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Pakistan's Pashtuns React To Bin Laden's Death

Police, reporters, and local residents gather outside Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad following his death.
Pashtun nationalist leaders in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan regions are reacting positively to the news that Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden has been killed. Many social and political leaders in the region near the border with Afghanistan are hoping that it will force Pakistan’s military establishment to change its policy of "strategic depth" in the Pashtun-dominated tribal belt.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial minister for information, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that bin Laden's elimination was "a really a positive development" because "the symbol of global terrorism had been eliminated."

“Terrorism is a mindset, and we have to work hard to defeat this mindset," Hussain said. "Osama was the main figure behind the network that funded terrorism; therefore it will make a lot of difference."

Hussain, who lost his only son in July 2010 in a Taliban attack in northwestern Pakistan, represents the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) that came under attacks from pro-Al-Qaeda Taliban militants. According to the Bacha Khan Research Center, the Taliban has killed more than 400 ANP workers since 2006.

Raza Muhammad Raza, a former senator and spokesman of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), noted that in the decade since the September 11, 2001, attacks, Pakistani officials had stuck to the claim that bin Laden was either in Afghanistan or in the rugged mountains in the tribal regions on the border.

"But he was found and killed in Abbottabad, close to the training academy of Pakistan’s Army," Raza told RFE/RL. "If Pakistan can assure the world and its neighbors that it will not support and protect terrorist forces anymore, it can avoid serious challenges to peace and prosperity in the region.

"The intelligence service and the army never follow the policies of the elected governments," he continued. "Instead, they pursued their own so-called strategic interests. It is high time that these policies are altogether reviewed and completely changed. Pakistan has reached a dangerous turn."

The decade-long war in the Pashtun areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has left hundreds killed and wounded and thousands more displaced. Since 2001, religious parties like Jamiat Ulam-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamat-e-Islami (JI) have fanned anti-Americanism and regularly held large-scale protests against the United States in the tribal areas and all major cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The religious leadership has kept largely silent on the bin Laden operation, avoiding public expressions on the events of May 2. An interesting debate has emerged, however, after Mufti Kifayatullah, a leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazi (JUI-F), called bin Laden "a martyr and a hero" at a gathering of the local assembly. He received a very strong reaction from other assembly members.

In response, Bashir Bilour, senior minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, counted the number of civilians, police, and security personnel killed in terrorist attacks in the province adding, "Pashtuns did not know about suicide attacks. It was Arabs under the leadership of Osama who gave suicide jackets to the Pashtun children."

Bilour said bin Laden and his supporters had "killed the mothers, sisters, and children of the Pashtuns" and that he felt a sense of relief at the news of bin Laden's death.

-- Shaheen Buneri