Media madness: Revisiting Osama’s ‘fortress mansion’

Published: May 4, 2011

On your left we have the 'mansion' Osama was apparently living in and on your right what a mansion should actually look like.

As details come pouring in about the OBL raid and the secret hideaway readers and viewers around the world are getting increasingly baffled.

‘How is it possible that the Pakistani government was unaware of this massive mansion with fortress-like walls?’ ask puzzled writers, bloggers and heads of state.

‘Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do!’

And that, too, in a garrison area close to the country’s version of a ‘Sandhurst’-like military academy, as London’s entertaining The Daily Mail puts it.

It’s time we helped out the international media with some background information, before public perception of Pakistanis falls to ‘big, fat liars’ (well, at least we’re not quite fat). You see, here in Pakistan, it’s much easier to blend in by living in a big old house than to seek out a ‘cave’ for a secret hideaway.

Here’s why:

Compounds: A lot of Pakistanis who aren’t multi-millionaires live in compounds. With extended families and shared utilities, staff and expenditures, it’s actually an economical alternative to independent housing. We even have terms for it, ‘joint family’ living, complete with ‘annexes’ or ‘sections.’ So OBL’s “compound” is not a rarity here.

Mansions: Although there are some stunning homes and estates in the country designed by contemporary architects, we certainly don’t call our large houses “mansions.” The reason for this is that many of the large houses aren’t of the caliber evoked by the word “mansion” i.e. straight out of MTV’s Cribs or Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous or an Oil sheikh’s palatial abode. The majority of large homes in Pakistan are outdated old houses. OBL’s ramshackle home and his threadbare, bloodstained room shown in news reports is a typical example of such a house; hardly a “millionaire’s” home or a “luxury mansion” as termed by so many sources.

High walls: Except for people who live in army-regulated residential DHA areas (who must conform to army regulations), most of us pretty much have insanely high walls and love to guard our privacy—no permits needed, though you need NOCs (‘No Objection Certificates’) for much everything else in life. OBL’s “high walls” and “fortress” style property wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, though a low picket fence certainly would have.

Abbottabad: Like the English name, Abbott, it’s pronounced Ab-butt-ä-bäd, not Ab-bought-a-bad, as pronounced by so many news anchors trying to enunciate what they think is an Urdu name. The city was named after Major James Abbott, while other Anglicized city names include Jacobabad (for Major John Jacob) and Sukkur for Lt. Sucker (kidding on that one, it means ‘superior’ in Sindhi). Obama might hand news anchors a pronunciation guide, as the first US President in history to say “Päkistän” instead of “Paxtan.” Now, Abbottabad is neither an Islamabad suburb nor a high-end “resort,” but it has scenic views, is close to pretty Nathiagali, and has a rich Hazara history.  And by now it’s probably been Googled and tweeted more than Lady Gaga.

No phone lines, no internet and garbage burnt instead of collected: Add to this electricity outages, scanty supply of water and gas  and you have the typical Pakistani household.

$25 million: The price for turning in OBL—“Sigh…” (the collective sound of 25 million sighs from would-be bounty hunters).

91,000: the number of twitter followers that @ReallyVirtual (IT professional Sohaib Athar) got the same afternoon when he unknowingly tweeted hearing a helicopter in Abbottabad (part of the OBL raid).

laleen.khan

Laaleen Khan

An international columnist and media consultant who Tweets @laaleen

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Kamran Yusuf

    “On your left we have the ‘mansion’ Osama was apparently living in and on your left what a mansion should actually look like.”

    What about the picture on my right :P Recommend

  • Henna

    Yeah, here in amreeka they’re making it sound like he lived in a palace. Looks like my grandpa’s old house, really.Recommend

  • yaarku

    loved the sucker jokeRecommend

  • Ali Syed

    @Kamran Yusuf

    Thanks for pointing out the mistake on the caption. It has been fixed.

    Ali (Web desk)

    Recommend

  • Jibran Khan

    Brill article, I was surprised myself when I read that this compound (so called Mansion) was worth £600,000 in London newspapers. I was like I have house that big in Pakistan but it’s not worth flipping half a million £.

    Good joke about sucker and sukhur. They all know that the city was named named after James Abbott but just to make it more exciting, they were making that accent.

