Protests in Pakistan sparked by Osama bin Laden’s killing have drawn smaller crowds than those over U.S. drone attacks, showing that the al-Qaeda leader failed to win broad support even amid widespread anti-American sentiment.
About 300 lawyers in their customary black suits and ties recited funeral prayers for bin Laden May 4 on the lawn of the High Court in Peshawar and protested what they called a violation of Pakistani territory. Hundreds of people gathered in the cities of Karachi, Rawalpindi and Quetta following the al-Qaeda leader’s killing on May 2 in Abbottabad, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Islamabad, the capital.
“In Pakistan, public perception isn’t in favor of al-Qaeda but it’s anti-American,” Rashid Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Sargodha in central Pakistan, said in a phone interview. “People from outside usually confuse one with another.”
U.S. Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said as far as he knows Pakistan hasn’t lodged any official protest over the raid or asked the Defense Department to reduce its almost 300 military personnel in the country.
“We have not been alerted to any new decisions about the size of our military personnel in Pakistan,” Lapan told reporters at the Pentagon today. The U.S. also hasn’t noticed any problems in getting its supplies through Pakistan on the way to Afghanistan, he said.
A protest in Peshawar last month against U.S. drone attacks on militants that have also killed civilians attracted 5,000 people, according to a report in The News. Newspaper editorials have been critical of the al-Qaeda leader, accusing him of spawning violence that has cost the lives of thousands of Pakistanis.
Bin Laden “has been a source of ideological motivation for some radical groups, but he never captured a reputation of a hero” among Pakistan’s 180 million people, Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam International University in Islamabad, said in a phone interview.
Support for bin Laden in Pakistan fell from 46 percent in 2003 to 18 percent last year, according to a Pew Global Attitudes survey. In a separate study in 2010, Pew reported that only 17 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable view of the U.S. And while 59 percent described America as an enemy, just 11 percent saw it as a partner.
The U.S. military says its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan is hindered by neighboring Pakistan’s failure to shut down safe havens for militants on its soil. Many U.S. drone attacks target the district of North Waziristan, which the U.S. says is home to both Taliban and al-Qaeda guerrillas.
Some Pakistani leaders have tried to draw a curtain on the killing of bin Laden, with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani saying May 4 in Paris it was time to “move on.” Others, like Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, have aimed criticism at the U.S.
He told reporters yesterday in Islamabad that military action that violates a country’s sovereignty raises legal and moral issues. “There are some red lines in our relationship, and these red lines need to be observed,” he said.
In the U.S., debate has focused on whether Pakistani officials helped bin Laden hide for years in one of their country’s main military centers. CIA director Leon Panetta, in a May 3 interview with Time magazine, said U.S. officials planning the raid “decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission” because “they might alert the targets.”
Senator Carl Levin and other U.S. lawmakers have called for a review of aid to Pakistan, which in fiscal 2010 rose to $4.35 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Some Pakistanis say the fact the U.S. was able to carry out a raid undetected in the heart of their country raises questions about the effectiveness of their own military.
“If the U.S. can come and target anybody on our soil, then who will stop India?” Waseem Ahmed, 44, a college teacher based in Rawalpindi, said yesterday, referring to the country’s long-time rival and neighbor with which it has fought three wars since 1947.
“There is big resentment in Pakistan following the U.S. operation,” Sargodha University’s Khan said. “People think Pakistan can’t defend its borders.”
While protests over bin Laden’s killing have been small, if “pressure builds on Pakistan internationally” over charges it hasn’t done enough to fight terrorism, religious parties will use it as a rallying point’’ against the country’s alliance with the U.S., Khan said.
Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s biggest religious party, plans to hold nationwide demonstrations today to protest the U.S. raid, leader Munawar Hasan said in a phone interview today. “Americans have flouted our sovereignty and freedom on such a big scale,” Hasan said.
While Jamaat has polled about 5 percent of the vote in elections, it carries influence “because of its effectiveness in mobilizing street power” and “its adeptness at using Pakistan’s Islamic identity” to win support, according to a January report by Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Militants linked to the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda may seek to target civilians or security services to avenge bin Laden’s death, Khan said. Suicide bombings and gun attacks have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and security force members since 2009 when the army launched offensives against militant strongholds.
Bin Laden wasn’t “simply an enemy of other countries; he and his ideology have exacted a stunning death toll in Pakistan over the last few years,” Pakistan’s English-language Dawn newspaper wrote in an editorial May 4. “Add to this the way he was killed, and embarrassment turns into deep shame.”