To me, as an American Muslim, it’s significant that bin Laden is dead. American-Muslim groups zipped out statements through the night after news of his death: Muslims for Progressive Values said it “expresses great relief” at the death, saying, “Osama Bin Laden has singularly disgraced Islam and dragged our faith through the mud…” Islamic Information Center called him “one of the greatest enemies of Islam, if not the entire world.” American Islamic Forum for Democracy said it “applauds” the news.
For me, what’s as important, however, is where bin Laden was killed: the hill-station town of Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the heartland of Pakistan in the province of Khyber Paktunkhwa, a province formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province. He wasn’t found in a cave in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but rather in a comfortable home in a hill station that could be a mini-Colorado Springs, Colorado, of Pakistan, complete with a military academy, numerous military installations, a St. Luke’s church and the Taj Majal Cinema.
Bin Laden’s refuge in Pakistan speaks to the safe haven the nation has given to militants and terrorist operatives for decades and, most troubling, in recent years in a culture of denial that the U.S. has enabled in its prickly relationship with Pakistan. In making the announcement, Obama said America’s “friendship” with Pakistan allowed the operation to assassinate bin Laden, even thanking Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
As a journalist who has traveled Pakistan and tracked its links to militancy and terrorism, including the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, I consider this sugarcoating just another chapter in America’s peculiar choice to pull its punches regarding a harsh but obvious reality: Pakistan has been a safe haven not only for bin Laden but for dozens of men involved in attacks on the U.S., including the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whose ethnicity is rooted in the western Pakistani province of Baluchistan. For almost two years, I’ve been working as a cultural trainer to the U.S. military, teaching that the U.S. must know the heartland of Pakistan, from Karachi, a teeming city where so many operatives hide, to places such as southern Punjab, the heart of the country and home to the “Punjabi Taliban” and the foot soldiers involved in Pearl’s kidnapping. As a journalist, I choose to do the cultural training, because I’ll never forget the name Pearl put on the last picture I have with him. We were in Karachi, and he called it, “Clueless in Karachi.”