    Anyway, Where are pictures and footage which obama and hillary clinton were looking at so closely…Recommend

  • faraz

    It wasnt an old house, it was constructed in 2005. 10 kanal houses arent common in Pakistan, large joint families cant afford a house bigger than 2-4 kanal. This compound would have easily cost over 10 Crore. High walls with barb wires are errected in house owned by rich influential men. 10 kanal house without phone lines is a typical pakistani household; are you kidding meRecommend

  • Happy Man

    Hahaha… PAXTAN… Too good. :)
    Always loved your articles. Two Thumbs up!!!!Recommend

  • Fahad Hameed

    well, I guess pak authorities knew, thats if i link together a couple of scenarios,
    COAS Gen. Kiyani was in a meeting with the CM Punjab and the PML-N, so far in my knowledge released any protesting press release, also that radar if jammed, there are more then one radar on the ground, inclusive of 6 AWACS (air bourn early warning and control system) in the air, any aerial activity is know, and so is i think for drones that the drone activity from the take off ( if inside pakistan is not only known but is actionable depending on political will.Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    So glad no people from Sukkur (Sukkurites? Sukkurs?) got offended by the joke :)
    Though Pres. Obama referred to OBL’s house as a “compound,” others added “luxury” and “mansion” to their reports to make the raid sound more like a scene from “24″ (I can just picture it now–
    ’24, Season 100: Jack Bauer Saves (the supposedly fictitious) Paxton-abad.’Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    @Kamran Yusuf:
    OBL’S wannabe Wife lols…

    Anyway Nice read……….. this time..Recommend

  • Amer

    @Laaleen: You really hit the nail on the head! Love your blogs recently, they are much better then the ones you wrote earlier. Recommend

  • Laila

    I can declare this to be the best “OBL aka Geronimo EKIA” article that’s out there! Having OBL in the backyard of PMA Kakul is no big deal for Pakistanis but listening to everyother news anchor saying Ab-bought-a-bad and PAXTAN, now that’s plain annoying!! Recommend

  • Humanity

    @Laleen bibi

    Persistent denial is an art form. It make the mind spin, and spin, and spin, till the earth collapses from being a sphere into a flat circle. Girl, you seem to to know more about Amreekan shows than Amreekans themselves. Despite the attempted ridicule, wanna be Amreekan profile, the love of every thing Ameekan, and the addiction with Ameekan shows ooze from every word of this lame attempt of refusing to face the facts that really matter.

    Small minds get perturbed with references to Paxtan and Abboughtabad and a big house versus a real mansion, Big minds ought to worry about what Paxtan wanna be if and when it grows up. Its been sixty plus years and the world is counting. Grow up and accept the fact that the golden goose tucked in the secure meadow was plucked away from the under the nose of the the goose keepers.

    What is the next scheme to play victim and extend begging bowls?Recommend

  • Humanity

    @Laleen bibi,

    P.S to the previous comment: Maybe, not for you but the house the golden goose was hidden in is a mansion for perhaps 90% of the world population. Not every body has the the same yardstick to define a mansion. It is all relative, bibi.Recommend

  • http://www.noor-ul-ainhanif.blogspot.com Noor-ul-ain Hanif

    Great article!Recommend

  • http://www.seedabrain.blogspot.com yazi

    thanks for such a great article, US media ill informing the facts as a conspiracy against Pakistan. Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone :)
    @Humanity-yes, I absolutely love Hollywood & int’l pop culture (isn’t it obvious?). Sorry, don’t understand anything else you wrote. Try reading the overtly political blogs. Mine tend to be tongue-in-cheek social commentary, not meant to be appreciated by everyone. Recommend

  • parvez

    This was a departure from your usual girlie blogs and a really good one at that. On the $ 25 million bounty if someone does some digging you never know, you may have stuff for another tongue-in-cheek blog.Recommend

  • Humanity

    @Laaleen bibi

    Whatever floats your boat, the one consistent feature is that Paxtanis have seemingly an inexhaustible stamina for status quo and an unsurmountable indifference towards an unaccountable, incompetent, and acquiescent state of existence. <== This statement should not be hard to decipher and relate to.

