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Interview: Journalist Discusses The Pakistani Taliban's Future

Supporters of the Pakistani religious party Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam hold pictures of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during an anti-U.S. rally on the outskirts of Quetta on May 6.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani journalist who has personally interviewed Osama bin Laden and has met with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, discusses the future of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the wake of bin Laden's death with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal correspondent Gul Ayaz.

RFE/RL: What adverse effects will Osama bin Ladin's death have on the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan?

Rahimullah Yusufzai:
I believe the Taliban are still not mentally prepared to accept that Osama is dead. They are awaiting confirmation from Al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri.

At the same time, the Pakistani Taliban have warned of revenge if Osama were killed and will do whatever they can to harm Pakistan and the United States. As the land of the United States is out of the reach of Taliban, they will take their revenge on Pakistan.

RFE/RL: What effect will bin Laden's death have on the Pakistani Taliban's and Al-Qaeda's morale?

It was a big tragedy. Osama was their closest friend and was an iconic figure. Most of the people joined the cause of jihad because of Osama's charisma. There is no doubt that his killing is a big blow to them. It will compel them to rethink about their future strategies.

However, there was one other factor too. Osama's influence and military strength was weakening over the years. The Al-Qaeda members living in this region were depending on local jihadis and the Taliban. I don't think Osama's killing will affect them much, but the Taliban is weakened because of the military operations by the Pakistani Army and U.S. drones. But Osama's death would not affect [the Taliban's overall] power.

RFE/RL: Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders would love to be in the media, but they are underground now. Do you think this also points to their weakness?

It is proof that the Taliban is getting weaker, that [its members] can't come out in the media. Before, they were frequently giving information and inviting the media to visit their places. Most of the media people were even able to interview Osama. In the past, they were also sending audio and videotapes and would issue statements on their websites.

Now, [the lack of media appearances] shows their weakness and they are also taking precautious -- such as contact by phone -- as most of its [arrested] leaders have been arrested on the basis of their call records.

RFE/RL: The Pakistan president and prime minister have welcomed bin Laden's killing but we see a harsh statement from the army. Do you think there are any contradictions in the policies of the Pakistani Army and government going on behind the scenes?

No, they [the government and army] are not on the same page over this issue and they have differences. Political leaders welcomed the killing of Osama and Prime Minister [Yousaf] Gilani termed it a great success, but the military says that Pakistan was not consulted to hunt down Osama, which [the army believes] has defamed Pakistan and the ISI.

For this reason, the [military] reaction is harsh. And in my view the difference [between the army and government] is clear and will increase in the days ahead.