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-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro
-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro
The children of his caretakers called him “Miskeen Baba”, he liked to wear a cowboy hat while working in the garden, for snacks he preferred apples or chocolate. These are just some of the inane details of Bin Laden’s life on the run that you would have been able to learn from the leaked report of the Abbottabad Commission. I say had, because to the disappointment of those who crave the domestic details of absconding terrorists, the link to the dossier leaked by Al-Jazeera appears to be blocked inside Pakistan. Like the dancing fat children and skateboarding grandmas of YouTube, the intrigues and entertainments of Osama’s Abbottabad abode are now unavailable to the curious Pakistani.

All is not lost, when one cannot have something, it is best to degrade it and downplay its value. In this sense, many of the leaked report’s purported revelations are really no news at all. Take for instance, what the report called an “implosion of governance”. This condition refers to the fact that no Pakistani Government authorities, from the property tax office (the Bin Ladens did not pay property taxes for six years) to the utility companies (illegally obtained meters under different names) to the zoning authorities (18.5 meter walls!), paid any attention whatsoever to the Bin Ladens. Similarly, inattentive were the intelligence authorities, the various wings of the military who should have noticed a vagabond terrorist and his harem, or have been alert to two American helicopters flying into the heart of the country. It is all very sad, but for Pakistani consumption, all very predictable, a 337 page report to lay out again what everyone knows and is reminded of everyday, is in the frugal days of circular debt, simply indulgent.

While the loss of a thick compendium of Pakistan’s already well known failings may not be one that we mourn much, Pakistanis should sulk at being deprived of the portions of the report that mirror our country’s conundrums with identity, authenticity and our enduring obsession with becoming Arab. These emerge most prominently in the stories of the two brothers Ibrahim and Abrar Al-Kuwaiti, the Pakistanis who served as Bin Laden’s front men. While the interactions between Osama the man and the two lackeys he trusted is not particularly noteworthy, the interactions between the wives certainly is. The wives of the two brothers Bushra and Maryam, were both largely ignored by the uppity Mrs. Bin Ladens, their meetings, the report tells us were limited to a paltry 10 minutes a month. Such silence and restraint between those relegated to a secluded existence in a decrepit house could only happen between Arabs and the South Asians they consider inherently inferior.

And the tension doesn’t end there, in a dramatic moment worthy of a soap opera, Rahma the precocious little girl of one of the brothers, recognises what she has believed to be an old, poor man to be Bin Laden. The scenario could not be better scripted by the most talented of screen writers. Its first episode occurs when while being tutored in the Holy Quran by Sumayya Bin Laden, the little girl unexpectedly encounters and then greets the mysterious man. The second comes when she sees the same man on an Al-Jazeera Television newscast and recognises him. In the very worst of childish hunches realised Miskeen Baba is actually Osama Bin Laden! For the first transgression, all the caretaker’s children are banned from the Bin Laden house forever. For the second, all the women, the wives and daughters of Ibrahim and Abrar Al-Kuwaiti, are banned from watching television. Many more long boring nights in Abbottabad in store for them.

The darkest and most tragically comic moment comes in the report’s recounting of the raid. After the bravado, heavy and adjective heaped accounts coming from the members of Seal Team Six, these present the pathetic condition of the Bin Laden household and the ease with which they were ultimately taken down. The report presents accounts of what each of the wives was doing and of what they said. Prominent and highlighted in this instance is the ineptitude of the police in Abbottabad. The report’s writers seem perplexed by the fact that the police is ill-informed about the goings on of Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies, the rest of us would not perhaps have been able to feign such confusion. It is in the context of this, that the most memorable words recorded in the report are uttered. According to the testimony of the police DIG who did ultimately arrive at the scene, Khairiyya Bin Laden, Osama’s eldest wife turned to him and said in English “Now you come, when everything over”. In that moment perhaps, this Mrs. Osama Bin Laden was closest than she had ever been to the Pakistani experience in her years of residence in the country … for those words are ones that every Pakistani can understand.

Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (36) Closed

Omar Jul 12, 2013 04:04pm

So well written, Ms Zakaria, so well written. I especially liked the way you ended the article.

Chaman Jul 12, 2013 05:19pm

This is a weakness that we had for ever. Low self esteem. Don't know if it is our poverty or the color of our skin. We easily get overawed by people speaking different languages. The adoration for the Arabs is probably because of their money not their values and to some extent because of their percieved religious superiority.

Chakravarti Jul 12, 2013 05:38pm

Just like the cops in every Bollywood movie.

Sumant Jul 12, 2013 06:03pm

Rafia I enjoy your writing you are always sincere and well meaning but why do you have a chip on your shoulder for the Arabs.Osama and the Arabs have paid the bills for a large portion of the Pakistani population because God gave them oil.Now I don't think you bully your driver or your cook but you pay their salaries... don't you think they should know their place. Anyway you do a great job and are always a pleasure to read.

Mohamad Rupani Jul 12, 2013 06:18pm

The 300 page report does not say how OBL could build and stay right under the nose of the military for five plus years without someone in the military and the government providing active support. It is simply mind boggling. This is the question that the Commission should have focussed on, not how and what the OBL wives talk to each other and their Pakistani servants.

MAB Jul 12, 2013 06:20pm

Brilliant article! I really like your way of writing.

To add to this debate, it was a tragedy of epic proportions. We lost on so many counts in this whole fiasco. However, we must not bury our heads in the sand and try to brush it under the carpet. Maybe use this a watershed moment and learn some lessons.

Solitar Jul 12, 2013 07:01pm

The poor masses of Pakistan living hand to mouth; no access to even basic needs, no electricity, no gas, no water, overburdened with heavy taxes just to provide luxuries to the statesmen. Why Pakistan is so much interested in Osama who caused bad name to it? Pakistan should not beat about the bush rather come to the point and address the sufferings of its poor masses!

Nabbo Bhai Jul 12, 2013 08:42pm

Amazing article. Very well written. Great work Dr. Zakaria! Kudos!!!

a.k.lal Jul 12, 2013 09:07pm

people of sub continent must address the truth. How did most wanted stay in country, flout all the rules, nobody could hear gunshots or helicopter noise . Or is it that every one knows but is afraid to speak. When he had money, he stayed.When he ran out of money he was sold to highest bidder. God bless army.

ahmed Jul 12, 2013 09:12pm

Seems like no one in Pakistan questions this vapid equation by the Commission Report of those hiding a terrorist in Pakistan (a country that has lost 50,000 killed at the hands of these terrorists) with the US operation against this terrorist who killed 3,000 people in the US. This vapid equation indicates the lack of a moral compass in Pakistan, a country that lives and breathes "religion".

SBB Jul 12, 2013 09:57pm

This is a very incisive article, and I think all the points you made are very rational. I think this idea of south asians wanting to be like the arabs and becoming subservient to them is a valid one. Loved the ending.. Thanks.

Is it? Jul 12, 2013 10:53pm

So a few of the MYTHS busted
1. OBL was in Pak. (there were eminent people who cried them self hoarse saying he wasnt) 2. He lived on tax payed by common man, did not pay tax himself 3. Liked Cowboy Hat, chocolate and certain kinds of CD's ....nothing Islamic about that Get a feeling that some one, some where made sure that OBL was in-sight yet invisible! ....But yeh Public hai yeh sab jaanti hai..

Rocky Jul 12, 2013 10:54pm

More important now is to see how many heads roll for ignoring property tax payments, free electricity, no building permit etc etc.

Parvez Jul 12, 2013 11:08pm

A report has value if it achieves a defined purpose........ has a purpose been achieved ??

Sonal Jul 12, 2013 11:48pm

Hilarious! The full report promises to be an entertaining piece!

Pakistanis aspire to be Arab?!??!?!?

Maaloo Musalli Jul 13, 2013 04:07am

@Sumant: "They should know their place"...nice.

Jupiter59 Jul 13, 2013 04:34am

I say.......Good riddance to bad rubbish!

