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In response to US ire and a pledge to assist a Pakistani doctor charged with treason for helping the US capture Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani foreign ministry called on the US to "respect" its legal process.
Dr. Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program to help the CIA collect DNA to verify that the man hiding in Abbotabad was, indeed, Mr. bin Laden. Yesterday Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a tribal court and issued a $3,500 fine on charges of "conspiring 'to wage war against Pakistan or depriving it of its sovereignty,' 'concealing existence of a plan to wage war against Pakistan' and 'condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty'," Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports.
“I think as far as the case of Mr. Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts, and we need to respect each other’s legal processes,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan told reporters today, according to Dawn.
But the US State Department said yesterday that there is "no basis" for Afridi's arrest. "We continue to see no basis for these charges, for him being held, for any of it," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, according to the Guardian. "We will continue to make representations."
The Guardian reports that the Obama administration is "privately" angry, insisting that the doctor was acting against Al Qaeda, not Pakistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed his concerns about Afridi's arrest as early as January and the administration hoped for months that he would be released as the controversy stirred up by the bin Laden raid settled.
The Christian Science Monitor notes that it's not a given that the US will intervene further on Afridi's behalf because the US and Pakistan have less and less common ground. That the US turned to a Pakistani citizen for help locating bin Laden, rather than Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) "speaks volumes" about the deterioration of relations between the two, he writes.
To Pakistan, Shakil Afridi is a traitor who helped a foreign power locate and kill an enemy on its territory. To the US, Dr. Afridi is a hero who will now, apparently, spend the next 33 years of his life in prison.
Now his sentencing marks another low-water mark for the US-Pakistani relationship, and highlights how little common ground the two countries share. But expectations for each side are now so low that it’s unlikely the US is going to adopt another full-court press as seen when another US spy – Raymond Davis– faced detention in Pakistan.
There’s also much less riding on the US-Pakistan relationship than even a year ago when the Davis affair erupted. NATO has managed to keep the Afghan war effort going, despite Pakistan cutting off supply lines through its territory. Then, too, trust has evaporated since the discovery of bin Laden in Pakistan and the unauthorized US raid to kill him.
Afridi's arrest is only today's headline example of the two countries' conflicting interests. The US drone campaign against suspected militants in Pakistan – wildly unpopular among the Pakistani public – continued with two strikes in the past two days. Ten people were killed today and four yesterday, according to Reuters. Pakistanis see the drone strikes as a violation of their sovereignty that also inflicts civilian casualties.
Pakistan has repeatedly demanded an end to the attacks, although it also provides some assistance finding targets, Reuters reports.
The two countries are negotiating the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan via Pakistan, but negotiations have been repeatedly complicated by diplomatic spats between the two countries. The dispute regarding Afridi's arrest is likely to further strain negotiations. Pakistan shut down the trucking routes in retaliation for a November US airstrike that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
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