Originally Published 2004-11-02 04:38:52 Published on Nov 02, 2004
The current US presidential campaign, which is about to come to a close, has been replete with spins disseminated by the spin-masters of President George Bush as well as Senator John Kerry.
OBL's Tape: One More Spin in US Presidential Campaign?
The current US presidential campaign, which is about to come to a close, has been replete with spins disseminated by the spin-masters of President George Bush as well as Senator John Kerry. Have the spin-masters 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, on October 29,2004? 

The latest telecast message of OBL has made the confusion regarding the state of the so-called war against terrorism worse confounded, raising more questions than providing answers. Is it genuine? How come OBL 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 videoo tape 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 OBL as carrying them or which were shown as placed by his side? 

The latest tape shows OBL 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 OBL 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. OBL's spin-masters have manoeuvred his entry into the drawing rooms of millions of American homes as the third debater in the presidential debate. 

Here is OBL, alive and kicking, alive and leading, alive and taunting not only President Bush, but also his father and his brother, the Governor of Florida. OBL does not appear to be uttering a threat of another 9/11. 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 President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, would produce OBL 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 OBL and embarrassing Kerry, it is OBL's spin-masters who have produced him before the voters, making Bush, Kerry and everybody else in the US look silly and confused. 

What 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. 

What does the tape tell of the future plans, tactics and strategy of Al Qaeda? Zilch. 

Then, what does the latest tape seeks to tell if it wants to tell anything at all? 

  • First, OBL is probably alive and kicking and has recovered from the effects of the shrapnel injury reportedly suffered by him at Tora Bora end-2001. 

  • Second, he feels fairly confident of his safety wherever he is. 

  • Third, he has at his disposal a set of spin-masters and psy-warriors who are more than a match for those around Bush and Kerry. 

  • Four, they have at their command all that it needs for producing a message like this, with considerable psywar potential. 

  • Five, it was shot around the third anniversary of 9/11. 

What it does not tell? 

  • Why no reference to the current holy fasting period of the Muslims? Does it mean it was shot before the Ramadan fasting started? 

  • Why so little reference to Iraq? Why no homages to the hundreds of suicide bombers of Iraq who have killed themselves in their jihad against the US-UK occupation? 

  • Why it tries 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 the Lebanon in the early 1980s, the fraternisation of Bush and his father with the rulers of West Asia as the root cause of the decision of Al Qaeda to stage 9/11, but why no reference to the Cruise missile attacks in the Sudan and Afghanistan ordered by former President Clinton in October 1998, which till now were considered to be the trigger behind the 9/11 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 in Islamabad? 

  • 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. 

An Associated Press report carried by the "USA Today" on October 30, 2004, 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 feel 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 is bin Laden, who had the tape produced and disseminated and with what objective? 

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. e-Mail: [email protected].  

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no.1155, November 1, 2004.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.