Pakistan turns on the military who brought them global shame

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's powerful military establishment is facing rare searching questions from a deeply sceptical population saddened by how it is being perceived by the rest of the world, and angry at those it feels are responsible for helping create the situation.

From the streets of Abbottabad to the offices of Pakistan's politicians, the same question is asked – why did Pakistan not know about Bin Laden's whereabouts? On Wednesday evening, the bulk of Pakistan's cable news channels, usually loath to criticise the army and its intelligence agency, were trying to make sense of the "national embarrassment" that Pakistan is facing.

"Not since Abdul Qadeer Khan confessed to transferring nuclear technology to Iran and Libya has Pakistan suffered such embarrassment," read the lead editorial in Dawn. "Right under our military's nose was found Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man of the decade, living in relative comfort in a compound with stringent security that somehow went unnoticed."

Pakistanis often avoid making such comments in public, or phrase their criticism delicately. Politicians with strong private views about the role of the military in the country's politics, or its history of covertly backing jihadist groups, will often sanitise their remarks out of fear.

"Pakistan has become the laughing stock of the world," said Ejaz Haider, a well-respected security analyst. "And after this particular incident, the security establishment has to answer many questions related both to their intentions and capabilities."

There is also a fear that the world will forget Pakistan's sacrifices in the fight against militancy. "Let's not forget that al-Qa'ida declared war on Pakistan," says Shehrbano Taseer, a journalist and daughter of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. "Because of Bin Laden and his beastly followers, tens of thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians and soldiers have been killed. Because of that ideology, I lost my father."

Among the religious right and hyper-nationalist sections of the media, there is a deep sense of denial. Wild conspiracy theories are being spun to explain away the official count. "I think this is a drama," said Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman, a leading member of Pakistan's largest Islamist party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan.

There were some who regard Bin Laden as a hero, but their numbers are few. Some 70 lawyers staged a small demonstration against the American raid in Abbottabad yesterday. A day earlier, Lashker-e-Taiba, an anti-Indian militant group, held funeral prayers for Bin Laden, describing him as a "martyr".