By: Agha Haider Raza
It’s not every day that you are woken up by the statement “oi jaago, Bin Laden ko khatam kur diya hai” (wake up, Bin Laden has been finished).
As soon as I heard the rumor, I did exactly what millions of others around the world must have done, and swiftly turned on the television. Indeed, blaring upfront was the breaking news that the world’s most wanted terrorist had been shot dead. Tickers were already running below the screen on all news channels, as they anticipated President Obama’s remarks that would turn the rumor into reality. The President of the United States soon came on the air and with a straight face announced the death of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. All eyes now turned to Pakistan.
In order to understand the audacity of Osama Bin Laden hiding in Abbottabad, eager news junkies waited for a statement from the Government of Pakistan. After all, it had been hours since the Operation to eliminate Bin Laden had been carried out on Pakistani soil. President Obama had already made his statement acknowledging the role of Pakistan’s intelligentsia at 8.35AM PST. “It [is] important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding”. With pride, I awaited the response from a government I am rarely proud of. Pakistan had suffered tremendous losses over the past decade because of 19 hijackers on 9/11 and an uncomfortable policy in Afghanistan known as ‘strategic depth’ carried out by the ISI. But here was our shining moment. To silence those who consistently called on Pakistan to “do more”.
As the day progressed, the conventional and social media exploded. Fox News had their stories while MSNBC captured live images of Americans celebrating in the streets in the wee hours of the night. With little information in regards to the Operation, information released from various media outlets started portraying their own stories. Questions arose about the extravagant compound Bin Laden was residing in with such close proximity to the PMA, while many inquired about the sincerity of the Pakistan Military. Sohaib Athar who happened to be tweeting about a low-flying helicopter announced that he heard a loud explosion during the night, became an instant celebrity. CNN published the news about his tweets and instantly @ReallyVirtual found himself as the most sought out tweeter. The poor man was bombarded for media interviews from around the world. I guess that explains how he was able to garner over 90,000 followers (and counting) within a matter of hours.
While the world dissected and deciphered any news story about Osama Bin Laden, the Pakistan Government chose to remain silent. Soon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a rather awkward but amusing statement. “This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world”. The press release was truly mesmerizing. It implied that the United States unilaterally undertook the Operation to root out Bin Laden – in stark contrast to what President Obama had announced earlier. I tried to find President Zardari’s schedule, to see if there was any slot for a public announcement. Luckily, via http://www.president.gov.pk I was able to understand Zardari’s absence from a public announcement in regards to Bin Laden’s capture only a 100 kilometers from the Presidency. Asif Zardari was accepting credentials from newly inducted Ambassadors at Diplomatic Enclave along with presiding over the Oath-taking ceremony for 18 new Ministers (which in itself is shrouded in mystery).
While the international media openly criticized the Government of Pakistan (GoP) and the Pakistan Military for allowing Bin Laden to reside so closely to Islamabad and the PMA, our civilian leader chose to remain away from the mic and camera. Assuming that the GoP may have let the Military handle such a worldwide story due to the sensitivity of the issue, I scanned the ISPR (Pakistan Military Press Dept.) but found nothing. Here we were, at the core of the biggest news story of the century and beyond the 243 words of the press released issued by MoFA, nothing.
The entire day has passed by and world leaders have spoken on the death of Osama Bin Laden. Yet, our Government and Military have remained silent. With hundreds of unanswered questions, the GoP and the Military have lost the opportunity to tackle the bull by the horns. when it missed an occasion to discuss the Operation in the morning. Rather than acknowledging the role of Pakistan and her military, the Foreign Office snubbed the United States by hinting they operated unilaterally. I find it rather hard to believe that US Helicopters were in Pakistani Airspace, conducted a 40 minute “solo” mission, and escaped with the body of Osama Bin Laden –without the knowledge of the GoP or Pakistan Military.
By choosing to remain quiet, the GoP and the Pakistan Military have allowed the conspiracy theorists (found in abundance) and international media to construe their own stories and draw their own conclusions. I cannot fathom the fact that on such a monumental news story, the GoP and the Military would revert to silence. However, this morning President Zardari deemed it necessary to publish an Opinion piece in the Washington Post. Yet again, President Zardari assumed it was a better approach in reaching out to the American public rather than quashing the fears and queries of Pakistani’s. Sending out bland statements (by PM Gilani and MoFA) should have been done once the President or Prime Minister addressed the citizens of Pakistan and the world. It has been more than 24 hours since Bin Laden was shot dead and we are still awaiting a public statement by the President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister or Senior Military Officials.
In a globalized day and age, where social media has brought down dictatorships and reinforced democratic ideals, the sheer recklessness of those in power is mind-boggling. The tranquility of the Government has only garnered more suspiciousness and resentment towards a fledgling and weak leadership. At a time when the whole world is eyeing Pakistan for a statement on the death of its most notorious terrorist, it is shocking that Zardari or Prime Minister Gilani would remain silent. With plenty of damage done to Pakistan’s reputation over the course of 24 hours, I sure hope Firdous Awan has her talking points ready for a media and country that still needs answers to many questions.