Dr Afridi’s conviction: Some questions

Published: May 24, 2012

This photograph taken on July 22, 2010, shows Pakistani surgeon Shakeel Afridi, who was working for CIA to help find Osama bin Laden, attending a Malaria control campaign in Khyber tribal district. PHOTO: AFP

Osama bin Laden lived peacefully and safely in this country for many years and yet, the only person to have been punished for that so far is the man who helped locate him. Other than that no action has been taken against anybody in the government’s intelligence or law-enforcement apparatus, either on account of how American helicopters intruded so deep inside Pakistani territory or on account of how Osama bin Laden managed to live in Pakistan, apparently undetected for so many years. Dr Shakil Afridi, who ran a vaccination programme to collect DNA samples of Osama bin Laden’s family at the behest of the US, was given a 33 year sentence by a tribal court under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). Why he was tried and sentenced in Khyber Agency when the crime took place in Abbottabad, which is in the settled areas and thereby under the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court remains to be answered. By trying him under the FCR — notwithstanding an unnamed government official telling news wires that he has the right of appeal — Article 247 of the Constitution effectively bars the high court or the Supreme Court from jurisdiction on this matter. And, to make the whole ‘trial’ even more controversial, as perhaps is the norm in such matters under the FCR, the doctor did not have a lawyer.

No wonder then that this verdict is bound to be questioned by many. For starters, there is the argument — with some justification — that helping locate the world’s most wanted man should not warrant 33 years in jail, even if it meant helping a foreign government in the process. Of course, this is not to say that Dr Afridi did not violate the laws of the land — he did, but did he deserve such a stiff prison term? Furthermore, two of the three charges that he was convicted of are, “waging war against Pakistan”, and “concealing a plan to wage war against Pakistan” should be seen in the context of the eventual outcome, which was that the country was rid of perhaps the world’s most dangerous terrorist; a man whose organisation and its affiliates have the blood of thousands of Pakistanis on their hands. Moreover, the previous government of General Pervez Musharraf handed to the US dozens of al Qaeda leaders and not a single case of violation of sovereignty or of  ‘waging war against Pakistan’ was filed against anyone.

The sorry fact is that Dr Afridi’s treatment tells us — and the outside world — a lot about our priorities. We are still fixated with the US violation of our sovereignty on May 2, but choose to ignore that militants have been freely using our territory for years. This has also been the great failing of the commission tasked to investigate the circumstances around the May 2 raid. Instead of focusing on how Osama was able to freely live in Abbottabad and instead of determining if he was doing so with the support of anyone in the government or the military, the commission, too, has been preoccupied with the sovereignty question. There is another aspect to this as well. Ordinary Pakistanis have seen, how in recent months, dreaded killers and those who spew sectarian hatred and incite others to murder and cause mayhem have been let off by courts on account of  “lack of evidence”. In fact, this doesn’t apply only to those who kill in the name of religion but even, say, to Karachi, where dozens of target killers have held the city practically hostage, killing hundreds in the process. However, one has yet to see a single one of these criminals being convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence. Juxtapose this with the case of Dr Shakil Afridi, who helped in the capture and removal from Pakistan of Bin Laden and who was given a swift ‘trial’, with no lawyer, and handed down a prison term of over 30 years! No wonder the only message the rest of the world, and many within this country, will get from this is that we are not serious about fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and that the anti-Americanism within us is now so virulent, it prevents us from seeing and doing things that are otherwise in our own interest.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.

Reader Comments (32)

  • omer
    May 25, 2012 - 12:15AM

    Dear editor,If Dr shakeel Afridi was so keen in handing over the world’s most wanted person then why he did not approach the Pakistani govt?Why did he assisted the US govt despite the fact that sentiments are against them?How can we blame the security apparatus for not inter faring the American choppers, once the technology used was stealth, which is beyond the capability of our radars?If such evils are not nipped then every second person will abet US nefarious designs and the situation will be nothing else but panic all around……..

