The world may have heaved a collective sigh of relief on Monday on the death of the “most wanted'' Osama bin Laden. But, for Pakistan, his presence in the country — that, too, in a cantonment area close to the federal capital — and the manner in which he was taken out by foreign boots on its soil opened a can of worms that has added to the discomfiture of a nation saddled with the “importer of terror” tag.
Faced with a volley of uncomfortable questions from within the country and the international community, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir on Tuesday sought to steer the debate away from post-mortem to what next. “There is no point getting into forensics of the operation. It is besides the point…. bin Laden is history. We don't want to keep ourselves mired in the past. Pakistan has suffered immensely from terrorism. Terrorism has no religion, no faith. The killing of innocents can have no justification. It is more important to focus on the future and not keep analysing the past… We should stop drowning ourselves in old rhetoric. Let's try to detach ourselves from the old kind of thinking and look at the future. We need to turn a new page,” he said while addressing a press conference after the trilateral meeting of the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Minutes before Mr. Bashir sought to put a lid on the speculation and conspiracy theories doing the rounds about the operation, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman made an attempt to deflect the criticism Pakistan has attracted internationally for allowing Osama a safe haven here. “We consider it a shared achievement of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.,” he said in a suo motu reference to the developments of the past two days. “It is clear that all three countries have a shared commitment to fighting terror,” he said, adding that it was not over with Osama.
By this time, however, a new line of attack had opened over Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's article ‘Pakistan Did Its part' in The Washington Post in which he sought to take part ownership of the war on terror and refuted the charge that his country had actually protected the very terrorists it claimed to be pursuing. While this was seen as the President's attempt to reach out to the international community, what peeved his critics was that the government should have spoken first to outsiders before taking its own people into confidence.
The widespread disbelief in the detailed narrative provided by the U.S. and quiet response of Pakistan was best reflected by The Express Tribune, which led Tuesday's edition with ‘Even in death, Osama haunts Pakistan' and noted that “it took less than 24 hours for a moment of triumph to turn into another diplomatic test for Pakistan.”
The Dawn threw up the question whether Osama had been killed by U.S. troops or his own guard in line, with the al-Qaeda leader's wish to avert his capture. While The News played with words — ‘Obama gets Osama' — The Nation claimed that 200 Pakistani soldiers and four helicopters of the Pakistan Army provided back-up support and Osama was buried at sea because the Saudis refused to take his body.
The English media by and large welcomed the end of Osama with the accompanying concern about the possible blowback effect on Pakistan but the disbelief was evident in The Nation's editorial which said ‘Bin Laden dies again!' but the Urdu press kept the deep distrust in all things American alive.