As most of the Western world celebrated the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on Monday, the public mood in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad – less than 100 kilometers from where the mastermind of the September 11 attacks was killed – was somewhat cautious.
While some expressed anxiety for what might now be in store for Pakistan both locally and in the international arena, others said they seriously suspect the whole episode to be a hoax created as part of an overall US strategy in the region.
“I am not sure whether the news is true or not,” said Misbah Mazhar, a 20-something blogger in her final year of medical school. “At least some proof should have been offered, the whole thing being a hoax cannot be ruled out.”
Adding to her suspicions was what she terms the “silence of the Pakistani government,” even though Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was quoted on Monday by news agency AFP, calling the incident a “great victory.”
One Islamabad-based journalist who preferred to remain anonymous told The Jerusalem Post
that many people in Pakistan do not believe it was bin Laden who was killed in a helicopter raid Sunday night and that the man so wanted by the US had actually been assassinated several years earlier.
“Everyone in Pakistan sees this as a fake drama,” said the journalist, who has been working recently on several pieces examining the attitudes of Pakistanis towards the US. “It is very interesting that our president seemed to know very little about this operation but Obama knew everything.”
He said that most discussions in Islamabad have centered on the fact that the story is fabricated and that it was released at a time that is “strategic for the US.”
“They are killing innocent tribal people in North West Pakistan and, for their own interests, the US has wanted to keep a presence in the area,” he said, adding that the region provides access to countries such as North Korea, Iran, China and Russia.
“The people here do have sympathy for Americans who lost their loved ones in 9/11 but they hate the policy of the American government and its agencies,” added the journalist. “Last year I surveyed the public about this issue and some said they hate America but most said it was American policy and interference in our country that bothered them more.”
“It is a cause of serious concern for people like us who neither like Osama nor the American aggression,” observed Ahmad Ali, a policy expert associated with an independent think-tank in Islamabad.
He said he believes direct action by US forces has put a question mark on Pakistan’s sovereignty and is seriously concerned that the operation was conducted without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities.
There is now a state of confusion prevailing in Pakistan and the government “should sit once for all, take into confidence different political forces and make a concerted strategy as to what course the state of Pakistan will take in to days to come,” Ali added.
Asked whether he feared this incident will further tarnish the image of Pakistanis aboard, Ali responded: “We already suffer from a tainted image, if any; this development would only substantiate the allegations.”
Less concerned about the reaction of pro-al-Qaida elements in Pakistani society, Ali added that there was now a chance that Pakistan could now become the “primary target of a US onslaught.”
Ehsan Syed, a local educator with a strong anti-US stance, does not even bother to conceal his suspicions.
“I do not believe bin Laden has been killed,” he said, alluding to the fact that the killing most likely already took place.
However, he warned that the reaction of the Taliban to bin Laden’s death could mean an eruption of suicide attacks in the near future.
Another journalist, Tariq Zia from Dawn TV, shared Syed’s fears.
“We would be compelled to link it to Osama’s death if, God forbid, a big terrorist attack takes place anywhere in Pakistan in a week’s time,” he said, adding, however, that his deeper fear is that it would perpetuate the image that Pakistan was “not doing enough in the war against terror.”
“I was shocked to hear the news and immediately deluged by the fear that [bin Laden] has been killed in Pakistan,” pointed out Zia.
Despite US claims that bin Laden had been living for sometime in Abbotabad, a populated urban center just a few hours drive from the capital, some of those interviewed for this article expressed their disbelief that this was possible.
“How could he have been there? How could he have moved about freely when so many people, even children, would have recognized him? It is just not possible,” exclaimed another journalist, who did not want her name used.
Aftab Awan, a senior development professional with a background in education, also expressed surprise at the location where bin Laden was finally killed.
“It would not have been a big surprise if he had been killed in the far flung tribal areas of Pakistan,” said Awan, pointing out that bin Laden was also responsible for the deaths of countless Muslims and had created agony and trouble for them throughout the world.
“[Bin Laden] left the Muslims of the world
in far worse state than they
were when he started his struggle,” he observed. “His movement did not
bring an iota of improvement in their lives or status.”
Awan said he was not so worried about the chances of possible reactions from bin Laden’s followers.
“What more can they do: a couple of suicide attacks or bomb blasts?
These are already happening in Pakistan, so it’s nothing new,” he added.
“Rather, the death of an iconic figure like bin Laden has a lot of
symbolic significance and might contribute in bringing the remaining
leaders to dialogue table in future.”
Nevertheless, Awan is seriously worried that bin Laden’s killing in
Pakistan would further tarnish the image of the country and its people.
“The government of Pakistan has always maintained a stance that bin
Laden is not in Pakistan,” he said. “Now that he has been found and
killed in Abbotabad, it is a further blow to the credibility of the
“I am afraid that this will be used to malign Pakistan in the
international media, which will add to the problems of Pakistanis living
abroad,” he added. “Nobody will pay attention to the fact that the
operation was carried out with the cooperation of Pakistani intelligence
agencies and with support from Pakistan army.”