When Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEAL team 6, on 2nd May, 2012, it was considered a “drama” by 66 per cent of Pakistanis.

Pakistanis in general are not willing to believe in facts and are more prone to trusting conspiracy theories because they provide a feasible explanation of events in a narrow frame of reference. It has been a whole year since the Abbottabad Operation that killed Osama bin Laden, and a majority of Pakistanis still do not believe it even happened, despite public announcements by al Qaeda themselves.

Nicholas Schmidle, winner of 2008 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, wrote a detailed article named “Getting bin Laden: What happened that night in Abbottabad” in the New Yorker Magazine on 8th August 2011. That article is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Abbotabad operation till date. Regarding the planning of the operation, the article mentions,

“On March 14th, 2011, Obama called his national-security advisers into the White House Situation Room and reviewed a spreadsheet listing possible courses of action against the Abbottabad compound. Most were variations of either a JSOC raid or an air strike. At the end of the meeting, Obama instructed McRaven to proceed with planning the raid.”

SEAL Team 6, has been mythologised in the American Media after the operation and several books have been written about them. Nicholas Schmidle’s article briefly mentions the experience of that very team.

“During the 90-minute helicopter flight, James and his teammates rehearsed the operation in their heads. Since the autumn of 2001, they had rotated through Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa at a brutal pace.

The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU’s maiden venture into Pakistan either. The team had surreptitiously entered the country on 10 to 12 previous occasions. It represented the team’s first serious attempt since late 2001 at killing “Crankshaft”— the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC had given bin Laden.”

An American helicopter was lost while landing. The SEALS after taking care of two of Osama’s guards, found him in a third floor bed room.

“The Americans hurried toward the bedroom door. The first SEAL pushed it open. Two of bin Laden’s wives had placed themselves in front of him. Fearing that one or both women were wearing suicide jackets, he stepped forward, wrapped them in a bear hug, and drove them aside. He would almost certainly have been killed had they blown themselves up, but they were not wearing any suicide jackets.

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. Nine years, seven months, and 20 days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, “enemy killed in action”.

Hearing this at the White House, Obama pursed his lips, and said solemnly, to no one in particular, “We got him.”

This story by Nicholas Schmidle was criticised by columnists including Mallary Jean Tenore from Huffington Post, only because it did not provide enough references. Otherwise, the veracity of this account has not been challenged by anyone including the State Department.

About breaking the news of the operation to the Pakistanis, Rob Crilly wrote in The Telegraph,

“The American ambassador's phone rang shortly after 3am.

It was Salman Bashir, the civil servant who heads Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Mr Ambassador, we have reports of a helicopter crashing in Abbottabad. All our helicopters are accounted for.”

“Do you know anything about it?”

Cameron Munter, who had already got used to dealing with crises since being sent to Islamabad six months earlier, kept his reply diplomatically short: “We'll look into it.” A note of dawning realisation crept into Mr Bashir's voice. “Mr Ambassador, I didn't wake you, did I?”

The phone conversation – described by an official familiar with the exchange – reveals how Pakistan was kept in the dark even after the raid had ended, and the rapid sense of shock that gripped the country.”

The reaction of Pakistanis regarding the Abbotabad Operation surprised many people including Art Keller, a CIA officer. In a recent interview, he said,

“[The] reaction of Pakistan arresting people who helped take down terrorist Number One, somebody Pakistan had long promised it wanted as much or more as the US, is what is telling about the whole situation. Shouldn’t they be handing them medals for doing what Pakistan claimed it wanted? Another thing is that the anger both within the Pak Army, and within Pakistan against the Pak Army, is almost entirely about the fact that they didn’t stop the raid. The shame of bin Laden being found in an Army stronghold is a distant second, and demands for investigation as to how he could have been found in an Army town without some level of ISI or Army complicity appear to be fading, much to the relief of those institutions.”

Due to pressure from several stakeholders, the Government of Pakistan constituted a Judicial Commission to inquire what actually happened during the Abbotabad Operation. The commission questioned over a 100 witnesses, including military and security officials, former foreign secretaries and ministers, police and intelligence officials, former ambassador Husain Haqqani, bin Laden’s family, neighbours, and media personnel in Islamabad and from Abbottabad. The report of that commission has not been unveiled one year after the incident.

According to some leaked reports in Media,

“The Abbottabad Commission in its report is likely to hold Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, the Pakistan Army, the PAF, the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau responsible for the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden.”

Although, a local newspaper reported on 2nd May 2012 that “The Inquiry Commission on Abbottabad Operation has shown its serious concern over the baseless and concocted stories published in a section of the media regarding the report of the Commission.

The Commission has therefore, clarified that the report is at its final stage and will be finalised (Insha Allah) during this month.”

A year after that operation, there are no signs of decline in the theory that Osama bin Laden was not killed that day or that he was a “martyr”, not a terrorist.

The site of Osama’s compound in Abbotabad, which was razed by the Government last year (ironically, the contractor hired by the Government for the job is selling 180,000 bricks from slain al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s demolished three-story compound in Abbottabad), has become a shrine now. Another newspaper reported on 2nd May 2012 that,

“There is some spirituality about this place since water keeps gushing forth without the use of an electric motor,” said Omar Khan, a resident of Abbottabad.

While the source may be a water line fractured during the razing of the compound, it hasn’t stopped some from according it the status of a ‘miracle.’ And for all their efforts to prevent the site from becoming a shrine, people throng to the razed compound to offer fateha – prayers for the deceased.”

Nicholas Schimdle, writing one year after the Abbotabad Operaton in The New Yorker, rasied several important questions, answers to whom remain shrouded in mystery. He wrote,

“Does the United States possess intelligence that exposes Pakistani officials hiding bin Laden? Why did it require nine months after locating bin Laden’s courier for the raid to commence? Before the SEALs began their training, what intelligence techniques were used to confirm bin Laden’s presence inside the compound? What else don’t we know yet about arguably the most classified mission in American history?”

In the aftermath of the Abbotabad Operation, the legacy of Osama bin Laden lives on. Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa on this topic, wrote,

“A year after bin Laden, Pakistan continues on its trajectory of being a hybrid theocracy – pockets of liberalism with small areas where sharia is formally implemented and larger areas where the religious law is informally applied. A year later, there is no alternative discourse that can challenge extremism from amongst us. Bin Laden still lives amongst us and will become ingrained as a myth that will then form part of this society’s history.”

The writer is a medical student with an interest in History, Political Economy and Literature and blogs here. You can follow him at @abdulmajeedabid

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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