The Abbottabad you don’t get to see

Medical Students in Abbottabad

Medical Students in Abbottabad

With their American accents and attitudes, you will not be able to single out these three guys from the rest if they were sitting in a coffee shop in California (an airport queue is a different matter though). They have spent a significant part of their lives in the US or the UK, and probably came back to Pakistan to attend medical school – a cheap and logical option for many. The low tuition fees means that don’t need to take out student loans, and affiliations of the Pakistani medical schools with American and British medical schools means these students can usually get a transfer in the last few semesters – or, leave for specialization elsewhere. They are just three of the many regular patrons of Coffity (or ‘the coffee shop’ as I tend to call it), the small coffee shop that I started in Abbottabad after craving for a few months for real espresso shots. Every few days, I am pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of the people that live in Abbottabad and visit the coffee shop.

Five days after the Operation Geronimo, I had a little chat with these students and asked them about the impact that the OBL incident has had on their lives. The response was the ‘nobody really cares’ that I already expected, but when I asked if any of the dozens of international journalists had approached them and covered their campus life (colleges and universities cover a significant portion of the Abbottabad real estate), the answer was a surprising ‘No’. To loosely quote them, the journalists were more interested in getting to the 600 odd anti-American protestors that gathered after the friday prayers to chant and shout their hearts out against the American invasions, than they were to cover the everyday life that was barely disrupted by this incident. These students also wanted to share their opinion about OBL and how their lives have (not) changed at all, but they were never given a chance to do that, despite being part of an important segment of the Abbottabad population – students. People may not know this, but Abbottabad is more an academic town than it is a military town – even the PMA is an ‘Academy’.


I do understand that menacing shots (from a few inches below their chins, just to get as much of the beards as possible) of open-mouthed, bearded protestors wearing caps is always good raw material for interesting news, but our media should realize that they usually also have Arab (yes, you heard me right, Arab!) students studying in these medical colleges, along with dozens, if not hundreds, of Afghan students.

So if you are an international journalist who is still in Abbottabad and waiting for the demolition of ‘the compound’, do try to go and visit AMC, FMC and any other *MC in Abbottabad and talk to a few students. Their worldview might be slightly different from that of an average Pakistani stereo-type, and their accents may be too American (or British) to mark them as a Pakistani when they open their mouths, but who knows, what they have to say might actually be newsworthy to some people – people who are tired of watching beards and banners all the time.


  1. Stephanie says:

    Thank you very much for this insightful post, and for giving us the opportunity to learn more about Abbottabad and Pakistan unfiltered through the western MSM and its focus on “menacing shots.”

    I find your writing and your tweets refreshingly honest, incisive, and reasonable and, like so many people worldwide, feel grateful to have found your blog as a wider window in the world.

    Denver, Colorado, USA

  2. iowagyrl says:

    I went to college with some kids who were from Pakistan! They were amazing! I hope there’s more of this kind of news coverage! Thanks!

  3. Nancy says:

    Thank you for sharing your views with the rest of us. Especially in America, I think that we lose sight of the fact that our ‘earthshaking’ news isn’t the same all over the world. I hope that your city is allowed to get back to being the small, sleepy, relaxed haven that it once was, and that you start getting some sleep!!

  4. Josephine says:

    Sad,but true.The media only wants the “bad” storys.Thank you for giving us a differnet outlook than what we see when we turn the TV on. =)

  5. Cyberquill says:

    Good point. Likewise, I wonder how the U.S. reaction to the OBL raid was covered on the Pakistani news. I imagine there may have been more footage showing a mob in front of the White House chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” than coverage of the reactions of those of us who find such displays rather embarrassing.

    • ThirstyJon says:

      I actually noticed how SMALL the crowds in front of the White House were. I think Most Americans stayed home.

      Most of the people I talked to felt more relief than celebration.

      I also noticed that many of the folks in the crowd were quite young – college age perhaps?

      I wish they had responded differently, but I understand why they did what they did.

      Immature perhaps, but not evil.


  6. tat says:

    Realy nicely put forward the image of Pak.

    Good dude.

  7. Nasir Aziz says:

    Very well put, thanks a lot for this post. I am from Abbottabad too (Habibullah Colony, Kakul) and know what you mean. Please keep up the good work. Since you have gained some spotlight now, please use it to show where MainStream Media has failed. Start a channel on YouTube and get the aspiring local videographers out and about to document and highlight what Abbottabad is really about and what people think and do there on daily basis.

    I was there during the whole ordeal. Wish I knew about your cafe. Maybe next time for sure.


  8. humanperson says:

    Yes, journalists, please visit the academic institutions and get another point of view. Count me in as someone who’s tired of watching the yelling beards and and all of that. There is more to the story than just the angry people. Report it.

  9. PaulTheZombie says:

    Thanks for taking your time to report another side to the OBL story. The respect you have for Abbottabad shows in your tweets/reports. Keep up the good work. I pray things eventually go back to normal.

  10. Darryl says:

    Thanks for the insight to Abbottabad. The information you have shared by way of Twitter has been most interesting. These are the kinds of stories that the press is not interested in. Please continue to share the sights, thoughts, and feelings of the people in your portion of the world!

  11. Monique says:

    Great post! I’m mostly an entertainment blogger, but since I’ve been schooled in the journalism profession, I’m often aggravated by how many cable news journalists portray other parts of the world. They always go by the saying, “The loudest people get the most attention”, which is why Sarah Palin is somehow a “politician” and “birthers” gain clout. It would be great if the news journalists focused more on regular people in Pakistan rather than the protesters in order to paint a more even picture of the Middle East.

    • shasan says:

      All great points, Monique. Just one thing, though. Pakistan is not in the Middle East, but in South Asia.

  12. Woody says:

    Isn’t it interesting that most of the time, most people, in most places, just want to live their lives in peace and quiet. It seems that the entire world spends an inordinate amount of time catering to the perceived nature of things rather than finding out what is real.

  13. Oldgeekgal says:

    Very happy to have you back and know you are well!

  14. Jmz says:

    Very interesting take. I am a non media citizen of the US (born and raised) but was wondering what if any impact this raid and death had on the average Joe of Pakistan. Thanks for your tweets and perspective. You have really allowed those of us that are open minded enough to realize that there is more to Pakistan then guns, cocaine, and terrorist. I applaud you for this.

  15. Munira says:

    How refreshing is this? I’m pretty sick of OBL meself :p Bring on the young and hip students I say!

  16. Stefan says:

    I’m so glad that I found your twitter and blog. Its refreshing too see the other side of a news story. I kind of suspected how it might be, but now I know more…and its not pretty.

    Thanks, and keep on blogging!


  17. Minaminx says:

    You are a great writer. I appreciate your view on Abottabad and am fascinated with life out there.
    Although, it may not make my list of places to visit in a long while. Thanks for the post!

  18. @ReallyVirtual. I am also an IT consultant. I am located in Omaha, Nebraska USA. As both a resident of the American Midwest, and a technology professional, I often have my head in the sand regarding world events outside of my field. Your insight regarding your culture and recent events, as told by another member of the technology profession are amazing. Perhaps the secret to world peace and understanding is through the brotherhood of IT professionals, not through diplomatic, political or military channels? Thanks much and God bless.

  19. Weave says:

    Thanks for this. Good stuff. On a similar note, the streets in the U.S. weren’t filled with people cheering Bin Laden’s death either. Media picked out a few doing so as if we all were.

  20. Destitute Rebel says:

    Hey Really Virtual,
    Great post, welcome back to blogging.