Imtiaz Tyab – Al Jazeera September 11, 2011
I was one of the first foreign journalists to reach Abbottabad only a few hours after the world learned that the man behind the September 11th attacks was killed there in an early morning US raid.
We stayed in the city for a week and spoke to dozens of residents and eyewitnesses.
The reaction to the news that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted and recognisable man, was killed in their city ranged from shock, to bewilderment, and in some cases, amusement.
Outside Abbottabad, the news quickly sparked a chain of events that would cause US/Pakistan relations to tailspin, and ignited a deadly wave of retaliatory violence by al-Qaeda and its allies.
The violence has not stopped and Islamabad’s relationship with Washington is still barely holding on.
Four months later, on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I find myself back in Abbottabad.
The city is as beautiful as ever. Situated in the Orash Valley, in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Paktunkhwa province, Abbottabad is ringed with lush mountains and is renowned for its mild summertime climate.
Life, I notice, looks by and large normal.
Markets are bustling and traders are doing brisk business off the back of the Eid holidays.
But in coffee shops and tea stands around the city, many still chat about what happened in the early hours of May 2, and much of the talk is laced with strong scepticism.
‘Is there proof?’
Over cups of milky-sweet chai tea, I talk to a few local University students who tell me why they do noy believe bin Laden was killed in the US assault.
Musab Rashid, who lives about 100 metres from the now infamous compound where the former al-Qaeda leader is believed to have lived for between five and six years, witnessed the US operation that night, but still does not believe that bin Laden ever lived or indeed died there.
“Are there any facts? Is there any proof provided by America to the whole world to prove this thing true? We have never seen any video, we have never seen any picture of bin Laden, and we have never seen a dead body.”
Musab’s friend and classmate, Mohammed Waqas, also does not believe the US’s version of events. “Why did they bury him at sea, in just a few hours or one day? Why? Why didn’t they show his corpse? Why should we believe what Barack Obama says? Show us some proof.”
In fact, most local residents seem to share the same suspicions.
Including Dr Azhar Jadoon, the leader of Tehrik-e-Sooba Hazara, a powerful political party in Abbottabad who says, “I’m a trained medical doctor. From everything I’ve read about Osama, he was a kidney patient. From what I know of the medications that were found in that house, there were no such drugs to treat a kidney patient. There is no way he could have lived there – certainly not for several years. Maybe his wife and children did, but not him.”
I did however, find one Abbottabad resident who had no doubt that bin Laden was killed in the city on May 2.
Sohaib Athar became an instant online celebrity for his real time dispatches about the US operation that morning while using a popular micro-blogging website.
“I believe that Osama is dead because we don’t any evidence of him alive right now. If he were alive, he would have released a video. I also heard from eyewitnesses that when his wife came out of the compound handcuffed, she was shouting about her husband being dead. Why wouldn’t I believe it?”
Since the US confirmed the killing of bin Laden in this compound, there has been a sharp increase in anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
Many Pakistanis view the US operation as a breach of national sovereignty and want their leaders to break off all ties.
That is not likely to happen and although relations are fraught, political leaders from both countries have taken great pains to reaffirm their commitment to each other and the continued fight on the so-called “war on Terror”.
And while the world remembers the decade that followed the September 11 attacks on Sunday, it is clear to me that most residents of Abbottabad would be quite happy to forget the events of May 2, 2011.