Pakistani medic assists U.S. bin Laden capture. A treasonous crime?
Following the revelation on Saturday that a Pakistani doctor had assisted the United States in tracking down al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, concerns have arisen over the medic’s treatment in Pakistan.
Shakil Afridi was arrested and charged with treason by the Pakistani government, in what could be deemed as Pakistan’s response to Afridi being America’s “right hand man” in easing bin Laden’s capture.
U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden on May 2 in a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, north of the capital Islamabad, and later buried him at sea. Afridi is believed to have set up a fake polio vaccination campaign to try and get DNA samples and verify bin Laden’s presence in the compound.
After disclosing Afridi’s role in the operation, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes program (due to be aired on Sunday) that he was concerned over the Pakistani medic’s criminal charge.
“I’m very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual ... who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation,” Panetta said, according to excerpts of the interview.
“He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan,” the defense secretary said. “Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism ... and for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part.”
But commentators on social media site Twitter have referred to the United States’ treatment of Afridi as part of a “use and abuse policy.”
Canadian political activist and author on Islamist attitudes, Tarek Fatah, discussed on Twitter “how [the] U.S. abandoned the Pakistani Doc who helped them locate bin Laden.”
Meanwhile, reports have circulated that the Pakistani government had hoped to resolve the Afridi matter quietly, once media attention died down, by releasing him to U.S. custody even, anonymous Pakistani officials told the Associated Press.
Back in October, a government commission in Pakistan had said that Afridi should be put on trial for “high treason,” a charge which carries the death penalty.
But the question remains whether capital punishment should be the price to pay for assisting the hunt for the notorious bin Laden; mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks which Pakistan had immediately condemned in 2001.
“So what exactly is the Pakistani national interest that has been harmed by Dr. Afridi in helping locate the world’s most wanted terrorist on Pakistani soil?” the Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper wrote in an editorial in October 2011.
“There is an even more distressing aspect to this tale of transnational subterfuge: reportedly, incensed by the American-sponsored ploy, the security apparatus has tightened its monitoring of international aid agencies and local NGOs involved in the health sector, potentially disrupting the urgent work of stamping out the polio virus that has been resurgent in Pakistan in recent years. Must innocent children suffer because of cloak-and-dagger games between states?” the newspaper questions.
Indeed, the possibility of a death sentence being passed, casts yet another shadow on Afridi’s trial, prompting the question of whether the medic should even be charged with treason.
But in this case, Pakistan chose the charge wisely, imposing “high treason” as a means of implying Afridi had enacted a form of criminal disloyalty to his government.
Under Article 6 of the 1973 Pakistani constitution, the laws largely dictate that high treason is determined by the criminal spying on their military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a foreign power. In this case, Afridi had indeed worked for a foreign power and is now being referred to as a “CIA agent” across international media reports.
Although it remains unclear whether any spying on the country’s security forces was involved, it could be that the Pakistani court is clutching at the notion that Afridi kept his involvement quiet from the Pakistani government. It is then that Afridi could face execution.