Asian reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden
How is the Asian region responding to the death of Osama bin Laden? In this blog post, we examine the domestic viewpoints of India, Iran, Russia, China and Japan, especially their reflections on terrorism, U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and the role of Pakistan.
In India, most commentaries focused on India’s relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan, while some reflected on the ongoing democratization processes in the Middle East.
- The Hindu described the revelation of bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan as a “moment of truth…similar to the discovery that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were launched from its territory,” but it nevertheless urged restraint in Indian diplomacy: “While it may be tempting to see bin Laden’s killing at Abbottabad as confirmation of India’s worst fears, New Delhi must resist the temptation to crow, and must push ahead with the peace process with the civilian government of Pakistan.” The Indian Express had a similar view, saying “India has to continue to be innovative and largehearted in engaging with as large a section of the Pakistani establishment as it can.
- The Times of India wondered whether the U.S. would accelerate its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and expressed deep worry that this could “easily lead to chaos with serious security ramifications for the region, including India.” The Indian Express urged more cooperation with the U.S. on Af-Pak peace: “The death in Abbottabad is a reminder of the realism needed to negotiate the new great game being played for Afghanistan after the drawdown of American troop presence….Given its limited leverage within Pakistan, India must also be engaged with the US and the international community on steps towards Af-Pak peace, to prevent the re-emergence of Afghanistan as a hotbed for extremism and also to enable political stability in Pakistan.
- Other commentaries in the Hindustan Times, Economic Times, and Indian Express all noted that al-Qaeda had originally sought to overthrow the regimes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but now the pro-democracy movements of the “Arab spring” are showing the region’s disenfranchised youth an alternative to religious radicalism in pushing for political change.
An analysis by Semira N. Nikou of the United States Institute for Peace notes that the general reaction in Iran “discounted Osama bin Laden’s death while at the same time calling for a faster U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, since the pretext for going to war was eliminated.”
- Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson, said the “US and their allies have no more excuse to deploy forces in the Middle East under pretext of fighting terrorism.” In a similar tone, defense minister Ahmad Vahidi emphasized the casualties from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, commenting that Americans had “inflicted much damage to the region to kill only one individual.”
- Bin Laden’s death also provided a chance to highlight Iran’s view of terrorism. Mehmanparast also stated, “Iran, as one of the main victims of terrorism, strongly condemns any act of terror in the world including organized terrorism in the Zionist regime [of Israel].” Commenting on this issue from a different angle, member of parliament Kazen Jalali said the spread of terrorism across the region is “rooted in the United States presence in the area.”
- There was also some speculation of motives for the killing. An editorial in Farda News, a website close to the conservative Tehran mayor, wrote: “Obama’s party needed to rectify the reputations of the Democratic Party and the U.S. military’s foreign policy with an apparent successful military operation.
Official reactions used this chance to highlight Russia’s own problem with terrorism in the North Caucasus region, drawing parallels with the killing of Chechen leader Shamil Basayev and noting the historical connection between al-Qaeda and the North Caucasus.
- The Kremlin released a brief statement on May 2: “Russia was one of the first countries to encounter the dangers of global terrorism, and, sadly, knows from first-hand experience what Al-Qaeda is all about.” It said Russia was ready to expand cooperation with international efforts to combat terrorism.
- More than a week later, President Dmitry Medvedev commented for the first time on bin Laden’s killing: “The liquidation of terrorists, even on the level of … bin Laden, has a direct relationship to the level of security on the territory of our state…It is no secret that the well known terrorist network al-Qaida has regularly sent and continues to send its emissaries to the territory of our state.
At this sensitive time, it was noteworthy that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s first foreign visit since the killing of bin Laden was a trip to Moscow, on May 11.
- In light of Zardari’s visit, foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov analyzed Russia’s view on regional cooperation: “Neighboring countries don’t want U.S. bases permanently deployed in Afghanistan. Russia, China, India and Iran have all supported a vague “regional” solution, advocating a reliance on Kabul rather than on Western troops. One of Moscow’s ideas for a regional solution involves an enhanced role for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.” On the question of admitting new members to the SCO, “Russia would like to see India become a full member, while China prefers Pakistan. However, Moscow will only agree to that if India is also admitted.
The government marked bin Laden’s death as a positive milestone, while defending its allyPakistan amid growing controversy surrounding the possibility that the Pakistani government had knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Other reactions are mixed, ranging from sympathetic to jubilant.
- Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu stated that bin Laden’s death is a milestone and a positive development for international anti-terrorism efforts. “China upholds that the international community should step up cooperation in working together to fight terrorism,” said Jiang. “China believes that it is necessary to seek both a temporary solution and a permanent cure in fighting terrorism and to make great efforts to eliminate the soil on which terrorism relies to breed.”
- On another note, the Global Times wrote that “The US should not indulge in a new bout of narcissism over its hard power simply because bin Laden is dead.” While theUS has obtained a temporary peace, there is still a long way to go in eliminating terrorism and extremism.
- Responding to a Wall Street Journal article describing the outpouring of sympathy for bin Laden’s death in the Chinese blogosphere, Gao Lei argued that fringe praise for Osama doesn’t represent the Chinese public. “The death of Bin Laden seems to have offered another perfect chance for some to demonizeChina by painting the country as a sympathizer with terrorists.”
Japan expressed continued support forU.S.counter-terrorism efforts while beefing up its own security at defense bases and camps.
- Prime Minister Naoto Kansaid, “We welcome this significant progress in counter-terrorism measures, and I pay respect to the efforts by the officials concerned, including those in the United Statesand Pakistan.” He cautioned that continued international cooperation was necessary to combat ongoing terrorist threats.
- Japan also tightened security at military facilities to guard against any potential retaliatory assaults from terrorist groups in the wake of bin Laden’s death. “We cannot presume what could happen in terms of retaliation, but we want to increase the frequency of patrols at camps and bases,” said Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.