what should have been done with Osama Bin Laden, but the US has crossed a line from which there is no return. Only time will tell what the consequences will be, and who will be punished as a result.