Zero Dark Thirty is the price

Published: February 7, 2013
The writer is a journalist and works for Express News

The writer is a journalist and works for Express News

In a country mired in multiple challenges, it may sound like a non-issue that a controversial Hollywood film has been practically disallowed from release for general viewing. Another defence of the unofficial ban on Zero Dark Thirty, a recapitulation of the hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL) and the climax of the Seal Team Six raid in Abbottabad, is that all countries have red lines which rightly or wrongly are used to keep certain material out of the reach of unsuspecting public. After all, movies, like some literature, have a strong propaganda potential and these are known to be used to create national images of glory or humiliation of others. Why let the embarrassing tale of OBL’s capture — which at any rate is riddled with factual inaccuracies — be displayed on the shelves?

These and other reasons make a case for blocking Zero Dark Thirty from being screened in Pakistan. However, in the long run it is not a strong case. There is little doubt that the film is set in the context of the standard script for most such efforts that show American heroism and patriotic toil to ‘smoke out their enemies from the caves’ at all costs. The script glosses over some pretty disturbing questions about OBL’s origin and his elimination. However, the fictional side of the film still hinges on the fact that the man was captured in Pakistan. This fact and the swirling storm of suggestions, rumours and conspiracies they kick up, has not found any rebuttal from Pakistan’s mighty establishment and its eager-to-issue-denial government. We all know, and our generations will remember regardless of whether the Kathryn Bigelows of the Hollywood world remind us or not, that the raid was hailed by the president of Pakistan through his ghostwriter’s effort in the US press. Back home, from the army chief to the prime minister, all were heard heaving a sigh of relief. While we did sheepishly tell the Americans that they had violated our sovereignty, ‘good-riddance’ was a theme that officialdom never deviated much from.

This was endorsement of the US action in no uncertain terms and, in an indirect way, also a general authentication of the narrative that Washington created to describe the flow of events that unfolded in the final raid. Officials in Pakistan, shamed and embarrassed beyond redemption, never bothered to pick holes in whatever came out of Washington. They never raised a counter-narrative, which could tell Islamabad’s side of the story. The only complaint that was aired with some vigour and conviction was that Washington did not give Pakistani intelligence enough credit for providing broad but significant leads about OBL’s movement before his trail grew cold. The beef we developed with Washington over CIA’s operations on our land using the good offices of Dr Shakeel Afridi had a ring of duplicity about it, considering how easily we had allowed Raymond Davis to leave Pakistan months earlier. The man was undoubtedly the main link in the CIA chain working for the final raid, which explains the extraordinary effort the US mounted and president Barack Obama spearheaded to get him out of Pakistan. It is also unimaginable that CIA would throw its net so wide and deep in Pakistan and nobody got wind of what the spooks from abroad were up to. And if we were so incompetent as to be sleeping on duty, then the ‘enemies’ had a licence to sneak pass us and on their way back, lock us into a hurtful national situation.

Even our late, post-event response has been both comical and tragical. The Abbottabad Commission’s report took long to prepare and the inner politics of its members has made a joke out of the serious probe they were supposed to conduct into the matter. The best we have been able to do is to raze to the ground the OBL compound (as if that would change history!) and build a park on it instead. Clearly we do not learn from our experiences. We did the same thing with the jail where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged. He lives on. For decades, we withheld the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report from general access, but the 1971 tragedy continues to hang in the air like a forever dark cloud. We bulldozed Jamia Hafsa but the questions surrounding the Red Mosque operation are coming back to haunt us. The more we deny and run away from our past, the more it chases us. Zero Dark Thirty should be allowed for general viewing, not because it is a great film or an authentic account of a momentous event, but because this would serve as a reminder to all of us that nations that do not clean up their own backyards pay a heavy price for it. Being depicted as Pakistan is shown in Zero Dark Thirty, is that price.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (41)

  • John B
    Feb 7, 2013 - 12:42AM

    The question PAK should ask is “who will get offended (ego bruised) in allowing the film, public or the establishment or the supporters of OBL?”

    One cannot change the facts but can only hide them, for a while.

    Banning the film in PAK is not going to strengthen the PAK crowd or allowing the movie is not going to bring down PAK either.

    0:30 is indeed a heavy price for PAK foreign policy.


  • Diggvijay Singh
    Feb 7, 2013 - 12:55AM

    Zero Dark Thirty has a hilariously bad script that it shows Pakistani people speaking in Arabic. The film completely glosses over the issue of legality of drone attacks. When an American film is being made about Pakistan, it is reasonable to expect that the crucial topic of drone attacks be made a part of it.


  • Architect
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:04AM

    Very well written..


  • Arindom
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:07AM

    I have recently watched the movie – hope Pakistanis get to watch it as well…


  • Milestogo
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:11AM

    I thought people dying at the hands of extremist were paying the price with their lives…I was wrong.


