Sohaib Athar – who turned into a celebrity overnight after he inadvertently live tweeted the entire May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad – had an air of nonchalance about the impact of his tweets.
But perhaps the audience at the Social Media Mela had been expecting some insight, a little snippet of the myriad conspiracies they had heard or at least something a little juicier than usual to tweet about. What they found, on the contrary, was that Athar was just a regular Joe who just happened to be awake when US Seal Team Six came thundering down into Abbottabad to pick up Bin Laden.
He was asked whether he was harassed by the ‘agencies’ or the army. “No,” said Athar. “It was actually the media which kept harassing me for an exclusive story. One channel even brought the local police with them and waited around the area of my coffee shop to try and catch me.” He said that all the journalists were after him for an exclusive story. “After a while I compiled all the FAQs (frequently asked questions) and put them online for everyone to see,” he said with a wide grin.
Athar, the audience realised, is just a person who works at night, sleeps after his son goes to school in the morning and likes to drink coffee. The reason why he opened a coffee shop was that he couldn’t find good coffee anywhere in Abbottabad. A software consultant by profession, he moved to Abbottabad around three years ago from Lahore. I just happened to be there when it happened, he said, as just another matter-of-fact thing.
Has the raid affected his coffee business was a matter of great fascination for the audience and the moderator, Ayesha Tammy Haq. “Why don’t you name it Coffee bin Laden?” said Haq. “Yes I have had that suggestion before,” Athar replied. “Name it Caffe bin Latte!” quipped someone from the audience.
Athar was absolutely unfazed by people’s fascination with him and seemed bored that he was being asked to repeat what everyone already knew. Haq asked him about the spike in his Twitter followers since the raid and he replied that it went from 700 to 800 followers to around 105,000 within only a week. “But I didn’t pay that much attention to it,” he said. “After the raid was over I went and read a book or something.”
Speaking about how life in Abbottabad had changed since the raid, Athar stated as a matter of fact that it was still the same. “Life returned to normal there in two days,” he said. “There aren’t even any check posts in the city like there are now in Lahore.” Athar also denied that he is keeping a low profile because he is wanted by the ‘agencies’. He said that he had expected to be hunted down by the Inter-Services Intelligence or the police. “But no such thing happened,” he said with a smile. “I was only questioned by the Abbottabad Commission and they were ‘interesting fellows’. Justice Javed Iqbal told me to ‘tweet on’ after we were done.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2012.
Note: A shorter version of the story appeared in print. Some points have been added in the web version for clarity.
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