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Revisited

Abbottabad: Life after bin Laden

Three years ago, US special forces killed Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda's former leader was hiding in Abbottabad, a Pakistani town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. The compound where he was living was demolished, but can Abbottabad move on?

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In Abbottabad, ‘the bin Laden town', as its now known world over, bin Laden is something that the city’s inhabitants do not want to talk about.

In a bid to erase his memory, the government of Pakistan – perhaps also embarrassed by the fact that he was found living so near Pakistan’s premier military college – demolished his last known hideout, a few months after he was found and killed by US special forces in May 2011.

In revisiting the city, we meet with local journalists, Islamists and businessmen – whose lives changed after bin Laden was discovered in their city.

The journalist we meet was the first on the spot when the American helicopters hovered above bin Laden's compound to carry out their deadly mission. For him, even if bin Laden was there – the fact that no one ever saw him raises many questions. 

But perhaps it is because it is dangerous to talk about bin Laden openly in this city…

On our first day of filming, men from the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI - known for its ruthless efficiency - detained us for shooting without official permission. They eventually let us go, after asking us to ‘delete’ what we had filmed. And warned us not to come back. We were informed that if they caught us in the city again, we would be in serious trouble.

Abbottabad was always a garrison city – the majority of it occupied by serving or retired Pakistani military officials – and with its scenery and good climate – it is a famous summer spot for many Pakistanis who head to Abbottabad to escape the oppressive heat in June, July and August.

It is this that businessmen like Mazhar, who owns a property business in the city, market to the general public. We talk to him about how the city went from being a holiday hotspot to the location on the global terrorism map.

But not everyone keeps quiet about the bin Laden or the US raid which upset their long-term ally – the Pakistani government and the army. However, the Islamists, like Jamat-e-Islami – Pakistan’s largest religious political party – continue to use this incident to garner support for their cause. We meet their men in the city who have gained influence since bin Laden's death. It is an alarming sign for those who want to improve the image of the Pakistan – a country currently known as a global hub for terrorism.

 

 

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