WASHINGTON: The United States has once again reminded Pakistan that it considers Shakil Afridi’s conviction “unjust and unwarranted”, although the Obama administration has stopped the CIA from employing the method the doctor used for tracing Osama bin Laden.

“We believe his treatment is unjust and unwarranted. We regret that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told a briefing in Washington.

Dr Afridi had used a phony vaccination campaign to collect DNA samples from a compound the CIA suspected was Bin Laden’s hideout.

In January last year, deans of 13 US medical schools sent a letter to President Barack Obama, reminding him that the CIA plot caused a severe backlash against vaccination in Pakistan. Dozens of polio vaccinators have been shot dead since then. Other immunisation initiatives were also stopped. Deaths from measles soared in 2012, to 306 from 64 the year before.

The White House wrote back to the deans last week, telling them that it had ordered the CIA not to use vaccination drives for spying.

The issue was raised again at a State Department briefing on Tuesday evening where a journalist asked Spokesperson Psaki to explain if the decision would also affect the US position on Dr Afridi.

“We have clearly communicated our position, as we consistently have, to Pakistan, both in public and in private. We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels during discussions with Pakistan’s leadership. Our position has long been clear and has not changed,” the State Department official said.

The US Embassy in Islamabad also continues to reiterate Washington’s position on this issue, she added while regretting “the severity” of Dr Afridi’s sentence.

Dr Afridi was convicted and sentenced by a Pakistani court to 33 years in prison for treason. The sentence was later overturned and he now faces a retrial.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2014

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