Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A point about Pakistan

A lot of people have been questioning Pakistan's knowledge regarding bin Laden and his whereabouts, since it seems he was hiding mere miles from a major metropolis in Pakistan, in a compound that was part of a large neighborhood full of government and law enforcement officials.

I will concede that there are likely those who knew where bin Laden was hiding and chose not to report it. There are likely government officials who concealed information that may have led to bin Laden's death much sooner. For those who have kept this secret, I have no sympathy.

However, it should not be something that we use to attack the entire Pakistani government. For one thing, it is unlikely that everyone knew where bin Laden was. We have gotten a lot of support from Pakistan recently, and I find it hard to believe that we were kept in the dark because of them.

Secondly, there is a cultural aspect that may explain how bin Laden was able to stay hidden so long. In his book Captive, Jere Van Dyk describes the tribal beliefs that have to do with guests in one's house. In the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the people who live there are a very protective and proud people. They believe that any person in their house, even a captive like Van Dyk was, must be protected from harm. Many years ago, when bin Laden was residing in the house of a Pakistani official, that official refused to give him up because he was a guest. In that culture, guests and prisoners are protected to the death as a point of honor. They are fed well, given water and clothes and allowed to keep themselves clean and comfortable.

It is not hard to understand how bin Laden escaped notice. He has been hiding from the world for years. Those he stayed with had a cultural obligation to hide him, no matter his notoriety. It might not make sense to us, living in a country where we would be arrested for aiding a wanted criminal if we were to hide them in our homes, but to the Pakistani people it is a matter of the highest honor.

I would highly recommend the book Captive as a way to gain a new perspective on the Afghan culture and how it connects to the way bin Laden hid himself in plain sight as a guest in a person's home.

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