There were no celebrations, and there was no mourning. It did not occur to anyone to make a US President Barack Obama effigy; no US flags were burnt. There were no heated debates about whether Osama bin Laden was a martyr. The buses that were set ablaze in Karachi had nothing to do with the high drama in Abbotabad. The crowd in front of Karachi Press Club was a group of private bank employees wanting their jobs back. The little group at the gates of the electricity company offices was demanding nothing more than some good, clean electricity.
A hunger strike camp with young men’s posters was part of a campaign to recover young men who have nothing at all to do with al-Qaeda.
In fact, the reaction to the killing of bin Laden was so subdued that a colleague said that there weren’t even any text messages in circulation with conspiracy theories and inevitable jokes about Osama’s wives. Pakistanis are not in denial. Just busy. They are busy fighting a hundred little battles that do not involve US Navy Seals or helicopter crashes or Arab tycoons. These battles are as vicious as any that you have seen in the past 10 years, but they don’t make good TV. How do you create high drama out of millions of industrial laborers being laid off because there is no electricity? How do you sex up the banal fact that every tenth child in the world who never sees the inside of a schoolroom is a Pakistani child?
So it fell to our TV pundits to prove that we were also part of this global soap opera. They raged against yet another invasion of our much-molested sovereignty. They demanded transparency from the US. They wanted footage. How many hours of news can you spin out of a single, bullet-riddled mugshot?
In the real world, an -educationist and chronic optimist tried to fantasize.
“So the party is over,” he enthused. “Americans will go home. Our boys will ask their jihadi boys to pack up, surely?”
Someone reminded him: “Have you been to a party lately, sir? Nobody goes home.”
Pakistan’s security establishment, of course, went into a sulky silence, and wasn’t around to reassure us. Were they protecting bin Laden? Or were they so hopelessly inefficient that they couldn’t track the world’s most recognizable face when he was camped out practically at the edge of the Pakistani army’s most famous parade ground? As they are answerable only to their mistrusting partners and permanent paymasters in Washington, they didn’t feel like obliging us with any information.
However, anyone who has lived through Pakistan’s three military dictatorships sponsored by Washington can tell you there is no need to be such a reductionist. Why can’t Pakistan’s security establishment do both? Why can’t they shelter him and then forget about the fact that they were sheltering him? Or why can’t they shelter him and then sell him out at a later stage?
Pakistan’s army is often accused, mostly by their best friends in Washington, of double-dealing and fighting on both sides of this war. In its long role as rent-an-army to the US, it has been accused of becoming a mafia, a secretive clan and a corporation, all at the same time, but what does it feel like to live under this bloody delusion? It is like watching a person whose one hand is hacking away at his other hand.
There is blood, there are cries of pain, and there is the obvious sound of one hand hacking away at the other. The person keeps looking around trying to figure out who is doing this to him. Military operations and house-to-house searches to look for the hidden hand end up where they started.