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Who’s next?

May 02, 2011

A drawing, released by the United States Department of Defense, May 2, 2011, shows the compound that Osama bin Laden was killed in on Monday in Abbottabad, Pakistan. - Photo by Reuters.

Our Foreign Office is equally foreign to the country it represents. Consider the following statement issued hours after US marines landed in the high-security zone of the Pakistan Military Academy near Abbottabad, reportedly burnt one of their own helicopters, attacked, killed and took away Osama bin Laden.

“This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world,” reads the statement. Nice and sweet.

I am reminded of a witty comment passed by Irfan Malik, a colleague, at a time when Musharraf had furiously declared: “We are not a banana republic.” Irfan just turned around and said, “He’s damn right, but only partially. We are a banana republic which has run out of bananas.”

There will be obvious repercussions of this latest act of American military intrusion into a country which the world believes is heavily guarded and fortified. You get the taste of it while travelling in and out of our airports these days and coming here to stay in a hotel as a guest. The anti-narcotics staff at Karachi’s Jinnah Terminal is ruthless and will strip anyone whose passport says a place of birth other than Karachi. If it is Karachi they want to know the neighbourhood where you live. The immigration at the airport does not trust its own officers after you’ve been through the immigration counter. There’s always a second check just round the corner. You may be quizzed on why you’re going where you’re going after an exit stamp has been put on your passport, or asked to present an older, expired passport.

In the cities our hotels are fortified beyond belief. Snap checks along the roads, more common in Lahore and Islamabad than in Karachi, are also a fact of life. Yet terrorists continue to strike at the time and place of their own choosing. Even the forces are attacked, the recent assaults on Navy’s transport vehicles in Karachi being a case in point.

And now comes this US military operation in the heart of the country’s military establishment. This was no drone attack. Foreign marines landed here, undertook military action for 40 minutes, got what they wanted and flew away unscathed. It’s hard to believe, as western media have been quoting American sources, including the US president, that no one in Pakistan had any knowledge of this operation. The Foreign Office statement corroborates the assertion.

It seems that the ruling establishment that continues to fear the Taliban and refuses to address the problem in an effective manner.

The latest American strike tells us that the inertia amongst the ruling establishment leaves the US with little choice but to act on its own. It has come to this because our denial of the problem so far and its growing threat to national security. The Americans reportedly took the injured of the attack with them, among them bin Laden’s two wives, to avoid another controversy from brewing regarding the targeting of civilians in the attack. So there’s apparently no one left in the compound that was attacked to tell actually what happened.

Only questions will remain, as they have in the past and the media would speculate as to how the whole operation was carried out. There will be more of the same: denial and speculation, including what happened and whether it was actually bin Laden who was killed. The ‘no go area’ of our collective mind is a territory where reason is not allowed to enter. It is here where the enemy resides, within us, and must be tackled by us or others will come and do it, without caring about causing collateral damage.

The Americans must be asking themselves, and the Indians and the Afghans must also be asking of them: “So who’s next, Saviours?”