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Dr Afridi’s conviction

May 30, 2012


IN a fit of pique, our security establishment decided to punish Dr Shakil Afridi to make Pakistan look strong after the Osama bin Laden raid made it look weak. Never mind the embarrassment of Pakistan being painted internationally as a country that regards someone helping track down the world’s most wanted terrorist as deserving of years of punishment. But only in Pakistan can preposterousness be topped off with more of the same. According to documents accessed by this newspaper, it seems Dr Afridi was actually convicted by the Fata tribunal not for aiding the US intelligence apparatus in Pakistan, as was widely reported earlier, but for colluding with Mangal Bagh, leader of the Lashkar-i-Islam in Khyber Agency and a thorn in the side of the Pakistani state (though, like many militants in the tribal region, the history of his relationship with the state isn’t as straightforward as is now portrayed).

This abrupt change raises some difficult questions. First is the Pakistani government’s silence in the face of the reaction provoked by Dr Afridi’s sentencing. Not just was it condemned by some senior figures within the US government, the US Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to cut aid to Pakistan by $33m — a million for each year of detention handed down to Dr Afridi, generally regarded in the US as a hero that helped bring down the world’s most wanted man. Given the shaky juncture at which Pak-US relations currently stand, it is curious that there was no denial from official quarters that Dr Afridi had in fact been convicted for links to a militant group. If the reason behind his conviction was different, why was this not clarified earlier? And if the charges included treason, as this government also indicated, why was he not tried in an open court under the regular laws of the land? There are, after all, numerous legal precedents of people being tried and convicted for providing information for recompense to a foreign government.

Yet another question is that, quite clearly, bin Laden — and numerous other known militants — lived and moved freely on Pakistani soil for several years. But despite the institution of an inquiry commission into the bin Laden matter, the only head to have rolled so far is that of Dr Afridi. Had the state been apprehending and convicting militants or those responsible for bin Laden’s undetected presence in the country, Dr Afridi would have little to complain about. But his case appears to be more the exception than the rule. Preposterousness heaped on preposterousness: it’s never a good way for any country to manage its affairs.