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  • Nangdharangg Pakistani
    May 25, 2012 - 2:22AM

    What a crying shame !

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  • Mirza
    May 25, 2012 - 3:49AM

    The first few lines of your editorial says it all. OBL was living comfortably in a new custom home in our army base for many years. The US and world found him and killed him. As a result not a single person was punished who has stationed OBL and helped him with other terrorists. On the contrary the rightwing is upset at being unmasked and losing their most prized strategic asset. Instead of showing happiness at his killing, showing remorse for presence in the safety of our base, and punishing the culprits we are all looking for “why and how OBL was discovered”?
    The friends of OBL are the hero and well protected while his enemies are the fall guys. This is justice Pakistani style and thanks for the Independent judiciary! The PCO judges are too busy in contempt and memo cases not to provide justice to a hero like Afridi.

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  • Ch Allah Daad
    May 25, 2012 - 3:51AM

    He is guilty of minimum two charges, one is that he sold thousands of people’s health information for his personal gains. He should have been charged under privacy act. Its a serious charge because as adoctor he is bound to keep this information to himself or any agnecy authorized only by government of Pakistan. Suppose he took blood samples and provided information of 1000 people to unathorized agency, it means he committed this crime repeatedly for thousand times. Total of this sentence would have been been sufficient to hold him for life. No one in West would have objected to this charge and sentence. DNA information is far more important than Credit Card or other financial instruments.
    Second charge is that being a Doctor and accomplice of CIA, he should have acted smartley and fled long time before Abbottabad Operation. Why he did not have an exit strategy? Being so stupid is a crime which is unforgivable in our culture.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    May 25, 2012 - 5:49AM

    Whether Pakistanis like it or not, in this case Pakistan is taking on the world. One more nail in the sad demise of Pakistan. Next step: Expect ban on textile imports from Pakistan to US and EU.

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  • Jibran
    May 25, 2012 - 6:00AM

    And we hang our heroes!

    Dr. Afridi, I’m sorry and ashamed for the treatment meted out to you. Our “protectors” have a long history of violence, and terror against us, starting from Bengal, to Balochistan, and throughout the country. They believe that ordinary Pakistanis are their slaves and they can play with their lives as they wish. Unfortunately, they continue to find many civilian touts from the Northern part of my Province, i.e., Punjab.

    I’m sorry, I’m ashamed.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    May 25, 2012 - 6:07AM

    And if under some deal Iran allows US the route to Afghanistan…..

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  • ABCD
    May 25, 2012 - 7:03AM

    His biggest crime was giving innocent children fake polio drops in his attempt to get dna swabs.. that’s really what he should be tried for and given the maximum penalty allowed for it..

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  • observer
    May 25, 2012 - 8:13AM

    @Omer

    Dear editor,If Dr shakeel Afridi was so keen in handing over the world’s most wanted person then why he did not approach the Pakistani govt?

    The victims of Malik Ishaq did approach the Pakistani govt. And the victims of Mumbai 2008 too. And the victims of Gojra and the victims of Ghari Shahu as well.

    Now you know, Why not?

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  • Harbans Singh
    May 25, 2012 - 8:17AM

    Very good article. Dr. could have been tried at the most for unethical practice. But Pakistan is Pakistan.

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  • Mohammad Assad
    May 25, 2012 - 8:54AM

    I think sentencing Dr Afridi in such a manner is a deliberate ploy to ensure that everyone talks about Dr Afridi but ignore the real question. How did OBL get to that Compound in Abbotabad?

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  • ayesha_khan
    May 25, 2012 - 9:21AM

    @omer: “How can we blame the security apparatus for not inter faring the American choppers, once the technology used was stealth, which is beyond the capability of our radars?”

    Okay but your army knew when Salala checkpost was being bombed. It is all fine and dandy to ask US to apologize. Has anyone asked army leadership to apologize for not scrambling jets in response. There was no stealth technology at that time. How well did the armed forces protect the nation’s sovereignty?

