So, Osama bin Laden is dead. Two things to keep in mind regarding the war in Afghanistan.
Afghans are entitled to say “We told you so.” And that was the first reaction of virtually every Afghan I know when bin Laden’s death was announced yesterday night. For years, Afghans –from senior intelligence figures to taxi drivers—insisted bin Laden was in Pakistan, living under the protection of the reviled Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It turns out, they were probably right all along. The al Qaeda leader’s hideout wasn’t a cave in a remote corner of the tribal borderlands; it was an enormous, fortified compound in a city 60 miles away from Islamabad and just a few hundred feet from the elite Pakistan Military Academy. It’s inconceivable that the ISI didn’t know the world’s most wanted fugitive was living down the street from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.
Bin Laden’s death is not a blow to the Taliban. He was never a member of the Taliban, nevermind one of its leaders. Senior figures within the former Taliban regime disagreed over the wisdom of sheltering bin Laden and cooperating with al Qaeda long before 9/11. Though undeniably influenced by international jihadist ideology, today’s Taliban fighters belong to a collection of increasingly fragmented groups with overwhelmingly national goals. Among their chief demands are the departure of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, the return of the Taliban’s own conception of an Islamic state (Afghanistan is already an Islamic Republic) and the release of Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government and international forces. The morale of the rank and file Taliban might be bruised by bin Laden’s death, but bin Laden has long been irrelevant to their campaign and his demise won’t turn the tide of the war in Afghanistan for or against anyone. It probably won’t even stall al Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan.