Friday, May 25, 2012

The Case of Shakil Afridi

The hue and cry over the 33-year sentence handed down to Dr Shakil Afridi, the doctor who may have aided the CIA in tracking down Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad is partly correct. Certainly, the fact that he was tried under the archaic Frontier Crimes Regulations, in secret, and without the chance to defend himself through a lawyer, makes the whole process highly suspect and against the basic principles of a fair trial. Valid questions have also been raised about the hollowness of some of the charges brought against him, including, apparently, 'waging war against Pakistan'.

Dr Shakil Afridi (Photo: Express)

However, some of the apoplectic reaction from members of civil society, which has condemned Dr Afridi being tried at all, is thoroughly misplaced. Some believe he did a great thing by helping rid Pakistan of the world's most dangerous terrorist and so should be thanked or awarded rather than prosecuted. Others have drawn comparisons between his swift trial and conviction and the lack of effective prosecution of real terrorists. Even journalist Najam Sethi, in his programme yesterday, questioned how what Dr Afridi did was any different from the Pakistani state's collaboration with the CIA in going after Al Qaeda's militants and stated that the Americans, after all, are Pakistan's professed strategic allies. All of these are false premises.

Let's be clear about one thing. No country in the world allows its citizens to freelance as spies for another country's agencies, whether friendly or hostile. Which is not to say that people do no do it, just that they know the risks of what can happen to them if they are caught. Forget being spies, the US has laws against its citizens even lobbying public opinion on behalf of foreign interests without revealing their connections. Remember the case of one Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai?  There have been a number of instances of American citizens being convicted of spying or passing information on to its greatest 'ally' Israel. Dr Shakil Afridi apparently confessed (this is a point that is yet to be proved in a fair trial) that he knowingly assisted the CIA in running a fake vaccinations programme set up to obtain DNA samples from the residents of the compound where bin Laden was eventually killed. No matter what one thinks of the outcome, Pakistan has every right to charge him for colluding with a foreign agency, and if the charges are proved in a fair trial, to convict him.

Yes, it's a real and terrible pity that the Pakistani state and Pakistani courts are criminally lax about the prosecution and conviction of far worse people than Dr Afridi, but this line of reasoning, while it scores political points, is really a false equivalence. By this reasoning, nobody should ever be tried for manslaughter in a road accident or theft or kidnapping or for any other everyday crime since they are far smaller crimes than those committed by those terrorists who have killed thousands and got away scot free. Similarly, with respect to Mr Sethi's point about whether what Dr Afridi did was any different from what the government of Pakistan has been doing for years, yes, there is a difference (whether one likes it or not) between a state sanctioned operation and a freelance operation. It is similar to the difference between the police having the right to use firearms versus ordinary citizens using firearms. But more importantly, if the state is violating the law - e.g. by extraditing people to a foreign entity without going through the due legal process - it is something that in and of itself needs to challenged; it still does not confer legitimacy to others who decide to violate the law.

The US Congress' hypocritical outrage over the treatment of Dr Afridi - er, Guantanamo, anyone? - really is not worth commenting over. They are simply looking to protect their asset, their employee.

In my personal opinion, whether Dr Afridi is charged with treason or not, what he certainly should have been charged with is intentional malpractice and stripped of his medical title for violating his Hippocratic Oath. First of all, he placed innocent children and families knowingly in harm's way by running a fake vaccination programme. As detailed by The Guardian's report linked to earlier:

"The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children. 
Afridi had posters for the vaccination programme put up around Abbottabad, featuring a vaccine made by Amson, a medicine manufacturer based on the outskirts of Islamabad. 
In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived."

Secondly, he has endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of other children in an area where there were already (unfounded) virulent suspicions about vaccination programmes. As the Associated Press reported soon after the programme was revealed:

"Pakistani health officials held meetings about the alleged CIA scheme on Tuesday and expressed concern that it could have a negative impact on immunization programs in other areas of the northwest, especially in Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border, said a Pakistani official involved in polio eradication efforts… 
One of the Pakistani Taliban’s top commanders, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, recently called on people in the northwest to avoid vaccines offered by the international community, claiming they were made with “extracts from bones and fat of an animal prohibited by God — the pig.”  
“Don’t fall prey to these infidel NGOs and this U.S.-allied government and its army,” said Mohammed over the illegal radio station he transmits from his sanctuary in eastern Afghanistan. Pakistani officials and their international partners have pushed back against these claims, but the CIA’s reported activities in the country may have made their job that much harder."

