Abbottabad: The young Pakistani officer sighs when he thinks about what happened to Osama bin Laden. “Was he really here?” he says. “All that, it’s like 9/11, we don’t even know if it really happened.”
Sitting at the end of the track leading to the compound where US Navy SEALs killed the al Qaeda leader on May 2, Abdullah prefers to enjoy the fresh air blowing down from the Himalayas than relive his country’s darkest hour. “This is a holiday compared to Mathani or Charsaddah,” he added, referring to parts of the northwest where Taliban bomb attacks and shootings have killed so many of his colleagues.
Abdullah is just one of millions in Pakistan who doubt that bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks. That spotlights the country’s ambiguous relationship with extremism and selective approach to militants in what Washington calls the headquarters of al Qaeda.
The ambiguity is all the starker given that the cataclysmic events of September 11 dragged the nuclear power into a decade of fighting and violence that the government in Islamabad claims has killed 35,000 people.
The bulk of the Taliban and al Qaeda escaped the US invasion of Afghanistan by fleeing into Pakistan. The army — furious with the West for doubting its commitment to the terror fight — says more than 3,000 soldiers have died battling them since. Opposed to the US alliance, jihadist groups — once sponsored by the state to fight in Afghanistan and against India — have splintered into a local Taliban blamed for more than four years of unrelenting bomb attacks.
Wahab Khan Maseeb, 20, leaves his lectures at the medical faculty in Abbottabad. A young Pakistani-American in jeans and a T-shirt, he was in school in Brooklyn on that fateful day 10 years ago. He saw the ash cover everything.
But was it an Islamist attack? Wahab hesitates. Like others, he saw the “Loose Change” series of documentary films, which accused elements of the US government of carrying out the 9/11 attacks. “It was pretty convincing,” he says.
In a country awash with anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, Pakistani newspapers peddled totally unsubstantiated claims that 4,000 Jews didn’t turn up to work in New York that day, so the attacks were somehow a Zionist plot. Such theories are preached from mosques and propagated by madrassas responsible for the education of millions of largely penniless children.