    Keep on living in Hollywood mansions dream land, and good luck with your tongue-in-cheek, social commentary, whatever that means. Unfortunately, it only reflects a myopic view of the event and proves the assertion of an obtuse mind set. Never mind, you already acknowledged it is hard for you to decipher the non-Hollywood mumbo jumbo. No hard feeling, girl! :):)Recommend

  • rofl

    Compared to the neighborhood houses, it is a mansion. It is about eight times bigger than neighbor hood compounds, with barbed wire , security, watch tower and closed circuit cameras – but still no internet and phone connection , note that phone is a very common commodity nowadays..

    You are in denial , but the fact is that the worlds most wanted terrorist was living in a big house inside your country – very near to your Military establishments, living comfortably until he is shot dead without your knowledge & permission.

    Pakistan protected a terrorist, who even killed her own people, provided him safe haven all this years – now the whole world knows it.Recommend

  • SomeOne

    Is it me or this so called “mansion” looks like any regular house in Pakistan? Perhaps the confusion is that large size of house is probably worth million dollars in US for sure. Pictures from inside kind of implied that the occupant weren’t really living in luxury, no much of fancy furniture or decoration. High privacy walls kind of overblown, people tend to have high walls to sort of avoid thieves, so even that might not make it suspicious complex. Now there would still be question of why ISI didn’t know but I wonder if neighbors found anything unusual? Recommend

  • Baqar

    the bottomline is…..osama was bahana…afghanistan was thikana and pakistan is nishanaRecommend

  • http://facebook Ghazala Malik

    Thank you so much for explaining this ….the media here is going crazy over this whole notion of mansion and compound…..what mansion..Is this what you call a mansion . It looks like any old house in Khyber pakhtoonkhwa .It is definitely not a mansion by any standards…especially by these media bafoons standards .Recommend

  • Mahwesh Razzaq

    Brilliantly written piece!Recommend

  • Mehreen

    FYI: The British pronounce Abbot Ab-Bott not Ab-Butt so it makes sense why they would assume its pronunciation is Ab-botta-bad
    That’s not as bad as the American pronunciation… Ab-barra-bad.
    Glad someone’s brought up the pronunciation thing though! Particularly the fact that everyone has compounds and high walls in Pakistan! Some good observations here. Recommend

  • momers

    Thanks for finally putting all these observations and clarifications in one place…i cringed every time i heard million dollars and suburb or mansion or the fact that high walls ought to be suspicious! I have barb wires in my yard!

    But it does take an outsider to take a fresh perspective and notice something obvious which isn’t obvious to the jaded like us. Thats good intelligence work, even if it took 10 years!Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Humanity:
    So how many times did you spell check to make sure you spelled everything right with your look-at-me-world-me-so-smart-me-can-say-and-spell-big-words speech? ;) If you’re interested in articles/blogs pertaining only to politics, or topics of a more sober nature, than simply don’t read blogs such as this one. I imagine someone of your oh so high intelligence (high pitched gasp) would be able to distinguish the tone of whatever blog you’re reading within a sentence or two, so why read further? Unless of course it’s your goal in life to jump onto any and every blog pertaining to Pakistan, desperately seeking to evoke the responses that you seem to live for, in which case, do carry on as it’s your right, but why criticize the writer with irrelevant comment? If it’s back-and-forth written kerfuffle and hurly burly you seek, look in the right places on this site, you’ll find loads of opportunity. If it’s admiration you seek, you might be in the wrong place as your pedantism is not impressive, simply unattractive and slightly amusing. Cheers. Recommend

  • Nobody

    Enjoyed the piece! I’ve been wondering/thinking the same thing since the US media labeled it a “mansion.”Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    @Nobody ThanksRecommend

  • Amer Khan

    Well, this is known as ‘bringing things in perspective’. all news foreign channels are sensationalizing the things and making an issue of everything. If i was OBL, i would want to live in a place where no one will even think and that is what he did, living in a town where no one will come after him, about the house, it is a normal house for a joint family with high walls for ‘parda’ and that is all – as i said before both PK and US knew about his whereabouts since at least last 2 years plus and the only reasons why he was taken out now was; 1. both pk and US are coming to an end game in Afghanistan and they have both decided that US will leave Af. in Pk’s hands and 2. they wanted a succeful exit which they have achied by killing OBL, on their own – for the american public. We must ALL grow up and understand the games the governments play with their public and one more thing, the Saudi’s have full consent in all this and that is the reason why we see all three intelligence chiefs meeting more frequently asll the time in the last two years or so…. Recommend

  • Anoop

    “No phone lines, no internet and garbage burnt instead of collected: Add to this electricity outages, scanty supply of water and gas and you have the typical Pakistani household.”

