Bin Laden Is Dead -- Now What About the War in Afghanistan?
I'm certainly enthusiastic about the possibility that this killing might result in a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan, but I'm fairly sure it's a lot more complicated than that.
This widely circulated article by Steve Coll in the New Yorker gives us some evidence to that effect:
Looking at maps and satellite photos on the Web last night, I saw the wide expanse of the Academy not far from where the million-dollar, heavily secured mansion where bin Laden lived was constructed in 2005. The maps I looked at had sections of land nearby marked off as “restricted areas,” indicating that they were under military control. It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without its coming to the attention of anyone in the Pakistani Army.
The initial circumstantial evidence suggests that the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control. Pakistan will deny this, it seems safe to predict, and perhaps no convincing evidence will ever surface to prove the case. If I were a prosecutor at the United States Department of Justice, however, I would be tempted to call a grand jury. Who owned the land on which the house was constructed? How was the land acquired, and from whom? Who designed the house, which seems to have been purpose-built to secure bin Laden? Who was the general contractor? Who installed the security systems? Who worked there? Are there witnesses who will now testify as to who visited the house, how often, and for what purpose? These questions are not relevant only to the full realization of justice for the victims of September 11th. They are also relevant to the victims of terrorist attacks conducted or inspired by bin Laden while he lived in the house, and these include many Pakistanis, as well as Afghans, Indians, Jordanians, and Britons. They are rightly subjects of American criminal law.
Outside the Justice Department, other sections of the United States government will probably underplay any evidence of culpability by the Pakistani state or sections of the state, such as its intelligence service, I.S.I., in sheltering bin Laden. As ever, there are many other fish to fry in Islamabad and at the Army headquarters, in nearby Rawalpindi: an exit strategy from Afghanistan, which requires the greatest possible degree of coöperation from Pakistan that can be attained at a reasonable price; nuclear stability; and so on.
Pakistan’s military and intelligence service takes risks that others would not dare take because Pakistan’s generals believe that their nuclear deterrent keeps them safe from regime change of the sort under way in Libya, and because they have discovered over the years that the rest of the world sees them as too big to fail. Unfortunately, they probably are correct in their analysis; some countries, like some investment banks, do pose systemic risks so great that they are too big to fail, and Pakistan is currently the A.I.G. of nation-states.
I suppose if I ever believed that the US was in Afghanistan for the sole purpose of capturing or killing bin Laden then I might believe his death means we will pick up and leave. But I'm guessing that the real reason is the neighboring Too Big To Fail nuclear state with a very powerful radical Islamic faction. The question is how and whether having troops in Afghanistan affects any of it.