  • Syed
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:12AM

    Things will not change in Pakistan until Pakistan learn to stand on its two feet. We have way too much outside influence from the US and Saudi Arabia.


  • Parvez
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:39AM

    Excellent logic and very nicely explained.


  • Mirza
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:41AM

    There are movies, books and news stories about the presence and killing of OBL in army base. Unless we give the facts and stop hiding the truth the whole world would believe that with no contradiction from Pakistani side the US claims must be true. When the army and ISPR were quick to respond to Salala attack and rebutted the US story, why are they quiet on OBL? Either give the truth ASAP or admit guilt by staying quiet.Recommend

  • Karachiwala
    Feb 7, 2013 - 4:14AM

    We should increase the standard of intake at PMA-Kakul. The history revels that so far we rae producing mediocre bunch of idiots. Teh nation demands accountability and justification for the huge spending on defence with no results. In a nut shell they are “Disciplined Corrupts” look after each others interest, mafia of generals with no spine.


  • F
    Feb 7, 2013 - 5:23AM

    Great article. Where and when would Pakistanis start to catch up to the past?
    1. 1st PM murdered – Liaqat Ali Khan.
    2. Gen Ayub Khan – conducts a coup And The constitution is hijacked
    3. Gen ayub Khan declares war on India – 1965
    4. Gen Yahya Khan commits genocide on his own citizens in the East – 1971
    5. Gen Zia conducts a coup and puts an elected PM on death row.
    6. Gen Zia dies in a plane crash
    7. Two elected PMs – BB and NS are not allowed to complete their terms by the military
    8. Gen Gul nurtures and exports “strategic assets” to India and Afghanistan.
    9. Gen Musharraf and gang of four declare war on India in 1999
    10. Gen Musharraf removes an elected PM and exiles him
    11. Gen Msharraf rents his country to USA
    12. BB is killed.
    13. Senator Tasser and many like him are eliminated.
    14. OBL – is found living one mile from the Army’s training academy!


  • Arindom
    Feb 7, 2013 - 5:46AM

    @Diggvijay Singh:

    Mate’ I’d advise you to watch again…..Kathlene Bigelow’s narrative style is subtle and soft -you need to be intelligent to draw conclusions – her style is not “BANG-BANG” in your face!….. She never shows OBL’s face too – but it;s clear. The Bazaars of Peshawar shows Urdu being spoken….only the SEAL member warns on-lookers during the raid in Arabic – so what? An imaginary Frenchman-SEAL may be forgiven for shouting in French during a raid!!
    The constant pressure on the CIA station head to provide “targets to kill” is obvious – they are referring to the drone targets. In fact a drone control room, in US is also shown scanning targets – what more do you want – a bollywood-style dance routine on drones? Likewise, the look on Panetta’s face when he is explained that the big property next to the OBL house was the Pakistani Military Academy – a single frame speaking a thousand words on connivance…..All-in-all — a pretty accurate depiction and deserves a Film Award.


  • Zalim singh
    Feb 7, 2013 - 7:18AM

    @ Diggvijay Singh

    Pakistanis are arabs.


  • gp65.
    Feb 7, 2013 - 7:20AM

    Two additions:
    3b. Gen Yahya Khan loses half the country
    14b. The person who helped to locate OBL is sentenced to 33 years in prison without due process.


  • vasan
    Feb 7, 2013 - 7:22AM

    Diggvijaysingh : Come out on your real pakistani name. This movie is not about Pakistan, it is about US attempt to get at OBL who happened to be inside Pakistan supported by Pak establishment ofcourse. So no need to show drone attacks, If they have to , then they should also show Pak’s secret prisons, HRW report etc, Saleem shahzad’s murder, shia killings, danier pearl’s murder, karachi target killings etc etc. Why dont u take a movie about drone strikes instead of whining.


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Feb 7, 2013 - 7:56AM

    Pakistanis seem to love an abysmally bad movie like Slumdog Millionaire but abhor a good movie like ZDT!


  • Saeed
    Feb 7, 2013 - 9:28AM

    It should be seen in its proper perspective. Its a Hollywood movie, based on facts mixed with fiction for a wider American audience. Like it or lump it but don’t turn this into another Pakistani self flagellating circus.


  • Arifq
    Feb 7, 2013 - 9:38AM

    @Arindom, @Diggvijay Singh:
    Gents, when the navy seals raided UBL house they were speaking in Arabic because the residents i.e., UBL family was supposed to be Arabic. When addressing the approaching crowd, they were speaking in Pushto and finally English. Excellent movie!


  • Pakistani Ostrich
    Feb 7, 2013 - 10:44AM

    @DIggvijay..nice, subtle satire! Too bad many indians can’t read beween the lines!


