Via IPS News
By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 4, 2011 (IPS) – The once elusive Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the way he was killed, the secrecy surrounding the covert mission, and the haste with which the body was buried at sea have provided grist for the rumour mill.
Pakistani journalists and activists are raising questions and finding it hard to believe the official U.S. government account of the operation that cornered and killed bin Laden.
Syed Talat Hussain, veteran host of a popular current affairs programme on the private television channel Dawn News said, “Elements of the narrative just don’t come together. Exceedingly implausible that an operation was conducted on Pakistani soil, a very serious intrusion at that, and remained undetected,” said Hussain, shaking his head in utter disbelief.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced that bin Laden had been shot and killed Sunday by U.S. forces in a mansion in Abbottabad, a quiet town 150 kilometres north of the capital Islamabad. News reports say bin Laden’s body was taken to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, and then buried at sea.
Shehrbano Taseer, a journalist and daughter of the former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, said she is confused by the secrecy surrounding the operation. “I’d like to have seen the body for myself to believe he is actually dead,” she told IPS over the phone from the eastern city of Lahore. She fails to understand the hurried burial at sea.
“My father always believed Osama bin Laden had been dead for years and would be produced whenever the need arose,” said Taseer, who reports for Newsweek magazine.
“I’m happy Laden is dead because it was his ideology that killed my father,” said Taseer, whose father was assassinated in January by his own security guard, who disagreed with the governor’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
But getting rid of bin Laden, she said, does not mean his ideology dies with him. “The poison is in the scorpion’s tail, and new leaders will graduate to take his place and it will be the same,” she added.
Some Pakistanis have been questioning the veracity of the operation. A recent photo is being circulated of a wounded bin Laden. “Maybe the U.S. special forces’ operation was just an exclusive Adobe Photoshop operation,” wrote Zulfiqar Khan on the PressPakistan online group.
“Very improbable that with all those wounds, his turban stayed on. He may be one of Osama’s many doubles!” said Ambareen Kazim on the same online group.
The U.S. account seems to suggest that bin Laden eluded Pakistani army or intelligence agencies all this time. But journalists point out that five of Al-Qaeda’s top leaders had been captured from Pakistan cities by Pakistani forces.
Ramzi bin al Shibh, a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo Bay and accused of being a key facilitator in the 9/11 attacks in the United States, was captured in 2002 from the southern port city of Karachi.
Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi Arabian who is also being held in Guantanamo, was arrested the same year in Faisalabad in Punjab province.
In 2003, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly the brains behind the 9/11 attacks, in Rawalpindi, the twin city of the federal capital, Islamabad.
In 2005, Abu Faraj al Libi from Libya, a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was arrested again by the ISI from Mardan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Abu Musab also known as Mustafa bin Abd al Qadir Sitt Maryam Nasar, was arrested from Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, by security forces, also in 2005.
“Our government has taken so much money, over the years, from the U.S. to capture (bin Laden) dead or alive, and they didn’t know he was living, all these years, so near the military academy and just two hours away from the capital? It’s a bit hard to chew,” said Ibrash Pasha of Khwendo Kor, an organisation working for the empowerment of women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“For all we know he may have been killed somewhere else and they (the U.S.) staged this drama here, a place free of Taliban to score some points with the Pakistan army,” Pasha said. But he added that he doesn’t know what the U.S. wanted to prove if the operation on May 2 was indeed hatched.
Pasha is convinced, however, that terrorists could not move around in urban centres without the army and intelligence knowing about it or getting wind of it. “It just doesn’t work that way,” he said.
Arfeen Mehdi, a young investigative journalist working with the private TV channel Geo, echoes this sentiment. “The intelligence agencies know about these people and are watching them very closely, so this whole operation, to me looks quite dubious,” he told IPS.
“The operation went on for over 40 minutes, during which a helicopter exploded, and yet there was no movement from our end?” argued Hussain. He also found it highly suspicious that the U.S. forces jammed Pakistan’s radar system during that period.
Hussain believes the timing couldn’t have been better for U.S. President Barack Obama. “A dream covert capture of a terrorist,” is how he looks at the whole episode, which he terms “fake” and “too comical” to believe.
The TV host also believes the Pakistani government was “in the know,” as was the Pakistani army. “We have given the biggest trophy into Obama’s hand and reason for him to be re-elected.” The U.S. President recently announced he is standing for re-election next year.
Those are reasons enough for the U.S. to be “nice to us,” according to Hussain. “Why do you think they are soft on us and not rapping at our door and holding us accountable for harbouring terrorists?”