Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Surprise, doubt and confusion: Pakistan’s reaction to bin Laden killing

In the 48 hours following the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death in Pakistan, the country’s government and United States officials have done a strange public dance about Pakistan’s role leading up to the mission.

By Sara Nics (South Asia Wired/Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

Bin Laden was killed in an all-American operation, according to US officials. In a brief press release on Monday, Pakistan’s government reinforced that point, despite earlier confused statements about whether or not the country had been involved.

On Tuesday, Pakistan’s foreign affairs ministry released a much longer statement that “categorically denied” any prior knowledge about the attack.

The statement said, “As far as the target compound is concerned, ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] had been sharing information with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009. The intelligence flow indicating some foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad, continued till mid April 2011.”

Skepticism and theories
A wide range of theories are circulating about the motivations behind the US-Pakistan pas-de-deux. At one end of the spectrum is the speculation that Pakistan knew about the operation but is afraid of reprisals from Al-Qaeda if they admit involvement. Other commentators theorise that parts of Pakistan’s administration were protecting bin Laden and his family, and the government is now trying to cover it up.

Regardless of where the truth lies, there is one key point on which Pakistan and the US agree publicly: Osama bin Laden is dead. But not everyone is convinced.

Corpse photo
Some people in Abbottabad, where Osama apparently lived for a few years, are speculating that bin Laden was not killed on Sunday, says Suzanna Koster, South Asia Wired’s correspondent in Pakistan. “The local paper is also saying that it’s all American propaganda,” she reports.

Koster says many of the local residents she has talked with will only believe that bin Laden is dead when they see a photo of his corpse. Although some media outlets published a photo purportedly of bin Laden’s body, the picture was quickly labeled a fake.

War on terror
But some residents also believe that the death of Osama bin Laden should mark the end of America’s war on terror in the region.

“We are relieved,” says Kamran, one of the many Pakistanis who exchange the hot summer sun for the relative coolness of Abbottabad. “We hope this war ends now in Afghanistan. This search and raids should end, you know. That is how we feel. NATO has been blaming Osama, but he’s gone now. So leave the rest of the world in peace. We want peace. Everybody wants peace”.

Mohammad Ilyas, standing near the sealed area around Osama bin Laden’s house, echoes the sentiment of many people in the village when he says that the US is lying about his death. “We don’t know if he’s dead or alive. President Obama also doesn’t know as he’s in [Washington] and not here. I think the US is lying to the world.”

Military patrols have kept the streets of Abbottabad largely quiet since bin Laden’s killing. The area has now been cordoned off for the media. In Karachi, however, some people took to the streets yesterday to offer funerary prayers for bin Laden. In Quetta, close to the border with Afghanistan, people reportedly rallied to condemn bin Laden’s killing.

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