Wednesday, March 21, 2018
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'Osama's dead now, just leave us alone...'

Photo by AFPBy Imran Khan

By now acres of newsprint, gigabytes of internet space and hours of television have been dedicated to the death of the world's most wanted man.

I arrived as part of a legion of journalists descending on the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

Everyone has a theory; everyone wants to scoop the world.

Osama Bin Laden has had us gripped for a full decade now. Plenty has been written about his legacy and many have talked about his role in shaping world events. But very little has been written about what sort of Pakistan bin Laden leaves behind.

A firm sense of frustration emanating from the Pakistani people is the enduring legacy of bin Laden's and the West's actions.

In any village, in any suburb, in any enclave of this vast and varied land you will find many for whom bin Laden means little or nothing. I discovered this myself having spent 10 years covering the country.

Most Pakistanis care about what most people care about: food, shelter, energy, self-respect.

But what Pakistanis have got due to the events of 9/11 are war, political turmoil, energy shortages and discrimination.

Yet despite that, this is not a country of rabid bearded bin Laden look-alikes looking to enslave your mother and bomb your place of worship. Rather it's a country that just, ultimately, wants to be left alone.

Pakistanis want to be free of the chokehold of western aid, and western military might. Pakistanis want to stand proud and say out loud: "We are Pakistani."

But as long as the spectre of terrorist attacks and Taliban rule haunt the corridors of western power, Pakistanis will continue to be caught in the middle of a battle for the country's soul.

It has to be that way. No one wants another 9/11. So Pakistanis are caught in the middle of a tug of war between the Western interest and self-preservation.

No amount of American and Western aid will ever really change Pakistan. The simple truth of the matter is that for a country to develop it must be given the chance to mould its own identity.

Yet Pakistan does not have an identity. Instead it has a crisis, in almost every aspect of its society - caught between mosque and military; between teenage rebellion and fundamentalism; between high fashion garments and the burkha.

Being caught in the net means that some slip away ... others just flounder.

Osama bin Laden's death is a massive news event. Of that there's no doubt. But I wonder how many of the millions of people watching, reading and listening will understand that his death is not the end for the country he was killed in, neither is it the beginning.

Bin Laden's not responsible for the woes of Pakistanis. Successive governments and both Eastern and Western attitudes are.

Pakistanis will survive. But I just wonder if it's worth quoting the baggage handler at Islamabad airport. "Why won't they just leave us alone:  the Taliban, the US? Osama's dead now; just leave us alone," he said as he witnessed the global media turn up on his doorstep.

Imran Khan, a Doha-based correspondent, is reporting from across Pakistan.

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