By Themrise Khan
And so it ends. The world’s most feared man is dead. Or so we are told.
The news Pakistan woke up to Monday morning was something most of us never thought would happen. Osama bin Laden had already transgressed into terrorist mythology many years earlier, including being the very mortal victim of renal failure some years ago.
The world is rife with jubilation, while Pakistan sits in a state of shock.
Why? Take the hiding place. Abbottabad? Seriously? Bin Laden’s compound was situated just 800 meters from the most prestigious (not to mention heavily guarded) military school in the country - with more than 100,000 active and retired military personnel? How on earth could it be possible? Like one friend remarked: “there goes the cave theory.”
With the release of an official statement by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, that the operation was conducted by US forces without any Pakistani involvement, the shock gradually began turning into a state of denial. So did our government know about it beforehand or not? Did we just quietly sit back and let the US do what they do best?
But as the days tick by, denial is gradually turning into one of betrayal. Betrayal of the not just the Pakistani people by its own government and military, but by the Americans as well. It was bad enough that the world saw us as “terrorists” for the last ten years. Now they just wont be able to think of us as anything else. Especially since we apparently, didn’t have anything to do with it!
But if there was any event that had the makings of a conspiracy theory, it’s this one. And that is what is fuelling Pakistanis at the moment. And understandably so. From the location, to the action, to the conclusion (dumping a body into the ocean according to Islamic practices?), every element of this tale defies any logical analysis that has thus far been presented about bin Laden and his whereabouts.
What is unbelievable in this fairly bizarre saga, is not that an operation of such a scale actually took place without anyone knowing of it. The point of espionage and covert operations are exactly that. Neither is it hard to believe that such intelligence existed for many months and possibly both countries were aware of it. Planning an attack like this would obviously take a great deal of preparation and Pakistan could well have been trying to protect its “interests” by turning a blind eye.
What is unbelievable and a matter of great shame for us, is the fact that everyone who has thus far accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists, is now spot on. I can picture fingers wagging saying, “told you so”.
Even many die-hard critics of the government were in agreement that the al-Qaeda leader was probably not in Pakistan, or at least not anywhere habitable - or in a densely-populated urban area. Now, they too stand stunned in silence. The implications of this fact alone, is perhaps more dangerous for Pakistan than the threat of militant reactions to bin Laden’s death.
If it is true that the US kept the operation and existence of bin Laden from the Pakistani government, its intelligence and military, then that is clear proof that either one or all three of these institutions were seen as colluding to the interests of the militants. If, on the other hand, the military and government were aware of the whereabouts of bin Laden but kept denying it, then that is clear proof that a government lied to its own people. In either case, the Pakistani people stand to inherit a huge trust deficit from their leaders.
Surprisingly so, despite threats already being slung at the Pakistani military, government and at the American establishment, the retaliation that is expected, is not so much physical violence, although that threat is very real.
More so, it is the threat of a falling out of power between the Pakistani military and its civilian establishment over how this event was orchestrated and conducted. It is the internal strife between the Pakistani military, ruling political parties and the opposition that will now be at centre-stage as the outside world celebrates.
Who in our establishment, will take responsibility for this, is the biggest question on the national agenda. And who will apologize to us for embarrassing us as a nation, beyond all doubt?
We will never know the truth of this story. We will never see a body and even if we do, we will never know if it was real. Unless bin Laden walks back from the grave and into a downtown shopping mall somewhere in Wisconsin or Karachi, he is to all intents and purposes, dead.
But in reality, this awe-inspiring notion means little to people in Pakistan. The damage to the nation was already done many years ago and continues unabated. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist acts, tens of times more than those who died on September 11. Our war is endless, with or without bin Laden. He just planted the seed, we bear the fruit.
The nightmare seems to have ended for many across the world. For Pakistan it has only just begun.