Unlike previous years, the third anniversary of the US raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad passed quietly on Friday. Residents of Bilal Town, the upscale locality that once housed Osama’s triple-storey mansion, did not witness any commemoration activities this year.
No party or group organised an anti-America rally either, probably for fear of inviting the wrath of the intelligence agencies or too much media exposure, claimed Zubair, a resident of Nariyan Mohallah.
He said last year there were people who arrived in the dead of the night at the site of the now-razed mansion and lit candles as a mark of respect. They also offered prayers for the deceased’s soul, he said.
“Hardly anybody visits the place now. The government could be behind the no-show as they do not want the place to become a shrine where terrorism can be glorified,” said a district government official requesting anonymity.
Following Osama’s killing on the night of May 1 and 2 in 2011, the high-rise mansion which housed the former al Qaeda chief for several years remained the centre of attention for local and international media till it was demolished in February 2012. Several journalists and other visitors were detained by authorities for trespassing or broadcasting without permission. Even the then Danish envoy and his wife faced brief detention by local police while trying to take pictures of the place. Once the Abbottabad Commission had completed several visits to the house in preparation for its yet-to-be-officially-released report, the government demolished the structure for fear of it attracting more attention and bringing disrepute. And thus ended the only symbol left to cast a light on of the most notorious terrorists in the world.
A boon for locals
After heavy machinery brought down the building, several residents moved the mansion’s debris, worth millions of rupees, to their houses to use as land fill. Moreover, the broken water pipelines helped nearby children, especially those of Afghan refugees living close by, to fetch water for their daily consumption.
After razing it to the ground and disposing the debris, the district revenue officer was instructed by his seniors that the piece of land measuring a little more than 6 kanals should be taken over, with its utility to be decided later.
While taking possession of the plot, officials said a notice for the general public was published asking the owner, if any, to submit documentary proof of his or her ownership of the plot with the revenue department within 15 days. As expected, nobody turned up claiming ownership rights. Initially, it was reported that the plot would be donated to the education department for the construction of a girls college or a campus of the Hazara University. But despite two years, the historic land is yet to be put to good use.
“The government should have decided much earlier if it wanted to get rid of the bitter memories of this place,” said Naeem Khan, a resident of an adjoining locality, adding the delay only reminds of the humiliation the country faced after the incident. At the moment, the site of the former world’s most wanted man serves as a mini cricket ground for the neighbourhood boys every evening.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2014.