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Taliban fighters pose with weapons at an undisclosed location in southern Afghanistan in this May 5, 2011 picture. (STRINGER/AFGHANISTAN/Reuters)
Taliban fighters pose with weapons at an undisclosed location in southern Afghanistan in this May 5, 2011 picture. (STRINGER/AFGHANISTAN/Reuters)

Taliban aim to exploit backlash over bin Laden death Add to ...

The backlash after the killing of Osama bin Laden started slowly, in the ramshackle city of Quetta near the western border of Pakistan, on the first afternoon after his death.

Security forces locked down the city, a reputed stronghold for the Taliban; paramilitary officers stopped people in the streets and demanded to know where they were headed.

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Despite those restrictions, a small protest was organized by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a political party that often speaks in favour of the Taliban. Only 200 to 300 people straggled into the streets that day, some of them still not entirely believing in the death of their hero, whose portrait they held aloft and kissed. They waved white Taliban banners and burned American flags.

From those beginnings, the protests gained some steam by Friday. Groups spilled out of mosques after weekly sermons and chanted Mr. bin Laden's name across the Arab world. Reports suggested small crowds: perhaps 60 men with masked faces in Indonesia; an estimated 300 demonstrators unfurling a pro-bin-Laden banner in Egypt; a lone cleric honouring the fallen sheik with prayers in Lebanon.

Pakistan remained the epicentre, the place where al-Qaeda urged citizens to rise up in an online statement on Friday. (In that message, al-Qaeda also confirmed the death of Mr. bin Laden, vowing revenge on the United States and its allies.)

Religious parties organized protests in every major city, but the turnout must have disappointed them. The biggest gatherings happened in Quetta and Abbottabad; both cities saw crowds of perhaps 1,000 people. Fewer than 100 people showed up for a protest on Friday evening in Rawalpindi, mostly older men who seemed reluctant to march into the streets until after the rain had stopped.

A planned demonstration in front of a mosque in central Islamabad was cancelled altogether, although that didn't stop the imam from using his loudspeakers to denounce the United States and the NATO presence in Afghanistan: "Now a decade has passed, and defeat is written on their faces," he said.

In the Taliban's first official statement on the matter, the insurgents said they would ride a wave of public anger over Mr. bin Laden's death.

"The Islamic emirate believes the martyrdom of Sheik Osama bin Laden will give a new impetus to the current jihad against the invaders in this critical phase," the statement said, according to Agence France-Presse.

But it remains unclear how much anger exists to harness. The religious parties that organized the demonstrations never got more than 11 per cent of the vote in any Pakistani election, although their true support could be deeper because of voter disenfranchisement.

Some analysts have suggested that people with radical beliefs may be disillusioned with the religious parties themselves, as they frequently collude with the Pakistani establishment. Perhaps the most prominent religious party leader, Maulana Fazl ur Rahman, was targeted twice by suicide bombers in recent weeks.

Similarly, it's hard to trust the polls that show Pakistanis did not favour Mr. bin Laden, because opinion research has proven notoriously unreliable in this region.

For their part, the Taliban say they're convinced this death will give them a rallying cry.

"From every drop of Osama's blood we will find hundreds like him," said a 35-year-old insurgent, speaking from an undisclosed location near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"All those on our side will gain power: politicians, fighters, Taliban and al-Qaeda. You know, now, there are many people against America. Soon even the people of the United States will be against their own government, if they are Muslims or from other religions."

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In the hours after Osama bin Laden's death, The Globe and Mail hired a researcher to find Taliban and ask several question about how his demise will affect the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three insurgents offered their views: a 35-year-old wealthy landowner, a 28-year-old shopkeeper and a 40-year-old trader. All of them will leave their day jobs as the fighting season starts this month, picking up weapons to join what is expected to be a record-breaking summer of warfare in both countries. Here are edited excerpts:

LANDOWNER

How will people react?

Many Muslims are upset about death of Osama. Maybe some percentage of Muslims who have a very close relationship with the West are happy, but mostly the Muslims are unhappy and condemn the attack.

If many people are angry, will this help the Taliban?

Naturally, the Taliban will gain power from this. We lost one Osama, but found many Osamas. From every drop of Osama's blood we will find hundreds like him.

Some people say Osama's death means the Taliban will lose enthusiasm.

No, I don't think the Taliban will lose the power because our group and al-Qaeda are different organizations. Yes, we had a link before, when Taliban had its government in Afghanistan, but now don't have a very close link with each other.

SHOPKEEPER

How will the Taliban react?

I saw many people speaking with each other about this. They said: "Now we will start fighting against the Americans; if we can't fight, we can do suicide attacks. We will do anything."

Is this a war only to remove troops from Afghanistan?

This fighting is between Muslims and infidels, because when Americans entered Afghanistan their aim and target was Muslims in general and not Osama or [Taliban leader]Mullah Omar. … When they attacked on Iraq there was no Osama in that country, but still they attacked.

TRADER

What did Osama ever do for Muslims?

Osama was a big shield against Americans for us, and a person who started jihad against invaders on Afghanistan. …The Americans were scared from him.

Will U.S. troops now leave Afghanistan?

I think they don't want to leave completely. Only some soldiers will leave, because they want to make permanent bases and continue their bad actions in Afghanistan. We will try to push them completely from the country. ... Let me tell you something: Osama and al-Qaeda were only a pretext for them. They wanted to stop Islam in this region. That's why they attacked Iraq, and now Libya. From one side they support Pakistan and from the other side they beat Pakistan, because they want to start a war in Pakistan as well. It has already started.

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