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Muhammad Junaid: “For followers of al-Qaeda, Bin Laden a more powerful symbol dead than alive.”

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In the spring of 2002, I made a documentary film entitled Return to Kandahar. We shot outside of Kandahar in a big cemetery, and in a section of the cemetery it was known as the al-Qaeda graves. There were about a dozen al-Qaeda fighters who had died fighting Afghan forces who were allied with the United States after 9/11. The graves had become kind of a shrine. It was said a woman had come to the graves and prayed for Allah to cure her son of blindness, and that he had done so. Now many people were coming to make such prayers from as far away as Pakistan. The graves were guarded by two guards with big machine guns. We asked them what they thought of the al-Qaeda fighters and bin Laden, and an argument broke out.


UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But there must be something about these Arab graves?

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Because they are Arabs, people see something “holy” in them.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The people who are not happy with the current government honour these graves.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): No, people like that woman, who is like my mother or sister, have nothing to do with politics.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The people who respect these graves do so because the Arabs had no family here.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): She’s asking what do we think of Arabs?

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think I would like to find more and kill them all.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): They were good to poor people, they gave them money.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Were the Arabs in Afghanistan responsible for destroying the towers on September 11?

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We can’t say whether it was these Arabs, someone from the US or from another country.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It would be a sin to falsely accuse anyone

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): People say twenty different things. We Kandaharis have to see it with our own eyes to believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There are six different versions of the story. We haven’t seen the planes destroying the Towers with our own eyes. So we can’t accept, or deny it.


JAY: Now joining us from London to discuss Afghan reaction to the assassination of Osama bin Laden is Muhammad Junaid. Muhammad is finishing his PhD in London. He’s studying the history of the Pashtun nation. And he’s from Peshawar, Pakistan, himself. Thanks for joining us, Muhammad.


JAY: So, first of all, what do you make about this scene of the film, this–the argument that breaks out over how two Afghans very similar to each other had completely opposing opinions in their attitude towards al-Qaeda?

JUNAID: Well, I think these two Afghans, you know, present a very good case study for you [incompr.] how Osama is going to be identified in different ways after his death. You have, you know, a large majority of Muslims in the world, including in Afghanistan–. Let’s start from Afghanistan, in fact, first. A large majority of people, especially the city dwellers, would like to believe that, you know, America was actually invited by al-Qaeda [incompr.] al-Qaeda [incompr.] in Afghanistan. It is also against Pashtunwali, the main code of honor for Pashtuns, the way they live by, to attack from somebody’s land. If you are a guest in some land, you cannot attack from that land without the permission of your host. So from that dimension, Osama and al-Qaeda has a very negative role that they have played, although Afghanistan was stabilized after a long period of [incompr.] Russian war and a civil war. On the other hand, you have those people who would say that, you know, America had a grudge against Islam and Muslims and whosoever is fighting America. Regardless of how many rules of religion or Islam they are following, he is a martyr, and he is, you know, like, the iconic figure. So you have, you know, around the world this kind of people. You have these two sects of people in Pakistan as well. And surely, you know, those people who are against terrorism or against Osama who look at him as a terrorist is much more. It’s above 90 percent, surely. But, again, you know, he has this kind of enigma to him, you know, like Che Guevara, if you remember. He has, you know, the same kind of stock, that he is the one who stood against a tyrant nation. So this death of Osama will inspire, you know, many people in this way.

JAY: And in the Afghan countryside amongst rural people, you have a split on this. In other words, you can have people that support the Taliban but don’t like al-Qaeda. You can have people that don’t like the Taliban or al-Qaeda. It’s not monolithic at all, is it?

JUNAID: [incompr.] It is not monolithic, because, you know, they have a reason to hate al-Qaeda. But, you know, there is [incompr.] reason to hate Taliban. I mean, even if, you know, a few civilians die, you know, in a Taliban attack, that is considered as, you know, well, you know, it had to happen that way. So I think, you know, al-Qaeda has a very big split opinion among Pashtuns. The urban centers of Afghanistan would be clearly, you know, against al-Qaeda and will be very happy on the death of Osama.

JAY: Now, when you think about the reasons why the Americans decide to do this now–apparently they had the intelligence about this house maybe as far back as August. Perhaps they were still working through the issue. The Pakistan, I believe, deputy foreign minister told the Telegraph newspaper yesterday they don’t understand what took so long, that they claim they told the Americans, at least, he–The Telegraph reports that he–they told the Americans about this house as far back as 2009. It’s pretty murky when this intelligence developed and if in fact either the Pakistani intelligence or even American intelligence could have done this earlier. But set all that aside and talk about the timing. Does this now give President Obama a way out of Afghanistan? In other words, we came to Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda. Bin Laden’s now dead. We can now get out without looking like we lost.