    –> Give me a break. When was the last time you burnt your garbage? Are you seriously defending this line?Recommend

  • Laaleen

    @Anoop. Sadly so.Yes, the majority doesn’t include DHA residents whose trash is collected and some other residential areas. Everyone else has to burn it. And don’t get me started on sanitation and sewage!Recommend

  • http://www.techomaniac.com Robindar Batra

    A good read except for the sukkur part. Sukkur does not mean “the superior one” as mentioned by the author. Sukkur is based on Arabic word “saqar”, which means “extreme or intense” and was given that name by Arabs due to Sukkur having extreme weather in both summer and winter. Recommend

  • Anoop

    @Laaleen,

    Its pointless to argue, since I dont live in Pakistan and I CANNOT see why anyone would burn their garbage every single time, according to the Media Reports.

    Anyway, the big picture is Osama is caught and Pakistan is and will be blamed. India’s prediction came true, after all.Recommend

  • siddiqui

    stop writing those superficial articles…
    i enjoyed this one… Recommend

  • Saad H

    This article was so funny, most of these things were going around in my head as well when I was watching BBC News, and you’re totally right about the Daily Mail! The Sun, Mirror and Express belong also in the same category. Also, completely agree about the pronunciation of Abbottabad!Recommend

  • SK

    I think the article and most of the people commenting on it seem to be missing the point of this whole incident…Recommend

  • Taimur Malik

    @Anoop:

    It is extremely common for Pakistani households to burn household trash. There’s no proper municipality collected trash in trucks in the most parts of the country, especially in a small city like Abottabad. Stop spreading lies. You don’t live in Pakistan and that’s clear. Most normal city houses in Pakistan are just like the one OBL was found in. It wasn’t a “specially constructed” complex hiding hundreds of fighters to defend him. Even Leon Panetta admitted that Osama was killed unarmed because it was a normal house not a fort, so this point being consistently brought up in the international press falls flat on its face (just like Time magazine saying OBL was found in an Islamabad suburb, when Abottabad is a separate city and at least a couple of hours drive from Islamabad). . Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen
  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    Keep those comments coming…but please remember that this blog post isn’t about conspiracy theories or who-knew-what. No judgements here. Just putting things into a little perspective and illustrating a bit of Pk’s unique socio-cultural landscape to the international community with some humor.

    For those of you asking me to stop writing about “superficial” Hollywood & “girly” things and stick to politics–I’m a screen studies & communications professional and no, I won’t stop entertainment features. There’s more than enough earnest would-be politicoes anyway.Recommend

  • Faria Syed

    @Laleen: Love you thissss many

    Recommend

  • Khalid

    Who is she? A new recruit of establishment to prove that everyone in Pakistan lives in compounds. n a country where 1/3rd population do not have a shelter! Recommend

  • http://www.pkhope.com Maleeha Khan

    nicely written!Recommend

  • Arsie

    Lt.Sucker LOL five starsRecommend

  • hassan

    Compounds, Mansions, No internet line – reasons for suspicions for western guys who are paid to suspect. That’s why they were able to spot a guy who, according to you, blended into the background, easily.

    Just because they look at suspicion with what we do everyday commonplace things, does not absolve the fact that we sheltered a most wanted criminal on earth.

    You sound like someone who want to supply fodder for new conspiracy theorists.Mansion, or bungalow, or they burnt trash or preserved it – A ruthless serial killer stayed there, plotting more destruction. Period.

    I can understand your need for clutching at straws !!Recommend

  • http://omz OMZ

    And the point of this tirade is…? What began as an article on explaining OBL’s ‘mansion’ and how it ‘blends in’ quickly turned into miscellaneous anecdotes ranging from how the West pronounces the name of our country, to the colorful history behind Sukkher’s name. Look, the point here is that if the World’s most wanted man is living 5 minutes away from the PMA for 5 years, there IS something fishy going on. Now i belong to the group of people who firmly believe that the Pakistani Military and ISI were in complete cahoots with the US over this operation. Their current stand of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ is predictable (albeit not justifiable) because admitting they were involved in the Op gives the terrorists an incentive, nay, an excuse, to up the tempo in Pakistan, while admitting we knew of OBL’s presence and the US attack (but had no part to play in it) is an open admission that we have sold our soverignity to the US.

