Children play cricket in a patch of scorched grass and scattered rubble in Abbottabad, all that remains of the final lair of the man who was once the most wanted person on the planet. It was in this Pakistani city that Osama bin Laden was killed in the clandestine Operation Geronimo raid by US Navy Seals in the early hours of May 2, 2011.
The operation had global repercussions and dented Pakistan’s international reputation, exposing contradictions in a country that had long served as a rear base for Al-Qaeda and its Taleban allies while suffering from the effects of terrorism. Osama had been living in seclusion for at least five years in Abbottabad, hidden behind the high walls of an imposing white building less than 2km from a renowned military academy.
“It was a very bad thing for this place and for the whole country,” said Mr Altaf Hussain, a retired schoolteacher, walking down an alley alongside Osama’s former residence. Officials could deny knowing he was there, but in doing so, they would effectively be admitting to a shocking intelligence failure.
They could also have admitted that the world’s most infamous fugitive was under their protection, but that would concede being powerless to prevent Washington from carrying out such a daring raid on sovereign soil.
They opted for the former, but the US operation reinforced an already-strong anti-American sentiment among a population tired of the heavy financial and human toll paid for the war on terror and Islamabad’s alliance with Washington after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.
Pakistan was initially receptive to the founding myth of Al-Qaeda, the resistance of Muslims to American imperialism.
But at the time of his death, Osama’s local popularity had waned.
“Before, I remember that people named their children Osama, even in my village,” said Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, a specialist in Islamist networks.
Osama’s death did not stop extremism from spreading in Pakistan, and conservative religious movements became even more influential.
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