Osama bin Laden: Bottomless Patriotism?
May 18, 2012
Osama bin Laden is dead. His family is gone too. But the shame and legacy the world’s most wanted terrorist left behind, continues to haunt Pakistan. The bulk of the Pakistanis suffer humiliation and discrimination for the simple reason that bin Laden was found in Abbottabad – alive, kicking, and still happily married. After the deadly May 2 raid, most people found themselves in a state of denial, refusing to believe the American claims of the Operation Neptune Spear. The reaction to Hilary Clinton’s claims about successor Ayman al Zawahiri also reflected the same state of denial – as if Pakistan is sealed country with exquisite security and surveillance systems that would insulate it from all brands of militancy and terrorism. Unfortunately, it is not. After all, beside Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Aimal Kansi, Adil Al Jazeeri, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Abu Faraj al Libi, Ilyas Kashmir, Abu Yazid, Tahir Yuldashev inter alia were all discovered either in tribal areas or in big cities such as Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Karachi and Abbottabad.
Clinton's claim on Zawahiri in fact should invite more introspection, particularly among those who arrogate upon themselves the right to interpret patriotism. But it did not. And it probably will not because of a long litany of how the guardians of Pakistan treat Pakistanis and foreigners with different yardsticks.
Let me take you through some personal experiences; early morning on May 3, I found an absorbing account of a visit to Osama’s compound in Abbottabad in my email. An old friend, Peter Bergen, multiple author and terrorism expert, had managed to get access in February this year, and thus came back with a riveting account of the compound.
As I read through Peter’s graphic description, the anger and frustration in me grew. Why?
Because, while working on my book “Pakistan – Before and After Osama bin Laden,” I had begged army and ISI officials for access to the compound. All in vain. No question, I was told. And here, an American journalist got escorted access into what had been declared as “Out of bounds” for every one.
So much for the patriotism of the security establishment and their respect for Pakistani journalists. Even earlier in 2009 and 2010, when I was working on my other books for Penguin, ISI officials snubbed all my requests for a meeting with the then chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Apparently, they trust retired brigadiers – regardless of how much credibility they carry - and foreign journalists more, and, hence, give them a damn. I must recall that some time in 2005, Gen Musharraf’s staff had refused to let me interview the president because my south Asia editor at Deutsche Welle missed his flight, and, thus, could not make it to Islamabad for the interview. We had waited for months to get the appointment. On the contrary, a female correspondent for a foreign news agency got the audience with Gen Musharraf within weeks of her arrival in Islamabad. Their merit and patriotism essentially ended there. And it continues to be so.
Now, turning to Osama’s last hideout; the news of his elimination reminded me of an observation Amrullah Saleh, the former chief of Afghan intelligence (National Directorate of Services-NDS), had made at a conference organized by the Jamestown Foundation in Washington on 13 December 2010.
“Unless all these boys [OBL, Mulla Omar, Hekmetyar] are pulled out of the basements of their hideouts in Pakistan, there will be no peace in Afghanistan, nor will the violence come down,” Saleh had thundered in a gathering of almost 350 people at the National Press Club, where I was also to read a paper on the troubles in the border regions. Saleh repeated those words immediately after the Operation Neptune Spear – mounted to take out Bin Laden – and exuded a certain sense of vindication in several interviews he gave in days after Osama’s elimination. And rightly so.
Although skeptical Pakistanis and officials, particularly those from the security apparatus, dismissed certain details of the Washington narrative on the raid, as it turned out eventually, his wives admitted before the Abbottabad Commission, that the Sheikh was indeed present at the compound when the US SEALs hit. They had been living there since late 2005.
May 2 indeed was the most shameful day for Pakistanis; it exposed the many lies they had been fed and living with. And it was in this context that the American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, took on the skeptics by posing counter-questions to reporters at a press stakeout in Karachi on 9 May 2011. “We need to know what was he doing all these years in Pakistan,” Munter asked, echoing the suspicions running deep in Washington since the killing of Bin Laden. Most outsiders, including US lawmakers in the Congress, began questioning the possible motives of the ISI and other Pakistani security institutions: Had they been protecting Bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist since he disappeared in December 2001 from the Tora Bora cave complex in Afghanistan?
The wives practically demolished all the conspiracy theories and questions surrounding the debate over Osama’s life at the compound. He was there indeed and went cold within seconds after a SEAL pierced his head and chest with two bullets through the silencer-armed rifle. He was almost instantly dead because of the fatal gunshot in the head.
What an unbelievable end to the man who challenged the sole superpower and was solely responsible for sucking the USA into the history’s longest conflict much of which we owe to the legacy that Osama has left behind in the region. Entities such as Defense of Pakistan Council represent that legacy and are much more lethal than Al Qaeda itself.
Why get upset over Zawahiri’s alleged presence somewhere in Pakistan, or over allegations that many Al Qaeda operatives may be hiding in the country’s wily border regions, ably protected by the likes of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the Haqqani Network?