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Mystery deepens

September 12, 2012

IN an already enigmatic case, a mysterious piece of reporting has appeared that carries potentially disruptive implications for Pakistan’s most tortuous bilateral relationship. The interview of the jailed Dr Shakil Afridi that has been published on the Fox News website and is highly critical of the ISI prompts many questions: where and how was it carried out? How did the reporter gain access to the doctor? When Dr Afridi spoke to the reporter, was he aware that he would be quoted in a widely available interview, and did he do so willingly despite knowing he would still be at the mercy of Pakistani police and intelligence the next day? Knowing the answers to these is important because, for one, the fate of Dr Afridi has become a point of disagreement between Pakistan and the US, and the authenticity and reliability of such sensitive reporting on the issue needs to be established. Second, Dr Afridi appears to make broad claims about the ISI’s strategies, tactics and militant links, and it is unclear what qualifies him to do so.  A domestic audience may be able to determine how much is speculation and how much fact, but internationally, his words will be taken as further evidence of Pakistani duplicity whether or not they are rooted in actual knowledge of the ISI’s links and actions.

Much of this could have been avoided if Dr Afridi had had access to a fair and transparent judicial process. Instead, carried out under the Frontier Crimes Regulation and charging him with crimes that had nothing to do with the Abbottabad raid, his trial has only given rise to suspicions at home and abroad that the goal of the Pakistani authorities is to detain him one way or another. It has also raised legitimate questions about why they want to do so despite Dr Afridi being either unaware of his role in the plot or, even if he was aware, helping to capture an enemy of both Pakistan and the US. Sadly, it is Pakistan’s own dubious treatment of Dr Afridi that has left it vulnerable to the further accusations that this interview will lead to.