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?

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

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?

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