One year ago, one of the most expensive manhunts in history ended when U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The secret U.S. raid and the exposure of bin Laden’s hideout near Pakistan’s premier military academy jolted relations between Washington and Islamabad.
Bin Laden’s last abode in the heart of the garrison town of Abbottabad now lies in ruins.
His former next-door neighbors recall the fateful night when U.S. Special Forces killed the fugitive al-Qaida leader.
“I was out on my terrace after one of the helicopters crashed and I saw another one flying over the mansion and then descended swiftly along the perimeter. The wind blew in the main door of my house,” the neighbor recalled.
After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the al-Qaida chief spent much of his time on the run in Pakistan before moving to what locals called the “Waziristan mansion.” For five years, bin Laden, his three wives and their children lived here.
After months of international interest in the bin Laden home, Pakistani authorities razed the building in February. But former army officer Shaukat Qadir, one of the few investigators given access to the compound, says it will be harder to remove bin Laden’s ideological legacy.
“Pakistani Taliban has their ties with al-Qaida. We also know that al-Qaida still has a lot of following in Punjab, particularly in southern Punjab. So we have a problem, Pakistanis have a problem with al-Qaida,” said former military officer Shaukat Qadir.
Critics say Pakistani authorities often blame outside forces for domestic security problems while ignoring pro-military religious groups.
In the months after the U.S. raid, religious groups rallied behind the military, which called the assault a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
In a VOA interview late last year, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter defended the operation as a benefit to both countries.
“The attack against bin Laden was not an attack against Pakistan. It was an attack on a common enemy. And that what we need to do to right any sense of unhappiness on the Pakistani side is to work even more closely together,” said Munter.
Diplomatic talks in the months that followed struggled to regain trust. Relations fell to a new low when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border U.S. airstrike.
Recently there have been renewed efforts to mend ties as the U.S. prepares to draw down its forces in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think it would be the same the way they were before May 2nd or last year. But it has to be improved. If they cannot work together, the exit strategy of Obama, I don’t think that it will be materialized,” said Asad Munir, a former officer of the Pakistani spy agency.
Analysts say that now that bin Laden is gone, the main security challenges are Pakistani and Afghan groups that idealize the al-Qaida leader as a symbol of Muslim resistance to the West.