WASHINGTON: Pakistani musician Salman Ahmad has hailed Osama bin Laden's death as a victory for the Islamic world and demanded accountability over how the al Qaeda chief lived in his country for years.
The rock star, whose band Junoon is one of the most popular acts in South Asia with more than 30 million albums sold, said Pakistanis felt “humiliated” that the world's most-wanted man resided in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
“In the last 1,400 years of Islamic history, there has rarely been a man or woman - Muslim or non-Muslim - who has caused more damage to Muslims around the world than Osama bin Laden,” Ahmad, who recently performed in Washington, told AFP.
“On 9/11, those terrorists who flew the planes into the buildings overnight hijacked Islam so that anything that has to do with Islam, anything that has to do with Muslim culture, would be equated now with the face of Osama bin Laden.
“So he being taken out in a military operation I think is a great thing for the Muslim world as well as the planet,” he said.
A team of elite US Navy SEALs swooped secretly into Abbottabad on May 2, shooting dead bin Laden nearly 10 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Ahmad said he had “massive questions” - including how bin Laden lived a stone's throw from Pakistan's top military academy and why he apparently felt safe enough to maintain minimum protection.
He also asked how the military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) did not detect a US operation deep into Pakistani territory.
“Are you saying that everybody is so incompetent, everybody was asleep?” he said. “This was Osama bin Laden, man.”
" If there was any other country where this happened - the intelligence failure on Osama and the intelligence failure on the US operation - the first thing the president would do is ask for the resignation of the intelligence chief and ask many questions of the army chief," he said.
“Pakistan, for its own in-house accountability, needs to ask these questions of its leaders,” he said. “You have a military chief, an ISI chief - all of these people are at the end of the day supposed to be answerable to the people.” Ahmad is not a newcomer to the issue. In the 1990s, Pakistani television banned Junoon's song “Ehtesaab” (“Accountability”), whose accompanying video mercilessly mocked corruption by the country's leaders.
Ahmad, 47, left a medical career to lead “Junoon,” which means “passion” in Urdu. He now teaches music at the City University of New York's Queens College but returns regularly to Pakistan to perform and lead humanitarian efforts.
He teamed up with Peter Gabriel for the song “Open Your Eyes,” with each download contributing funds for survivors of the floods that devastated Pakistan last year.
In a recent autobiography entitled “Rock 'n' Roll Jihad,” Ahmad counted Led Zeppelin among his influences but saw himself in the tradition of Sufism - the mystical movement in Islam. The book's title, he said, was part of his effort to take back the word “jihad,” or struggle, from extremists.
Sufi shrines have faced a wave of attacks in recent years in Pakistan, part of the violence that has left thousands dead.
Ahmad dismissed the significance of the violence and recalled Baba Bulleh Shah, the Punjabi Sufi poet who was branded a heretic and denied an Islamic burial when he died in 1757.
“But hundred of years later there are hundreds of thousands of people who go to Baba Bulleh Shah's shrine” in the Pakistani city of Kasur, he said.
“They can blow up a shrine and get on the media radar,” he said. “But despite their disruption, society has a resilience that is shown throughout the centuries.” Ahmad traveled to Washington for a recent concert by Sufis from the Indian city of Ajmer who performed qawwali, the voice-bending devotional music popularized overseas by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Ahmad joined in with his guitar, jamming with the Ajmer Sufis for his rendition of Baba Bulleh Shah's celebrated poem, “I Know Not Who I Am,” which criticized doctrinairism.
“Sufism is not some sort of trend. It's been there for centuries and it's the glue of this region,” he said.
“You have these snapshots of political turmoil and extremism, but at the end of the day what keeps society together is this sort of deep cultural unity.”