ANALYSIS: Dr Shakil Afridi —Farhat Taj
Dr Afridi’s act could not be hidden from the world because the US is directly involved in it. Therefore, a smear campaign has been launched. It depicts the doctor as a dishonest person and a traitor. The aim, it seems, is to absolve the military of any responsibility for bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan for years
A native of Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Dr Shakil Afridi has been arrested by the military authorities in Pakistan. He faces charges of treason for his role in locating and killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Reportedly, he ran a vaccination campaign for the US intelligence agency the CIA in Abbottabad to collect blood samples of the children of Osama bin Laden. The DNA test from the blood samples established the presence of bin Laden in a military area in Abbottabad and subsequently he was killed in the US commando raid in the house where the al Qaeda leader had lived with his family for many years.
Capturing or killing of al Qaeda terrorists is the aim of the UN-mandated US-led war on terror. Pakistan is supposedly a partner in this war. The Pakistani military authorities have not only been killing, capturing and handing al Qaeda militants based in Pakistan to the US but have also been taking pride in doing so. Former dictator Musharraf admits in his book (In the Line of Fire, pg 237) that his government captured and handed over 369 al Qaeda militants to the US. He also writes that Pakistanis received ‘millions of dollars’ as prize money from the CIA for capturing those militants. But none of those Pakistanis ever faced the treason charges that Dr Afridi does today. The reason is not what some people are underscoring in internet blogs and newspapers in Pakistan — that because Dr Afridi’s cooperation with the US led to, what they call, an ‘invasion’ of Pakistan, so he must be tried for treason.
The reason is that his act has torn apart the strategic depth narrative internalised by many in Pakistan due to a constant state-backed propaganda based on outright lies or at best distortion of facts. According to this narrative, the people of FATA are fanatically religious. They have given refuge to al Qaeda militants following their escape from the US bombing in Afghanistan. They have given their daughters and sisters in marriage to foreign al Qaeda militants, who enjoy comfortable hospitality in the area not only under the code of tribal Pashtunwali but also as sons-in-law and brothers-in-law. According to this narrative, Osama bin Laden was never supposed to be discovered in a military area in Pakistan, but in FATA. The tribes in the area were supposed to rise in rage in the event of any harm to Osama bin Laden by the US. Dr Afridi, himself a tribesman from the area, proved exactly the opposite.
Dr Afridi, however, is not the first person from FATA who has exposed the Pakistani military’s control over the Taliban or al Qaeda terrorists, whereby they are used for terrorism in Afghanistan and the ‘unwanted’ among them handed over to the US to prove Pakistan’s ‘performance’ in the war on terror as well as to win the head money placed by the US on terrorists. There are countless more people in the area who have done so before him. But their contributions have never made it to the wider world because there is a strict state control over the flow of information from FATA coupled with a systemic state-sponsored propaganda that distorts facts as well as attributes outright lies to the area, its culture and people. More importantly, many of those who exposed the military control over the militants were eliminated through targeted killings, which had scared the others into silence.
Dr Afridi’s act could not be hidden from the world because the US is directly involved in it. Therefore, a smear campaign has been launched. It depicts the doctor as a dishonest person and a traitor. The aim, it seems, is to absolve the military of any responsibility for bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan for years in the military area and to assassinate Dr Afridi’s character so that the people in Pakistan can never acknowledge his contribution for peace and honour him as a Pashtun hero of Pakistan.
Now there are two important issues at hand. One, Dr Afridi and his family must be saved from the Pakistani military establishment, and two, steps must be taken to ensure he is hailed as he deserves to be: a saviour of peace in the world and son of the Pashtun soil who exposed those who have devastated the Pashtun land with terrorism. Something seems to be happening to ensure the former. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has publicly expressed concern about Pakistan’s treatment of Dr Afridi. US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has announced that he will introduce legislation in the US Congress seeking US citizenship and a Congressional Gold Medal for Dr Shakil Afridi for his contribution in eliminating bin Laden. The US should not abandon Dr Afridi and his family. One would like to hope that the US would manage to save his life and freedom.
Most probably, the latter cannot be ensured by the US because appropriate measures in this regard must be taken indigenously. The PPP-led coalition government of Pakistan would not acknowledge Dr Afridi’s role at the state level because it has no control over Pakistan’s Afghan policy, which remains the exclusive domain of the military establishment. The Pashtun nationalist ANP government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would also not honour him with a gallantry award. The ANP government works under strict constraints imposed on it by the military establishment’s strategic depth policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The ANP as a political party has sacrificed hundreds of its leaders, workers as well as their family members for the sake of its Afghan policy. Decorating Afridi with a public honour at this point of time might be politically as well as physically damaging for the ANP and its leaders and workers. As long as the military dominates politics in Pakistan, there is no hope Afridi can be honoured by any government in Pakistan. What is more likely is that he might lose his life and go down in history as a traitor by means of sheer distortion of facts.
The only state authority that should and probably can ensure that Dr Afridi’s contribution to peace in the world in general and the Pashtun land in particular is not lost at the hands of the Pakistani military authorities is the government of Afghanistan. The government and the people of Afghanistan know more than anyone in the world how their country have been devastated by al Qaeda and the proxies of the Pakistani military establishment, the Taliban. This is the reason why Pashtun as well as non-Pashtun public opinion in Afghanistan is anti-Pakistan. By facilitating the killing of Osama bin Laden, Dr Afridi has also done a service to the people of Afghanistan. Moreover, he is a Pashtun — the ethnic group that forms the majority of the Afghan population. The Karzai government should honour this fellow Pashtun with the highest civil award of Afghanistan and take other appropriate means to ensure his contribution to peace in the world in general and cleansing Afghanistan of al Qaeda terrorists in particular, is appreciated in Afghanistan and through Afghan channels in the whole world.
The writer is the author of Taliban and Anti-Taliban