You can read more about what impact such kind of rumours have had on immunisation programmes in other places here, which also points out the following:

"[T]he allegation that a vaccine program was not what it seemed — that it was not only suspect, but justifiably suspect — has been very widely reported. This is awful. It plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm. 
That is not speculation. The polio campaign has already seen this happen, based on just those kind of suspicions — not in a single poor slum in New Delhi, but across much of sub-Saharan Africa... 
The accusations that polio vaccination was a Potemkin cover for anti-Islamic activities almost ruined the international eradication of polio when they were false. Now, on the basis of the CIA’s alleged appalling ruse in Pakistan, they may be made again. And they will be much more believable, because this time they might be be true."

Finally, he has endangered the lives of his fellow - real - health workers. As noted here,

"InterAction, an alliance of 198 American NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, CARE, ChildFund International, World Wildlife Fund, Plan International USA, Helen Keller International, Action Against Hunger and Relief International, said the CIA’s tactics also endangered the lives of foreign aid workers. “The CIA-led immunization campaign compromises the perception of U.S. NGOs as independent actors focused on a common good and casts suspicion on their humanitarian workers. The CIA’s actions may also jeopardize the lives of humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan.”"

The Guardian reported that Save the Children was forced to evacuate eight of its international workers last July over fears for their safety:

"A senior western official said Afridi told his wife he was working for Save the Children when he was in fact running the fake CIA programme. The allegation emerged during interrogation. 
A senior aid worker corroborated that account, saying Afridi may have mentioned Save the Children "during the early stages of his interrogation". Save the Children said it was horrified that Afridi had abused its name. "We are shocked by the allegations that our name has been falsely used in this way. Save the Children's work in Pakistan is helping the most vulnerable children and their families," said [SCF spokesperson Ishbel] Matheson."

So, yes, demand a fair trial for Shakil Afridi by all means. This is his and all of our right. But let's not build a mercenary rogue into a hero. And I for one would not in the least shed tears if, at the end of an open and fair trial, he were to be convicted not of treason but of unabashed medical malpractice. After all, even the mobster Al Capone was convicted only for tax evasion, wasn't he?


Ahsan said...

Good post Pyalas. One thing I would add is that those people (particularly in the US) calling him a hero don't quite understand that he didn't know what he was doing. He didn't know they were trying to get OBL. So how can you give him credit for something which he wasn't even aware of?

Nadir El-Edroos said...

Alot of the outrage is on process and hypocrisy of how the law has been used to come down with a ton of breaks on him.

If using the FCR and putting him before a "tribal court" was the way to get a swift and "legal" conviction, what stops the swift conviction of say Mumtaz Qadri? It also lays to waste the argument that the law is not tough enough so suspected terrorists are let go, if that was the case, why not use the FCR?

I for one wont be surprised if sometime down the line he is quietly released or let go, using him as a bargaining chip. Perhaps that explains why the FCR was used, so that if he needs to be swiftly pardoned it would be less cumbersome than going through the courts.

Pashtun said...

You Taliban apologist, biased Punjabi.

Pashtun said...

Dr Shakil is our Hero. Pakistan is terrorist country, who hosted Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Blaming Dr Shakil will not hide from the world, the fact that how OBL lived there for so many years? Pakistan is enraged with Dr, for he deprived them their great strategic asset OBL. Paki terrorists.

XYZ said...

@Ahsan:Perhaps they should call him the 'inadvertent / accidental hero' :)Frankly, the US Congress' posturing is cynical but understandable. And the general US public has never been accused of great depth on international affairs.

@Nadir El-Edroos: I agree with you that FCR has prob been used for precisely those reasons (also because there is no death penalty, which a treason case would normally carry). I too think he will be used as a bargaining chip and prob let go to go settle in the US. Good riddance to bad rubbish I guess.

@Pashtun:Huh? There's always at least one, isn't there...

Gibran said...

To think that the US has managed to subvert yet another purely humanitarian project of the UN is now totally unsurprising.

I guess parents can now tell their polio ridden children that you were infected because of Uncle Sam's gung-ho approach. Still want a US visa?

Maryam said...

What the folks at Cafe Pyala would have done if they were the neighbors of OBL compartment in Abbotabad and have found OBL(?), knowing that both Pakistan & US have declared OBL as a common enemy publicly with additional knowledge that Pakistan's Army is hiding him?

Dr Don B said...

