The Shameful Treatment of Dr. Shakil Afridi & Pakistan’s Dim Future

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by Joshua Foust on 5/30/2012 · 7 comments

This is Dr. Shakil Afridi. You might know him as the doctor who helped the CIA locate and then kill Osama bin Laden. Put simply, he is a hero. He is also a traitor.

Dr. Afridi betrayed his country by working with the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. That should not detract from the tremendous service he did the world in locating that evil man, but it is important to keep in mind while we ponder just what he is going through right now.

Shakil Afridi has been imprisoned for “militant links” and treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison. The Pakistani government settled upon this charge after deciding that it could not muster sufficient jurisdiction to convict him for working with a foreign intelligence agency in the FATA.

Think about that for a moment: the Pakistani government does not have jurisdiction to charge people for treason if they are in the FATA because it claims not to have jurisdiction there. This is probably the single biggest reason why the U.S. ignores the many howls of protest Pakistanis emote when drones fire missiles into their territory: the government itself declines to exercise sovereignty in the FATA, and it declines to take material, physical action to curtail the activity of international terrorists who hide there. So the U.S. does in its stead. It is not a particularly good solution, and I worry constantly about the consequences of such a decision… but it is certainly understandable and justifiable.

Back to Afridi: he is accused of having ties (and having given money) to Mangal Bagh and the banned terror group Lashkar-e-Islam, and was tried under the terms of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. This is the same shameful law the government of Pakistan has used to harass non-militant family members of terrorists. In 2008, we discussed in this space the problems posed by the Northwest’s antiquated security framework, which had done little more than assure a cycle of conflicts, retributions, and cease-fires. We also discussed how the Pakistani government’s insistence on enforcing the FCR would only lead to more extremism. And in 2009 we discussed some alternative models for how the Pashtun areas of Pakistan could be integrated into the state, and how that would diffuse some of the class warfare that is driving a portion of the insurgency.

Sadly, Pakistan is reverting to old habits. Afridi’s family insist the money he handed LI was actually an abduction ransom; for him to now be thrown into prison for such a thing is just outrageous. And seeing some western media outlets engage in an almost gleeful defamation of his character — it doesn’t matter whether he drank or slept with lots of women, what matters is his guilt! — is almost as disappointing.

There remains precious little comprehension of why Pakistan is doing these things in the U.S. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently cut an extra $33 million from budgeted aid to Pakistan — one for each year of Afridi’s sentence. This comes after other steep cuts to aid to Pakistan. Military sales remain high, however, and by cutting civilian programs what the Senate is doing is cutting one of the few non-military, non-CIA methods the U.S. has of directly communicating with the people of Pakistan.

At the same time, the White House still declines to apologize over last November’s killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers (regardless of cause, it can be worded in such a way that it still expresses anger at their shooting at U.S. troops), which is a big reason why Pakistan has refused to open its supply lines through Karachi. Especially after the discovering how openly Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan last year, members in Congress are angrier than ever — and, just like with the drones, while I think it’s not the best idea to make decisions in anger, they are completely justified in being angry.

That being said, the U.S. made some serious mistakes in the last year in Pakistan. One of them was the decision to run a fake vaccination program — a huge blunder public health experts fretted about last year. The growing mistrust over the role that aid workers might play in American foreign policy led to a series of violent actions against foreign-born aid workers which culminated in the death of an employee of the ICRC. As a result, the ICRC suspended its operations in Pakistan. Now that David Ignatius has admitted it was a mistake (a year later), we can assume the CIA has finally come around to believe this as well. They’re very late to the game but it’s hard to overstate how damaging that was, and how big a role Dr. Afridi played in it.

While the U.S. has made mistakes, Pakistan’s behavior is absolutely shameful all around: on bin Laden, on Afridi, on the supply routes, on their fudged definitions of jurisdiction and sovereignty, and over their selective outrage for some kinds of terrorism (Mangal Bagh) but not others (Jalaluddin Haqqani).

Pakistan’s future, in other words, does not look especially bright. They seem determined to self-destruct over their continued state sponsorship of international terrorists, the continued antagonism over the bin Laden raid, and their refusal to participate in Afghan peace talks. Once the war there winds down, Pakistan will find itself increasingly isolated, and increasingly the subject of uncomfortable scrutiny regarding its many unacceptable policy choices over the last fifteen years. When the U.S. no longer needs to worry so much about the war in Afghanistan I suspect the gloves will come off. And then, Pakistan will become a truly ugly place.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Brandt Hardin May 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

One year after Bin Laden’s death and over 10 years since 9/11, American citizens are still blindly allowing their civil liberties to be taken away one piece of legislation at a time. How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice to feel safe? Under the guise of fighting terrorism, laws have been put in place as a means to spy on our own citizens and to detain and torture dissidents without trial or a right to council. You can read much more about living in this Orwellian society of fear and see my visual response to these measures on my artist’s blog at

asim May 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm

US sentencd Dr Fai for 2 years over charge of lobbying 4 other country (Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir ), same US angry over Dr Shakeel ‘s sentence who spied for CIA, as he was suppose to inform ISI as a loyal citizen.

asim May 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Pakistan has a very bright future and has the potential. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, its just that your is subjective based on your poor knowledge and bigoted mind set

Jay May 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm
The case of Dr.Shakeel Afridi and Pakistan Tribal Law: An interview with Mr. Khalid Aziz, an expert

Ravi Rikhye, May 30-31, 2012

Dr. Shakeel Afridi is the person recruited by the US CIA to help pinpoint Osama Bin Laden’s location. He was sentenced to 30-years jail plus a fine, in lieu of which he must serve another three years. The Pakistan government initially said he was being tried for treason. Now the government says it was for aiding a terrorist militia.

