One year after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the most familiar image from the event is not of the dead man, but of the people who ordered the raid: President Obama and his closest advisers, watching via satellite in the White House "situation room" as the operation was unfolding thousands of miles away. Such depictions suggest an American victory.
But if Americans were presented with a picture of war that went beyond its reflection on American faces to include its impact on Pakistani lives, they would see a reality that would alarm them.
If the American landscape of the war on terrorism were repainted to include Pakistan, it would be painted not in the certainty of black and white, but in shades of gray. In the country where bin Laden was killed, his death has delivered no fewer terror attacks and no less uncertainty.
In fact, more than two-thirds of educated Pakistani citizens do not believe that bin Laden was ever captured or killed. Unlike Americans, they cannot overlook the fact that the picture of his demise includes neither the man killed nor the country where he died.
Pakistanis' skepticism is not based simply on the absence of pictures, though. If bin Laden's death was a fatal blow to terrorism, Pakistanis wonder, why does its deadly onslaught continue in their cities and towns and villages?
2011 saw an escalation in terrorist attacks there, with 4,447 killed in 476 incidents. More Pakistanis lost their lives to such attacks in a single year than America has lost in the entire decade since 9/11. More than half of them died after the mastermind of terror had been tossed into the sea.
U.S. drones have added to the toll. Since Obama took office, "between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed, including more than 60 children," according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Pakistani doubts about American victories are not fed by the deaths alone. In the year since bin Laden's killing, CIA-operated drones and security operations have left nearly 200,000 people homeless, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The wandering families have taken the bitterness of conflict and spread it all around Pakistan. In the southern city of Karachi alone, a destination for many Pashtun migrants from the country's northwest, more than 1,000 people have died in skirmishes between those currently controlling the city and the new arrivals.
But there is no room in American visions of victory for ordinary Pakistanis — those paying in death, devastation, and displacement the price of a war whose pictures do not include them.
Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for Dawn, Pakistan's leading English-language daily, and the author of the forthcoming "Silence in Karachi" (Beacon Press). He can be reached via email@example.com. This was distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.