ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - There were no protests and no extra security in Pakistan on Tuesday, a day after the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, just a sense of embarrassment and indifference that the al Qaeda leader had managed to lie low for years in a Pakistan garrison town.
“The failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of the world’s most-wanted man here is shocking,” The News said in an editorial, reflecting the general tone in the media, where some commentators predicted that Washington would take action to show its displeasure with Islamabad.
Bin Laden was shot dead early on Monday morning by U.S. commandos who dropped by helicopter into the compound where he had lived since 2005.
It had long been thought that he was hiding in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt in the northwest near the border with Afghanistan, so it came as a huge surprise to many that he had been holed up in a town less than two hours’ drive from Islamabad and just a stone’s throw from a military academy.
President Asif Ali Zardari, writing in the Washington Post, said Pakistan’s security forces were left out of the raid on the hideout in the town of Abbottabad and insisted that the authorities had thought he was somewhere else.
However, Zardari has made no address to the people of a country where anti-American sentiment runs high, prompting one Twitter user to tweet “Most wanted man is killed on Pakistani soil and the Pres doesn’t address his people, instead writes an op-ed for USA.”
There were some very small demonstrations by hardline groups after the killing of bin Laden, but it was business as usual in the capital on Tuesday, with no signs of increased security.
In Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, however, a protest was expected later against “increasing U.S. involvement” in Pakistan.
Still, many ordinary Pakistanis said bin Laden’s killing was of no consequence to them. “It doesn’t make any difference to my life whether he is killed or not,” said Zain Khan, a laborer in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
While Islamabad’s alliance with Washington is unpopular, especially following a campaign of U.S. drone strikes on militant targets in the border areas, many people are also tired of the suicide bombings that have racked the country for years.
“He (bin Laden) did not have much popularity today because people have been killed in violence linked to al Qaeda,” commentator Ejaz Haider said.
The immediate reaction was muted because Pakistanis didn’t identify with the ideology of al Qaeda, the former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul said.
But there was anger building up over the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by U.S. forces who carried out the raid.
“That’s an affront to a nation of 180 million people,” Gul told Reuters. “The people of Pakistan are very angry with their military that they have sold us” to the Americans.
Both the army and the ISI spy agency were conspicuously silent on the raid, which has raised suspicions they knew all along where bin Laden was hiding.
“Many of us didn’t believe in the image of bin Laden as a wandering Old Man of the Mountains, living on plants and insects in an inhospitable cave somewhere on the porous Pakistan-Afghan border,” wrote author Salman Rushdie in a piece for The Daily Beast.
“An extremely big man, 6-foot 4-inches tall in a country where the average male height is around 5-foot 8, wandering around unnoticed for ten years while half the satellites above the earth were looking for him?”
He said Pakistan faced tough questions and “if it does not provide those answers, perhaps time has come to declare it a terrorist state and expel it from the comity of nations.”
“PICKING AND CHOOSING MILITANTS”
Washington has in the past accused Pakistan of lacking the resolve to root out militants and of maintaining ties to fighters targeting U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
In October 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced dismay that bin Laden and other prominent militants had not yet been caught and suggested Pakistani complicity.
Within hours of the operation that killed bin Laden, U.S. lawmakers were asking how he had been able to live in a populated area of Pakistan without anyone in authority knowing about it. Some said it was time to review the billions in aid the United States provides Pakistan.
Pakistani newspapers reflected those concerns, warning that the nation may come under renewed pressure.
“Pakistan has found itself in quite the embarrassing situation ... Whilst we have been allies of the U.S., we have been very trying partners, picking and choosing the militants we wanted to root out and the ones we wanted to protect,” the Daily Times said.
“It is hoped we will not be on the receiving end of a negative fallout with the Americans, who are in this war for (the) long haul.”
But Zardari said in his article in the Washington Post that Pakistan was as much a victim of al Qaeda militants as any country and denied any notion that the authorities had failed to act.
Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton, John Chalmers and Sanjeev Miglani