KABUL (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai urged Afghanistan’s Taliban to stop fighting after the death of Osama bin Laden, the September 11 mastermind described by some Afghans as al Qaeda’s “number one martyr,” but his calls are likely to go unheeded.
The reaction to bin Laden’s killing was muted across Afghanistan, where fighting has dragged on since al Qaeda launched the September 11, 2001 attacks, in contrast to the joyous scenes in the streets of Washington and other U.S. cities.
Analysts see the killing of bin Laden as highly symbolic but said it was unlikely to have any immediate effect on U.S. policy, or on the global war against Islamist militants after the September 11 attacks.
Several people in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, also doubted the killing would have any significant impact on an insurgency that has grown dramatically over the past 18 months.
“Now he is the number one martyr for al Qaeda because he is stronger dead than alive,” one man, who asked not to be identified, said in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
“He always predicted that he would be killed by Americans. Now he will become a fire that Muslims will follow for generations,” the heavily bearded man said.
Karzai said several hours after Washington announced the killing of bin Laden that the operation showed the war against terrorism “was not in Afghan villages.”
But he also said the Taliban in Afghanistan should learn from bin Laden’s death. Bin Laden was harbored by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan in the years before the September 11 attacks.
“I call on the Taliban to learn a lesson from the incident in Abbottabad and refrain from fighting and the destruction of their own country,” Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.
“With the incident in Abbottabad that took place yesterday, I hope that ... in a year or two this country will be in peace and prosperity,” Karzai said.
The United States, however, struck a more cautious tone, with its ambassador to Kabul echoing earlier comments by Obama that bin Laden’s killing did not mean the end of militant violence.
“This victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism. America’s strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before,” U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said in a statement.
NATO-led forces have pledged to begin a gradual drawdown of combat troops from July as part of a plan to hand security responsibility across the country to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Some Western diplomats in Afghanistan believed the killing of bin Laden would at least help plans to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
“It could be a game-changer in boosting the morale and confidence of the U.S. and international community,” said Vygaudas Usackas, the European Union ambassador in Kabul.
He said it would help prove that the efforts and sacrifices of the past 10 years “were not in vain.”
Senior NATO commanders warned last Friday that a major spike in violence was expected this week, and the Taliban announced it would start a renewed “spring offensive” involving attacks against foreign and Afghan troops as well as government targets.
Bin Laden was killed in a gunfight with U.S. forces in a luxurious compound about 60 km (35 miles) north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, overnight, U.S. officials said.
It had long been thought he had been moving through the largely lawless tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan in the years since the September 11 attacks.
Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban and became the capital of the hardline Islamists’ government after 1994. Bin Laden long found shelter among Taliban leaders in the south, where the attacks against U.S. targets were planned.
The Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in the months after those attacks, and the Taliban leadership fled across the border into Pakistan.
It is believed bin Laden fled to Pakistan after he eluded U.S. troops and Afghan militia in a major assault in the mountainous Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan.
Violence hit its worst levels across Afghanistan last year, with record civilian and military casualties, with the protracted fighting sapping the energy of Washington’s NATO allies who face an increasingly skeptical public.
Some in Afghanistan’s south believed the fighting would drag on even further despite the killing of bin Laden.
“Bin Laden’s death doesn’t matter because al Qaeda is more than him and it’s a big idea now,” said another man in Kandahar, who also asked not to be identified.
Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch, Hamid Shalizi and Rob Taylor; Editing by Miral Fahmy