Man with a gunSince change is the only constant in human affairs, the nature of al-Qaida has continued to do so since the American assassination of Osama Bin Laden last May. The assassination itself, however, changed little other than to reinvigorate American confidence and to create a martyr to inspire the US’s militant Islamist enemies. The changes that have been ongoing since then have been an extension of a process that had begun years earlier.

From Organisation to Movement

The core al-Qaida organisation, now thought to be composed of but a few hundred individuals, started to become a shadow of its former self in terms of operational effectiveness since Bin Laden and the rest of its leadership became fugitives. Its ideology, however, took on a life of its own with Muslims who feel deeply aggrieved by the behaviour of the US and its friends in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Al-Qaida has consequently morphed from a global organisation into such local ones as Yemen’s al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia’s al-Shabab, North Africa’s al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiya, and Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which have drawn inspiration from the core organisation without necessarily having any contact with it. The same has been the case with individual terrorists and small cells acting alone.

The View From the Coalface

Analysts and authorities in Pakistan and India tend to agree that Bin Laden’s assassination has changed little, that Osama the martyr could be more of a threat than Osama the fugitive was, and that, although not what it once was, the core al-Qaida organisation remains dangerous. It is still active in Pakistan’s tribal areas and urban slums, seems to be increasing its constituency on the subcontinent, and appears ready to return to Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw in 2014. It is noteworthy that the Pakistani authorities prevented the CIA from interrogating Bin Laden’s family and turned them over directly to the Saudis, precisely because they refuse to underestimate al-Qaida’s ability to make trouble in such cities as Karachi.

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