A sense of shame swelled in Pakistan on Thursday over the unearthing of Osama bin Laden so close to Islamabad, along with anger at the ease with which US forces picked off the al Qaeda leader on its soil. The country has been left wondering how US Navy SEALs managed to chopper into bin Laden’s compound undetected, kill him and fly off with his body near an academy training the military, Pakistan’s most respected institution.
But there is also lingering disbelief that the al Qaeda mastermind was actually shot dead in early Monday’s operation, following US President Barack Obama’s announcement that no photograph would be released of his body. “Pakistan and its security apparatus have become something of a laughing stock, with the media around the world highlighting the discovery of the world’s most wanted man at walking distance from a leading military academy,” right wing English language daily The News said in an editorial. “The embarrassment which hangs all around cannot be disguised… These questions include how secure Pakistan — and its nuclear weapons — really are, given that helicopters were able to fly undetected deep into our territory.”
In the violent southern metropolis of Karachi, mistrust of the US version of events was running rampant, particularly in light of Obama’s declaration that the photo evidence would be kept secret on national security grounds. “It has always lied and ditched its allies, so why trust its leadership when they say they have killed Osama. They don’t release the picture because it could expose their lies,” said Mehmood Azeem, 55, a medical practitioner.
A senior government official in Sindh’s provincial administration voiced suspicion that the national establishment were part of a large cover-up over the commando raid in Abbottabad, 50 km from the capital. “We don’t know exactly what happened that night. What’s more embarrassing is that our civilian and military leadership are hand-in-glove in the hush,” said the official, Ahmed, who would give only his first name.
Jang, the biggest selling Urdu language daily, headlined its editorial, “Don’t keep the nation in the dark: Bring the facts to the fore.” Khabrain, another Urdu newspaper, gave voice to one popular conspiracy theory. “Some experts think that the al Qaeda chief was in confinement for a long time and America staged a scene according to its own timing and interests,” it said.
But even among hardline religious groups, there was mostly acceptance that bin Laden was indeed dead. Banned islamist charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa held prayers on Tuesday to honour the “martyr”. The country’s main religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), has called for protests on Friday against the covert raid, blaming the government and intelligence agencies for a “criminal failure” in letting it happen. “It has become clear that Pakistan is a slave of America as the government did not do anything to stop US intrusion into its territory,” provincial JI chief Mohammad Ibrahim told reporters.
In Peshawar, the gateway city in the northwest bordering the country’s Taliban infested tribal areas, 42 year old Haleem Said pointed out that violation of Pakistan’s territory was nothing new. A covert US drone campaign targeting militants holed up along the lawless border with Afghanistan has claimed more than 1,500 lives in nearly three years and generates popular hatred of the superpower ally. “We are not a sovereign nation because every day the drone attacks challenge our sovereignty,”President of the Peshawar Traders’ Association said, adding, “We are sovereign only in our statements by government and officials, no more.”
Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, who has railed against the US-Pakistan alliance for inflaming militancy in the border regions, said the US operation was a “total disaster for Pakistan”. “Why was the announcement not made by the Pakistan government? Why did the rulers keep silent? There is a total confusion over the situation. People want to hear the truth,” he said.