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60 kilometers from bin Laden

Obama on the news (by JoshMcConnell)

By Mohammed Amer The immediate reactions of Pakistanis on hearing of the murder of Osama bin Laden were divided – between those showing disbelief and condemning the Americans, and those condemning bin Laden for causing calamity for Pakistan. However as the news emerged, I did not find any emotional outburst in the neighborhood where I stayed.

On the 1st of May, it was late in the evening when me and my family returned back to our apartment after attending the wedding reception of a relative. Everybody was tired after the preparation and enactment of three day long wedding rituals, usual for Pakistani marriages. Just after midnight  began the ‘load-shedding’ – a compulsory power cut that occurs many times during day and night in Pakistan, and we all fell asleep. Although the power cut usually means more mosquito attacks, that night we were so tired we didn’t even notice.

 If the load-shedding began here in Rawalpindi, an adjacent city of Islamabad, where we were staying with family, it would have been the same time that it ended in Abbottabad – a garrison town about 60 kilometer to the north and where bin Laden was hiding out, presumably for several years now. Around that time US Navy Seals started their military action under the name ‘Geronimo’, and attacked the hide-out compound in Abbottabad. American commandos had already left the hide-out, taking with them the dead body of bin Laden, before the Pakistani military or intelligence agencies could make an assessment about the incident.

 It was late in the morning when I was awoken by a phone call from a friend who teaches in a local government College. He asked ‘if I was watching the TV’ and told me about the killing of bin Laden as a result of the American covered military action in Abbottabad. ”Sad thing is that the Americans came in helicopters, killed Osama and left, while our military kept sleeping” he said. I sensed anger and distress in the tone of voice of my friend. I hurriedly searched for the remote control of the TV but becaue of the hectic chaos of the wedding nobody had watched the TV for the last couple of days and so it was no easy task. Under the dirty laundry spread across beds and sofas, finally I found the remote and turned the TV on. Different local channels showed  the image of a half-furnished ‘compound’ with streams of incoming news running on the screen regarding the American action. The news obviously caused curiosity among the residents of the house now gathered around the TV: some were hurling abuse at the Americans while others said ”He was also responsible for several bomb blasts in Pakistan” reminding them of the daily terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Curiously not a single person used the word shaheed or martyr for Osama.

 In the afternoon I had an appointment with a colleague at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. I took a taxi from Rawalpindi and it crossed through the streets of Cantonment where the headquarters of the Pakistani military are located. I did not observe any unusual security measures or gatherings of people along the road or on the squares. The taxi-driver, a retired soldier in his 50s, moaned about the hot weather while adjusting a wet piece of cloth on his head to keep himself cool. Obviously I wanted to talk with him about today’s incident: “how is it possible that he was hiding-out in Abbottabad—a military city? Where is the proof of his murder they didn’t show any proof of how they killed him”. On my suggestion that the announcement was made by the American President himself and that this is significant in showing that they might have really done it ‘this time’, he turned less assured about his position. ”Babu sahib (a term used for educated people) you know we do not know; these things are played at higher levels and about those decisions we are uneducated”, he tried to conclude this talk on a note of his powerlessness.

 Such a helplessness augmented in the wake of total silence from the civil or military institutes to inform people about the actual events. This situation translated into a narrative of convulsive rage that I found in the words of a student at the Islamic University in Islamabad: ”as a Pakistani I am confused and shocked regarding the Osama incident, and how angry I am with this state of my mind?” There was an element of evaporated jingoism when people like him asked ”what was our military  doing?”; therefore there was anger at the failure of the military and intelligence agencies. Somebody said ”If they knew, they should have taken an action of their own, and if they did not know, they are also guilty of negligence: in both cases they are incompetent”.

 Whether or not the world will ever become enlightened about the actual position of the Pakistani military in Osama’s murder, in the days following the military had to clear its position through its presentation in the Pakistani Parliament where it apologized for its failure. For some Pakistanis this confession was a big thing on the part of the military, however for the majority it added to the mystery of how it was possible that the military, which determines the internal and external policies of Pakistan, could be unaware of such an incident.

 M. Amer Morgahi is finishing his PhD at the SCA at the VU. He is interested in Islam in Europe, multicultural issues, Pakistan and Pakistani migrants in Europe. Read also his earlier posts on the war against terror and the politics of names.


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