Things still unsettled one year after killing of bin Laden
One year after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, things are far from settled in that part of the world.
The most familiar image of the event is not of the dead man. It is instead of the people who ordered the raid: President Obama and his closest advisers watching via satellite in the White House “situation room” details unfolding thousands of miles away. Such depictions portray an American victory.
But if Americans were presented with a picture of war that went beyond its reflection on American faces to include its impact on Pakistani lives they would see a reality that would alarm them. If the American landscape of the war on terror were repainted to include Pakistan, it would be painted not in the certainty of black and white, but in shades of gray. In the country where bin Laden was killed, his death has delivered no fewer terror attacks and no less uncertainty. In fact, more than two-thirds of educated Pakistani citizens do not believe that he was ever captured or killed. Unlike Americans, they cannot overlook that the picture of his demise includes neither the man killed nor the country where he died.
Pakistani skepticism is not simply poised on the absence of pictures. If bin Laden’s death was a fatal blow to terror, Pakistanis question, why then the continuation of its deadly onslaught in their cities and towns and villages? The year 2011 instead saw an escalation in terror attacks, with 4,447 killed in 476 incidents. More Pakistanis lost their lives in a single year than Americans in the entire decade since 9/11, more than half dying after the mastermind of terror had already been tossed into the sea. And in U.S. drone attacks “since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed, including more than 60 children,” reports the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Pakistani doubts of American victories are not fed by death alone. In the year since bin Laden’s killing, displacement caused by CIA-operated drones and security operations has left nearly 200,000 people homeless, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The wandering families have taken with them the bitterness of conflict and spread it all around Pakistan. In the southern city of Karachi alone, a destination for many Pashtun migrants from the northwest, more than 1,000 people have died in skirmishes between those currently controlling the city and the new arrivals.
There is no room in American visions of victory for ordinary Pakistanis — those paying in death, devastation and displacement the cost of a war whose pictures do not include them.
Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language daily, and author of the forthcoming book “Silence in Karachi” (Beacon Press). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.