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  • Mirza
    May 25, 2012 - 9:23AM

    @Ch Allah Daad:
    Sir I thought that you are smarter than this comment. In the safe house there were not thousand of people living but only a dozen or two. Please do not increase it by this big factor. Screening for DNA to make sure that innocents do not die is not a crime. OBL’s death is a great news for liberal Pakistanis and the world except some ISI officials.
    Regards,
    Mirza

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  • ayesha_khan
    May 25, 2012 - 9:24AM

    @Ch Allah Daad: I agree about his unethical use of medical information. The fact is he was not charged for that. He was charged for waging a war against Pakistan and for compromising state’s interests.

    Also he was convicted by an assistant political agent using FCR. Since the crime was committed in Abbotabad he was entitled to be tried in Pakistani courts.

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  • Wellwisher
    May 25, 2012 - 9:36AM

    First create a problem out of ordinary thing. Then when the opposite party comes for negotiation settle the thing on ‘give two and take one’ policy. This is what that is going on between Pakistan and US since 1947. Establishment zindabad.

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  • Malatesh
    May 25, 2012 - 9:56AM

    @ABCD, It was not fake polio campaign. NATO and Dr Afridi took advantage of this fair program.

    @Ch Allah Daad,
    @omer,
    No doubt that he collected some blood samples. But, how can you justify 30yrs jail for that reason?

    Everyone knew that NATO shared information to Pak many times about OBL presence. But, all time Pakistan denied and OBL to escapes safely from that place.

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  • nayyer nazir
    May 25, 2012 - 11:21AM

    Though the sentence may have been harsh and the manner controversial, the Big bully, USA, has no business to interfere and blackmail us in what is an entirely internal matter. We definately have to set an example to stop individuals from behaving against the interests of the country, whether we agree or not what constitutes our interests.

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  • TureStory
    May 25, 2012 - 11:21AM

    I wonder, If tomorrow RAW comes upto you and asks, look Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist we should get him killed and take these $10,000 and put a bullet in his head or help us do that, WILL U DO THAT.

    Questions could be raised on his fair trial, on why others helping CIA were not tried, How come US invaded our country and no one knew…but the fact Remains that Afridi helped a forieng country’s intel agency and acted as their spy which ultimately led to the May 2 debacle…so his actions are treasonous and he should be tried for that.

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  • faheema
    May 25, 2012 - 11:30AM

    @ omer,
    Are you sure if Dr Afridi would inform about the whereabouts of OBL, your agencies, govt and deep state would really take any action? In this situation most probably Dr Afridi would go missing, or have been killed by some unknown miscreants etc. and Osama bin laden would have been safely living under the complete protection of those elements of state who provided him safe palace to rest and purchase young girls as new life partners. It seems we are collectively naive or stupid.

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  • cautious
    May 25, 2012 - 3:24PM

    The doctor got 33 years for providing blood samples to the USA for DNA testing – that’s what this all boils down to. The people who were tested got real vaccinations and suffered no harm. It’s understandable that Pakistan is embarrassed – after all you have loudly proclaimed he was no in Pakistan – even after Afghanistan told you he was hiding near Islamabad. The fact that Pakistan has made no effort to find out who was assisting OBL is convincing evidence on who is really guilty in this debacle – shame on Pakistan.

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  • Shyam
    May 25, 2012 - 3:54PM

    Afridi did not help the Americans invade the Pakistani air space on May 2 2011, the incompetence of your army did. Why should afridi be held responsibe for the Army’s sheer incompetence?

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  • May 25, 2012 - 5:35PM

    They describe the court decision in regard to the conviction,
    as unjust and unwarranted.

    According to the stance taken by them,”he acted against most wanted kingpin not Pakistan so he deserved not such punishment.

    Having read all the stories attributed to the doctor and his successful mission,I come to the conclusion that he showed good efficiency but malafidly,

    Any mission in the state for any other state comes under spy crime,he worked for foreign spy agency keeping the relevant authorities in darkness.
    No one can declare such activities as a bonafide .

