Dr Shakil Afridi’s conviction for working as a CIA informant couldn’t have come at a worse time. Tensions between the US and Pakistan are already at an all time high because of extreme trust deficit.  The Raymond Davis affair early last year, May 2 Operation Geronimo to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the attack on the Pakistan Army Salala check post by Nato forces drove the two estranged but erstwhile allies further apart. Pakistan adopted various retaliatory actions to express anguish of its people. Their sentiments were deeply hurt after numerous attacks on civilian targets as well as the blatant assaults on the General Headquarters, Pakistan Navy airbase Mehran, Naval Headquarters and Air Force installations had taken a heavy toll of life and property including two high-value maritime surveillance P3C Orion aircraft were destroyed. These heinous attacks not only battered the morale of the armed forces but also provided grist to the rumour mill that perhaps the US is behind the machinations to destabilize Pakistan and pressurize the armed forces into action against the perceived sanctuaries of miscreants in North Waziristan.

The tribal court that tried Dr Shakil Afridi for working for a fake vaccination campaign designed to help the CIA collect DNA samples from bin Laden’s family, sentenced him to 33 years’ imprisonment and fine.  The US senior administration officials including Hillary Clinton and Senator John Kerry has lashed out at the conviction, calling it “unjust” and “unwarranted”, calling for his release. Meanwhile a Senate panel has deducted 33 million dollars from a proposed assistance to Pakistan - one million dollars for each year Dr Afridi will spend in jail. Perhaps both sides have acted in haste. If Dr Afridi had been tried by a regular court, provided access to legal counsel defending him, it would be perceived to be fairer and silenced the doubting Thomas in our midst.

A number of analysts find parallels to the case of Dr Shakil Afridi and Jonathan Pollard, a US citizen who sold US secrets to Israel, and is serving a life term in an American prison. This must be discarded since it would imply that OBL’s lair was a “state secret”, whose divulgence by the misguided Doctor to his CIA handlers, led them to OBL.  A more logical parallel would be the plight of Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, a US citizen of Kashmiri descent, convicted for lobbying for Kashmir without registration and allegedly spying for Pakistani intelligence agencies. The US Foreign Agents Registration Act necessitates citizens who receive funding or lobby on behalf of a foreign government to register as foreign agents. Hence what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

A more ominous crime against humanity, committed by Dr Shakil Afridi, for which any court in the world would invoke the maximum penalty, is the fact that the doctor treacherously ran a fake polio vaccine program. What the western objectors including Hillary et al are being oblivious to is that international and local health workers have been toiling painstakingly to reduce the suspicion of the parents in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and KPK province and coax them to accept the administration of anti-polio campaign for the safety of their children. Decades of reports of western pharmaceuticals running drug tests in the garb of vaccine programs in the third world with disastrous results had made the inhabitants of the region wary of such campaigns. It was only recently that they had begun accepting the vaccination program. Dr Afridi committed two major crimes: Firstly, his fake program may have administered spurious drugs or even if the vaccine was genuine, only the first dose was conferred, leaving the recipient infants susceptible to the onset of polio. Secondly, an even worse and long term consequence is that because of Dr Afridi’s macabre drama, hundreds of thousands of children will fall victim to this crippling infliction because the parents would not allow any vaccination campaigns to come close to their offspring for fear the administrators may be CIA agents in disguise. Like Dr Faustus, Dr Afridi sold his soul to Mephistopheles; for a few measly US dollars, he sealed the fate of future generations of his own region.

n    The writer is a political and defence analyst.

    Email: sultanm.hali@gmail.com