  • Baber
    Feb 7, 2013 - 11:04AM

    You make a pathetic case for the film. Its smut, trash, and people should not waste their time with it.


  • Indian Wisdom
    Feb 7, 2013 - 11:05AM

    “This would serve as a reminder to all of us that nations that do not clean up their own backyards pay a heavy price for it. Being depicted as Pakistan is shown in Zero Dark Thirty, is that price.” ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Yes, and being treated as Pakistani also!!!!


  • Baber
    Feb 7, 2013 - 11:08AM

    I could make a movie about the Branch Druidians or the Muslim Genocides in India and no one will air it or watch it because the establishment will not support it, that is what propaganda really is (how well is your version of the story exported). Meanwhile, people like you would still be selling smut on TV about Osama, because it sells and is ‘allowed’ by those who sign your paycheck. I wonder when Professional integrity died in journalism. Your wife, herself, was taking pay offs for slanting the news mate.

    You have not much of a leg to stand on


  • numbersnumbers
    Feb 7, 2013 - 11:30AM

    Please tell us why you disagree with the films storyline, rather than just throwing rocks!
    By the way, do you think that the Abbottabad Commission needs to see the movie before they can release their report on OBL living inside Pakistan all those years?


  • Faisal
    Feb 7, 2013 - 11:40AM

    @Arindom: My friend, you are an Indian and you will love anything which berates Pakistan. Don’t strain your brain for logic, jut put down your name under a blank space and we will know what is in your mind regarding Pakistan. Pray that Pakistan stays the way it is, if it breaks up, India will be the next Pakistan. Just like turmoil in Afghanistan has destroyed Pakistan socially, politically and economically.


  • Shahid Pirzada
    Feb 7, 2013 - 12:24PM

    It is an excellent movie and should be allowed to be viewed in Pakistan. I think Pakistani people will like it and probably draw good conclusion out of this. Off-course it has several inaccuracies but it is just a movie not a historical document. Ordinary Pakistani citizens have nothing to be ashamed off. They have not done anything wrong. I think they are victims in the present situation and are held hostage by corrupt and incapable leaders and gangsters which are being imposed on them. These forces even did not allow the official Abbottabad commission report to make public. There is a constant propaganda in the media that Pakistani people should feel some sort of humiliation for the deeds they have nothing to do with. For God sake, focus on the culprits.


  • Feb 7, 2013 - 12:38PM

    True, we must clean up. Cleaning up let’s us know how much dirt was in our home to begin with. and so that we do not apologize for more than we you ought to


  • Feb 7, 2013 - 12:42PM


    In the bazaars of Peshawar, pashtu is spoken, not urdu.


  • Palvasha von Hassell
    Feb 7, 2013 - 12:45PM


    “It should be seen in its proper perspective. Its a Hollywood movie, based on facts mixed with fiction for a wider American audience. Like it or lump it but don’t turn this into another Pakistani self flagellating circus.”

    Couldn’t agree more, the wider American auduence not being exactly known for its intellectual refinement…


  • Feb 7, 2013 - 1:24PM


    “Pray that Pakistan stays the way it is, if it breaks up, India will be the next Pakistan. “

    That is the biggest misconception in the minds of many Pakistanis.

    If Pakistan falls, evil men with AK-47 will be replaced by other evil men with AK-47. They will not call themselves LeT, but Taliban.

    Two reasons why India will not suffer like Pakistan.
    1) Borders are sealed off, fenced and modern equipment guard against infiltration.
    2) The areas adjacent to Pakistan are not Muslim, for the Taliban ideology to spread, but the areas of J&K. Taliban are not powerful because they have guns and bombs, but because their ideology is toxic and draws inspiration from Islam’s idea of Jihad. There are other factors in Pakistan that are absent in India, like widespread madrassah education, hate against Kafirs, acceptability of Two Nation Theory,etc.


  • Riaz Khan
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:34PM

    We are a nation of 180 million who all are in total denial mode! 9/11 was a inside job, OBL died long time ago, Mossad+RAW+CIA are working in PK to destabalize IR of Pakistan. In spite of getting maximum amount of aid from US, we think that US is the biggest enemy of Pakistan. Story can continue!


  • Arindom
    Feb 7, 2013 - 1:35PM

    Dearest – I don’t hold any enmity for Pakistan or Pakistanis – why should I care? But it’s your annoying habit of sending across trouble-makers to India and then when cought lying through your teeth that I am not too impressed with!!


  • Afzaal Khan
    Feb 7, 2013 - 3:29PM


    May be you should ask your security agencies to do thier job and stop ppl from coming in, instead of crying on pakistani web sites.


