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OBL compound

July 23, 2012

THE house has been destroyed, but that is apparently not enough. The empty plot that marks where the world’s most wanted terrorist was found living in Pakistan is in the process of formally being declared government property. And just as the demolition of Osama bin Laden’s house in February — which was carried out mainly at night and under tight military watch — smacked of defensiveness and secrecy on the part of the state, so does this latest attempt to control a reminder of one of the most embarrassing incidents in the country’s history. It is also in line with the general paranoia with which security personnel had handled the house when it existed, harassing locals, visitors and journalists who dared approach. This despite probably having removed every shred of intelligence or evidence available in the house, and even though the structure was more of a curiosity and a tourist attraction rather than being in any danger of becoming a shrine for bin Laden supporters. In trying so hard to control the location, the authorities have only deepened the general air of suspicion about Pakistan’s role in the whole affair.

Meanwhile, reports of the government takeover of the plot are a reminder that the authorities remain much less efficient when it comes to investigating, or at least sharing, why and how bin Laden ended up living in Abbottabad. All physical traces of the man are being erased, and Dr Shakil Afridi has been detained one way or another for possibly colluding with the CIA to nab him. But though several deadlines have come and gone, no investigation report has emerged over a year after a commission was formed to carry out a probe into why bin Laden was here and why America was able to get him in the way that it did. As with the compound itself, the fear now is that the answers to these questions will remain shrouded in secrecy. Like other security failures and policy mistakes in our history, one gets the distinct feeling that this one is also being swept under the rug.