It is inconceivable that Osama bin Laden lived in a compound in Abbottabad without knowledge of the ISI – the Pakistan intelligence agency. Or was OBL so clever as to figure that no one would suspect him of hiding in a town, so close to Islamabad, having the biggest presence of active, and retired, military personnel in the country. Either way, Pakistanis are justified in feeling humiliated, deceived and demoralised and it is unfortunate that Abbottabad, a leafy garrison town founded by one Major John Abbott in 1847, is now associated with the name Bin Laden.
I visited it when I was writing a book on Pakistan. A friend in Rawalpindi had an auntie who lived there in a bungalow surrounded by climbing roses and we drove up for afternoon tea. Begum Viqar Noon, the late chairman of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, also had a residence in Abbottabad and were she alive today, I’m sure that she would be distressed to know of its link with the perpetrator of 9/11.
On a recent flight to Australia, a young Pakistani woman in full hijab seated next to me told me her father was a retired Major-general and the family home was in Abbottabad. ‘You must visit us when next you come to Pakistan,’ she said.
‘I would love to,’ I told her – Abbottabad is one of my favourite places in Pakistan, but before we could exchange addresses, we lost each other in the chaotic baggage reclaim area at Sydney airport.
Abbottabad of course has lost its innocence and it is to be hoped that the Bin Laden house will be demolished leaving nothing for the curious to see.
ps. Thankfully the building was bulldozed in 2012.