US presidential campaign has been replete with
spins disseminated by the spinmasters of President George
W Bush as well as Senator John Kerry. Have the
spinmasters of Osama bin Laden circulated one of their own as
the American people get ready to vote, with his
purported video-recorded address to the American people
telecast by al-Jazeera, the blue-eyed channel of al-Qaeda,
The latest telecast message
of bin Laden has made the confusion regarding the state
of the so-called "war against terrorism" worse,
raising more questions than providing answers. Is it
genuine? How come bin Laden seems to be growing
younger and healthier, when, like all human beings, he
should be growing older and weaker, particularly when he
is being relentlessly hunted, as we are told day in and
day out by Bush? Why the absence from the latest videotape
of Ayman al-Zawahiri, his Egyptian No 2, who
had figured in the tape of September last year? Why
the absence in the latest tape of rifles or machine-guns,
which were present in the tapes of the past, which
either showed bin Laden as carrying them or which were
shown as placed by his side?
latest tape shows bin Laden not as a dreaded
jihadi terrorist hurling blood-curdling threats at the
American people, against the background of rifles and the wildness
of the Afghan terrain, but as a mujahideen
statesman addressing well-reasoned arguments to the American
people from behind a lectern in a TV-studio-like ambiance, with
bin Laden well made up for the occasion to appear like a
man in the pink of his health, in total control of
his faculties and of the world around him, with no care
in the world, not even about his own physical
security, which might have necessitated his changing his
physical appearance to prevent identification. Bin
Laden's spinmasters have maneuvered his entry into the
living rooms of millions of US homes as the third debater
in the presidential debate.
Here is bin Laden,
alive and kicking and taunting not only Bush, but also
his father George H W and his brother Jeb, the governor of
Florida. Bin Laden does not appear to be uttering a
threat of another September 11. He is rather pouring
scorn on the claims of Bush and his advisers that they
are winning their self-styled "war against terrorism".
As the date of the polls approached, there was
feverish speculation as to whether Bush, helped by
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, would
produce bin Laden before the American people like a
magician producing a rabbit out of his hat, and thereby
make Kerry look silly and win a thumping victory.
Instead of Bush producing bin Laden and embarrassing
Kerry, it is bin Laden's spinmasters who have produced
him before the voters, making Bush, Kerry and everybody
else in the US look silly and confused.
does the tape tell of the state of al-Qaeda, its morale,
the motivation of its cadres, its command and control,
the unity of its leadership? Zilch.
does the tape tell of the plans, future tactics and strategy
of al-Qaeda? Zilch.
Then what does the latest
tape seek to tell if it wants to tell anything at all?
First, bin Laden is probably alive and kicking and
has recovered from the effects of the shrapnel injury
reportedly suffered by him at Tora Bora in Afghanistan
at the end of 2001.
Second, he feels fairly confident of his safety
wherever he is.
Third, he has at his disposal a set of spinmasters
and psy-warriors who are more than a match for those
around Bush and Kerry.
Four, they have at their command all that they need
for producing a message like this, with considerable
Five, it was shot around the third anniversary of
What it does not tell?
Why no reference to the current holy fasting period
of Ramadan of Muslims? Does it mean it was shot before
the fasting started?
Why so little reference to Iraq? Why no homage to
the hundreds of suicide bombers of Iraq who have killed
themselves in their jihad against the US-led occupation?
Why does it try to belittle only Bush's handling of
the fight against al-Qaeda and not his handling of the
war in Iraq?
It projects the US bombings in Lebanon in
the early 1980s, the fraternization of Bush and his
father with the rulers of West Asia as the root cause
of the decision of al-Qaeda to stage September 11, but
why no reference to the cruise-missile attacks in the Sudan
and Afghanistan ordered by former president Bill Clinton
in October 1998, which up to now were considered to be the
trigger behind the September 11 strikes?
What does it seek to achieve by the release of the
tape just before the US presidential elections - defeat
of Bush or his victory by making wavering US voters vote
for him out of a reflux of solidarity against al-Qaeda?
If the purpose is to create this reflux of
solidarity behind Bush, who stands to gain by a Bush win
apart from Bush himself? First, al-Qaeda by aggravating
the divide between the Islamic world and the West.
Second, Musharraf, who has been the greatest beneficiary
of the war against terrorism.
How come every video and audio tape of bin Laden and
al-Zawahiri disseminated by al-Jazeera since the US
started its war against al-Qaeda on October 7, 2001, has
emanated from Pakistan and reached the al-Jazeera office
Has Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment
had a hand in the production of the latest message,
calculating, rightly or wrongly, that this would redound
to the benefit of Bush? They are very nervous over the
prospects of a Kerry victory.
Press report carried by USA Today on October 30 says,
"While Pakistan's army has been active in the tribal
belt, some have questioned their resolve, noting they
allowed an Uzbek terror leader to escape after
purportedly surrounding him earlier this year. Talat
Massood, a defense analyst and former Pakistani general,
said the terror mastermind was likely in the sprawling
port city of Karachi or the rugged tribal belt between
Pakistan and Afghanistan. Wherever he is, Massood said,
the emergence of the tape shows bin Laden feels pretty
secure. In the video, the Saudi millionaire looks to be
in surprisingly good health, considering speculation
that he has been holed up in a mountain cave for three
years, Massood said. 'The fact that he has the courage
to come out shows that he feels protected in his
surroundings,' Massood said, adding that his hearty
appearance 'shows that he is probably living in
reasonable comfort and he is being taken care of'."
This is the most perceptive comment to have come
out so far on the tape. Who is taking care of him? Find
that out and you know where bin Laden is, who had the
tape produced and disseminated and with what objective.
B Raman is additional secretary
(retired), Cabinet Secretariat, government of India, New
Delhi, and currently director, Institute for Topical
Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor,
Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.