While Pakistanis sneer at “Zero Dark Thirty,” the American film version of how U.S. Navy Seals captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani government has its own plans for the city where the al Qaeda chieftain lived for several years.
Officials said they plan to construct an amusement park (including a zoo, restaurants, sports facilities and other amenities, even an artificial waterfall) in Abbottabad, the city in the northern part of the country where bin Laden was found and assassinated almost two years ago.
The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said they expect the complex to attract tourists but denied that it was an attempt to erase the negative image associated with bin Laden’s long-term residence in the town.
“The amusement city will be built on 50 acres in the first phase but later will be extended to 500 acres,” Syed Aqil Shah, the provincial minister for tourism and sports, told Agence France Presse.
“It will have a heritage park, wildlife zoo, food [vendors], adventure and paragliding clubs, waterfalls and jogging tracks.
“This project has nothing to do with Osama bin Laden," he stressed. "We are working to promote tourism and amusement facilities.”
Shah also said that work on the project, which will commence in late February or early March, may take up to eight years to finish.
Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper, reported that the Abbottabad project is only part of a larger endeavor by local officials to boost tourism in the area. Other plans call for the building of a water sports center in Khanpur-Haripur and an eco-tourism facility in Naran-Kaghan.
These projects have so far received 3 billion Pakistani rupees (about $31 million) in government fund allocations, although private investments will also be encouraged.
Located just north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Abbottabad is also home to the elite Pakistan Military Academy. The discovery of bin Laden living peacefully in a fortified compound so close to the highest corridors of power in Pakistan raised grave questions about al Qaeda’s relationship with the Pakistani military and intelligence community.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have never recovered since bin Laden was shot to death by U.S. Special Forces in May 2011. Some Washington officials have accused Pakistani authorities either of complicity in bin Laden’s welfare or incompetence in their fight against terrorism.
Pakistani military figures were also embarrassed by the episode, given that they were kept in the dark about the U.S. mission to kill bin Laden.
By any measure, Abbottabad represents a serious stain on the Pakistani psyche.
The actual compound that bin Laden and his various wives and children lived in was torn down about one year ago out of concerns that the residence could become a shrine of sorts to al Qaeda sympathizers.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.