Bin Laden's Legacy Inspires Pakistani Extremists
The killing of Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad one year ago Wednesday rocked the country's political and military establishment, and provoked widespread rage at what Pakistanis saw as a blatant violation of national sovereignty.
A year on, there are widely differing opinions among Pakistanis about the significance of the al-Qaida leader in a country where militant groups draw inspiration from him.
His legacy is in plain view at rallies across the country that evoke virulent anti-Americanism.
The errant U.S. raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November has fueled the rage and prompted Pakistan to shut down NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. The Pentagon says the closure complicates U.S. plans to withdraw most combat troops by 2014.
While radicalism parades on the streets, deep suspicion about American motives is also readily found in the country's colorful markets.
Amid hawkers in the sprawling Raga bazaar in Rawalpindi, veiled women loaded down with bags wend their way through the pyramid-like piles of vegetables, fruit and fly-encrusted meat.
Many Pakistanis Oppose Drone Strikes
Shopkeeper Sajjad Ahmed, 48, says many Pakistanis are deeply offended by the U.S. drone missile strikes in western Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. He says his main objection is the way in which they are being carried out.
"The United States should not carry out drone attacks, because they are violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan," he says. "If they must carry them out, they should do it in coordination and cooperation with the Pakistanis."
"Obviously terrorists are a danger to everyone," he adds. "They are a danger to America. They are a danger to Pakistan. They must be eliminated."
Beenish Ashraf, 23, who recently received a master's degree in business, says the younger generation has become deeply disturbed by the accumulation of drone attacks, errant NATO strikes, and even the secret raid against bin Laden. All of it, she says, is alienating young Pakistanis from the United States.
"Anyone can come and interfere in our country. That's why we are disturbed ... We have no future in Pakistan if Americans or any other country [are] continually interrupting in our country. We want peace ... in our country and in America," Ashraf says. "Let us live in a peaceful environment."
Many in the bazaar say the operation against bin Laden was part of an American myth: that the events in Abbottabad were a "drama" staged by the Pentagon to say bin Laden was dead. These Pakistanis don't consider themselves extremists. Their view is shared by a large segment of the country and reflects more on the conspiratorial nature of information here than on any ideological bent.
Extremism In Decline?
Mushtaq Ahmed, 50, says that only a misguided minority of Pakistanis sees bin Laden as an inspirational figure today.
"There are people who heap praise on bin Laden here," he says. "But as far as I'm concerned, he was an animal, and he used people, including his own family."
A new survey by the Pew Research Center found that support for al-Qaida has declined in Pakistan, with 13 percent now holding a favorable view of the organization.
Mushtaq Ahmed thinks that militants have also been weakened since the death of bin Laden.
"Ninety-five percent of them have been eliminated" with help from the Americans and Pakistan's army, he confidently proclaims. Only 5 percent are left, he says.
But such rosy assessments are greeted with deep skepticism by defense analysts, including author Ayesha Siddiqa. "It's a very generous view, which is perhaps far from reality," she says.
Siddiqa says that while there may be fewer attacks on the state, it doesn't necessarily mean a decrease in militancy.
"The militancy is there. It has increased. It's not reduced," she says, adding that it has spread beyond Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan. "It's happening in the plains of Pakistan. It's happening in mainland Pakistan."
Siddiqa says a brazen jailbreak two weeks ago in Pakistan, in which hundreds of militants freed dozens of their compatriots, is proof of their potency.
In Abbottabad, children play in the green field where bin Laden's compound stood before Pakistani authorities razed it. Old men mutter about how the world's most wanted terrorist could not possibly have lived there.
But the slain al-Qaida leader is evolving into myth.
Some devotees reportedly consider a leaking pipe on the site a source of "holy water."
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