The recent announcement of the 33-year prison sentence on the charges of treason for Pakistani physician Shakil Afridi, made headlines worldwide. The Pakistani physician was secretly working as a CIA operative to find Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil and helped eliminate the most wanted man in the world. Americans irrespective of their political alignment have regarded the decision as ‘disturbing’ and even ‘difficult to understand’.
Their livid attitude towards the punishment can easily be tracked to standard American narrative: by punishing Dr. Afridi for the “crime” of helping the U.S. find bin Laden, Pakistan has revealed that it sympathizes with Al Qaeda and is hostile to the U.S. American media was quick enough to jump in the situation with New York Times publishing headlines like: “Prison Term for Helping C.I.A. Find Bin Laden”, the only problem is that the narrative described is woefully incomplete: incomplete to the extent of being misleading.
There remains less doubt in understanding the fact that Dr. Shakil in the first place was actually engaged in a concocted vaccination program through which Pakistani children were supposed to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B.
The plan was that under the ruse of vaccinating children in the province, he would obtain DNA samples that could serve as verification about the presence of Bin Laden or his relatives in the area. But the vaccine program he was administering was fake. The medical professionals involved in the campaign were not following any proper medical procedures and pre-requisites.
This actually implies that numerous Pakistani children who thought that they were being vaccinated against Hepatitis B were actually made susceptible to the virus. The entire case of this faux campaign on one hand has defamed the sanctity associated with doctors and medical professionals but it has also raised serious concerns regarding the credibility of public health workers who have been working for decades in the rural and remote areas of Pakistan to eradicate polio.
However, there is yet another angle to the entire issue. In light of all the righteous American outrage over the prison sentence as expressed by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it is important to consider the way in which US would have reacted in case of a situation reversal. Let’s assume what would have happened, if an American citizen was involved in aiding a foreign intelligence agency to acquire clandestine information without the consent of US government and through the cover of a fake vaccination program being provided to American children. Would US courts have acquitted him? Might any serious punishment ensue? Apart from all other questions he would be considered lucky to get just 33 years in prison.
In this particular context who can possibly forget the case of Bradley Manning the 24-year old US soldier who has been charged for ‘aiding the enemy’ –Al-Qaeda and would possibly get a life imprisonment. What was his crime? He leaked information to the world that showed governments deceiving their people and committing war crimes. Something US media does more than often. Just imagine the level of torture Manning would have gone through in case of doing something like Afridi.
But the yardsticks defined for comparison can never be equal. It’s all different when America is involved in the equation. The great prize for being an imperial power; the rules you make, do not apply to you. It is the very mantra which is being drummed in dictating the increasing rift between US-Pak relations.
The only message America wants Pakistan to understand is that since we give massive aid to Pakistan; they must abide with our orders. Nothing less, nothing more. In the post9/11 world these are the imperial prerogatives that dictate the political and military discourse of US foreign policy. Nothing more, nothing less.