Cafe Pyala Tweeted something to Express Tribune editor Omar Quraishi that I thought was spot on – “It’s not Osama bin Laden’s death that will haunt Pakistan. It’s the editorials.”
This Tweet could, and probably will be, read different ways by different people. I took something from it, though, that may not have been originally intended. Rather than looking at one or another specific editorial, the collection of responses to the Abbottabad raid paints an unhealthy picture of our unwillingness or inability to engage in honest conversations about sensitive issues.
Because we are unwilling or unable to confront the fact that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan for years until the Americans came and got him, we respond a mess of confused rhetoric. A few days after the 2nd May raid on bin Laden’s compound, The Nation – hardly a pro-American mouthpiece – reported that the raid was carried out as a joint operation between Pakistan and American military.
About 200 Pakistan Army men provided ground support, top level official sources told The Nation. During the operation, four helicopters of the Pakistan Army hovered over the fortress-like hideout of al-Qaeda chief at Thanda Choh, a relatively isolated area of Abbottabads otherwise posh locality Bilal Town that is barely a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. After completing aerial assessments, the four Pakistan Army helicopters were replaced by two US helicopters, ten minutes later. Initially, the US military personnel opened fire at the outer wall of Osamas hideout, which was retaliated by the house inmates with heavy gunfire. After almost twenty minutes of cross-firing, the US forces directly targeted the house with sophisticated bombs, eventually killing Osama, his eight bodyguards, seven close aides and an unspecified number of family members including a young son, children and two wives. When the residents of the area, upon hearing heavy gunshots and explosions, came out of their homes or went up to the rooftops of their houses, Pakistani soldiers in helicopters threw search lights, instructing them to stay indoors. Besides initial aerial support, the Pakistan Army provided ground support by deploying ground troops within a radius of one kilometre of the operation area. The operation continued till 2: 30am. PMA top officials at Kakul did not disclose for several hours the name of the locality where the operation had taken place. Till Monday morning, PMA officials maintained that a Pakistan Army helicopter had crashed near Bilal Town while carrying out routine strategic exercises. Not before the Monday noon, it could be confirmed that Osama bin Laden was killed in the military operation.
Even today, there remain military officials who insist that bin Laden’s death was the result of joint Pak-US operations.
Pakistan’s ISI believes it deserves credit for helping US spy agencies locate the hideout of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US commandos nearly a year ago.
“The lead and the information actually came from us,” an unnamed senior official with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) told The Washington Post.
“Any hit on al-Qaeda anywhere in the world has happened with our help,” The Post quotes one of the Pakistani intelligence officials as saying.
If it was a joint operation, though, why is Dr Shakil Afridi arrested for treason?
It’s not just high level officials, though, who seem to be using self-confusion as a defence mechanism. In a recent article in Dawn, the reporter recalls talking to people who live near Osama’s compound and the conflicting reactions to the raid.
An old man sitting on a grassy patch is not happy to be accosted. Reluctant to talk, he then just erupts and says that Osama did not live there.
“There were ordinary people, families who were killed by them. But there was no Osama,” he says, as he gazes ahead, not willing to make eye contact.
That’s the “there is no Osama” viewpoint. Then there’s the other popular one:
A younger man, with a whisper of a beard, is more forthcoming. When asked if he too thought OBL never lived there, he launches into a long exposition on world politics which he first summarises with a few words: “Osama, Obama, money and drama.”
This is not the view of an extremist or right winger. In his exposition he dismisses “the so-called jihad” and points out that he did not consider OBL as anything more than a “fighter” of some kind.
There was no Osama or there was an Osama but he was not a terrorist?
Actually, what I often hear is are all contradictory beliefs bundled together. 9/11 was a fake drama carried out by CIA to justify invading Muslim countries, but the Americans deserved it for meddling in Muslim countries and supporting kaafir dictators. There was no such person as Osama bin Laden, but if there was he was a creation of the CIA during the 1980s and imposed on us when they abandoned us. Osama didn’t live in Pakistan, but the Americans should not have invaded unilateraly and we would have arrested him gladly.
It’s not just Osama bin Laden, either. This is the kind of double-talk that we hear about drones: Drones are evil and are only killing innocents. Give us the drones and we will use them against militants. It’s the same thing we hear about the Americans in Afghanistan: If they leave, they will be abandoning us to chaos and militancy. If they don’t leave they are causing chaos and militancy.
On the imporant issues, we have cleverly convinced ourselves that not matter what, we are victims. I think this tendency is a result of our history. Having spent so long under the rule of undemocratic regimes – first British colonial rule, then a string of military dictatorships – we have grown accustomed to seeing the world in a fatalistic way. There was nothing we could do because, literally, there was nothing we could do.
All that changed, though, in 2007 when we as a free and sovereign people sent the last dictator packing and took control of our own future. We elected our own leaders, and finally became free to make our own decisions. We are no longer the subjects of the British or the Generals. But we still bear the psychological scars left by the trauma of living under dictatorship. We haven’t shaken the mindset that tells us that our fate is in our own hands.
For the first time, Pakistan can be OUR Pakistan. It can be what we want, not what is imposed on us. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. It will take a lot of work. We’re going to make mistakes, but they will be OUR mistakes. And we can learn from our mistakes and improve and make the country better for our children, and they for their children, etc etc etc.
Before we can do anything, though, we have to find a way to shed the psychological baggage that weighs on us, telling us that we will always be victims. In democracy, we are no longer victims – we are masters of our own destiny. Let’s start thinking like it.