Amusement Park Planned In The Town Where Bin Laden Hid Out

Feb 19, 2013
Originally published on February 19, 2013 3:42 pm

Developers in Pakistan will soon break ground on a new amusement park and outdoor activity center, a private, $30 million project billed as a state-of-the-art facility that will bring jobs to a hard-hit area.

But there's one issue that's raising some eyebrows: the site is in Abbottabad, not far from the place where Osama Bin Laden secretly lived until American forces killed him.

This does not trouble Sheikh Kaleemuddin, the project director, who is effusive about the picturesque spot where he plans to build.

A narrow, fast-moving creek courses over a bed of flat stones running through a steep valley in the foothill of the Himalayas. On each side are pine-covered hills, filling the air with the trees' fragrance.

"It's a beautiful area," he says. "You won't get such a beautiful landscape around anywhere in the world where the water is there, the mountains are there, the trees are there, the natural wildlife is there."

Kaleemuddin is the driving force behind a new development, called the Hazara Heritage Park. It will be built along a mile stretch of the valley, on the outskirts of Abbottabad — a garrison town about 70 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

A polished video has artist renderings of the park, which will host more than 50 activities and attractions. Kaleemuddin says everything from zoos to food courts and hotels will be available. And he expects the amusement park will be popular far beyond the borders of Pakistan.

"We're going to attract the worldwide tourist over here," Kaleemuddin says. "We want ... the tourists from all around Europe, America. People should come and see what we are doing."

Yet for people outside of Pakistan, the mention of Abbottabad is likely to conjure up images of bin Laden.

In a quiet neighborhood on the other side of town, the al-Qaida leader lived in a secluded villa for several years until U.S. Navy SEALs killed him during a raid in May 2011.

Bin Laden's compound was torn down a year ago, but Abbottabad is still known as the place that gave bin Laden shelter.

To get to bin Laden's former neighborhood, you have to drive down narrow dirt tracks and pass one of Pakistan's major military academies. Local residents stare grim-faced at visitors. Large black letters scrolled across one wall says, "Here is where the 'martyr' Osama was killed."

There's an uncomfortable — almost spooky — feel to the place, even in broad daylight.

Meanwhile, Kaleemuddin insists his project has nothing to do with bin Laden.

"We should move forward from those incidents, we must move forward with our beautiful world, this global village, to improve the world," he says. "We should get away from what has happened in the past."

The amusement park is slated to be completed in about five years, and the optimistic Kaleemuddin believes it can be done in three.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally this hour, to Pakistan, where private developers will soon break ground on a new amusement park and outdoor activity center. It promises state-of-the-art facilities and jobs for the region where it's being built. It's that location that caught our attention. The park is very near Osama bin Laden's final home, the place where he was found and killed by American forces. NPR's Jackie Northam sent this postcard.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: A narrow, fast-moving creek courses over a bed of flat stones running through a steep valley in the foothill of the Himalayas. On either side are pine-covered hills. The trees' fragrance fills the air. Sheikh Kaleemuddin is effusive about this picturesque area.

SHEIKH KALEEMUDDIN: Yes. It's a beautiful area. You won't get such beautiful landscape around anywhere in the world, where the water is there, the mountains are there, the trees are there, the natural wildlife is there. This is one of the selected areas we have selected out of the lot.

NORTHAM: Kaleemuddin is the project director, really the driving force behind a new development called the Hazara Heritage Park. It will be built along a one-mile stretch of the valley, on the outskirts of Abbottabad, a garrison town about 70 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE FROM VIDEO)

NORTHAM: A slick video has artist renderings of the park. There will be more than 50 activities and attractions available, everything from zoos to food courts and hotels.

(SOUNDBITE FROM VIDEO)

NORTHAM: Kaleemuddin says he expects the amusement park will be popular far beyond the borders of Pakistan.

KALEEMUDDIN: We are going to attract the worldwide tourist over here. We want that the tourists from all around Europe, America. People should come and see what we are doing.

NORTHAM: People outside of Pakistan may not have heard of the amusement park, but there's every chance they already know about its location - Abbottabad. Here, in a quiet neighborhood on the other side of town was where al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, lived in a secluded villa for several years until U.S. Navy SEALs killed him during a secret raid in May 2011.

Bin Laden's compound was destroyed a year ago. The house may be gone, but Abbottabad gained a reputation as the place which gave bin Laden shelter. To get to bin Laden's former neighborhood, you have to drive down narrow dirt tracks and pass one of Pakistan's major military academies. The locals stare grim-faced at visitors to the area. Large black letters scrolled across a nearby wall say: Here is where the martyr Osama was killed.

There's an uncomfortable, almost spooky, feel to the place, even in broad daylight. Still, Kaleemuddin says his project has nothing to do with bin Laden.

KALEEMUDDIN: It was an incident; gone, finished. We should move forward from those incidents. We must move forward with our beautiful world, this global village, to improve the world. We should get away from what has happened in past.

NORTHAM: The amusement park is due to be finished in about five years. Kaleemuddin believes it'll be done in three. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.