Alexander Umnov, senior fellow at the Institute of World Economics and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Reportedly, refusal by the Taliban regime in Kabul to extradite bin Laden, who masterminded the deadly terrorist attacks in the U.S. on the 11th of September, was the main reason that prompted the Americans to launch an anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. The 100,000-strong international coalition force has been operating in Afghanistan since the ousted of the Taliban regime 9 years ago. Nevertheless, bin Laden remains elusive.
Concerning the location, where the world’s number one terrorist lives, all experts point to the largely-Pushtun-populated settlements along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Both Pakistani and Afghan officials deny that bin Laden has taken refuge on their own territories. However, no one calls in question the fact that bin Laden lives in a difficult to reach border region where Pushtuns live. Undoubtedly, without the support of the local people or at least the majority of the residents, the most wanted terrorist cannot hide out from the international forces which have ample military and financial capabilities.
Why local Pushtuns hide bin Laden? First and foremost, there is a need to take into account the fact that this is the case of Pushtun leaders, who have preserved a strong clan tribal organization, rather than Pushtuns as a whole, who are the ethnic majority in Afghanistan and influential minority in Pakistan. This is clearly a display of its independence and significance to the outside world and tribesmen. To this end, these people are ready to make any sacrifice and bear any hardship. In this case, their rivals could be groups in and outside the region. The mullahs, who traditionally occupy an ordinary place in society, have often been brought to the forefront to preserve their clan tribal organization.
The Pushtun tribes manoeuvered successfully between the British expansion and the centralized policy of Kabul in the fourth quarter of the 19th century. The British were replaced by the newly formed Pakistan in the middle of the last century where a large number of Pushtun tribes live. Their relations became acute after 1978 when Afghan Communists seized power in Kabul with the assistance of the Soviet Union. After the fall of their regime the problem did not disappear but acquired a new form.
European and American civilizations gradually become the main rival that earlier exerted military and administrative pressure. The tribes attracted by contemporary commodity-money relations, willingly or not, become their carriers. At the same time, they attempt to combine this process with the preservation of the clan tribal organization. This is the reason why they sympathize with the Taliban movement that strives for strengthening traditional relations by “Islamic Rebuilding” in the face of the intrusion of European and American civilization integral part of which is not only the U.S. but also Russia. Consequently, they sympathize with Osama bin Laden who sent a daring challenge to this civilization on the international scene.
In fact, current al-Qaeda, which grew from an organization that helped Islamists from Arab countries to be involved in jihad against the Afghan Communists and their Soviet allies, is now an ideology of confrontation between civilizations rather than a group with unified command. Earlier, “old-style” terrorists tried to achieve individual goals, especially setting up new states, but bin Laden and his allies advocate confrontation with European and American civilization, the leading contemporary civilization, where the U.S. is its epicenter.