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Roots of terror untouched by bin Laden's death

By Reza Sayah, CNN
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Causes of extremism remain
  • The root causes of people turning to extremism are varied, deep-seated and being ignored
  • They include U.S. presence in Afghanistan, poverty and bad governance
  • Many in Pakistan, Afghanistan feel the U.S. is at war with Islam
  • Tackling the issues is a complicated, lengthy process

Reza Sayah is a CNN International correspondent who has covered the Mideast, South Asia and Africa extensively.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- As the death of Osama bin Laden reverberates around the world, the root causes of extremism are apparently largely being ignored.

But the goals that need to be achieved in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to turn people away from the lure of al Qaeda extremism will take time.

"The U.S. presence is acting as a rallying cry for these people," said political analyst Aasiya Riaz. "You'll talk to many people who say things will not change in the region until the United States picks up and leaves."

Riaz, a member of the Pakistan Institute for Political Development and Transparency -- an Islamabad-based think tank -- said violent jihad has also been injected into this region's culture and is viewed as an effective strategy against oppression.

Ironically, it was the U.S. that paid for and supported extremist militants during the 1980s Afghan jihad against the Soviet invasion.

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The U.S. now rejects those extremists, but many suspect Pakistan's spy agencies still maintain links to Islamist militants and plan to use those links to hold sway in Afghanistan once U.S. troops pull out.

Pakistan denies this, but skeptics say Islamabad's deeds do not match its words.

Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist in Islamabad, said extremist ideology in Pakistan and Afghanistan is made possible by the crushing poverty, and governments which have failed to provide the most basic human needs, like shelter, security and a basic education.

"It's the lack of democracy," Abdullah said. "It's the lack of development. It's the lack of opportunities."

Studies by the United Nations' aid agencies show nearly half of the adult population in Pakistan is illiterate and earns less than $2 a day.

"Bin Laden was a symbol and an illustration of a mind-set and an ideology that lives on," Abdullah said.

Terrorism experts and sociologists have long rejected poverty and bad governance as the sole prerequisites to religious extremism.

They cite countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh as examples of developing Muslim countries that are not facing widespread religious extremism.

So what makes Pakistan and Afghanistan different?

Analysts say in Pakistan and Afghanistan there is also the powerful perception that the U.S. is waging war with Islam. The perception is intensified by almost 10 years of U.S.-led military occupation in Afghanistan, where thousands of civilians -- who had little to do with al Qaeda or the Taliban -- have been killed.

The Pakistani security establishment's decisive break with all militant groups, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and better governance -- achieving these objectives will be a painstaking and complicated process that will take time, but they could be the real keys in the fight against terrorism in this region, far more so than the death of one man.

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