Although there were a few small demonstrations on Monday, Tuesday appears to be quiet in Pakistan on the second day after the US killed Osama Bin Laden just outside Islamabad. Warnings to be wary of reprisals have been voiced by both the US and Pakistani governments and two US consulates in Pakistan have been closed as a precaution.
Writing in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Pakistani Presdient Asif Ali Zardari pointed out that Pakistan has suffered greatly (and he personally) at the hands of al Qaeda:
Let us be frank. Pakistan has paid an enormous price for its stand against terrorism. More of our soldiers have died than all of NATO’s casualties combined. Two thousand police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress for our people have been lost. And for me, justice against bin Laden was not just political; it was also personal, as the terrorists murdered our greatest leader, the mother of my children. Twice he tried to assassinate my wife. In 1989 he poured $50 million into a no-confidence vote to topple her first government. She said that she was bin Laden’s worst nightmare — a democratically elected, progressive, moderate, pluralistic female leader. She was right, and she paid for it with her life.
Zardari did a gentle push-back on Pakistan’s embarrassment (“He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be”) about their apparent lack of action against al Qaeda in general and admitted that Pakistan was not included in the planning or execution of Sunday night’s Bin Laden mission:
Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world. And we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day.
So, while the pseudonym of the carrier was obtained at Guantanamo (but not through torture), Zardari is claiming a major role for Pakistan in helping to put a real name together with the operational one which is indeed a key step in the sequence of events leading to Bin Laden’s death.
A Reuters article attributes at least a portion of the calm in Pakistan to a sense of embarrassment over the harboring of Bin Laden:
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.
After noting that a demonstration is expected in Karachi, the article then states that many Pakistanis are indifferent to Bin Laden:
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.
Despite some indifference, though, warnings of potential reprisals have been made:
Intelligence agencies have warned that Pakistan may face a sharp rise in terrorism cases in the wake of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
The National Crisis Management Cell of the interior ministry issued the warning to the police and law enforcement agencies after receiving credible intelligence that militants may plan ‘revenge’ attacks in Pakistan, targeting US diplomatic missions and Americans in the country, in addition to important civilian and military government installations.
These warnings have led to the closure of US consulates in Lahore and Peshawar:
The United States closed two of its consulates in Pakistan to the public on Tuesday until further notice, a day after Osama bin Laden was killed near the capital Islamabad.
The US embassy in Islamabad and a third consulate in Karachi had earlier also been closed to the general public for routine business, but a decision was taken Tuesday for them to re-open as normal, said an embassy spokesman.
Those closed are in the eastern city of Lahore and the northwestern city of Peshawar, which is close to the country’s tribal belt that Washington has called the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda.
Note that the Karachi consulate has been re-opened for today despite the prediction of protests in Karachi. However, it is significant that the Lahore consulate is closed since this is where massive protests were held for many days during the prolonged Raymond Davis saga.
The complexity of the situation in Pakistan is reflected in part in its politics. In an analysis at the Express Tribune, we see a listing of some of the radical groups in Pakistan with ties to both al Qaeda and the political system:
Harkatul Jihadul Islami, Jaishe Muhammad, Sipahe Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and Lashkar-e-Taiba are some of the many organisations that were allowed to spread their network and physical infrastructure into the ‘settled’ areas of Pakistan such as Punjab and Sindh.
These organisations have deep links with al Qaeda and have allegedly collaborated with Osama bin Laden’s terror network against targets in Pakistan and South Asia at large. The larger Asian region is concerned about the linkages as recent stories have emerged regarding individuals coming from Indonesia and many countries in Europe to train in Pakistan.
Most of the militant outfits now have developed influential ties within the mainstream political parties as well. These militant forces might not conduct a vicious attack on the Pakistani state just yet. But they are likely to use the chaos to re-group and consolidate through manipulating the public discourse on terrorism run through the private and public media.
Zardari’s piece also provides some perspective on these radicals and their status in the political system:
Radical religious parties have never received more than 11 percent of the vote. Recent polls showed that 85 percent of our people are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda. In 2009, when the Taliban briefly took over the Swat Valley, it demonstrated to the people of Pakistan what our future would look like under its rule — repressive politics, religious fanaticism, bigotry and discrimination against girls and women, closing of schools and burning of books. Those few months did more to unite the people of Pakistan around our moderate vision of the future than anything else possibly could.
These figures from Zardari demonstrate that while organized and vocal, Pakistan’s radical religious groups appear to be less numerous at the polls than the radical Christian fundamentalist voting bloc in the US.