It is no longer a secret that the US is going full cylinders to push Pakistan for releasing Dr. Shakeel, a CIA spy who helped tracking down Osama bin laden, after he was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison on charge of treason. The Pakistan Army as well as the Intelligence agency, ISI, is so far rigid on giving no relaxation to him.
When asked earlier in September, the ISI chief, Lt. Gen Zaheer ul Islam, even ruled out any possible barter of Dr. Afridi for Dr. Afia, a Pakistani scientist imprisoned in USA for her alleged links with Al-Qaeda. Afridi was arrested two weeks after the Osama operation(in Abbotabad) from Peshawar and confessed to helping the CIA track Bin Laden by running a fake Polio campaign.
In a controversial interview to the Fox News, Dr Afridi further reduced his chances of any possible release, alleging the ISI of considering the US as its worst enemy and the PPP Government only cooperating with the Obama administration to extract billions of aid dollars.
Ironic to this whole episode is the US reaction that came out after Dr Afridi was sentenced in Peshawar. The US state department tagged this sentence as “baseless”, whereas senior US politicians denounced it as outrageous. “We continue to see no basis for these charges, for him being held, for any of it,” said Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman.
Considering the cases US has had regarding spy busts, such statements makes little or no sense. In early 2000’s, the US intelligence authorities fired two female officers for reportedly having personal contact with Israeli spies. Among the two, one confessed during interrogation that she had been in a relationship with an Israeli who worked for the Israeli foreign affairs ministry.
According to an article highlighting US intelligence scandals published in military.com, a US Navy civil analyst, Jonathan Pollard, was convicted in 1987 of spying for the Israeli intelligence in the US. He was sentenced to life in prison. Israel, for many years now, has been trying to get him released and even in January 2011, Israeli supremo Netanyahu asked Obama to free Pollard and accepted that his country’s actions were completely wrong and unacceptable.
In 2006, another ex analyst of the State Department was given more than ten years in jail for passing on classified information to an Israeli diplomat.
Soon after the September 11 attacks, an intelligence cooperation list was formulated by the Bush administration in order of intelligence cooperation. Surprisingly, Israel was ranked lower to Libya – a country that recently came under attack by the US led NATO forces.
Considering the aforementioned examples, the US behavior towards its own intelligence cases takes it out of question for Pakistan to ponder on release of Dr. Afridi. The dual standards maintained for Pakistan in this context are nothing less than an indirect influence on the Pakistan’s internal affairs. If the US is not willing to pardon Israeli spies, even enjoying one of the closest ties with the state, then on what grounds can it ask Pakistan to pardon or hand over Dr. Afridi?
It is due to this episode of treason that Pakistan is up against a mammoth challenge for eradicating polio from the country. The local tribesman and militant bodies in rural areas of Pakistan, especially the Frontier, have banned all sorts of polio campaigns in their region, citing Dr. Afridi’s faked campaign as the primary reason. They are all of the view that such campaigns would contain an element of conspiracy against the locals as well as the religious (extremist) leaders.
In a recent article written for the Foreign Policy magazine, Pulitzer winning writer, Laurie Garrett noted that only three countries still fighting against polio are Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Raising concerns over CIA’s faked polio campaign and its negative impact over efforts against this disease, she wrote, “So last July, when it was disclosed that the CIA had used Afridi and a false vaccination campaign to gain access to the Abbottabad complex, I co-authored a warning with Dr. Orin Levine that the CIA had ‘destroyed credibility that wasn’t its to erode.’ We wrote: ‘It was the very trust that communities worldwide have in immunization programs that made vaccinations an appealing ruse. But intelligence officials imprudently burned bridges that took years for health workers to build.”
For every Pakistani, it was agonizing to read Dr. Afridi’s interview with Fox news where he took pride in working for the CIA. Adding to this dilemma is the fact that, according to him, he was unaware of whom the CIA and the Americans were targeting in that compound, but still, he was willing enough to help, facilitate and obey a foreign spy agency.
With the intelligence and security agencies making sure that Afridi spends most of his life in prison, a strong message has been conveyed to the US that as far as this case is concerned, Pakistan, as well as its citizens, are not willing to compromise on Dr. Afridi’s punishment.
The writer is working as a research analyst, programme consultant and editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad along with pursuing his Higher Studies from the prestigeous Will Brandt School of Public Policy from Germany.