It was with a sense of quiet resignation that Pakistan on Monday absorbed Barack Obama's announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Abbottabad, a district that is a two-hour drive away from the federal capital.
The usually “conservative” media did not refer to his death as shahaadat (martyrdom), but used the word halaak (killed). Many media-watchers found this to be refreshing. “While reporting deaths of religious militants, Pakistani media – particularly, the mainstream vernacular print and electronic media – usually uses shaheed (martyr) or jaan bahaq (laid down life) unless they have been killed by the military.”
Blast in mosque
As the news poured in, the blogosphere provided evidence of Pakistanis steeling themselves for more terror attacks as organisations linked to the al-Qaeda are expected to avenge the death. By afternoon there were reports of a blast in a mosque in Charsadda north-west of Abbottabad. At least four persons were killed.
While the Pakistan Government was slow to break its silence, when it did so, the first statement raised eyebrows as the Foreign Office maintained that bin Laden had been killed in a U.S. operation. How Pakistan could claim to have been out of the loop defied logic, considering that four helicopters were used in the operation. Add to this the location of bin Laden's fortified hideout, within sight of the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul.
The general perception was that Pakistan would have known about the operation but was not admitting that, to cushion the blowback effect. Also, some security analysts said the Foreign Office statement reflected no anger at the operation that took place on Pakistani soil. In turn, it actually seeks to portray the al-Qaeda as an enemy of Pakistan.
No street protests
There have been no reports of any street protests — despite some analysts describing the operation deep inside the country's boundaries as an attack on Pakistani sovereignty, much like the drone attacks.
After the initial silence, politicians from across the spectrum joined the debate. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif demanded a clear statement from the federal government on who had carried out the operation. “Was it a U.S. operation, or was it a joint operation?” he asked. His counterpart in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, maintained that the provincial government had no information. “Our police went to the spot only on hearing the blasts,” he said.
For his part, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan said that, if indeed bin Laden had been killed, then the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force should leave Afghanistan as this was a war on the al-Qaeda. “Pakistan has paid a heavy price for supporting this war and there is now no point in the ISAF staying on in the region.”