Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Middle East now needs diplomacy

There is understandable jubilation in the United States that Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the greatest terrorist act against that nation on September 11, 2001, has finally been run to ground and killed.



He was the figurehead of an organisation hell-bent on creating mass terrorism and taking not just America, but the Western world, back to a dark age. However, relief at his death should not descend into gratuitous celebration. For al-Qaida is like the mythical Hydra: cut off one head and many more remain.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has struck a timely note of caution by urging vigilance in the wake of bin Laden's death. Having gained what the terrorist organisation will view as martyrdom, bin Laden's followers will be keen to avenge his death with new acts of terrorism.

That said, there is some evidence at al Qaida is a diminishing power. In the wave of protests throughout the Middle East - where it might be expected to have played a part - there has been no suggestion of any influence from the terrorists in the demand for greater democracy in countries like Syria, Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. Its power base seems to be largely confined to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And with the dust now just settling on the US special forces raid which killed bin Laden, there are many questions over just how deep al-Qaida's influence is in Pakistan.

How, for example, was the world's most wanted man, a terrorist which the mightiest military force in the world has been tracking for a decade, able to live near a huge military base in a country allied to it? Bin Laden was not skulking in some cave as had fancifully been suggested but in a huge, well-fortified house. Did no one ever think to question who would need such a residence in what is a fairly sensitive area of a country which has seen its fair share of al-Qaida terrorism?

The death of bin Laden also raises the issue of how the United States, and the West in general, now proceeds in trying to repair relationships with the Muslim world.

Killing a rogue terrorist, even the head of a global network of terror, is only a short-term solution. It is now time for diplomacy to take centre stage and to attempt to address the sense of grievance felt by many in the Muslim world. That means moving cautiously in the Middle East as the demands for democracy continue.

At one time Osama bin Laden was seen as an ally in the fight against another great foe, the Soviet Union, but relationships change rapidly.

Although undoubtedly there are many in the Western nations who would like to see some of the Middle Eastern tyrants replaced, it would probably be best for them to remain on the sidelines as long as possible.

This is not a time for making new enemies.

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