Abbottabad, a peaceful and serene town of around 150,000 people, will from now on have to live with its newly-earned notoriety as Osama Bin Laden’s last refuge.
All the routes in the city lead to Bilal Town, which was considered a sleepy neighborhood till Sunday. It has now turned into a media circus after OBL was killed in a raid by US Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) teams on a compound in the town.
“This city and its localities will never be the same again,” Paristan, an elderly resident, told The Express Tribune. Paristan seemed to be upset about the new identity of his city, previously known for the good standards of its schools. Terming the incident unfortunate, he said it should be lamented by everyone.
“It seems as though the whole world has descended upon this neighborhood,” he added, pointing towards the dozens of foreign media teams filming at the site.
At the end of the street leading to Osama’s compound a field has been turned into a parking lot, where a mass of vehicles could be seen and those arriving to get a glimpse of the frenzy seem to never end.
As hundreds of people and media personnel assembled outside the compound where Bin Laden was killed, some army soldiers and police officials were trying, in vain, to keep the inquisitive crowd at bay. Though the soldiers were not allowing anyone to go near the gate, people still tried their level best to get as close as possible to the building.
Bashir Ahmed, another local resident, told The Express Tribune that the media persons arrive around 8 am in the morning and leave after dusk.
“The local people, who are visiting this place to have a look at the world’s most wanted man’s hiding place, add to the media crowd,” Ahmed said, adding that the ongoing frenzy was all very strange to him.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that such a thing will happen here and put Abbottabad on the map of the world in such a way,” he said.
The local people, who were at first very eager to talk to media, gradually grow weary of the barrage of questions posed by newsmen from all corners of the world. “Please do not bother me. My head is spinning being interviewed for the past two days. I do not know anything about Osama,” an exasperated Bilal Town shopkeeper said.
Apart from the shock of the incident, locals have also developed a sense of fear. A young boy working at a bread baker shop asked for his name not to be published as the police are said to be harassing those whose names appear in newspapers. “I am a poor labourer and I cannot afford to spend two days in a police station,” he said.
Major James Abbot, a soldier of the Great Game in the early 1850s who founded the alpine hill station of Abbottabad, had penned a poem after Abbottabad.
Abbot’s poem ends on the lines, “I bid you farewell with a heavy heart/Never from my mind will your memories thwart” –befitting the current situation. Whether Osama’s killing ends war on terror or otherwise, the alpine city of Abbottabad will have a long way to go with its new identity.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2011.