  • Faisal
    Feb 7, 2013 - 3:45PM

    My friends Bruteforce and Arindom, I wish success and prosperity to Indians. But rest assured, Pakistan’s development would mean India’s development and chaos in Pakistan would cross border like anything. It is naive to think that crossing border between India and Pakistan is difficult. Karachi has over two million illegal Bengalis working in fishing industries, all of them crossed India into Pakistan. USA could never stop the Maxicans entering USA despite using a lot of resources. And as for cross border terrorism, it is extremely foolish to think that Indian intelligence is not involved in similar tactics. And if they really are not, then they are morons.


  • Parvez
    Feb 7, 2013 - 4:03PM

    @Arindom: To get another perspective suggest you go to the Huffington Post site and dig out ‘ Truth or Consequence – Zero Dark Thirty ‘ by Michael Brenner ( Professor of International Affairs at U of Pittsburgh ) posted 24th Jan 2013…..makes for interesting reading.


  • majid
    Feb 7, 2013 - 4:25PM

    i agree with afzaal khan,,,


  • karma
    Feb 7, 2013 - 4:57PM

    which at any rate is riddled with factual inaccuracies — be displayed on the shelves?

    Yes indeed. Why let a story riddled with some factual inaccuracies, when you can peddle an outright lie to the nation?

    Like Kargil being a victory.
    Like Osama never being in Pakistan, or never being killed
    Like Kasab being an Indian
    Like Hafiz Saeed being a humanitarian

    No. Some factual inaccuracies are unacceptable – total lies it has to be.


  • Naresh
    Feb 7, 2013 - 7:21PM

    @Faisal: Pray that Pakistan stays the way it is, if it breaks up, India will be the next Pakistan. Just like turmoil in Afghanistan has destroyed Pakistan socially, politically and economically.
    I fully support your statement and conirm that an Unstable and Economically Weak Pakistan will be A NIGHTMARE FOR INDIA


  • Sudhar Jao
    Feb 7, 2013 - 8:39PM

    @Faisal –

    Yes, you are right that Indians are jubilant about the entire OBL episode in Pakistan. It has indelibly branded Pakistan as the place for spawning and hosting international terrorists.

    This is something India tried very hard to do diplomatically for years. But internationally, there was always some weird moral equivalence between India and Pakistan. More than anything else, this was what rankled India. To be equated to Pakistan.

    With India’s economic progress, the first part of the equality was broken. With the OBL operation, the Indian stance that Pakistan sponsored terrorists was vindicated. The equality was broken for good. Pakistan has no longer any international standing to seek parity with India for any reason. What decades of Indian diplomacy could not do, Pakistan did to itself in one fell swoop. So, yes we are ecstatic about this development.

    You also say – “if (Pakistan) it breaks up, India will be the next Pakistan.”.

    This is classical Pakistani diplomacy of holding a gun to it’s head and threatening to ruin our shirt with the split blood. We’re not scared, and frankly, don’t care. There’s sophisticated Israeli technology that guards our borders. If anything, we will spend on more ammunition to prevent any “fallout”.


  • Feb 7, 2013 - 9:04PM


    You misunderstand. I wish Pakistan succeeds and becomes another India, i.e., secular republic, growing economically.

    Above, I was just refuting your idea that chaos in Pakistan will move on to India. Why won’t it move on to Iran or China, why just India?

    Doesn’t make any sense!

    The reason I am saying this is to send the message, loud and clear, that no matter what happens to and in Pakistan, India will grow and be secure. I say this because there is a tendency in Pakistan to claim to India, if you don’t do this and that, you will get affected as well. That I see as Pakistan putting a gun to its temple and threatening suicide.

    If China and Iran are not threatened by Pakistan’s downward spiral, there is no reason why India should be.

    Infiltration from Pakistan into India cannot happen. USA and Mexico borders are not heavily militarised and infiltration is not taken as an act of war, but with India and Pakistan it is..

    USA-Mexico example is really poor. Probably North and South Korea example will suit better..


  • ishtiaq
    Feb 7, 2013 - 9:27PM

    Always writing about movies and dramas , he should start writing about the hollywood..


  • gp65.
    Feb 7, 2013 - 10:23PM

    @Faisal: “Karachi has over two million illegal Bengalis working in fishing industries, all of them crossed India into Pakistan”

    Are you sure they are illegal and ae ou sure they crossed over from India? Is it not most likely that they had come to Karachi before1971 and stayed on? After all the 180 million Muslims in India did not cross over from Pakistan but are people that simply stayed behind despite partition. Same thing with those Bengalis..


  • Arindom
    Feb 8, 2013 - 12:48AM

    Friend, you will perhaps find this incredulous – but I must add here ( given your wrong belief about my views) that I watched this film with a Pakistani friend, yes, a Pakistani friend! While I can’t say he liked the movie as much as I did, we did have a hearty argument over some beers after that!!


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