In the second week of April, my friend John and I set off hitchhiking the Karakoram highway up into the mountains of Northern Pakistan. John is English, and whenever mention of prospective tea was made, he jumped up in his seat and his eyes alit at the proposition. As always in Muslim countries, our drivers vied with each other for being the most forthcoming and hospitable, and such overtures of a shared cuppa were numerous. But we had a long road, so we could not accept all invitations, and I had to be firm with my friend and tell him we could still have tea further down the road, higher up the mountains, once the sun had set.
One of the many settlements we passed through fighting off such invitations to tea was a relatively large but tranquil town set in a rather wide, verdant valley, a town called Abbotabad, the place in which Bin Laden got killed three weeks later.
The US don't publish the pictures of the famous man shot in the head for fear of fueling extremists instigating others to more crimes, but in Pakistan this makes that people simply don't believe Bin Laden died that day. (Indeed, it is easy to believe Bin Laden is still alive in this country, a younger version of the man just showed me the way this morning...)
One theory is that he was taken alive and is now in US custody. Another, more outlandish one, that he did not exist at all, but was impersonated by an actor. The most common one is that he died years ago. It is common knowledge that Bin Laden was on dialysis since the 1980s, and in a very poor state of health for many years.
One story that hit the national newspapers and that many Pakistanis still remember is when in 2005 and 2006 two doctors got kidnapped from Lahore hospital, and smuggled into Afghanistan to treat Osama Bin Laden. One got subsequently killed, the other lived to tell his story. He said Bin Laden was in such a weak condition the doctor gave him hardly a few months more to survive.
This last theory is the one my current driver propounds: "To our eyes it's clear the story is one made up by US media: In the West, where neighbours don't even know each others' names, hiding someone like Osama Bin Laden in a house like this, in a town like this, may have been possible. But in our culture this is just impossible. People go in and out of each others' houses all day, you know. Everyone knows what their neighbours are up to at any given time!"
On the television that evening I see the Pakistani General Staff at a meeting. They all look pretty doltish in their uniforms, feeling more than awkward at the international embarrassment.
The Pakistani public however feel more indignation at the violation of their national sovereignty that the US operation represents, than embarrassment at their own army's failures.
A much repeated mantra in Pakistan is that the US are at the origin of all the country' woes. With my basic Persian, a language showing much similarity to Pakistani national language Urdu and also spelt in the same Arabic-derived alphabet, I have been able to decipher graffiti on the walls here and there spelling out the sentence : "Murdabad Amriki" - "Death to America". Seeing outside influence as the culprit of all one's country's deficiency is a common self-deception seen elsewhere in the extended Middle East (for example in Turkey...). However, in one way Pakistanis are right when they say they are the principal sufferers of some of American policies in the world: The Taliban cannot reach the US, so they attack the collaborating Pakistani government, claiming innocent Pakistani lives on the way; and indeed another bomb blast claiming more than 10 lives in Peshawar was perpetrated by Taliban only ten days after Ben Laden's death.