    Relations between the two countries are already strained,doctor’s matter has ignited it further,

    According to the reliable independent sources,United States has taken action on this matter by stopping aid to Pakistan and attached it with the freedom of the alleged doctor.

    What should do Pakistan in such circumstances,this is sign of interrogation before us,
    Pakistan would have to take a firm decision in this regard.

    The best way is that we depend our own sources and break the bowl of begging or accept their supremacy to the extent of slavery.

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  • May 25, 2012 - 5:37PM

    Malafide action is subject to punishment.

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  • May 25, 2012 - 8:42PM

    Is the FCR operative? We hear that it is no longer on the Statute, and the Prime Minister rescinded the law.?. Then , does an Assistant Political Agent has that much power to award a sentence of 33 years?

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  • Fareed
    May 25, 2012 - 9:20PM

    You see, the decision aside – what if tomorrow thousands of similar people start telling secret locations of these extremists to the CIA? The US starts banging into Pakistan with their stealth technology and we would never know who came and who went?!

    I don’t like these extremists either – but – who gives the right to foreign intells to operate legally? Who decides which extremist is an extremist and who not? I don’t thing the US is one who can make this decision with their past record of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    And guys pls aqal ko haaath maaro – some decisions are made symbolically so that others don’t follow.

    There is alot going wrong in pakistan but i wouldn’t like a stranger rading my house and telling me that my brother is a thief and has to be picked up. Who is he to decide??

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  • vigilant
    May 25, 2012 - 9:31PM

    i don’t care about bin-ladin issue….may be he did good but spying for others and conducting fake polio prevention drive are biggest crimes….no one cares about it

    @C. Nandkishore:
    and same countries will consider the ban on our travel because of polio…..

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  • ayesha_khan
    May 26, 2012 - 5:29AM

    @vigilant: “and conducting fake polio prevention drive are biggest crime “

    It was not a fake campaign. It was an unauthorized campaign. The children got genuine vaccination and no harm was brought to them.

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  • Tariq
    May 26, 2012 - 8:01AM

    @omer:
    Because the Pakistani Goverment was complicit in protecting and harboring OBLRecommend

  • a_writer
    May 26, 2012 - 9:33AM

    The question I have in my mind is – was this Dr. even aware that he was helping CIA? I am pretty sure, it was not a team of Americans came to his office and requested that he carry out a fake vaccination campaign. He probably sensed something was afoot when he started this project – but probably could not say no to the people asking him to do it.I bet everyone of the people he interacted with on this program were local people who were working for someone… working for someone …. up the chain all the way to the CIA.
    He is just the fall guy for the embarrassing exposure of the incompetence or the complicity of the movers and shakers behind the screen in Pakistan. Just like Raymond Davis, OBL, Salala incident, this is the next act in which Pakistan is getting ready to get ‘egg on its face’.

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  • Mahakaalchakra
    May 26, 2012 - 1:02PM

    DNA can be tested from a sample of saliva. You do not need blood samples.

    Polio drops and vaccination program, in my opinion, were genuine as NATO/CIA has billions of dollars to spend for such program and will never play with the health of public in general because CIA is answerable to the congress, their voters and also to the UN.Recommend

  • Concerned
    May 26, 2012 - 2:50PM

    An excellent write up full of facts. By wrongfully convicting the doctor who located the world’s most notorious terrorist, Pakistan has taken a giant step towards being declared as a failed state.

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  • arthur zobo
    May 26, 2012 - 3:51PM

    This is a clear manifestation of which way the winds blow_ in this isolated state which is merely adding to its woes.This good doctor should have been nationally honored for getting rid of the most wanted terrorist.Those deserving the punishment should be those in positions of High and Mighty who ignored OBL’s presence and facilitated his entry.How long can we act in such imbecilic ways and for how long can be nobody’s guess since we have mastered the Art which was once the domain of the Big Bird__the ostrich!

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