I predict he will be quietly released in a future deal between our governments. Next time, an assisting individual with access such as he provided, will rightly be demanding their and their immediate family's own safe passage out of dodge and guarantees of citizenship as a precondition of such assistance. The Pakistan government, army & intel agency is INTERNATIONALLY EMBARRASSED! that their rank incompetence and/or nasty complicity with heinous evildoers has been outed. They knew, or should have known, where OBL was - and should have EARNED (by timely tipping us off) the megabucks -- that the poor saps, American taxpayers keep sending over there, for what? You call this, his now jailing, cooperation? The good doctor deserves medals and a NYC ticker tape parade, not Pak govt reprisals for accomplishing what they so epic failed to do. Shame on them one and all...

Anam said...

Excellent piece - and the so called " intelligent and rational " beings who are name calling and trying to look way to smart, well maybe you people failed to understand the article, or you people are too blinded by God knows what, because your arguments are comments as uncalled for as American's calling him a savior of the world. Yeah Right!

Anonymous said...

Do we even know that this guy knew what he was working on? i.e. did he now that he was part of an effort to verify that OBL wast there. I doubt it, the yanks had no reason to tell him this. And if didn't know what he was working on other than he was working for a foreign agency, then there is no possible argument that he is a 'hero' of any kind.

Magnum said...

Typical fluffy wishy-washy apologist post by a 'liberal.'

It's nice to sound different, but for the heck of it? No.

I think you should stick to commenting on the media XYZ.

At best you sounded consfused, at worst, a soft apologist of idiots.

Anonymous said...

Its quite interesting for one living in a country, where we have medical practitioners with no prior qualifications in every street, so called welfare medical centres involved in medical malpractices, low quality as well as fake Drugs around available easily, a person who fails matric exams gets a DHMS and prescribe medicines, Pyalas have found a very thin argument against a Doctor who was charged not for violating Hippocratic Oath but 'waging war against the state"

Kudos on straw manning to defend an idiotic conviction.

Prakash said...

What you going to do with your president who wrote this within hours of Bin Laden killing:

Buddy, it is just to appease the fundamentalists in your country that are increasingly lured by the charm of Batsman Khan.

The problem with Pakistani liberals is that they have long back refused to think beyond PPP, India visits and occasional / professional visas to the West.

Anonymous said...

Ooops! When did cafe payala have formally joined 'Ghairat Brigade'? By the way according to a report in BBC Dr Shakil Afridi was offered by CIA with the option to leave Pakistan but he chose not to because he thought this action would be welcome (by Cafe Payala at least) in Pakistan!

Arun said...

Zawahiri is hiding out there. Mullah Omar is hiding out there. Can't have anyone turning over these vital Pakistani assets.

Think of Dr Afridi as a whistleblower on the Pakistani sheltering of al Qaeda.

Ali Awesome said...

Balanced. Also, nice to see you aren't a liberal voice any more for questioning the Hero status of a mercenary.

Anonymous said...


stupid comment. The Dr. didn't even know what he was working on. whistle blowing my ass.

Naziha said...

This has got to be the first time I totally disagree with you Cafe Pyala. I can't even quite believe it's the same person writing this. When have you been bitten by the Ghairat Brigade bug?

Anonymous said...

In Pakistan, Malik Ishaq canot get convicted, Hafiz Saeed cannot get convicted, the GHQ attackers cannot get convicted and per ISI not a single terrorist captured during the Swat operation has been convicted. Yet this man has been convicted for 33 years. Also he was charged - not with medical malpractice but with waging war against the country.

Somehow you think that this is somehow defensible?

Arjumand said...

It goes to show what has been said time and again. Caution must be taken whenever one interacts with anything associated with a US government department or so called NGO. The NGOs are almost always funded by the State Department or something else so always do background checks. You never know what they are up to but it's not hard to tell that their projects in Pakistan are not driven by their "niceness". All these US NGO workers and Fulbright scholars, hard to know what they're up to and what they have been recruited for.

Anonymous said...

Prakash dear, most Pakistani liberals do not belong to PPP, have not been to India or the West.

karachi feminist said...

There is a logical lapse in your argument xyz, if you will.

The state action in this case against which (if I read you correctly) you support formal action is more corrosive and destructive and at a much bigger scale than what Afridi has done. Not only that - it is institutional criminality. The state has not only allowed illegal army operations, extraditions, secret prisons, it has condoned and in fact helped the U.S. in a drone program that has indiscriminately killed civilians since 2004 and for which there is no legal justification. They have allowed use of local airbases and never demanded accountability from the US in an international court of law showing consent and collusion in drone murder. Now in this case state sanctioned terror is much worse than Afridi's free lance work - unless you somehow subscribe to a sacred Mai-Baap ideology when it comes to the state - be it executive, military intelligence establishment, legislature or judiciary.

