Dr Shakil Afridi has been sentenced to 33 years in prison on treason charges for his role in helping the CIA obtain DNA samples of Osama bin Laden’s children and thus confirming his location. According to press reports, an official jirga constituted by the political agent of Khyber Agency tried him under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and passed the sentence.
The fact of the matter is that Dr Afridi’s sentence on the charge of treason has already attracted international condemnation and is further going to complicate things for Pakistan because the rest of the world will use it to question its sincerity in fighting terrorism and extremism. Two senior American lawmakers, Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, have, in a joint statement, said that the sentence is the “furthest thing” from treason because Dr Afridi helped get rid of a man who had “the blood of thousands of Pakistanis on his hands”.
Whatever one makes of the issue, the fact is that Dr Afridi’s punishment sends a clear message to the world at large: that his help in locating Osama was seen by the Pakistan state as an act of treason. It also sends a strong message to others like Afridi: close your eyes and your mouths if you know the location of other terrorists or else you will also be tried for crimes against the state.
The news of the sentencing has generated considerable debate on social media forums and this is reflective of the divisions that exist in Pakistani society. Many saw what Dr Afridi has done as something heroic and courageous, saying that he had actually acted with patriotism because he helped rid Pakistan of a terrorist and in the process weakened al Qaeda and its affiliates. In the past decade or so, these terrorist outfits have killed thousands of Pakistanis — including women and children — and have had no qualms targeting markets, mosques, funeral congregations, jirgas and other public places.
But there are others who consider Dr Afridi a traitor for his role in helping the Americans eliminate Osama. In this camp fall our various religio-political parties, militant organisations, the military establishment and its sympathisers and of course the ghairat brigade.
Regardless of whether Dr Afridi is a hero or a traitor, some important technical and legal questions arise regarding the charge of treason levelled against him and the holding of his trial through an official jirga under the FCR. He has been accused of “waging war against the state” and of “concealing a plan to wage war against the state”. The truth of the matter is that the doctor’s actions do not appear to fall under the definition of treason by any stretch of imagination. Other than that, the alleged crime of treason was committed in Abbottabad and not in Khyber Agency. So, how can the assistant political agent (who sentenced him) try the doctor for a crime allegedly committed in a settled area?
Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees the rights of the accused, even those who commit treason, and also guarantees them the right to a free and fair trial with access to a lawyer. To make things even worse, the trial by an official jirga under the FCR means that Clause 7 of Article 247 comes into effect and this bars the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan from hearing appeals on his case.
Many like me are simply unable to digest the fact that those involved in the targeted lynching of Ahmadis, Christians and Shias and indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians get away with their crimes because of “lack of evidence”. And those like Dr Afridi, who assist in getting rid of the world’s most dreaded terrorist are swiftly tried and punished — 33 years in prison!
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.