Thirty-three years in prison. He could have gotten death if he’d been tried under Pakistan’s penal code, but he was tried in a tribal court that follows a British-era colonial law so he got off “easy” with just a few decades behind bars. For helping catch the leader of Al Qaeda, who greenlit 9/11.
The only way the treason charge makes sense conceptually is if you treat spying on Osama Bin Laden as a betrayal of Pakistan’s national interests, the endless blather from Islamabad about “standing with the U.S.” against AQ notwithstanding. Consider that the silver lining in this otherwise very dark cloud: The regime is being honest, for once, about who and what they really are.
In Washington, Obama administration officials expressed anger and frustration at the tribal court’s decision, but indicated that American officials were working quietly behind the scenes to shorten the sentence or have it dismissed.
“The doctor was never asked to spy on Pakistan,” said a senior American official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about the sentencing. “He was asked only to help locate Al Qaeda terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the U.S. He helped save Pakistani and American lives.”
On Capitol Hill, two of the Senate’s leading voices on national security, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain of Arizona, the panel’s ranking Republican, angrily denounced the court’s sentence. “What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason,” the senators said in a statement. “It was a courageous, heroic and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world — a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands.”
It’s charming that McCain and Levin think the jihadi sympathizers and anti-India fanatics in Pakistan’s military/intel leadership give a squirt about innocent Pakistanis vis-a-vis protecting their strategic interests. In fact, I’d bet there’s support for scapegoating Afridi even among factions there that aren’t quite as robustly pro-AQ. One of the big takeaways from the famous Goldberg/Ambinder article last year on our “ally from hell” was the depth of Pakistani paranoia about U.S. intelligence — to the point where they’re willing to risk a nuclear catastrophe just to keep American spies guessing:
In a country that is home to the harshest variants of Muslim fundamentalism, and to the headquarters of the organizations that espouse these extremist ideologies, including al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (which conducted the devastating terror attacks on Mumbai three years ago that killed nearly 200 civilians), nuclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans on congested and dangerous roads. And Pakistani and American sources say that since the raid on Abbottabad, the Pakistanis have provoked anxiety inside the Pentagon by increasing the pace of these movements. In other words, the Pakistani government is willing to make its nuclear weapons more vulnerable to theft by jihadists simply to hide them from the United States, the country that funds much of its military budget.
When your attitude to your national interests is as perverse as that, it stands to reason that you’d make an example of a local doctor who helped enable a spectacular American incursion deep inside Pakistani territory. And it’s not like the Pakistani public is terribly conflicted about Bin Laden: According to a Pew poll taken shortly after the raid, 63 percent disapproved of the operation and 55 percent saw his death as a bad thing (versus just 14 percent who saw it as good). Plus, since relations with Pakistan have all but broken down lately, jailing Afridi serves as both a reprisal and a potential bargaining chip for when the U.S. and Pakistan start haggling over the next fake bout of “cooperation.” Nothing surprising about any of this, really.