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What Will Bin Laden Be Now That He's Dead?


Lawrence Wright won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation of the rise of al-Qaida in the book "The Looming Tower." Mr. Wright who is now a staff writer for The New Yorker Magazine joins us from member station KUT in Austin.

Larry, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LAWRENCE WRIGHT (Author, "The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Path to 9/11"): It's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: So where does the death of Osama bin Laden leave al-Qaida?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, it's been an organization in crisis even before this, you know. They were under a lot of pressure, all in hiding, trying to pull off another significant action which they've been unable to do. And then suddenly you have the Arab Spring come along where they seem even more irrelevant than they have been in the last few years.

So from that perspective, this is a mortal moment for al-Qaida. But that's not to say that it's dead. So I suspect we'll continue to see al-Qaida for awhile.

SIMON: Do you foresee Osama bin Laden becoming a martyr over the next few months, or a fading memory?

Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah. I think his memory will be divided. I think it'll fade in the West, but probably not for a while among many of the people have glorified him up till now. What he's done that is unfortunate is create a template for future groups who may not be radical Islamists, but may have any number of different kind of political causes behind them.

But if they want to look at how to create a disproportionate effect on the world, they may well look at al-Qaida.

SIMON: You've said in interviews this week and suggested in an article you have coming out this week in The New Yorker, that Osama bin Laden - and let me quote your own words - was "essentially sheltered by Pakistani intelligence and military units."

Mr. WRIGHT: I think it's unlikely that elements of the Pakistani intelligence were unaware of bin Laden's presence in their lair in Abbottabad. ISI has a long history of dealing with radical Islamist groups that they either helped create or continued to nurture, such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

SIMON: I was struck by a piece, maybe you read it too, Phillip Shenon in The Daily Beast had this week where he quoted some Pakistani intelligence officials as saying, look, if we knew where Osama bin Laden was, why didn't any of us, being so famously corrupt, turn him in and claim that big reward?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, I think what the answer to that is, is that the Pakistani military and ISI were claiming a big reward every year in terms of the military aid that this country was giving to Pakistan in order to find bin Laden. They were in the looking for bin Laden business. If they found him, they'd be out of business.

SIMON: And what are the real consequences now? I mean, what might you say to Americans that say, no reason to keep paying the Pakistani military.

Mr. WRIGHT: My feeling has been for several years that we should scale back drastically in the amount of military aid that we provide to that country. I think we have undermined civil society in Pakistan by overly endowing the Pakistani military, which has used the money to - misappropriated, I should say, the money to arm itself against India, our nominal ally, and may have used a lot of that money to amplify its nuclear program, which through A.Q. Khan, their leading nuclear scientist, they went and sold those plans and materials to our worst enemies in the world.

This is what harvest that we have reaped in our relationship with the Pakistani military.

SIMON: Does the image of the United States change much following this week in the region?

Mr. WRIGHT: Yes. I think the sense of capacity and reach has been underscored all over the world, not just in South Asia and the Middle East. And I think the sense of resolve is very apparent. I think there is going to be a delicate tone that has to be adopted in this country that is short of triumphalism, but also a sense of certainty about who we are and where we're going to prosecute and where we're going to go from here. I don't think we have really settled in our own minds what will the world be like without bin Laden.

SIMON: Lawrence Wright, staff writer for The New Yorker. His article about U.S. and Pakistan appears in the upcoming issue of the magazine.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. WRIGHT: It was a pleasure. Thanks again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.