Afghanistan is the place most associated with Osama bin Laden. Many of the images of the Saudi-born militant show him dressed in shalwar kameez, picking his way carefully through the misty, rocky terrain of the country's north-east. When he lived in Afghanistan in the late 1990s you could buy popcorn balls with bin Laden's smiling image imprinted on the bags in markets all over the south.
Yet there have been no protests in Afghanistan against his killing, no funeral prayers of the kind being held in Pakistan. It is no surprise: bin Laden and his fellow travellers were never really welcome by ordinary Afghans - even in the 1980s during the fighting against the Soviet occupation.
When the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, allowed al Qa'eda to operate in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the militants overran the place with their terrorist training camps. They played by their own rules. While ordinary Afghans were begging on the streets and forbidden to watch TV, the families of al Qa'eda fighters had satellite television and lived in relative comfort.
I got an insight into their attitudes after meeting the wife of Ahmed Said Khadr, a founding member of al Qa'eda, who lived in Kabul in the late 1990s. Maha Khadr, who settled in Toronto with her children after her husband was killed in 2001, recalled that al Qa'eda wives helped enforce the ban against make-up, music and high heels by reporting Afghan women who broke the law to the Taliban. It was bin Laden who advised Omar to blow up the Bamiyan Buddhas.
Al Qa'eda and the Taliban were so hated in Kabul that in the brief period between the Taliban fleeing the capital and the arrival of the victorious forces of the US-backed Northern Alliance, the city's wildly jubilant residents exacted revenge on their oppressors. In groups, they went in search of the militants, beating them with cables, attacking them with knives or shooting them. Some of the foreigners tried to climb trees in the popular Shahr-e-Now park to escape the lynch mobs, but they were shot down. In some cases militants were held while Afghans shaved in front of them, flouting the Taliban rule, equally enforced by al Qa'eda, that men must have beards. A few brave women ran out in the streets to take off their burqas and spit on the bodies of the al Qa'eda fighters.
However unpopular the Americans are because of the war, or the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, because of corruption and incompetence, the years since the Taliban's removal have not endeared Afghans any more to al Qa'eda's ideals, as suicide bombs have killed scores of innocent civilians and ravaged Kabul. The dreaded Haqqani network, an insurgent group believed to be responsible for many of the suicide attacks in Kabul, has strong ties to al Qa'eda. There are about 100 al Qa'eda fighters in the country, according to Nato.
While the fighting has raged over the past decade, Afghan leaders insisted that the US military look for bin Laden across the border in Pakistan. And there he was, living in a highly secure compound in a garrison town 62 kilometres from the capital.
Indeed, hours after the White House announced the news of bin Laden's death, Mr Karzai said in an allusion to Pakistan: "The fight against terrorism is in its sanctuaries, in its training camps and its finance centres, not in Afghanistan, and today it has been proved we were right."
Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister and 2009 presidential candidate, was more blunt. He said it was no surprise bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. "I would say that some groups in the establishment definitely knew that they were there," he told the BBC. Yet the vindication Afghans felt after bin Laden's whereabouts were discovered and he was killed has come at a huge cost.
One of bin Laden's bitter legacies is propagation of the narrative that Afghanistan is an ideological battleground pitting the forces of modernism against entrenched, archaic conservatism. Decent Afghan leaders and ordinary citizens repeatedly talk of the need for the rule of law and basic health services but, to many, Afghanistan is simply a place to make a deadly statement against America.
Recently, al Qa'eda in the Islamic Magreb, the organisation's offshoot in North Africa whose members kidnapped four Frenchmen in Niger, demanded that France withdraw its peacekeepers from Afghanistan in exchange for the safe return of the hostages. Why anyone in Niger, which has its own problems, should concern themselves with a faraway war is odd.
Leaders of the Afghan insurgency find it easy to raise funds in some Arab countries partly because bin Laden helped sell the idea of Afghanistan as a pan-Muslim cause. This has been so successful no one questioned why Abdul Ghani travelled all the way from his home in Saudi Arabia to become bin Laden’s No 2 in Afghanistan. Ghani led an unknown number of fighters in the country, ran camps and assassinated tribal leaders before he was killed by a Nato air strike on April 13.
Bin Laden’s opportunistic deputy, the Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al Zawahiri, described the Soviet occupation as an "incubator" for global jihad, thus inviting aspiring jihadists everywhere to consider Afghanistan their own romantic front line against the forces of infidels.
Afghanistan was cheap real estate for a bigger cause, then and now. On Tuesday, the governor of Nuristan province said 25 foreigners, including Arabs and Chechens, were killed or wounded as they crossed the border from Pakistan.
Bin Laden was good at distorting the Soviet war, too. The resistance began as a nationalist cause that cut across tribal, ethnic and sectarian lines. His simplistic notion of the "holy warrior" bringing down a godless empire failed to take in the defiance of Afghan themselves or their rationale for resisting, villagers slaughtering their sheep to feed fighters, girls who sent poisoned grapes to the Soviet garrisons, Afghan officers in the Communist Party who passed on intelligence to relatives in the provinces.
But then bin Laden’s skills as a spin doctor were always superior to his fighting prowess. His one and only victory against the Russians was in 1987 when he successfully defended his training complex in Paktia province against the Soviet special forces, the Spetznaz. The triumph cemented his reputation among Arabs and he milked it for all it was worth. The Afghans who actually fought the war recall scornfully that most of the foreign fighters posed for photographs with AK-47 assault rifles, then ran back across the border to the safety of Pakistan.
If many Afghan leaders are gloating now, then the capital’s residents are apprehensive. Should al Qa’eda decide to take its revenge for the killing of its leader, one of the first places it could hit is Kabul because its defences are not difficult to breach.
Interestingly, the Taliban took 36 hours to issue an official statement on the death of their former comrade in arms. They questioned whether he was dead, though refrained from offering praise for the man they once admired and protected. A report last year suggested Omar wished he had not given bin Laden refuge because his regime might still be in power. The Taliban leader is said to be in Pakistan.
Amrullah Saleh, the shrewdly observant former chief of Afghanistan’s spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, recently spoke of his exasperation at Afghanistan’s being linked to a religious cause. "There is no verse in the Quran and I have not seen the hadith that says the route to heaven is through Afghanistan," he said. "I wonder why everyone who wishes to go to heaven comes and launches jihad in my country."
Hamida Ghafour is the author of The Sleeping Buddha: The Story of Afghanistan Through the Eyes of One Family