Osama — through his letters

Published: May 4, 2012

The writer is a correspondent with The New York Times and is based in Islamabad. The views expressed in the article are his own

Sequestered behind the walls of his Abbottabad hideout, Osama bin Laden certainly did not seem to relish his life and the way his global jihad had foundered and crumbled. This is the impression one gets from the sheaf of OBL letters released on May 3. Bin Laden worried about his legacy and his network splintering into several outfits, many of which were outside his control. He worried about tactics and strategy. He wanted to rebrand al Qaeda, hoping that the makeover would win over alienated sympathisers. Quite a bit of worrying by a man whose intentions and actions wrecked the lives of so many. He was propped up by his handlers as the warrior saint in the 1990s. But after orchestrating the 9/11 attacks, he was a man on the run, chased by the US — and ostensibly by Pakistanis too. All along, his followers made sure that they sowed discord and destruction through their militancy. Even now, a year after the US raid that killed him, Bin Laden’s devastating legacy continues to haunt Pakistan.

The disclosure that he was hiding in plain sight came as a surprise to some. For years, as the hunt continued, Bin Laden’s last hideout, Abbottabad, did not figure high on the radar. He was thought to be hiding along the border with Afghanistan or high up in the mountains near Chitral. Intelligence officials speculated that he may have moved into the tribal badlands and may be avoiding electronic communication to avoid detection. Not many would have imagined that he was ensconced comfortably in several semi-urban hideouts in northwestern Pakistan. But in hindsight, maybe it was not that unimaginable. Osama bin Laden’s close associates were mostly captured from cities such as Karachi, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Gujrat. Still, the public here has viewed the ‘war against terror’ with disapproval. The al Qaeda has often been portrayed as an imaginary outfit and there is no dearth of people who continue to deny Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Interestingly, Bin Laden expressed dissatisfaction with the ways of militants who he had initially inspired. He disapproved the tactics employed by the Pakistani Taliban, calling on them to stop attacks on mosques, public places and the general public. His exhortations were, however, spurned by the new breed of militants, who are a mix of ideologues and criminals and have little deference for the old guard.

The letters provide no details about the support Bin Laden received inside Pakistan. Perhaps, such information — if there is any — has been withheld for now. Pakistani military and spy organisations came out tainted after the May 2, 2011 raid. Their public image was battered and morale in the ranks sank. The military complained of betrayal by the US for conducting a stealth mission. But it is quite apparent that these feelings of distrust are shared by both sides with the Salala border incident only exacerbating the strains between them. Suspicions about the duplicity and complicity of Pakistani military and spy organisations continue to linger. Osama’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still at large. Till 2004, Pakistani soldiers were fighting against militants in South Waziristan after reports of Zawahiri’s sighting in that region. Rumours about his movement in Balochistan have also emerged. If past events portend any hint, the eventual discovery of his whereabouts might also come as a big surprise.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Nagpuri
    May 4, 2012 - 11:30PM

    What is your point? This seems more like report than opinion.


  • Amin Afridi
    May 4, 2012 - 11:33PM

    A very well written and researched article offering you an interesting perspective on bin Laden’s fear and apprehensions.


  • aaisha khan
    May 5, 2012 - 12:15AM

    Nicely written informative piece!!


  • Texas Snuff,
    May 5, 2012 - 12:34AM

    Nice written sir thank u.Recommend

  • Falcon
    May 5, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Good article. I think what needs to be understood from researcher’s standpoint is what makes out homegrown militancy so severe that it worried even the master-mind perpetrator of 09/11. The gap between two these points (TTP and Al-Qaeda) on the ideological spectrum give us a hint of how much is ideology component contributing to it vs. geopolitical / social / economical context contributing to it. This also gives insight into the ideological rigidity of such networks and therefore their splintering, brinkmanship, and fluid organizational structure one one hand and the flaws of current over-centralized strategy of militancy containment in U.S. as well as Paksitan on the other hand.


  • Usama
    May 5, 2012 - 1:20AM

    Osama himself felt that his jihadi outfit alqaeda and Taliban are not turning into sickness of killing innocents “spurned by the new breed of militants, who are a mix of ideologues and criminals and have little deference for the old guard”

    Now for GODs sake its time to finish them once for all be it with drone be it with any lethal way.enough is enough


  • May 5, 2012 - 6:45AM


    Bin Laden also urged associates “not to send a single brother on a suicide operation; they should send at least two.”
    In cases of solo suicide bombers, bin Laden said that their “percentage of success was low due to psychological factors that affect the brother in such a situation.”

    And earlier his Pakistani worshippers were praising him for sweetly persuading TTP Mehsuds not to attack on Pakistani soil, as not to upset his Pakistani hosts, but apparently could do so elsewhere and in Afghanistan whose innocents’ deaths were much more acceptable.


  • May 5, 2012 - 6:48AM

    Reads like a dying Don mafia complaining about the brutal new young fellas not respecting ‘the mob code’.


  • Vanjara
    May 5, 2012 - 2:06PM

    The letters provide no details about
    the support Bin Laden received inside
    Pakistan. Perhaps, such information —
    if there is any — has been withheld
    for now.

    Really? When have the Americans ever let an opportunity go to malign Pakistan and its army?


  • Liaquat Baloch
    May 5, 2012 - 4:38PM

    …..The letters provide no details about the support Bin Laden received inside Pakistan. Perhaps, such information — if there is any — has been withheld for now……

    The help and support from Pakistani movers and shakers has rightly been unfolded by Ahmed Rashid in his recent book. Hope, we ll read your next artical without any “IF”. and you ll hit the nail on the head..(as Dr Ijaz used to say).Recommend

  • A S
    May 5, 2012 - 7:14PM

    To all concerned. The history is that Islam never spread by any armed onslaught. Islam being the Truth was accepted. Accepted by hordes upon hordes of people when they witnessed the benefits of Islam demonstrated by the Muslims. Muslims are those who practice Islam. Allah’s Islam. The other Islam is Mullah’s Islam.
    Today that spirit of demonstrating true values of Islam in their practices is missing from the majority of imposters claiming to be Muslims. In fact majority of people in the world demonstrate from their deeds to be imposters. They claim to be what their deeds do not testify. People throughout the world will endure slavery until they all learn the Islamic values of coming together to join hands to liberate themselves through unified and absolutely peaceful actions i.e. non co-operation with practice of vice.


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