Monday, May 2, was a historic day for America, the day when its most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, was finally found and killed by the US army. While the news was welcomed by leaders around the world, it has been harder to digest in Pakistan. There are conspiracy theorists and sceptics everywhere, including in the US, but flicking through the channels on Pakistani television and listening to the many journalists and security experts offer their analysis, it is apparent that there is considerable scepticism in Pakistan over whether Bin Laden has really been killed.
Many want to see footage of his burial as proof and there are still who are not even willing to blame Bin Laden for the suicide attacks on civilians, mosques and the Pakistani forces. Several of those defending him were people who had met him in the past and channels were showing their photographs with him. Osama was their hero in spite of the fact that he effectively declared war on Pakistan with terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children. Sadly, Bin Laden is likely to remain a hero for a long time among those Pakistanis who considered him to be a “soldier of Allah” waging legitimate jihad against the US. To the rest of the world, Bin Laden was and forever will be a terrorist, but in Pakistan emotions against the US have been running high for a very long time and the perspective is somewhat different.
That aside, the killing of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil has raised many concerns. The Pakistani foreign office – and the US confirmed it – stated that it was not aware of the attack on Bin Laden’s compound. Questions are being asked as to why the US did not inform the Pakistani government of its operation, but there are also obvious questions about our national security and the ability of our army to protect the country when it is not even aware of a major military operation taking place a short distance away from one of its top military academies.
The media has been further critical of the government’s reticence since news of Bin Laden’s death broke. Instead of coming before journalists and the cameras to clarify the situation, government officials have been nowhere to be seen, leaving many of us wondering whether they even know what’s going on.
The most important question that everyone is asking, however, is whether bin Laden’s death will reduce terrorism. I have my doubts. An oft repeated statement in the last few days has been that the world is a safer place without him. That may turn out to be true in the long run but, in terms of the foreseeable future, the threat of a terrorist attack on the US, UK and other parts of the western world is severe.
Lots are already being drawn as to who will be Bin Laden’s likely successor, with Ayman Al-Zawahiri the emerging favourite. Certainly the indications are that al-Qaeda, while perhaps deflected momentarily by the death of its leader, is nowhere close to forsaking its goal of establishing an Islamic world order by any and every means possible. This not only has implications for the western world – al-Qaeda’s most loathed enemy – but for Pakistan and majority Muslim countries too. Ayman Al-Zawahiri said in his book, The Morning and the Lamp, that Pakistan and its constitution are un-Islamic, and he is wanted not only by the US, but by the Egyptian government too.
Despite having nothing to do with Bin Laden’s death, Pakistani Christians are also now extremely fearful of a backlash. If the Taliban attack their churches and properties, it would come as no surprise as Christians have tended to be the targets for acts of vengeance whenever the West has invaded a Muslim country. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamic militants launched deadly attacks on churches and institutions. Christians were killed in cold blood as they worshipped or went about their daily business. There will no doubt be many more as the war on terror continues.
Indeed, the Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore, Lawrence Saldanha, expressed grave concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s Christians. “Christians could face a backlash and we are a soft target as they cannot attack America. We demand security. The government should control any retaliation,” he said.
The Church in Pakistan is scared and its leaders are crying out for greater security, particularly around churches. Even as I write this article, Christians are facing an extremely precarious situation in Gujranwala, where tensions are threatening to boil over after Christians were accused of burning copies of the Koran. Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh were taken into police custody for questioning and found guilty. Muslims have reacted angrily, holding protests and vandalising Christian homes and a school. Some 3,000 Christians have fled the area in fear for their lives and the police have utterly failed to bring the situation under control.
The killing of Bin Laden will only increase hatred towards the US and towards Pakistani Christians, who are automatically responsible for the actions of the West simply because they share the same faith. It is my sincere hope that Christians in Pakistan are not made the scapegoats once again, as the archbishop fears, and that the world does indeed become safer and more peaceful without Osama bin Laden.