Thanks to having the word “Kunar” in my Google Alerts, I received this story in my electronic mail account this morning. Quoting an interview from Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, I learned that “Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.”
The minister went on to say drone strikes were futile and that NATO forces on the Afghan side of the border were a joke. He recommended NATO take their cues from the Pakistani Army, who have set up “1000 checkpoints” compared to the 100 NATO checkpoints, of which Malik says only 60 are any good. He backed up his Osama statement by saying that if Bin Laden “were in Pakistan, we would know it, because of the thousand of troops we have sent to the tribal areas in recent months.”
Okay, sure, whatever. Maybe he knows where Bin Laden is, maybe he doesn’t. That seems pretty much similar to the American body of knowledge concerning Osama’s whereabouts, too.
I’m going to take this moment to ask: would it matter if we did know where Osama was, and killed him? Of course, it would matter–it would be a decent PR victory and be an even greater boost for President Obama’s national security credentials. It would dominate the news cycle for a few weeks, give us a moment of victory in the war on terror. Our national desire to finally get some justice over what happened on September 11th would be partially sated (the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and tens of thousands of Afghan killed in the wake of 9-11 not quite doing the trick, though most of the dead have at least shared the same skin color as the hijackers.)
But other than the brief exhilaration of good, clean, revenge, not much else would be effected. We’d still be committed of years more of fighting in Afghanistan, we’d still be launching drone attacks in Pakistan, we’d still be taking baby steps towards withdrawing from Iraq. Soon enough, a new Bin Laden-like face would pop up to fill the void. And so the war on terror would continue, albeit with the highest profile turban hanging from our belt.
In these thoughts I’m not alone. As the Atlantic’s Robert D. Kaplan wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed last fall: “If we did, by chance, capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, would Afghanistan still matter?” Kaplan’s answer is yes, Afghanistan would still matter, because “the fate of Euraisa hangs in the balance.” (His answer isn’t as convincing as the first part of the essay, where he poses questions that tell us why Afghanistan actually shouldn’t matter anymore if we killed Bin Laden.)
Anyway. I suppose my point, if I can be accused of having one, is how divorced our intial reasons for the war in Afghanistan (get bin laden, kill AQ leadership) have become from what we’re actually doing there now. Pakistan’s interior minister says Osama is in Kunar, and it’s greated with what? A yawn? Ignored? And the recent Helmand offensive is a prime example of how far astray we’ve travelled from the simple days of the manhunt; Helmand is being called a counterinsurgency operation, not a counter terrorism operation because it doesn’t have much to do with protecting us from terrorists, or killing terrorists. And I’m not too convinced that the “fate of Eurasia” is something we know how to balance.