Dr Shakil Afridi has been found guilty and sentenced to 33 years of imprisonment by the assistant political agent of Bara in Khyber Agency on five different charges under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The charges include “conspiracy to wage war against the state” and “concealing a conspiracy to wage war against the state”.
Two questions have been raised by many people. The first is that why has he been punished instead of being rewarded for helping a wanted terrorist and the second is that why was he was tried under the FCR and not under the regular law of the land. Here is a little by way of background of Dr Afridi, reported in the vernacular media and narrated by a few locals of Khyber Agency.
Shakil Afridi’s father, Mewa Khan shifted to Multan on lands allotted to his father by the British for his services in the military. Afridi was born and educated in Multan and then on tribal quota got admission in Khyber Medical College in Peshawar. In the early 1990s, he got a job in the health services department of NWFP as it was then called. He was posted as a medical officer at Dogra Hospital in Bara and though being only an MBBS degree holder, he performed surgeries in his clinic. In 2008, on complaints from locals, reportedly Mangal Bagh summoned him and fined him one million rupees. After the fine was not paid initially, Dr Afridi was kidnapped by Mangal Bagh’s men and released only after it was paid. In April 2010, Dr Afridi was posted as agency surgeon for Khyber Agency. His first contact with the Americans took place in 2007-2008, and he is reported to have provided them information about militant groups operating in Khyber Agency. Subsequently, he was tasked to get DNA samples of inhabitants at the Abbottabad compound, suspected to be occupied by Osama bin Laden.
Is he a traitor? I think not. Was he involved in espionage, the answer is again ‘no’. Did he help in locating Osama? No, because he did not know that Osama was hiding there when he was asked to collect the DNA samples. He may not be guilty of the charges under which he has been convicted, but he is guilty of working for a foreign agency, and trying to make quick money, and without prior approval of the Fata Secretariat was running an illegal vaccination campaign in Abbottabad, which was out of his area of responsibility. As for the question of why try him under the FCR, that is because he belongs to and was serving in Khyber Agency.
Any agreement of intelligence-sharing is between two states and no individual can undertake that task on his own, not even ISI officials. The CIA breached this agreement by concealing information from the ISI and tasking a Pakistani government official for a job which they knew was illegal. They did not have any solid reason to hide information from the ISI in case of Osama because there is no instance of shared information being leaked and the target was forewarned. If that were the case, several senior al Qaeda leaders wouldn’t have been arrested in Pakistan with the help of the ISI. Of course, this is not to say that Dr Afridi doesn’t deserve a fair trial and punishment proportionate to his crime. However, the US administration is not justified in seeking his release, because they would never like any US citizen to work for a foreign intelligence agency either.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2012.
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