5 May 2011

The view from 'Bin Laden Town'

Lindsey Hilsum writes from Abbottabad’s “Bin Laden Town” on the impact of the killing of Osama bin Laden on US/Pakistani relations.

The suburb of Abbottabad where the world’s most wanted man lived for five years before his killing is called Bilal Town. Or it was. Now someone has spray-painted in red on the walls leading in: Bin Laden Town.

I guess that’s how it may be known from now onwards. Dozens of tourists showed up at the compound today, mostly from nearby, but a few from further afield. Everyone was curious, but seemingly about the international media as much as about Osama bin Laden.

“You’re British?” asked one young man. “Did you go to William and Kate’s marriage?

At some point soon, the Pakistani authorities are likely to bulldoze the house. The last thing they want is it becoming a shrine or a museum. Once the foreign journalists have left, I suspect they’ll move in and raze it to the ground, hoping that will also erase the shame the country feels about the incident.

At first I thought the embarassment was about bin Laden living for so long under the noses of the Pakistani military intelligence. It suggested they were either incompetent or complicit. But now I understand that they’re far more embarrassed about the fact that the American helicopters flew into Pakistani airspace undetected, revealing the weakness of their air defences. It didn’t help when some Indian general said maybe they could just fly in too.

Hence the bluster of a Pakistani military statement today.

“Any similar action, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will warrant a review on the level of military / intelligence cooperation with the United States,” it said.

The Americans have also been making noises about scaling down relations, because they don’t trust the Pakistanis. That’s why they didn’t give any warning about the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

Read more in the Channel 4 News Special Report on Osama bin Laden’s death

For the moment, the US need the Pakistanis for supply routes into Afghanistan. But in July US troops will start to withdraw. The killing of bin Laden gives President Obama a way to shape a new narrative. He can say, now Osama is dead, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan is an Afghan not an international problem. The job is done so Pakistan is of less strategic importance.

The Pakistani Government, and many Pakistanis, say they want the Americans to leave the region. Well, they might do just that.

Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter: @lindseyhilsum