Khan Jul 13, 2013 04:55am

@Sumant: I guess you never encountered an Arab or you will not be saying this. Arabs think they are God's gift to man kind and every body should be bowing to them.

sunil Jul 13, 2013 05:41am

Was the Miskin Baba paying the right bribe to the right people for so long; and in the end the unsatisfactory negotiations betrayed him? An unexplored angle.

umer Jul 13, 2013 08:55am

The ACR is just a whitewash

Hussain Kashmiri Jul 13, 2013 11:25am

He died in Tora Bora in 2002 due to kidney failure. The rest is a farce. Give me thumbs down, chastize me all you want. But that's the truth. Whatever else you hear is for public consumption. Constant contradicting statements on May 2/3 as well as conflicting reports of even basic details not to mention the "buried at sea" aspect are all bogus.

It's all white lies. HVT was likely present; but it sure wasnt this mystical figure who once was blue eyed angel of CIA (and of course our ISI)

Iqbal carrim Jul 13, 2013 12:23pm

Been an open secret in Pakistan but now an open revelation to the world.

sk Jul 13, 2013 04:22pm

According to the testimony of the police DIG who did ultimately arrive at the scene, Khairiyya Bin Laden, Osama

Azaz Jul 13, 2013 04:23pm

the only sentence I read thrice is "Such silence and restraint between those relegated to a secluded existence in a decrepit house could only happen between Arabs and the South Asians they consider inherently inferior." I feel angry, very angry on Arabs.

kanakasabhai natarajan Jul 13, 2013 05:51pm

@Chakravarti: Like the cops in old Bollywood movies. In the recent ones, the hero is the cop who bulldozes every one like exactly the Seals of US navy. Nothing is left at the end except for the audience to discuss.

Mohammad Bajwa Jul 13, 2013 07:11pm

The Commission has done a good job. It is for us to read between the lines.

I keep wondering where the money was coming for such a large household. OSL, or his comrades did't keep any bank !

zobia khan Jul 13, 2013 07:38pm

What offends me most is that OBL disliked pakistanis and yet he chose to burden us with his evil presence. Almost all the Arabs have a particular disdain for us, but when the ruin into trouble with their own government the come running to Pakistan.

Our fascination with Arabs has to end. their vision of the future does not include, and if it does then it would as their eternal servants.

Is it? Jul 13, 2013 07:52pm

Cowboy hat, Chocolates....

naseem Jul 13, 2013 08:22pm

@Sonal: Like the Indians aspire to be a 'GHORA'.LOL

zahid Jul 14, 2013 02:11am

@zobia khan: who told you he dislikes pakistanis ? must be main stream lies and as a pakistani you still belive in your media either you are a saint or you are insane

Not an indian Jul 14, 2013 03:00am

@sunil: Typical Indian. Yeah army hid him, the people, the government. Happy?

avtar Jul 14, 2013 08:28am

Rafia you have correctly identified Pakistani preoccupation with "identity, authenticity and an enduring obsession with becoming Arab". Pakistan needs a new obsession to divert their attention.

Paul Jul 14, 2013 02:16pm

@SBB: Correction: Only one particular community members aspire to Arabs; not every South Asian

Sunil Jul 14, 2013 04:46pm

@Solitar: OBL episode in the history of Pakistan needs careful assessment and evaluation; and the relevant lessons learnt and assimilated . This is important because as the saying goes - History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce !

Ahmed Jul 15, 2013 09:40am

You had to be in cave not to know what happened that night...I had at read 1:30 am Pakistan time on Exp Trib website that a helicopter had crashed in Abottabad Pakistan and I was up... I guess police and Army are never up... Stories of police are absolutely true...I remember years back we had a tragic incident and multiple deaths by execution and man went to fetch the police at 2 am and they came on the scene next day at 12 pm and first they wanted was a meal before they even looked at one body. Arabs are insane no doubt....for example a Kuwaiti even the ones who live on govt dole always think they are from Mars...Anna they are the only god creation on this earth even those most of them resemble inhabitants of Mikran....but not as smart.

USN Jul 15, 2013 09:48am