Abbottabad: The Beautiful Place Where Bin Laden Died

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The idyllic, verdant town where Osama bin Laden had been in hiding — and where the terrorist-in-chief met his end yesterday — is now under a particularly glaring spotlight. As we now know, bin Laden took sanctuary in a compound here, lying amid an affluent community which includes numerous prominent retired Pakistani army staff. The fingerprints of Pakistan’s shadowy ISI, an intelligence organization that has abetted groups linked to al-Qaeda, seem to be all over his presence here, as my colleagues Aryn Baker and Mark Thompson both write.

Abbottabad is at once a surprising and unsurprising spot for bin Laden to have been hiding. TIME’s Pakistan contributor Omar Waraich profiles the town:

In some ways, Abbottabad was the ideal hiding place for bin Laden. Squeezed between the Pashtun-dominated frontier, where militancy has thrived in recent years, and the bustling heartlands of the Punjab, the Hazara region is an oasis of relatively prosperous calm. From the capital Islamabad, the journey is a slow three-hour drive, snaking up and around sometimes dizzying bends. Along the way, visitors pass sensitive military installations, but also plush fields that reveal a view of rising mountains. Named after Major James Abbott, a 19th century colonial officer, the town is an exhibition of colonial and martial traditions. Burn Hall, a near replica of a British boarding school, is sprawled over several acres on the west of the town.

In the 19th century, geographical surveys and British colonial embassies into Central Asia and the Kashmir valley often used Abbottabad as a staging ground for their expeditions. Major Abbott, the founder of the town — pronounced ABH-da-bad (not A-BOAT-abad, as many have been mouthing on air) — trooped around its environs, glimpsing in nearby ridges and passes the ancient march of Alexander the Great’s army in these lands.

Like many among the British colonial elite, Abbott saw the town that bore his name in a deeply solipsistic light, a place that he quickened to life in the otherwise impassive, timeless Orient. A plaque in the town apparently bears a rather sappy poem the officer wrote in nostalgia of his time spent marshaling its wilds. Here are some lines:

To me the place seemed like a dream
And far ran a lonesome stream

The wind hissed as if welcoming us
The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss

And the tiny cuckoo sang it away
A song very melodious and gay

I adored the place from the first sight
And was happy that my coming here was right

And eight good years here passed very soon
And we leave perhaps on a sunny noon

It’s been more than eight years since Bin Laden entered the annals of infamy. And who knows how long he has lived in the town Abbot built. His exit, though, was far from “sunny,” conducted with ruthless precision by helicopters shadowing the sky.