Dr Shakil Afridi, better known for running a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad at CIA’s behest with the aim of tracking down Osama bin Laden, and sentenced to 33 years by a Fata court for his ties with a terrorist group, filed an appeal against his conviction last week. In his verdict, the Additional District magistrate, who sentenced him under the Frontier Crimes Regulations that govern the federally administered tribal areas, recommended that a court with relevant jurisdiction should proceed against the CIA operative for his liaison with a foreign intelligence service. The United States establishment, that views him as a hero, has put its full weight behind the doctor, pressurising our government not to punish him for his crime; making public statements, using diplomatic channels and slashing the aid it promised. And of course, the donor-driven lobby of human rights activists and our so-called liberal intelligentsia is working overtime to rescue him, clutching at every possible technicality to make a martyr out of a villain. Where on earth are they coming from on this one?
Laws, whether international or of any land, have never been a consideration for the US when it comes to waging its dirty wars and funding subversive activities around the globe. After all, the spuriously defined interests of the sole superpower are supreme and it feels that it has the right to ride roughshod over everything that stands in its way. It would be silly to think that those in the US establishment and mainstream Western media who are applauding Afridi for his heroic role would even consider the ethical aspects of a doctor endangering children through a fake vaccination campaign in another country. They are known to overlook crimes perpetrated by the US government and CIA that are far more serious, like killing innocent civilians, including women and children, in illegal drone attacks. The barbarity of US actions is acceptable to these blind patriots because those at the receiving end are bad non-Americans out to harm their homeland.
American writers critical of the US stance on Afridi have pointed out that the global bully has meted out much harsher punishments to its own citizens guilty of lesser crimes. They have raised many valid questions. What if an American citizen accepted money to work for a foreign intelligence agency to run a fake vaccination campaign targeting American children with the aim of locating someone wanted by that foreign agency without the knowledge of US authorities? Will the US government let him go scot-free and hand him over to the country whose intelligence agency had hired him? These conscientious voices are likely to remain unheard in the bigoted corridors of American power because the double standards that inform the US foreign policy go hand-in-hand with the arrogance that the superpower shamelessly parades around. What is good for the US is not good for other countries because, after all, they are not the US!
The US response to the Afridi case is, therefore, quiet predictable and easy to understand. What is disconcerting, however, is the campaign to rescue the unethical doctor turned foreign agent that has been started by the one-eyed champions of human rights and a section of the media. The donor-driven civil society and co-opted writers are screaming murder, fishing for loopholes in his conviction and crying for a fair trial for the spy. Disregarding the recommendation in the verdict for trying him in a competent court of law with the jurisdiction to try him for working for a foreign intelligence agency, they smell a rat because he has been sentenced for another crime. It doesn’t even seem to matter that his appeal will go through the due process of the existing law, whatever its shortcomings. They do not dispute the facts about his devious fake vaccination campaign, but would like to employ all rules of fairplay to shield him from punishment. They have taken up his cause, as if the rule of law in the country depended on it. And that is basically the problem with these one-eyed champions.
While they might have valid reasons to criticise the court verdict, their enthusiasm to come to Afridi’s aid gives us an insight into their priorities and perspective. In a national context, where they could help a multitude of innocent and helpless Pakistanis, why would these champions of human rights and rule of law make a big issue out of one case regarding a certified spy who didn’t have any qualms about running a fake vaccination campaign targeting children? Why do their hearts bleed for a the hired CIA operative more than it does for innumerable other cases involving poor Pakistani citizens, who did nothing wrong to get into trouble? Have they given some thought to their fellow citizens bombed by drones in their homes, a mosque and a bakery only last week? Given that even a criminal should be treated fairly, it is difficult to make sense of a concerted effort to save one hired spy in the present context; a spy who has appealed against his conviction, has the resources to defend himself and is protected by the sole superpower.
What makes justice for a tainted Afridi more urgent than for other untainted citizens? Is it because, taking the cue from their donors and patrons, the one-eyed champions consider Afridi a hero, who must be saved? Or, as has been suggested by some writers, have they been assigned and funded for running this save-Afridi campaign?
n The writer is a freelance columnist.