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.