'Zero Dark Thirty' true? Pakistanis don't think so

  • Article by: MICHELE LANGEVINE LEIBY , Washington Post
  • Updated: February 3, 2013 - 6:55 PM

Not only did they spot the movie as largely a work of fiction, some also think Bin Laden is still alive.

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This publicity image provided by Columbia shows Navy SEALs raiding bin Laden’s compound in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Photo: Jonathan Olley, Associated Press

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - "Zero Dark Thirty," the Oscar-nominated film about the CIA's 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, stirred great umbrage in Washington with its implication that the brutal interrogation technique known as waterboarding was key to locating the Al-Qaida chief, who hid out in Pakistan for nine years.

Serious people, including those at the CIA, feared that a story conjured from a screenwriter's imagination would be taken as truth. But in Pakistan, viewers of the action film -- unreleased here in theaters but widely available on pirated DVDs -- take it for what it is: a slick work of Hollywood fiction.

"Technically, it's very strong, the directing is very good and so is the acting," said Rizwan Ahmed, 35, a businessman browsing titles in an Islamabad DVD shop. "It's an excellent thriller, but I doubt whether the story is true."

He and other citizen reviewers characterized the movie as anti-Pakistan propaganda. There remains debate here over whether the event actually happened: that a U.S. Navy SEAL team swooped in on stealth helicopters and terminated the terrorist kingpin in his villa near Pakistan's top military academy in Abbottabad.

"The people who have seen this movie liked it as a movie, but most of them believe it's a pack of lies," said Kazim Abbasi, owner of a DVD store where "Zero Dark Thirty" has been a popular seller.

"Some customers even say that bin Laden was not present in Abbottabad and the film has been made to malign Pakistan," he added.

Distributors here have launched an unofficial boycott of the movie by refusing to screen it. But the film has not been banned by the state, said Raja Mustafa Haider, chairman of Pakistan's film censorship board.

That's because no one has asked the board to watch the movie to decide whether it should be banned, Haider said. In the past the board has banned India-made movies because they were thought to portray Pakistan's intelligence services as terrorist coddlers.

So far "Zero Dark Thirty" has earned more than $79 million at the box office, in the U.S. and globally, according to the Boxofficemojo.com site. Not a cent of that has come from Pakistan, a copyright-free zone. Pirated copies of major movies are available here within days of their release in U.S. cinemas.

Pakistani consumer interest in "Zero Dark Thirty," which garnered five Oscar nominations, has already begun to wane, according to shop owners.

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