This is a tough time to be Pakistani. Perhaps the humiliation and bewilderment of the average Pakistani can be analogized to the time when West Pakistan unleashed rape and murder on its eastern half and lost it. But those were not the days of the Internet revolution; propaganda whitewashed the gory details and West Pakistanis lived in ignorant bliss.
Osama bin Laden’s killing remains shrouded in mystery; the backpedalling of the American government is unsettling. And for Pakistanis across the world the initial eerie silence and the subsequent outlandish statements of the Pakistan government and the ISI add the last nail in our coffin of infamy.
The media had a heyday with reports of Bin Laden using his wife as a shield and all that connotes. After 24 hours there was a recant. President Obama seems very concerned about Muslim sentiment and the preference in Islam to bury as soon as possible. So with “Muslim rites” bin Laden is dumped in the sea! The bodies of all previous high value terrorists that were killed were shown to the media and all were buried. A basic knowledge of Islam would reveal that Muslims cannot be buried at sea unless there are extenuating circumstances, and this was not one. The calls for closure and quashing of conspiracy theories demand, at the very minimum, photographs of the body but the decision now emerges that it would inflame Muslims and threaten national security so they too shall not be shown.
That bin Laden was living for at least a year in the backyard of the elite Kakul Military Academy in the garrison city of Abbotabad, that America could kill him and gather all computer data in 40 minutes flat before the Pakistan Air Force could mobilize, that the Pakistanis were deliberately kept in the dark about this and now there is no public evidence of bin Laden’s death only leads to further vilification of America and arms Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to advance their conspiracy theories and extremist ideology.
Even non-Muslim Americans and those that lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks would have benefited by the closure that photos provide. Reprisals one can anticipate, making definitive evidence public rather than expecting the world to believe the “99.9% DNA match” would not have been gloating but the closing of a terrible chapter in world history. 64 % in a CNN poll wanted the photos to be made public.
Pakistanis must face that over the last 25 years Pakistan has been converted into a haven for terrorism. That the thousands of Paksitani military and civilian lives lost in a war that was not Pakistan’s died at the hands of Muslims. With the tacit and overt support of the population.
There are two Pakistans-one that is committed to democracy, human rights, education and professional advancement of women and a Sufistic practice of Islam. The other is the Taliban brand-literalistic, uneducated, violent, treating women as receptacles of procreation and following the Salafi/Wahabi practice of Islam.
Most Al-Qaeda figures that have been arrested for terrorist activities in various parts of the world have had links to Pakistan and the majority of them were not Pakistani. Over the last 25 years Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens, Afghanis and even Filipinos have found safe haven in Pakistan, learnt Urdu and Pashto and obtained Pakistani passports. Worse, economic conditions have forced the local population to rent to and aid and marry these foreigners and slowly but surely Pakistan has been radicalized and also permeated with Wahabi thought.
As a young woman I don’t remember seeing flailing beards in our cricket team or army passing out parades as one notices now. Not to mention the entirely modest dupatta and shalwar kameez outfit that has been dumped in favor of the Arab hijab, niqab, gown and gloves, that also in the searing heat of Lahore.
Speaker of the House John Boehner and other members of Congress are questioning the US$2 billion aid that Pakistan receives. And rightfully so. Accountability is not Pakistan’s strong point. It is conjectured that some of the aid went with Musharraf when he went overseas. The current government is mired in corruption and Prime Minister Gilani soaks up French hospitality while Pakistan burns.
The ISI most likely knew of the operation and perhaps it was decided that it would play dumb, for CIA Director Leon Panetta claims that the first response of his counterpart on hearing the news was “congratulations”. It is virtually impossible for Pakistanis to believe that supposedly one of the best secret services in the world did not know of bin Laden living in a military garrison. It is conjectured that a large part of the ISI and the army has been permeated by Taliban thought, with the unjust American invasion of Iraq as a terrible catalyst and perhaps keeping the ISI out of the operation completely would allow it to better deal with its radicalized members.
After the London train bombings the friend of one of the bombers said that it did not matter if bin Laden was alive or dead; “al-Qaeda is inside” he said pointing to his head. The same premise applies to Pakistan. The government and now the ISI are inept, true. But the problem is the population and with it lies the solution.
The non-radicalized face of Pakistan has an onerous responsibility. It must form coalitions and maybe an umbrella organization to rid Pakistan of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Ironically bin Laden and terrorists like him are easy surgical strikes. Wahabi/Taliban thought that has permeated into the population over the last 25 years may take another generation to cleanse. And by that time Pakistan may not even be the banana republic it is now. Probably drawn and quartered beyond recognition.
Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org