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Bin Laden’s hat and other stories

Updated July 12, 2013

-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.