Pakistan row over future of Bin Laden's compound

Military authorities threw up wall around the compound on Wednesday Image copyright Mohammad Zubair Khan
Image caption Military authorities threw up a wall around the compound on Wednesday

A row has erupted over what to do with the land in Pakistan's Abbottabad city where former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lived and was killed.

Local authorities want to construct a children's playground there, while the military wish to build a graveyard.

The two sides have tussled over control of the land - and on Wednesday the military erected a wall around the site, surprising local authorities.

Bin Laden was killed in a US raid on his compound at the site in May 2011.

He had been living there in secret, in a three-storey building behind high walls, for several years before his death.

The land has remained empty ever since.

No trespassing

The grounds cover an area of 3,530 sq m (38,000 sq ft), with an estimated market value of over $285,000 (£218,000)

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bin Laden's compound in 2012, before it was completely demolished

After Bin Laden's death, the land was handed over to the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province which tore down the structure and its boundary wall, apparently to prevent the place from becoming a site of pilgrimage for jihadists and their sympathisers.

Since then the land has been lying unutilised amid a growing neighbourhood.

Now, the local government and military authorities are in a dispute over how to use the land - and who should control its future.

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Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Soldiers cleared debris from Bin Laden's compound after the US raid in May 2011

The military-run Cantonment Board of Abbottabad (CBA) moved to occupy the area in May, erecting a rope-fence around it. But they removed it after the provincial authorities intervened.

Cantonment boards are military-run organisations tasked with managing and regulating private and public construction in areas falling within the jurisdiction of military districts in major cities.

The CBA tried again this week, however, and this time they were more decisive - building a one metre (three ft) wall around the sprawling grounds, and catching the local government by surprise.

Image caption Until recently, locals used a well located in what was bin Laden's compound for drinking water

Playground or graveyard?

A member of the CBA council, Bashir Khan, said the military had decided to convert the land into a cemetery .

"It is needed because there is no graveyard nearby for the local population," he told the BBC.

But KP Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani dismissed the plan, saying the grounds were in the middle of a populated area and "not fit for a graveyard".

"Besides, the cantonment authorities have built the wall on land that belongs to the provincial government," Mr Ghani said, adding that the CBA had said they built the wall "to prevent encroachments".

The provincial government hoped to turn the land into a playground for children, Mr Ghani said.

"In addition to a playground, the place can be used for funeral prayers as well. The people of the area have neither a playground nor a place for funeral prayers nearby."

The dispute looks set to continue - and local residents have their own ideas too, with some demanding that the land should be used to build a girls' school.

Meanwhile, some other military officials have mooted plans to build a revenue-generating amusement park on the land.

What everyone seems to agree on is that any project should be chosen with care so it could not be easily associated with the name of Bin Laden - something which could become a source of continuing embarrassment for the military.

"A graveyard would be the safest bet, as nobody would like to call it the 'Bin Laden graveyard'," says one Abbottabad journalist who has been following the story.

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