    I would expect our journalists to stop wasting time trying to help the country wiggle its way out of this one, as it always ends up doing. There is absolutely no justification for what has happened here. Remember, the PMA houses soldiers in training as well as high ranking officials who train these soldiers. It is plausible to assume that the latter officials live and socialize in the area. Surely someone’s curiously would have been tickled by this mysterious 3-storyed house (this at least IS an oddity in that part of Pakistan), with barbed wire on the walls, and who’s owner/residents remained a mystery for (allegedly) over 5 years.

    The only justification is that OBL continues to be an agent of the CIA, and that the whole operation, and 12 year manhunt has been a set up to begin with.

    So please, spend a little less time trying to help our corrupt politicians smooth talk their way out of this own, and instead focus your energies and the unique role you have been given to create an impact on society by trying unearth the truth here.Recommend

  • abhinav

    Like three story houses without telephone and internet connection, “non state” actors are also common place in pakistan. No wonder ISI didn’t detect it ().

    Someone told that ” it is a normal house for a joint family with high walls for ‘parda’ ” and that is why many people are against parda :)Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    Readers–thanks again for the terrific feedback. Really appreciate it.Recommend

  • gp65

    @Laaleen:

    Laleen, the locals used to call it Waziristan haveli. Correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t haveli translate to mansion?

    Also you say that it is common for people to not have phone lines? Really?

    Finally for a country where there have been so many suicide attempts mostly by terrorists based in Waziristan, shouldn’t SOMEONE have been concerned about a Waziristan haveli less than a kilometre from Kakul?

    You are trying to imply that the situation was not unusual. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will find too many buyers for that theory.Recommend

  • Maria

    Well written and to the point. I too keep hearing this talk about a million dollar home in a posh locale when it looks like a run of the mill compound unlike countless others in Pakistani cities. As for the neighborhood, it’s hardly exclusive. Anyhow, OBL is gone and good riddance. Now Pakistan can move on and there is one less foreign criminal hiding in Pakistan. We need to deport all of them.Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    $47,004 (Forty Seven Thousand and Four Dollars): the price the property was sold for according to the property agent (front page of yesterday’s Tribune).Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    From The NYTimes.com (written by Robert Mackey):
    “In a “Media Watchdog” blog post for Karachi’s Express Tribune, Laaleen Khan poured scorn on the idea that Bin Laden’s “ramshackle home” was a “luxury mansion.”

    Ms. Khan also insisted that Abbottabad is just not “an Islamabad suburb.”

    It seems likely that the hyperbolic description of the home as a mansion worth a million dollars might been an intentional exaggeration by American officials, who perhaps hoped to score a propaganda victory by undercutting the image of Al Qaeda’s leader as a humble, cave-dwelling man.

    But what explains the description of Abbottabad as a suburb of Pakistan’s capital? That also seems to have been part of an intentional propaganda effort, designed to make the point that Bin Laden was sheltering not in some remote, tribal area out of the control of Pakistan’s government, but less than a two-hour drive from its capital. After all, when President Barack Obama first announced the killing of Al Qaeda’s leader he said that Bin Laden had been living “deep inside of Pakistan.”Recommend

  • Joshua

    Are you seriously trying to make an argument that Pakistan didn’t know USB was living there? This story is just inane and pathetic. Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    @Joshua & others: Nope, not interested in proving who-knew-what. Just saying that this dump isn’t anyone’s idea of a “luxury mansion,” as portrayed by the international media. Recommend

  • http://ahmedshuja.com Ahmed Shuja

    Thank you Laaleen! Well written. @TheSkeptics and @sses for instance gp65 what you’re trying here is extremely literal translation of the word haveli. If you put it in context (the context being the west) the understanding of “mansion” is extremely different from this sort of a “haveli”. And yes not all people in our country rely on our trusted friend “PTCL” for phone connections. I myself don’t have a phone line in my house… however we do have an average of 1.8 mobile phones per person! Even my driver has 2 mobile phones with NO land line or internet at his residence!

    Peace
    A.Recommend