For Pakistanis, bin Laden death anniversary sparks ... nothing
Polls show that Pakistanis are ambivalent about the Al Qaeda leader, and view his death as a foreign issue. Religious parties, however, may use anti-US sentiment in upcoming elections.
Islamabad, Pakistan — A year after Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs in Pakistan, few Pakistanis consider his demise to be a call for change inside Pakistan and a small minority profess support for his remnant Al Qaeda.
According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, 13 percent of Pakistani Muslims hold a favorable view of Al Qaeda, 55 percent an unfavorable view, and roughly one-third offer no opinion.
Though individuals on the street seem to hold mixed and strong political opinions from everything from the Pakistan government’s involvement in the raid to the future of Al Qaeda, analysts don’t think the bin Laden raid will affect elections here in the coming months because few consider his actual life or death a domestic issue.
“Al Qaeda or bin Laden will have no role in forthcoming elections because people generally vote on domestic issues like economy, poverty-alleviation, and employment,” says Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based political and defense analyst.
Mustaqeem Zafar is a high school student about to graduate and a resident of the town where Mr. bin Laden’s compound was situated. Mr. Zafar, and most of his friends say they do not have much sympathy for bin Laden. But, they’re quick to add that they disapprove of the US operation on Pakistani soil.
Mr. Zafar says that bin Laden was a reaction to “US policies,” but he did nothing good for Pakistan, aside from inspiring a series of suicide bombings and armed attacks on military installations in different parts of this South Asian Muslim state.
Nasarullah Mehsud, a Pashtun who moved to Karachi from the tribal area of South Waziristan along the Afghan border, says that the killing of bin Laden is not the end of Al Qaeda.
“Al Qaeda is no more an organization. It has become an ideology, which is [being fed by US actions in] Afghanistan, and other parts of the world,” says Mr. Mehsud, who used to teach at a local school in his hometown. His school has been closed for the past few months due to fighting between Taliban and security forces. “Osama was a symbol of resistance against modern colonialism, and his elimination cannot put off this resistance.”
Shakir Khan, another Pashtun, who owns a small transport company in Karachi, is more concerned with domestic issues.
“My suggestion to all those who admire Osama and company, and vow to follow him: You should wage a jihad against poverty and illiteracy, and help the country out of economic and military reliance on US,” he says.
Pakistan ranks 145 out of 187 countries on the UN Development Program's human development index. The organization calculates that about half the country is living in poverty.
With the economy stuck in low growth for several years, political observers don't see the bin Laden raid as influencing elections, which could be held as soon as the end of this year.
“Neither the ruling coalition is taking credit for Osama’s killing nor are the religious parties [going to embrace] Al Qaeda in public, because they both know that opposition or support for bin Laden is not going to favor them in elections,” says Mr. Yusufzai.
However, Yusufzai says, religious parties are likely to build on anti-US sentiment and give a tough resistance to secular parties in the ethnically Pashtun areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, both of which border war-wracked Afghanistan.
Such sentiments have been powerful in the past. A six-party religious alliance, Muttehida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had rode anti-US sentiments to power in both regions in 2002, but it could not maintain its popularity in 2008 elections due to internal rifts.
“If the religious parties mend their differences, which I believe they will, then they can once again give a tough time to ruling alliance in these two provinces as the people do not seem to be happy with the governance of [the current] ruling alliance,” Yusufzai says.
In Punjab, the country’s most populous and rich province, and in southern Sindh province, Yusufzai doesn’t see religious parties making inroads. Secular and moderate mainstream parties, like the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and opposition Pakistan Muslim League (N), still manage to hold onto their grip.