By: The Economist
terça-feira, 3 de maio de 2011
Bin Laden's front yard
STANDING at Osama bin Laden's green front gate, on Tuesday May 3rd, three bemused policemen faced a horde of the world's journalists. Having been, until Sunday morning, the most secret hideaway for the world's most-wanted man, number 25 in this otherwise sleepy neighbourhood has sprung to the centre of global attention.
Aside from some twists of barbed wire, a tall (and now cracked and pock-marked) surrounding wall, number 25 is not much different from the largish houses across the potato fields opposite. Neighbours report that the milkman would leave his pail at the gate each morning without knocking. No satellite dish is on the roof, no air-conditioning units are evident. Mr bin Laden's last days and months were evidently passed in some comfort—newspapers and food were reportedly dropped at the house each day—but not luxury. Brief footage from inside the compound, filmed on a Blackberry phone and passed to a TV company, shows a sparsely furnished room but nothing splendid. Locals say that several children—by one account including two of Mr bin Laden's and many more of his nieces and nephews—had stayed in the compound. But none, apparently, went to local schools. The "Smart Roots Montesorri" school, across another field, presumably had no bin Ladens on the register.
All the neighbours report that the occupants had kept to themselves. Only two men, thought to be from Waziristan, were seen coming and going, often in a Suzuki car. Aside from brief greetings, and on one occasion borrowing a local woman’s umbrella, they had little contact with the locals. The occupants had said they worked as money-changers. Some locals knew them as "smugglers", a term indicating uncertainty over how they earned their keep. But many in the neighbourhood appear not to work for a living. Clusters of young men lollop around the streets idly. Many residents are wealthy retired military folk and those sustained by funds from relatives at work in the Gulf.
Nobody reports seeing other visitors, official-looking or otherwise, coming to number 25. A nearby hospital could perhaps have been useful for a man, such as Mr bin Laden, who suffered from kidney disease. Pakistan's main military academy—the country’s Sandhurst or West Point—is only short distance away on foot. Local residents say that police regularly swept the area, roughly once a week, checking residents' IDs and sometimes looking inside homes. It is hard to believe that this house could have escaped scrutiny for long. Most embarrassing for Pakistan's most powerful man, General Ashfaq Kayani, the chief of staff, is that he was just across the field from number 25 just last week, boasting at the military academy that Pakistan had broken the back of terrorism. At the time Mr bin Laden was within shouting distance of the general. That looks increasingly difficult to explain.
Perhaps that is why Pakistan's government is fumbling to respond. Ordinarily loquacious spokesmen have gone mute. The usual promotion of elaborate conspiracy theories will no doubt resume soon, but the best that Asif Zardari, the president, could manage was a bluff and unconvincing denial that Pakistan is home to fanatics and terrorists in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
What happens next? In 2001 America invaded Afghanistan, kicking off its ten-year misadventure in that country, because the Taliban harboured Mr bin Laden at the time. It looks to some, now, as if Pakistan was next in line to play host to al-Qaeda’s leader. Colder relations with the Americans must surely be expected, while Pakistan fumbles for some sort of explanation.
Small bits of black metal wreckage strew a wheat field beside number 25, evidence of the American helicopter that crashed during the raid in which Mr bin Laden was killed. These are being hastily gathered by schoolboys and equally excited foreign correspondents. Other evidence of the operation may disappear just as quickly. Some residents of this corner of Abbottabad say that Pakistani spooks rounded up witnesses and near neighbours, and perhaps those who have been too talkative to the press. Some witnesses who were chatty a few hours after Mr bin Laden was killed seem to be clamming up.
By: The Economist
By: The Economist