Bin Laden’s Avatar: Get Real ODNI!

The US government’s intelligence services are either getting too imaginative or simply too paranoid about the “revival” of Usama Bin Laden, who, they know, is dead.  Now they are imagining him coming back to life as a “virtual” Bin Laden or as a new “avatar” of Jihadism.  In this ostensible flight of imagination, the American intelligence “experts on Islam appear eager to show their sheer ignorance and stupidity about the religion itself.  Consider the following statement from the study that was commission by no less than the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the highest intelligence agency of the United States.  It states:


Imagine that jihadist supporters create a detailed avatar of

Usama bin Laden and use his many voice recordings to

animate the avatar for up-close virtual reality experiences

that could be used to preach, convert, recruit, and propagate

dogma to the media. The Bin Laden avatar could preach

and issue new fatwas for hundreds of years to come, as

the fidelity of his likeness would be entirely believable

and animated in new ways to keep him current and fresh.

One cannot blame the intelligence agencies for being imaginative and proactive; however, those activities should be driven on the basis of their knowledge of Islam itself, since al-Qaida’s interpretation of that religion plays a crucial role in what they have been doing and what they will continue to aspire to.

There is no doubt that Bin Laden is held in high esteem among the self-styled Jihadists, and they would use his speeches and statements to make their points for the in-crowd.  However, assigning the status of an avatar[1] (a secular version of a saint) has no room in the Wahhabi ideology that drives all self-styled Jihadist organizations.

In order to fully grasp the entire background of this outlandish scenario one should realize that there are large numbers of people in the DOD, other intelligence agencies, and various defense contracting companies (which have mushroomed in and around Washington, Tampa, and other places with large military facilities inside the United States) who do nothing but develop such scenarios.  However, almost all of those scenario developers have very-little-to-no knowledge of Islam, and a lot of them are unadulterated Islamophobes.  When you pay enormous amounts of money to individuals
to develop imaginative (aka moronic) scenarios, one can expect nothing but those of low quality like the avatar scenario, which are substantially divorced from the realities of the streets of countries where the self-styled Jihadists are active.

After denigrating such scenarios, let me offer my own thinking on the subject of Bin Laden’s legacy.  As much as he has been lionized by the United States’ national security community, even after his death, his real claim to fame was that he endorsed an audacious action plan of the magnitude of carrying out terrorist attacks on the United States’ homeland.  Then, after dismantling the Taliban regime and cornering Bin Laden and his cohorts in Tora Bora in November 2001, he managed to escape into the chaotic area of Pakistan only as a result of the sheer Keystone-Cop-like thinking (and actions) of US officials like Donald Rumsfeld (George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense) and General Tommy Franks (Commander of the US forces that invaded Afghanistan).  More than ten years after that incident, the United States failed to locate Bin Laden, even after spending billions of dollars and focusing the brunt of its electronic intelligences’ attention on Pak-Afghan borders, where he was expected to be hiding. He seemed to have disappeared into thin air.  Those ten years were more crucial in making a legend out of Bin Laden by the US intelligence community.

After the assassination of Bin Laden in May 2011, a decision was made not to bury him anywhere. The Americans were fearful that his grave would become a gathering place of most, if not all, self-styled Jihadist groups.  However, even if that were the case, how that potential would have become a constant source of the regeneration of Jihad is beyond me.  Even without Bin Laden’s grave or without the benefit of his “fatwas,” which the aforementioned study gives great significance, the self-styled Jihadists are having a field day in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, etc., in their resolve to destabilize the existing regimes with the objective of eventually capturing power.  However, they also know that the United States would not allow them to take control of the government anywhere. Syria seems to be an exception to that US rule, but the Obama administration has not taken any military action against them for two reasons.  First, the self-styled Jihadists have the blessing and active support of the Saudis and the Qataris.  The United States is not opposed to their objective of regime change in Syria, knowing full well that once the Assad regime is ousted, it (US) will swoop in to play an active role in the negotiations aimed at establishing a new regime in Syria, which is not hostile to the US and Israel.

By developing the “virtual Bin Laden” scenario, the US intelligence community is demonstrating a panicky state of mind.  In the aftermath of the Arab Awakening, Washington appears to be less and less in charge of managing events in such countries as Libya, Egypt, and even Syria.  That might be one reason why a new practice of “outsourcing” of US foreign policy to Riyadh and Doha has become a hallmark of the Obama administration.  Now, we will have to wait and see what type of policies will emerge from the virtual Bin Laden scenario in the coming months.  My best guess is that they are likely to be equally bizarre as the virtual Bin Laden scenario.

  1. [1]Avatar is a Sanskrit word.  One source provides the following definition: “a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher.”


Move On Pakistan, Let the Old General Go!

Watching General Pervez Musharraf’s humiliating treatment in Pakistan is a painful experience.  The vibrant Pakistani press is full of all sorts of stories.  Al Jazeera had an interesting discussion with a number of prominent Pakistanis on the subject.  I have been a long-time watcher of General Musharraf from Washington.  I find him interesting but more paradoxical than that Islamist General Zia ul-Haq.  My personal preference is that, if Pakistan were to really mature into a democracy, it needs to let the old General leave the country, with a promise not to return anytime soon.  This is a crucial time for Pakistan to move on with its business of conducting its next general election.