Now what Afridi did was to place the health of children at risk and jeopardize the work of foreign and local charities. This is a grave and serious crime - but also one for which he was not charged. If you demand proper process for state illegalities, then demand proper process for free lance miscreants and rogues (Afridi) as well. He should have had a lawyer, no FCR, charged with specifically stated offences. You do condemn the lack of due process; but however repugnant his behavior vis a vis charities and health, without charge or conviction on counts of endangering public health work and the lives of charity workers, a sentence as long as 33 years can not be justified - even in rhetoric. Surely, if someone's liberty is taken away for 33 years, and they placed at the risk of death at the hands of taliban, they should have had a proper trial in all respects - and charged with specificity and particularity, and allowed appeal routes, so people know what he did had wide bad impact.

Also, individuals can always be scapegoats, punished (in Afirdi's case) or allowed to go scot free (Raymond Davis). Punishing them or freeing them maybe deterrence at a minuscule level for all budding CIA colluders. The larger problem is systemic state violence and CIA collusion at a inter state level and the political games being played via NATO supply lines, logistical support given to drones and the all the profits to be made. People are pawns and individual accountability, while important and even imperative in Ray Davis case, is not the solution, just the tip of the iceberg.

Anonymous said...

He didn’t endanger anyone. They were real vaccines. The same ones used by other doctors in Pakistan.
You can’t demonize the man on that aspect and still look like the rest of what you say is trustworthy and rational too.
I repeat, hoping I’m not using too big of words for everyone who has made this claim: He was a licensed physician who had the authority to administer the very real and commonly used vaccines and did the same thing that day as any other doctor on any given day. He did exactly all he claimed he was doing medically. He didn’t lie to anyone. He didn’t bring even a 1% chance of harm upon those he was treating that isn’t there when any other doctor gives vaccines to people. The only thing that sets him apart is the part where he went to Osama’s expected location, still doing his normal job with the addition of intending to test those specific peoples DNA. The other people he gave the vaccines to were not even subjected to the DNA testing aspect. It was isolated to the suspected people in his compound. The other people were treated normally.

Even so, he could potentially be penalized for medical malpractice for having compromised patient confidentiality. That is not what he was tried for. He was tried for 'war against Pakistan'. Incidentally your Chief Justice ticked the prosecutor off for claiming that people in Lal masjid with weapons who were fighting Pakistani security forces were waging war against Pakistan. HE said the term 'waging war against Pakistan should ot be used for such small things'.
You are ofcourse correct that trying him under FCR was also completely wrong.

All in all there seems little right and a lot that is wrong in this case.

Jay,India said...

"compromised patient confidentiality"
( as anon said May 27, 2012 9:48 PM)
"war against state"
Pyala think there is only a 'thin line' separating the two..ahem!

By declaring Afridi's act treasonous and specifically raising "war against the state" clause,Pakistan has endorsed Al-Qaeda's ideology as integral to its national security strategy which is bizarre.

Well,what has been argued is why Pyalas wont shed a tear(a semi-ghariat emotional argument)..the argument is weak far offon a case against how-afridi-got-what-he-deserved.

Regarding depth of American understanding in International Affairs,compare that to Pakistan's
media debate where ridiculous conspiracy theories take centre stage.Urdu press is worse from excepts of translations I have read in various places.Well worse than Nazi propaganda in their prime.

Jay,India said...

Advanced apology..very interesting take from Editor of,Ravi
"What the Pakistanis have done is arrest the doctor; Now let us back off for a minute. Treason is where someone causes his country grievous harm. It is a very serious offense, about the worst offense a citizen can commit against his country. Since Pakistan kept saying it had nothing to do with OBL, would not it have made sense to simply say nothing? By arresting the man and charging treason, you are saying the doctor severely harmed Pakistan’s national interests. By saying he aided the Americans, you are saying that in the matter of OBL Pakistan’s interest is fundamentally opposed to America’s. And you are further saying that America is your enemy.
What precisely does Pakistan gain, after donkey’s years of denying it had anything to do with OBL, by charging the man who flushed OBL from hiding with treason? You have just shot down your own position, and confirmed to the world that you and AQ are BFFs. And for what? This is a real mystery to us, for all that we think we understand the Pakistanis.
Now, there is another angle to this doctor thing How exactly did the Pakistanis come to know about the doctor? It has to be from the Americans. And how come after the doctor delivered the blood samples, and OBL’s presence was confirmed, the Americans did not tell him to skedaddle? Not only did the Americans blab all to the Pakistanis, they sacrificed their own man. Now, of course, those who don’t like the American government will have a simple explanation. (When it comes to military/spy stuff, most everyone in the world does not like the American government; that is different from not liking America and Americans, who almost everyone likes.) The explanation is that the American government is a Class One duffer and blithering idiot.
We have a somewhat different take. It could be the doctor, poor fellow, is a red herring. It could be he did work for the Americans, and was sacrificed to throw the Pakistanis off the track.
Advice for the young spy From time to time Editor, in his self-appointed role of Wise Old Spy, likes to give advice to the aspiring youngster who has set his heart firmly on spydom. Today Editor will give the same advice he gave many times during his 20-years in India. Which is: you have to be stark raving bonkers to work for the Americans. It is not they are incompetent. They are no more or no less incompetent than anyone else. It is they are absolutely ruthless: they will sacrifice you at the drop of a hat.
At which point out Brit friends and not a few Russians will interrupt: “Be serious, Ravi. No one can out-ruth us.”
But actually the Americans are more ruthless because they are experts at making you believe you are their best friend forever and that you matter more to them than anything. They play off their reputation for straight-shooting and honesty that is longer than the day. No one with an IQ above 5 ever trusts a Brit or a Russian covert operative. So anyone who works for them and is sacrificed to expediency has only themselves to blame. The Americans are so good it is very easy to believe they care for you."
-Ravi Rikhye

Anonymous said...

A lot of these arguments back and forth are moot without facts being established, hence the first and foremost requirement is that of a fair trial. Afridi didn't get that, therefore it's an injustice.

Leave alone for a second who the target was (OBL) and who was put at risk (children, health workers, disease eradication programs etc). Within the possibilities of what facts *would* be established in a trial, the one most relevant is whether Afridi knew he was doing the CIA's bidding. If he didn't, he is at most guilty of medical malpractice. If he did, he is guilty of knowingly contracting his services to a foreign intelligence agency (even if he didn't know the identity of his target), for which, unfortunately as Pyala points out, there is no real redemption clause *legally* speaking.

The legal technicalities of the case are quite simple really. But y'all please feel free to continue with the emotional name-calling and high-horse riding...

Anonymous said...

lolz at CapePyala :)

Sobriquet said...

The tribal court sentenced Shakil Afridi on charges of helping the militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, and NOT for working with any US or other foreign agency. This information is freely avialable to those who look for it. By not stating the facts, Pakistani news sources are showing that they are either incompetent or are a mouthpiece for official Pakistani propaganda.

XYZ said...

I'm going to try and answer some of the comments above once I have a little time, perhaps over the weekend, but just wanted to quickly respond to the last comment that has just come in...

@Sobriquet: No my friend, the only incompetence is yours. The news, which only emerged this morning, has been carried in ALL Pak media so we don't know what you're talking about. If you're referring to this post, you betray even more incompetence since, if you'd bothered to look, this post was put up on May 25, FIVE days before the details of what Afridi was actually charged with came out. Incidentally, your argument doesn't even make sense on its own merits.

Magnum said...

Dear XYZ, are you by any chance Ejaz Haider? You've been sounding like him, lately.

Arun said...

Right, the state is all upset at Afridi vaccinating people under false presences that they charge him with war against the state, criminal intimidation of government officials, and the like. This is a clear message to anyone who might be tempted to rat on Zawahiri or Mullah Omar.

Arun said...

And the Lashkar e Islam charge is so ridiculous that it qualifies as a majorlyprofound article, in particular, this one:

Sikhs, Biharis, Bhaiyas used to be the butt of jokes in India. That role is now reserved for Pakistanis.

Anonymous said...

Many here are saying the fundamental issue is that he was denied a fair trial, and hence this is injustice. I wonder how they reacted to the killing of Osama and many others by US drones, which courts they saw in their cases.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Afridi help exposed international #1 criminal, he should have been given "nishan e Pakistan" especially when OBL was living so close to a large military camp with such a noticeable fortified compound. Pakistan's justice is ultimate hypocrisy, they haven't convicted Danial Pearl murderer, haven't tried 11/26 terrorists, they will never convict Salman Taseer murderer. They deny presence of Mulla Omar, Zavahiri on their soil. Haqqani network is actively supported by military. Hafeez, internationally declared as terrorist moves around freely in Pakistan. International leaders like Karzai, Blair, Clinton, Singh have called Pakistan as exporters of terrorism. it's clear Pakistan which really run by military engages in state sponsored terrorism. It's amazing that most Pakistanis and to some extent Cafe Pyala believe in conspiracy theories.