JUNAID: Yes. You see, in the last six–four months, I would say–you know, I mean, I haven’t appeared, you know, on Real News, you know, I think, in the last four or five months, and the situation has changed. For me, you know, and the American forces in Baghdad, I mean, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, they have done most of their work, what they wanted to do. They know their limitations now. But the landscape of the Middle East has totally changed. There are, you know, uprisings there, and things are, you know, changing there in a very rapid fashion. Now, so this, Obama has, you know, pulled this rabbit out of hat, you know, at this moment, you know, to get, you know, that kind of [incompr.] you know, to jump to another level and, you know, bring a change. This is a very good impetus, you know, and he can actually take it any way. He can actually do a partial, you know, drawdown in Afghanistan, slowly or, you know, maybe quickly. He can actually, you know, continue in Afghanistan, saying that, you know, they have achieved their biggest target within ten years, and now, you know, it’s a matter of one or two years that everything will be finished. So he can then actually take it both ways. Another, you know, context that has actually developed was, you know, very entrusting. That was not largely, you know, [incompr.] largely unreported in the media. The uprisings in Saudi Arabia brought, you know, many Saudi interior ministers and, you know, security chiefs of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and, you know, they asked Pakistani army, you know, to help them. This has actually happened, and, you know, it has been reported in [incompr.] newspapers of Pakistan. So this was, you know, a very big concern. If Saudi Arabia, you know, goes into, you know, trouble and goes to something like Egypt, that will be, you know, such a big problem, you know, for the whole world. Now, so I think, you know, the concentration is changing or, you know, maybe, you know, Afghanistan is going to be, you know, like, [incompr.] Afghanistan is going to change now, which way [incompr.] now.

JAY: Certainly in terms of domestic politics, that if Obama had tried to follow through on his drawdown and the dates he was talking about in Afghanistan and is serious–at least now he can pose it as, well, we did what we set out to do, we got bin Laden–he’s less vulnerable to Republican charges as being the president who lost the war in Afghanistan. But I agree with you: it’s not very clear whether they really want to get out or not. But this is really a propaganda event more than anything. Is it going to have any effect on the ground in Afghanistan in terms of the war?

JUNAID: Well, you know, it will have, you know, effect. I mean, it will have worldwide effect. And one of the effects has been, you know, propagated by the media largely [incompr.] But I can tell you, you know, now Osama is, you know, not a living person. But now, you know, the ghost of Osama will, you know, haunt. The person, you know, who ties bombs to his body and comes and, you know, blow themselves and, you know, initiate a suicide bombing, that person, you know, is more in search of paradise. That’s, you know, the problem. Now, for that person, Osama is, you know, in paradise now, so that, you know, America has sent Osama to such a place where, you know, people would like to join him. Although there is–you know, there are very few people, you know, who are this mad, but there are those people, and they are quite sufficient in number, you know, if you look at that, although [incompr.] Muslim population. So the blowback from this will be, you know, much more in the Arab world, I would say. In Afghanistan, I think, you know, Taliban have, you know, controlled a large area, you know, in different ways, and that will continue, you know, I would say, unchanged [crosstalk]

JAY: Well, that’s what makes you wonder about the timing of all this, because it doesn’t–I mean, and so many–most pundits, analysts, have said that bin Laden, his operational role in al-Qaeda probably was next to zero now. He was kind of retired. There’s a lot of stories coming out now that maybe the Pakistanis were kind of leaving him alone partly for that reason, and now there’s a big attack now in American circles that how could Pakistan have allowed him to be there for so long. But the timing of all this revives the bin Laden mythology. He was practically, you know, out of mind, and now he’s back front and center. He’s more powerful dead than he was alive.

JUNAID: Exactly. He is much more powerful now. I think, you know, this can actually enable, you know, al-Qaeda operators to, you know, recruit people in NATO countries and in America. I mean, if there are, you know, a few nutheads available who believe that, you know, this guy was, you know, the icon of Islamic world who, you know, stood against a tyrant America and, you know, Israel and all that, if they go by this narrative and they just, you know, don’t look at anything else, this can create, you know, a big blowback. So, I mean, it can have, you know, a negative consequence for the security of this region, for the NATO and American countries. From the positive side, I think, you know, it, you know, brings closure, you know, to those people, in the sense that, you know, their relatives were in there, dear ones were, you know, killed in the Twin Tower thing. And it has, you know, brought a big closure to them. And, well, they can, you know, now live in more peace. So that is a positive aspect.

JAY: Okay. Talk a bit about how this is being seen in Pakistan and what do you think the consequences on Pakistan politics will be.

JUNAID: Well, in Pakistan, again, you know, it has these two sides. Among the public you will find very few people, the religious people, you know, who would portray him positively. There are a big majority of religious people as well, you know, who think that Osama was, you know, an American agent even though, you know, he was the reason for America to come here. But then, you know, there are those, you know, who have prayed for him now and, you know, who like him enough. A big majority really hates al-Qaeda. There is no doubt much more [incompr.] But it has, you know, a big negative for the Pakistani policy, the government’s policy, and, you know, the army. If you see, you know, in the last four months there was, you know, [incompr.] problem. He was, you know, captured in Lahore, you know, who killed two people. And then, you know, the Pakistani army pushed [incompr.] to take back their operators, you know, and put them out of Pakistan, stop drone attacks. And there was, you know, a big public gathering, you know, by [incompr.] you know, who led many youngsters, you know, maybe about 10,000 to 20,000 youngsters in Peshawar, Hayatabad. And that has, you know, created a reason, you know, for Pakistani army and the state, you know, to ask America to stop these drone attacks. Now, after the Osama episode, Pakistani military and state is in no position, you know, to ask America anything, because either [incompr.] either ISI is totally incompetent, or they were hiding Osama.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Muhammad.

JUNAID: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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