Q. Dr. Afridi was tried under tribal law and not allowed to present evidence on his behalf or hire a lawyer. Is this not a violation of human rights?

KA The tribal areas of Pakistan called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) are an Imperialist construction created by Britain to keep a people as a free militia,fully armed and controlled by special law called the Frontier Crimes Regulation(FCR). They were to be the first line of defense against any Russian outbreakinto India. Britain created a juridical fiction that said that although the tribal areas are a part of India but they are not a part of British India. By excluding the FATA from British India the British absolved themselves of either educating the tribes or initiating political development. Pakistan has even today continued with the same policies.

Thus tribesmen remain out of the jurisdiction of superior judiciary and human rights are not applicable here. Even more Draconian laws have been brought to apply in the region under the inhuman “Aid to Civil Authorities,” regulation that gives the power to a military official topropose the indefinite detention of a person suspected of being/or assisting any militant.

Under the FCR the accused does not have the right to a lawyer as they are not permitted to work in FATA; Shakeel’s lawyer has alleged that Shakeel was charged with different charges other than what was seen byhim, the FCR lawyers are not permitted in proceedings as it is the member ofthe Jirga appointed by the Political Agent are the final arbiters of the fate of a person.

Q. But under thissystem anyone can be accused and condemned for any offense under tribal lawwithout any right to argue their innocence.

KA According to S. 11 (2) an accused has the right to convey his objections to the Political Agent who can accept or reject the application.To that extent the balance is greatly in favor of the state and anyone is thus easy to convict. Remember the aim is not to provide justice but to ensure the prevalence of what the State desires. It is very much akin to the conduct of trial by military commissions. However, under S. 11, FCR the accused has a right to a hearing (S. 11 [1]) and he can raise objections and the Political agent has to give reasons before disposing the petitions. Whether the accused presented applications raising objections is not known – but is unlikely.

Q. Do tribes even run a jail systemwhere they can lock up someone for 33 years?

KA The maximum sentence that a Political agent can impose onhis own is 7 years (S. 12 (2) FCR). With the the approval of the Commissioner who is the supervisory officer of the Political Agent, the sentence can be doubled. But cannot be for 33 years. This is wrong reporting. Since Shakeel has been sentenced on 4 counts the award of the sentences add up to 33 years, but he cannot be imprisoned for more than 14 years.

Convicted tribesmen serve their sentences in prisons that are in the districts – in this case in Peshawar.

Q. Media says he is not a resident of the tribal area under whose law hewas tried. Is this right? And if it is, how to they have jurisdiction over him?

KA Shakeel is an Afridi and a Malikdin tribesman and thus he is under the jurisdiction of Political Agent Khyber; the FCR has jurisdiction over him.

Q. How can a tribe try anyone for treason? Treason is against a nation state.

KA FCR recognizes offences against the State and thus aiding and abetting terrorists can be anoffence under the FCR and is thus cognizable.
Mr. Aziz welcomes correspondence on this issue at

RScott June 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I think the reasons the Brits came up with the FCR may be a bit off.
They spent roughly 100 years trying to bring those areas under their control and failed. They established a system that maintained a relationship with the tribes via the Political Agent and a semblance of order with the Frontier Corps mostly made up of tribals and at least Pashtuns. But at the same time found a way of leaving the locals alone under mostly their own rule. They lost too many people trying to bring the tribal areas under their control, like the Malakand Field Force in the late 1800s reported on by a young Churchill, which was not into the present tribal areas but just north. The area that the modern Pakistan Taliban began their movement and includes Swat?

Kurt June 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm

It is a very sad situation for Dr. Shakil Afridi for helping the CIA locate and kill Osama bin Laden and then face charges of treason and then be sentenced to 33 years in prison. Here is a man that put himself out to help the United States bring to justice the man who was responsible for so much carnage such as the events of 9-11. It is no doubt that he is recognized as a hero in the United States as he assisted those that could put down one of the world’s most wanted and evil man.
I am constantly amazed of the thinking of Pakistan. They say that they do not support or harbor terrorist. Yet, the United States, through covert operation, were able to located and take out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan of which the Pakistan government has repeatedly denied knowing his whereabouts. Here comes Dr. Afridi who help us put bin Laden down and now he is going to prison for treason allegations of him having ties with the Mangal Bagh and the banned terror group Lashkar-e-Islam. He did not have a fair trial as we would in the United States. He was tried under the terms of the Frontier Crimes regulation, which denies three basic rights to residents of FATA, which are the right to appeal detention, the right to legal representation, and the right to present reasoned evidence. What is interesting is that Pakistan claim no jurisdiction in FATA but happens to claim Dr. Afridi who is a part of FATA. FATA is also an area where many international terrorist conduct their activities.
It seem that Pakistan interpret the laws to suit their purposes. They do not claim jurisdiction of FATA, but they get upset when we go in and take out Osama bin Laden with the doctor’s help and thus claim him as being a traitor for bringing down one of the most evil man in the world.
It is no doubt in my mind that Pakistan displays some very twisted behavior. I concur that Pakistan’s future does not look too bright. I believe that as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close and we will not longer need Pakistan to continue our mission in Afghanistan, those two countries will revert to their old ways and eventually fall on to themselves, as they will eventually continue to take an apathetic approach to state sponsorship of international terrorists.

Khan Afridi June 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

The trade deficit with Pakistan is about 2 billion, stop pakistani imports into US and you will see changes…In addition, US should push/assist western parts of Pakistan plus Afghanistan in developing it as world’s center for fabric and carpet industry. This will develop these area and re-introduce the silk road for a prosperous region plus turn young man away from extremism. This industry already employs men and women, but lack infrastructure because of Islamabad’s neglect and use of the industry to advance Punjab economy.

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