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May 25, 2012

Some Accuse US of Hypocrisy Over Pakistan Doctor Case

by Jim Randle

Tensions rose higher between Pakistan and the United States this week after a tribal court gave a long prison term to a Pakistani doctor who tried to help U.S. forces gather information about Osama bin Laden.  American forces later killed the terrorist, and the doctor's actions angered many Pakistanis.  Some critics say the case of Dr. Shakil Afridi has some parallels to the plight of a U.S. citizen who sold U.S. secrets to Israel, and who is serving a life term in an American prison.

U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden after Dr. Shakil Afridi gathered some information for them.  He was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign designed to help the CIA collect DNA from bin Laden's family in the town where bin Laden was hiding.

Pakistan charged Afridi with treason and Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the judge's decision should be respected.

"The person happened to be a traitor, the person happened to be before the court.  The court has obverted, the court has taken the due process of law, and accordingly he has been convicted. So we have to respect our courts," Malik said.

"The U.S.  does not believe there is any basis  for holding Dr. Afridi," said  U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pressed Pakistan to release Afridi.

Angry members of the U.S. Congress voted in favor of cutting  U.S. aid to Pakistan by $33 million -- one million for every year of Afridi's sentence.

Some analysts say the case of Johnathan Pollard shows Washington has an inconsistent policy.  Pollard was convicted of selling U.S. secrets to Israel and sentenced to life in prison.  Washington has rejected Israeli pleas to release Pollard.

But the Middle East Institute's Marvin Weinbaum says those who accuse Washington of hypocrisy have a superficial view of the situation;  Pollard cost the United States some of its most closely-guarded secrets, while Dr. Afridi worked against a threat to both the United States and Pakistan.

You have to look at what in fact was the purpose of the action.  Was it just simply to help a foreign country, or was it to do something to serve the interest mutual interest of the two countries?

Shuja Nawaz, a scholar with the Atlantic Council in Washington, says Pakistan does not see it that way. "They see it as the subversion of a Pakistani citizen and his  willing participation in an act that was to support the United States intelligence operations inside Pakistan," Nawaz said.
 
Weinbaum says the further souring of U.S.-Pakistani relations is unfortunate because it keeps the two nations from working together on shared interests.

Both analysts say  if relations improve in the future, the two nations might find a way to make a deal to reduce Dr. Afridi's sentence.