Bin Laden’s Escape Plan

What’s the farthest you can get from Abbottabad on 500 euros?

Transit through Pakistan

Osama Bin Laden had two telephone numbers and 500 euros in cash sewn into his clothes, CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers this week. That’s about $740, or around 60,000 Pakistani rupees. Presumably, if Bin Laden had evaded the SEALs, his disciples would have covered his travel, food, and lodging costs. But, hypothetically, what’s the farthest you can get from Abbottabad on 500 euros?

Taiwan, probably, if you can get through airport security. It’s about  70 to 80 miles from Abbottabad to Rawalpindi, depending on the route you take. On a standard bus, the trip costs about 400 rupees, or about $5. Cheaper buses have fewer accommodations and make more stops, stalling your escape with little savings to show for it. Upon arrival, you’ll want to grab a taxi to Islamabad International Airport, about 10 miles from the  Daewoo bus terminal, which should cost no more than 600 rupees. Taxi and bus drivers, wary of counterfeit cash, probably won’t accept your euros, so you’ll have to exchange them. This week, a euro is worth about 120 rupees before exchange fees.

But even if you’re charged an exorbitant exchange fee, you’ll still have cash worth well over $700. That’s enough to buy a last-minute, one-way flight to a major hub city such as Abu Dhabi (about $260 via Pakistan’s  airblue) or Bangkok (about $400 via Thai Airlines). From Abu Dhabi, the farthest flight you can afford will probably be to Cairo or Alexandria, Egypt (about $260 and $220, respectively). The trip would leave you about 2,500 miles from Abbottabad and with some pocket money for room and board. From Bangkok, you could fly to Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport (also roughly $220)—about 2,930 miles from home.

If you’re land-bound, a car—likely more efficient than waiting around for an international train—might get you as far as Benghazi, the Libyan rebel headquarters 3,050 miles, as the crow flies, from Abbottabad. Your best bet will be to drive via Peshawar toward Afghanistan, where you’ll find Pakistan’s most porous borders. With petrol prices at  about 90 rupees per liter, it’ll cost about 10 rupees per kilometer driven, or around 19 cents per mile. If you stock up on enough petrol at cheap stations, sleep in the car, feed yourself on $1 per day, and venture 400 miles each day, you might be able to  drive the 3,725 miles of road between Abbottabad and Benghazi  in a little less than 10 days before your cash runs out. Of course, given the bribe-needy guards, delays, and suspicion you’d encounter while crossing the half-dozen or so (depending on your route) international borders to reach Benghazi, you probably wouldn’t get nearly so far.

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Explainer thanks Waqar Gillani of the News International, Aamir Latif of the Online News Network, Mehmal Sarfraz of the Daily Times (Lahore), and  Kamal Siddiqi of the Express Tribune (Karachi).