The Abbottabad you don’t get to see
With their American accents and attitudes, you will not be able to single out these three guys from the rest if they were sitting in a coffee shop in California (an airport queue is a different matter though). They have spent a significant part of their lives in the US or the UK, and probably came back to Pakistan to attend medical school – a cheap and logical option for many. The low tuition fees means that don’t need to take out student loans, and affiliations of the Pakistani medical schools with American and British medical schools means these students can usually get a transfer in the last few semesters – or, leave for specialization elsewhere. They are just three of the many regular patrons of Coffity (or ‘the coffee shop’ as I tend to call it), the small coffee shop that I started in Abbottabad after craving for a few months for real espresso shots. Every few days, I am pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of the people that live in Abbottabad and visit the coffee shop.
Five days after the Operation Geronimo, I had a little chat with these students and asked them about the impact that the OBL incident has had on their lives. The response was the ‘nobody really cares’ that I already expected, but when I asked if any of the dozens of international journalists had approached them and covered their campus life (colleges and universities cover a significant portion of the Abbottabad real estate), the answer was a surprising ‘No’. To loosely quote them, the journalists were more interested in getting to the 600 odd anti-American protestors that gathered after the friday prayers to chant and shout their hearts out against the American invasions, than they were to cover the everyday life that was barely disrupted by this incident. These students also wanted to share their opinion about OBL and how their lives have (not) changed at all, but they were never given a chance to do that, despite being part of an important segment of the Abbottabad population – students. People may not know this, but Abbottabad is more an academic town than it is a military town – even the PMA is an ‘Academy’.
I do understand that menacing shots (from a few inches below their chins, just to get as much of the beards as possible) of open-mouthed, bearded protestors wearing caps is always good raw material for interesting news, but our media should realize that they usually also have Arab (yes, you heard me right, Arab!) students studying in these medical colleges, along with dozens, if not hundreds, of Afghan students.
So if you are an international journalist who is still in Abbottabad and waiting for the demolition of ‘the compound’, do try to go and visit AMC, FMC and any other *MC in Abbottabad and talk to a few students. Their worldview might be slightly different from that of an average Pakistani stereo-type, and their accents may be too American (or British) to mark them as a Pakistani when they open their mouths, but who knows, what they have to say might actually be newsworthy to some people – people who are tired of watching beards and banners all the time.