In Pakistan, No Tears for Imprisoned Doctor

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The Pakistani press does not share the outrage of U.S. lawmakers at the 33-year prison sentence of the doctor who helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden. In fact, Dr. Shakil Afridi, convicted of running a fake vaccination drive to collect the DNA of bin Laden's family members, should be glad he wasn't executed according to one Pakistani daily.

In Pakistan's oldest English-language newspaper Dawn, Afridi is described ominously as an "anti-state agent" who went down the path of CIA collaboration after graduating from medical school in 1990. In today's issue of the Business Recorder, Pakistan's "premier" financial daily, a headline reads "US should respect decision to imprison Dr. Afridi." The article is bolstered by a quote from foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan who said "I think as far as the case of Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the courts, and we need to respect each other's legal processes." A story in one of Pakistan's largest tabloids, The News International, builds the case that Afridi was lucky he wasn't executed. 

“He should have been tried in a Pakistani court instead of the FCR to execute him on the treason charge,” a lawyer is quoted as saying, referring to the Frontier Crimes Regulation. “He would have faced death sentence had he been tried under the Pakistani court.” According to the anonymously-cited lawyer, the U.S. pressured Pakistan to conduct the trial under a separate court to save Afridi from execution.

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Highlighting the divergent views about the doctor, Afridi was celebrated as a hero in the Senate today, as the Appropriations Committee voted to cut $33 million in aid to Pakistan—$1 million for every year the doctor will be imprisoned. "It was not a crime against Pakistan," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. "It was an effort to locate and help bring to justice the world’s No. 1 terrorist." Sen. Lindsey Graham scolded Pakistan for its "double dealing." 

Of course, even though Afridi is hailed as a hero in Congress, his legacy is far from certain. For one, it's not clear how much his efforts helped the CIA. In January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed that he was running the drive to try to get DNA evidence of bin Laden's family, who were thought to be living in Abbottabad. However, while U.S. officials say Afridi was helpful to them, he never obtained DNA samples from the family. Secondly, running a phony vaccination campaign is problematic for any number of reasons The Atlantic's James Fallows pointed out last year. "We will (in this narrative) lie to people about basic questions of family health; we will prey on parents' concern for their children to lure them into situations where we can take samples of their tissues and fluids," he wrote. "We will say one thing and do another -- under white medical-technician jackets and a humanitarian guise. We will suggest that no aspect of our international presence is immune to penetration by spies," he wrote. Either way, clearly, the differences in opinion over Afridi can be added to the growing list of grievances between the U.S. and its estranged ally

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.