Will there be a happy ending for Dr Afridi? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 06.06.2012
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Will there be a happy ending for Dr Afridi?

In a scenario fit for a spy novel, a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA capture bin Laden was recently sentenced to 33 years in jail. Observers think he could be pardoned once US-Pakistani relations are back on track.

A doctor conducts a children's immunization program. On the surface, this seems like a laudable activity with the simple goal of protecting children from a terrible disease - polio, which remains very widespread in his country. He has been a doctor for years and enjoys the trust of his patients who know they can count on his support.

What they do not know is that to raise money for his inoculation drive, the doctor has to fulfill certain conditions. He has to secretly take a DNA sample from each patient and send this to his sponsors along with details of address. This represents a breach of his patients' trust.

However, the doctor decides to do it anyway because the program is so important. What he does not know is that his sponsors are looking for somebody very specific - for one particular child's father. Eventually, the DNA sample leads to the wanted man and he is killed.

A true story

Any spy novelist would be proud to have thought up such an original and exciting story featuring crucial questions of conscience and morality.

Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari was snubbed by Barack Obama in Chicago

However, this is not a novel but a true story that took place in Pakistan last year culminating with a US special unit killing al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden.

And this story does not have a happy ending. Dr Shakil Afridi was recently sentenced to 33 years in jail although it is unclear whether he knew that his sponsors were the CIA.

The harsh sentence unleashed uproar in the West, with the US Congress symbolically cutting aid to Pakistan by a million dollars for each year of Dr Afridi's sentence.

In Pakistan, the situation is more complicated. "There are two views on Dr Afridi's case," explains Farooq Sulehria, a London-based Pakistani analyst. "The Awami National Party (ANP), which is the ruling party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is projecting Afridi as a nationalist hero, who acted against the 'foreigner' Osama bin Laden, an Arab. The pro-US, liberal ANP is against the Taliban and also the Saudi-Wahabi influence on Pakhtuns.

"On the other hand, religious parties consider bin Laden a symbol of resistance against the US occupation of Afghanistan, hence they are maligning Afridi."

And they have done this with great determination. To begin with, Afridi was charged with treason. Then, he was accused of being corrupt and having extramarital affairs. Then, he was said to be bad doctor who had treated militants and given money to the Taliban. This turned out to be a very insidious and crucial allegation.

Insufficient evidence

Furthermore, Pakistani conservatives insisted that the trial take place before a tribal court, which meant that Afridi did not have a right to a lawyer. To his surprise, he was not charged with treason but with supporting terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba. The court announced it was not responsible for "treason."

Pakistani protesters burn representations of US and NATO flags

There is a great deal of anti-US sentiment in Pakistan

The evidence presented against Dr Afridi consisted mostly of reports compiled by Pakistan's secret services and supposedly featuring eyewitnesses from the region.

Observers do not believe the evidence was strong enough and suspect the government's long arm played a role, although this has been vehemently denied by Islamabad.

Leading Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jahangir has no doubts the trial was unfair: "The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has already said that every citizen has a right to due legal process, which was certainly not given to Dr Afridi."

Former Minister of Justice Iqbal Haider agrees: "Tribal courts do not meet the end of justice. That trial is of no lawful effect and that is denying him the legal right and protection of values that are guaranteed under the constitution of Pakistan."

What is certain despite all the confusion is that the government was most certainly involved, however it is reluctant to say this publicly amid anti-US sentiment in Pakistan and ahead of elections next year.

Behind-the-scenes settlement

Farooq Sulehria is certain Washington will buy Afridi's freedom: "Afridi's case will go to the Peshawar High Court or the Supreme Court. The tribal court verdict is not legally binding. Since the US has got involved in this case, and it sees Afridi as a person who helped get rid of bin Laden, this is not a simple issue. I think there will be some out-of-the court settlement, something similar to the Raymond Davis case."

Raymond Davis, a CIA agent, was arrested after he got involved in a fatal shooting incident with secret service agents in Lahore. He was released after Washington apparently paid compensation to the relatives of his victims.

Pakistan's Supreme Court

Observers think the case will go to the Supreme Court

Most observers agree that the Afridi case is about the general climate in US-Pakistani relations. According to Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan army general, the verdict reflects Pakistan's annoyance after the NATO summit in Chicago, where US President Barack Obama was perceived to have snubbed his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari.

Masood thinks Afridi will be pardoned when relations are back on track. This could cost Washington a lot but it might well mean a happy ending for Dr Afridi.

Author: Grahame Lucas / act
Editor: Shamil Shams

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