Abbottabad And Aer
Imtiaz Gul’s book connects the dots between Osama bin Laden’s death and the rising terror attacks on Pakistani cities, says
THE STORY of al Qaeda in Pakistan doesn’t end with the killing of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011. While a lot has been written about the role of Pakistanis — of course, with American help — in creating the Taliban and the al Qaeda, few have tried to connect the dots between bin Laden’s death and the increased terror attacks in Pakistani cities afterwards. Imtiaz Gul’s Pakistan: Before and After Osama, as the title suggests, tries to chronicle some key developments before and after the killing of world’s most wanted terrorist in Abbottabad. However, what stands out in the book is Gul’s account of what happened that fateful night — his description of “the Talibanisation of Pakistan and Pakistanisation of al Qaeda”.
The death of bin Laden incited reactions in Pakistan that baffled outsiders. It was difficult to fathom whether Pakistanis were ashamed of the fact that bin Laden was found hiding inside their country, or if they were infuriated that the US violated their sovereignty by conducting an operation on Pakistani soil without prior approval. Did the Pakistan government and, more importantly, the military and the ISI know that bin Laden was living in their country? Did the Americans kill the dreaded terrorist with the cooperation of the Pakistani establishment?
Operation Neptune Spear, which led to Osama’s death, ranks second on the national humiliation scale, next only to the fall of Dhaka in 1971. It is also being seen as an opportunity by many to advocate for a revised role of the Pakistan military.
Gul points out how Pakistan preferred to plead incompetence rather than accept that the ISI had been harbouring bin Laden until his death in the US Navy SEALS operation. The popular question then as reiterated by the author is: why is $5 billion of the Pakistan taxpayers’ money spent each year on their military when it can neither stop a terrorist nor foreign soldiers from entering the country?
The killing of bin Laden also raises the issue of the fragile US-Pakistan relationship. The incident and the subsequent quibble by Americans further deteriorated the situation. Gul is quite frank in says, the focus was on qaumi ghairat (national honour) and the way America violated Pakistan’s sovereignty like an imperialist power. For ordinary Pakistanis, it was a political battle with the US and its allies on one hand, and the al Qaeda on the other. However, Gul also makes a compelling counter argument — wasn’t Pakistan’s sovereignty violated by bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan? “How could he, along with a dozen children and two wives, (be) given entry to Pakistan?” he asks. INCIDENTS OF such magnitude always call for a strong intervention by the leadership. For Gul, that leadership is quite clearly not from the civilian side. He quotes President Asif Ali Zardari, who chose to stay quiet throughout, fearing a death threat from al Qaeda. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was caught in a turf war with the intelligence services. In such a situation, it was left to Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani to show the way. And he did. Gul reveals how the general struggled to keep the military focussed on its fight against terrorism both at the Afghan border as well as in places like Waziristan and repeatedly refused to intervene in civilian matters.
But Gul’s book goes beyond politics. It talks of how al Qaeda, after bin Laden, shifted base to Karachi, which perhaps explains the sharp rise in violence there. Tracking bin Laden’s life from Riyadh to Afghanistan and post 9/11, from Tora Bora to Abbottabad, Gul writes about the radicalisation within Pakistan and how jihad turned into terror.