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Embarrassment and patriotism


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, May 11 ,2012

Around 7:45 in the morning on 2nd May 2011, two consecutive calls on my cellphone pulled me out of bed. 'Osama has been found and killed in Abbottabad,' said the caller, my younger brother. This electrifying revelation worked more than what the early morning coffee does to you. A strong sense of disbelief, shock and shame overtook me.

A year later, 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, author and terrorism expert, had managed to get access in February this year, and thus came back with a riveting account of the compound.

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, had

'Unless all these boys [OBL, Mullah 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, yet his wives admitted before the Abbottabad Commission, that Osama was indeed present in the compound when the US SEALs hit. They had been living there since late 2005. The commission even reconstructed a video that the Americans claimed had been recovered from the Bin Laden house. The film, released a few days after the incident, depicts Bin Laden sitting in a small cabin-sized shabby room in front of a small, possibly 21-inch old-fashioned TV and playing with the video remote control. The widows' deposition before the Commission essentially gave a lie to all the skeptics who - still mired in a state of denial - refused to believe that OBL was present at the time of the raid.

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, being fought in the largely mountainous and socially tribal Afghanistan that refuses to transition into a democratic and pluralistic society. Much of it we owe to the legacy that Osama has left behind in the region. Some of the supporters of Osama's ideology continue to be a source of external pressure, embarrassment and diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.

Ironically, rejection and denial followed foreign secretary Hilary Clinton's May 7 remarks in New Delhi about Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri's perceived presence in Pakistan. Hina Rabbani Khar, the foreign minister, demanded "actionable proof" if the US had it. But viewed against the abysmally low trust in Pakistan's security establishment, why will the American establishment risk failure by sharing information about the new most wanted terrorist? No amount of denial will fend off external pressures. Only demonstrable actions can help, at least restraining the anti-US and anti-India rhetoric. There is no way around this at all, unless those in power are bent upon piling more misery and isolation on the people of Pakistan.

Why are we upset over Zawahiri's alleged presence somewhere in Pakistan? 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 the tribal areas or in big cities such as Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Karachi, and Abbottabad.

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk