With the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in what appears to be a covert American operation in the garrison town of Abbottabad, Pakistanis are in a state of deja vu. While the international community is caught in a state of disbelief that the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding inside Pakistan, a country known as the “front-line state” in the war against terror, Islamabad has chosen a totally different path to respond to this embarrassing episode.
In the midst of constant and strong-worded demands, Pakistan is being asked to provide an explanation to the world community about Bin Laden’s five-year long safe hideout at a location situated less than one hundred kilometers from the country’s capital.
The Pakistani national media, on its part, is not seeking similar desperate questions from their government. Instead, the Urdu media, which is responsible for informing and educating 90% of the country’s population, are painting Bin Laden as the greatest martyr of our times.
The majority conservatives and the tiny western-educated minority liberals are once again at an eyeball-to-eyeball contact. Bin Laden’s killing has sharply divided both the segments of the society similar to a situation that was seen in the aftermath of the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the liberal governor of the country’s largest province.
Taseer’s security guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, had shot him down in the country’s highly-guarded capital, Islamabad, for the former’s liberal views and commitment to the rights of the religious minorities living inside Pakistan. Soon after Taseer’s murder, the national media predominantly sided with the murderer until he transformed into sort of a national hero.
Now the Pakistani Urdu media have voluntarily assumed the onus of depicting Bin Laden as a martyr and a great hero.
Renowned talk-show host Hamid Mir, the only journalist who interviewed Bin Laden after 9/11, insisted in an article in the country’s most circulated Urdu language newspaper, Jang, that the latter would continue to haunt the “scared Americans” even after his killing.
“Osama is still smiling after his death,” he glorified the Arab billionaire’s struggle, “Al-Qaeda has been provided one such martyr who was feared by the world’s most powerful army.”
Mir, often known for his leaning toward the country’s Right, feared that India would possibly carry out a similar operation inside Pakistan in the future to hunt down underworld don Daoowd Ibrahim and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the head of Jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which supposedly masterminded the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
Another veteran columnist Irfan Siddiqui termed Bin Laden an “Arab prince” who spent “several sleepless years” to resist the “Pharaoh of our time” (read USA).
In an editorial, Daily Express, another influential Urdu newspaper, saw the whole episode in an editorial as a mere “American drama” which is destined to force Pakistan to follow “western dictations”. The newspaper argued that Bin Laden had been killed much earlier and now the U.S was trying to mount pressure on Pakistan.
According to Daily Ummat, Bin Laden’s arrest has now emboldened “Anti-Pakistan governments” in New Delhi and Kabul to provided the anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan an opportunity to get access to the country’s nukes under the pretext of the intelligence agencies’ failures.
“The government and the military must be alerted,” warned the Karachi-based newspaper,” because there is no shortage of people in our ranks who are ready for a sellout of the country in return of personal benefits and a few coins.”
The overreaction of the Pakistani Urdu media is not surprising. In fact, the Urdu press is notorious for feeding its readers and viewers with conspiracy theories and preaching pseudo-patriotism.
At a time when Islamabad is expected to prove it’s total disassociation with Al-Qaeda and other radical groups, the Urdu media is further pushing the country in a state of denial. The ever-increasing influence of conservative opinion makers is likely to convince many Pakistanis that the whole world has ganged up to conspire against them in order to deprive them of their nuclear capability.