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Live on Twitter: bin Laden's death, and Pakistan's troubles

Posted by Dante Ramos  May 2, 2011 02:15 PM

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For the Pakistani man who tweets as ReallyVirtual, the US raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad sounded at first like all the other strife afflicting that country.

We're used to seeing bad news from Pakistan, usually in dispatches from diplomats or journalists or academics. Lahore native Sohaib Athar is none of the above; he bills himself at the top of his Twitter page as an "an IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops." If you scroll down, you see his inadvertent real-time account of the raid — but you also get some insight into how a witty, plugged-in guy like Athar goes about living a normal life in a deeply troubled place.

In the days before the raid, Athar banters with his Twitter followers about power brownouts in Abbottabad and the hype surrounding the British royal wedding. Sometime after midnight Sunday morning, his time, Athar notes a helicopter hovering over Abbottabad — it's loud enough that he jokes about getting out a giant fly swatter. Then a loud bang, which he hopes is "not the beginning of something nasty." Athar entertains the possibility that the "helicopter/UFO" was a drone, but later speculates — based, presumably, on having heard drones before — that the sound had been too loud to be a spy craft. Over the next several hours, it becomes clear there's been a crash, so he apologizes for joking about fly swatters. Nine hours or so after first tweeting about it, he realizes: "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it." And then: "and here come the mails from the mainstream media... *sigh*"

By now, American readers have a strong impression of Pakistan as a deeply dangerous country with ineffectual civilian leadership, duplicitous military intelligence, and the revelation that bin Laden was hiding out in a conspicuous $1 million compound in a city crawling with Pakistani military types, has only underscored that suspicion. But for regular people in Pakistan, the geopolitical concerns pale against more immediate ones. As Athar put it: "And the big question is — now that OBL does not live in Abbottabad, is it open to terrorist attacks too?"

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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