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Afghanistan: The Enduring Battlefield of the ‘Weak’ and the ‘Strong’

India and Pakistan are two strange countries in a number of ways.  I will mention only one such trait here, to get the discussion going.  Despite India’s denial to the contrary, Pakistan is its chief obsession.  Pakistan feels similarly toward India, but it has many reasons to feel that way.  First, on the scale of economic development, these two countries are really a world apart.  Despite India’s intricacy as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, it is relatively trouble free, while Pakistan is a simmering cauldron of sectarian and ethnic hatred.  The Takfiri extremism – which was prevalent in Egypt, post-Saddam Iraq, and Saudi Arabia – has found a home in Pakistan throughout the first decade of the 21st Century.  India is envisaged worldwide as a secular democracy and an up-and-coming cradle of modern education and technological development, while Pakistan is a place where Islamist-driven obscurantism is running rampant.  In view of these contrasting features, one should think that India should spend little or no time worrying about Pakistan.  Such is not the case.

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The Arab Awakening: An Antidote Against the Relevance of Al-Qaida

 When al-Qaida was ranting against the corrupt and inept Arab and Muslim dictators as “slaves” of America, it had captured the sympathy of quite a few people in the Arab world, who agreed with that organization’s criticism of their rulers, but not with its brutal ways.  The Arab awakening is bringing about the kind of change that al-Qaida dreamed about, but with at least one major difference.  The falling dictators are likely to be replaced by democratic and transparent governments, which will also learn to govern well. It is aiming to create pluralistic governments in such countries as Egypt and Bahrain, where more than one religion and Islamic sect prevail.  It also aims to make discrimination against women a thing of the past.  If hopes related to these aspirations are dashed, then al-Qaida will have another opportunity to be back with a vengeance.  At least for now, it is watching history fly right by it.  That is just one of the most significant reasons to celebrate the Arab awakening. Continue reading “The Arab Awakening: An Antidote Against the Relevance of Al-Qaida”

Is Religious Moderation Dying in Pakistan?

The recent assassination of the Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab, the most populous state of Pakistan and the state that formulates a large chunk of its Army, raises that perennial question:  Is religious moderation dying in Pakistan?  Assassin’s bullets are notorious about leading to major cataclysmic events, and one should be careful about reading too much into such events.  However, in Pakistan’s case no amount of broad sweep of analytical thinking may be regarded as exaggeration.  Continue reading “Is Religious Moderation Dying in Pakistan?”

Replacing the Current AfPak Strategy with a New One

With the firing of General Stanley McChrystal, President Barack Obama appears to be writing his own edition of “lessons in disaster,” a book of the same title that he so publicly read and supposedly drew lessons from before committing 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. One wonders whether he knows it, but Afghanistan is increasingly looking like a disastrous place for his administration as long as he sticks to the current AfPak strategy.

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Political Legitimacy: Key to Victory in Afghanistan

As new idiosyncrasies of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan are becoming pronounced, one wonders how many of them are pushing it toward a potential disaster, which President Barack Obama is as determined to avoid as his three predecessors – Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and George W. Bush – did in Vietnam and Iraq, respectively.

Every new president’s approach to major unresolved issues is entirely different from those of his immediate predecessor, simply because the predecessor’s approach is regarded as inept or even wrong-headed. So, the successor proceeds to ‘reinvent the wheel’ on those issues by approaching it entirely differently. Since Barack Obama entered office criticizing Bush’s involvement in and his handling of the Iraq war, his own war – the one in Afghanistan – was going to have his ‘superior’ mark on it.

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Al-Qaida’s Long Reach and the Need for a “Smart” American Approach Toward Terrorism

In my lectures and speeches all over the world on the issue of transnational terrorism, I used to proudly point out that American Muslims are immune to any contagious influence by al-Qaida or any other terrorist group. I had many reasons for saying so, but the foremost of which was the fact that American Muslims were much more integrated in the American achievement-oriented culture than their counterparts anywhere in the West. But in my heart, I had uneasy feelings about my own claim, because I have not seen the kind of cultural integration among the Muslim community that I think is a precondition of emerging as an American. The recent incidents involving Major Hasan Nidal, Colleen LaRose (“Jihad Jane), Najibullah Zazi, Faisal Shahzad and other American-born Muslims proved that my unease was not unfounded. As much as I have been emphasizing the propaganda power of the Internet in my lectures and writings, I was caught off guard about its deleterious role in radicalizing American Muslims.

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How Does A Great Power Become a Superpower?

Most China-watchers are of the view that it is fast becoming a superpower. I do not disagree with that proposition; however, I believe it has a long way to go in that direction. In the meantime, it must ensure that its economic growth is not affected by any domestic or international negative trend. An interesting conceptual exercise would be to figure out how a great power becomes a superpower? Almost all great powers have the reasonable potential of becoming a superpower. Some stay as great powers for a long time; some may retrench, as was the case with Great Britain; some may lose its status as a superpower when it implodes and its successor does not fill its superpower role, as happened with the USSR and Russia. Why don’t all great powers end up as superpowers? Is there a template that each great power must follow to become a superpower, or must each potential superpower develop a sui generis path of becoming one? My sense is that the latter statement is true.

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Sayonara, Yoshida Doctrine; Hello, Hatoyama Doctrine; Whither U.S.-Japan Ties?

When the global dialogue about an ostensible power shift to Asia from the West was heating up, no one was imagining that Japan would be reassessing its historical ties with the United States. The Yoshida Doctrine – named after Japan’s post-World War II Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida – was expected to be the cornerstone of that country’s foreign policy. Toward the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, a new Hatoyama Doctrine – named after its current Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama – seems to be emerging, while Japan might be bidding sayonara to the Yoshida doctrine. (

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