The dramatic fate of Osama Bin Laden’s widows
Saudi Arabia finally decided to accept the widows and children of slain Al-qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden. But why was there a show of such dramatization?
The way Pakistan behaved with Osama bin Laden’s widows and orphans recalled a children’s story of the “Dwarf and the Giant,” in which, after the giant had killed the prey, the dwarf would cut away the victim’s nose and ears.
In this instance, Osama lived, with his family for many years all over the place; even in Karachi. In Abbottabad he lived within a stone’s throw from the Pakistan Military Academy. Yet Interior Minister, Rahman Malik’s dogs could not even sniff his presence. But when American Special Forces troops killed him, Mr. Malik came forward to add insult to Osama’s family’s injury and detained them in a ‘jail’ on the flimsy charge of residing in Pakistan without permission.
Mr. Malik might have thought that persecuting a bereaved family - widows and orphans, was a smart act. However, nobody even acknowledged it as such, far less giving him any kudos. The reason is obvious. People perceive it as a dastardly act. While Rahman Malik’s minions were too prompt to detain and prosecute the Bin Laden family for breach of immigration laws by staying in Pakistan without permission, they have not been able to catch and prosecute any Uzbek, Tajik, Uighur or Afghan national for the same offence, even though many of them continue to live illegally in Pakistan.
It is common among decent people to bury the hatchet when the enemy is dead. They do not visit their ire on the enemy’s widows and orphans. Islam particularly enjoins kindness to orphans. And Pakistan is supposed to be an Islamic Republic. But the gov- ernment of Pakistan seems to interpret the injunctions in its own way.
The trial court sentenced the bereaved family to imprisonment and fine. The period of imprisonment has since been completed and the fine paid by their relatives. The court fur-
ther ordered that after the imprisonment had been completed and fine paid, the accused should be deported. But deport them where? That is the question. Two of the three widows are Saudi nationals. The third is from Yemen. The Yemeni government is reported to have agreed to take its citizen back. But the Saudi government till late, did not make any such commitment.
This is an enigma. Pakistan’s persecution of the Bin Laden family can be attributed to the government’s effort to allay U.S. suspicion that it was in cahoots with Osama and that it knew he was living in Abbottabad. In the aftermath of the US Special Forces raid that killed Bin Laden, voices in the Obama administration had been seeking explanations from Pakistan regarding how the most wanted man on the globe could live there without the knowledge of Pakistan’s intelligence officials. Some had even expressed the suspicion that the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) was privy to Bin Laden’s hideout. They were so firm in their conviction that even after grudgingly accepting that the top brass of the ISI had no direct knowledge about Bin Laden living in Abbottabad, they would not give a clean bill of health to the ISI. Sources in Washington continued to insist that people at least at the lower level in the ISI did know.
However, Saudi Arabia was not encumbered with any such problem. There appeared no cogent reason for its refusal to accept its nationals. The Kingdom had revoked Bin Laden’s nationality because he opposed its supplication to America and wanted Saudi soil cleansed of American presence. But it defies commonsense that the order of denationalization could also apply to Bin Laden’s wives and his progeny till Doomsday, just as every Christian is born with Adam’s sin.
A possible explanation could be the Saudi government’s eagerness to keep itself assiduously in America’s good books.
Such an assumption is underscored by several indicators. For example, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Riyadh at once coughed up one million dollars on just a telephone call from Col. North, a junior official of the State Department even though it knew that the money was needed to arm the contra terrorists to overthrow the lawful government of Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. In 1981, the Kingdom allowed Israel the free use of its airspace to attack and destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, simply because Israel had full American backing, even though Iraq was an Arab League member. And now, when the US is overburdened by debt, Riyadh has pumped a hefty sum of 60 billion dollars in the US kitty by ordering a fleet of fighter planes.
Yet, it does not stand to reason that the US would object to Osama’s family returning to Saudi Arabia. First, they pose no danger to the security of the American people. Second, their return home might even be useful for the US, because, with the help (and pressure) from the Saudi government, its sleuths may now be able to interrogate the widows, who had refused to cooperate while they were in Pakistan.
Saudi hesitation to receive them created a problem for Pakistan. The question before them was how to handle these “stateless” and helpless people? How to arrange for the stay and support of aliens? Besides, sooner than later their plight would attract media attention. And when it did, both Riyadh and Islamabad would be in the dock before the international public opinion.
It seems, however, that the gravity of the situation was not lost on Riyadh. It had been mulling over the impact of its reluctance to take back its own nationals. Finally, Saudi Arabia allowed the widows to return to the Kingdom on humanitarian grounds. Citing senior officials, news reports claimed that the Kingdom was convinced that neither the widows nor the children were involved in any operations of the extremist group and that it would deal “with bin Laden’s wives on humanitarian grounds.” A chartered plane arranged by the Bin Laden family, flew the remaining family members out of Pakistan to Riyadh. Reports claim that the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan oversaw their departure thus letting the matter, somewhat, to rest.
What does the future hold for Osama’s children?