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.