By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

These days Pakistan’s relations with America are going through an interesting phase. Election season in both the countries is casting its shadows on bilateral dealings. Leadership of both the countries is playing to the public sentiment. Both the countries are consumed by rhetoric on non-issues. Narratives and counter narratives are making the landscape hazy, yet discernible.

America which is generally forthcoming in apologizing over its shortcomings is withholding to do so in Salalah attack case and Pakistan which is usually prompt in facilitating America is keeping the supply lines shut; though its ill effects are being largely offset through Afghan Transit trade. Pakistan’s participation in Chicago conference, and yet not formally opening the NATO supply means that, behind the scenes, good sense continues to prevail and apparent facade of being dangerously close to bilateral rupture is far removed from the ground reality.

American rage over the punishment of a Pakistani doctor who ran a fictitious vaccination campaign on CIA’s behest is also motivated by the short term advantages of playing to the gallery. Strategy is similar to the one adopted during Raymond Davis saga. The difference that is being overlooked is that Davis was an American whereas Dr Afridi is a Pakistani. Americans of all shades are crying foul that a Pakistani tribal court has awarded a 33-year prison sentence to Dr Shakeel Afridi, who secretly worked for CIA to find Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil. American logic has it that by punishing Dr Afridi for the “crime” of helping the US find Osama, Pakistan has revealed that it sympathizes with Al Qaeda and is hostile to America. Some of the headlines are indeed mischievous: National Public Radio screamed: “33 Years In Prison For Pakistani Doctor Who Aided Hunt For Bin Laden”; Likewise, New York Time captioned: “Prison Term for Helping CIA Find Bin Laden” etc. Such narratives are inaccurate and hence misleading.

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Dr Afridi has gone through a judicial process; he was referred for trial on the charges of high treason by the Abbottabad Commission, headed by a very capable and well reputed judge of Supreme Court. So far he has not been tried for treason. His present punishment is because of his links with a banned terrorist outfit. He has been sentenced by a trial court and his right of appeal and mercy petition have not even been consumed. American argument, if taken on face value suggests a dangerous preposition. America is indeed trying to lay its claim over the primary loyalty of Pakistani citizens.   Pakistan’s point of view is that Dr Afridi was obliged to share this information with competent Pakistani authorities, rather than keeping it to him and his American pay masters.

A report by “Guardian” shows what Dr Afridi accomplished for Americans and how he betrayed the noble cause of his profession: While the vaccine doses themselves were genuine, the medical professionals involved were not following procedures. In an area called Nawa Sher, they did not return a month after the first dose to provide the required second batch. Instead, according to local officials and residents, the team moved on.” By doing so numerous Pakistani children who thought they were being vaccinated against Hepatitis B were in fact left exposed to the virus!

Pakistan’s healthcare agencies have traditionally faced an uphill task in convincing the locals of FATA and other rural areas that the vaccines they want to administer to their children are genuine rather than ‘western drives to infertile the children for reducing the number of Muslims in the world’. Such suspicions have prevented eradication of polio and the containment of other preventable diseases in many areas of Pakistan. Being from tribal area, these socio-cultural inhibitions must have been well home to Dr Afridi, yet he became tool for perpetuating such perceptions. McKenna recently commented, this fake CIA vaccination program was “a cynical attempt to hijack the credibility that public health workers have built up over decades with local populations” and thus “endangered the status of the fraught polio-eradication campaign, which over the past decade has been challenged in majority-Muslim areas in Africa and South Asia over beliefs that polio vaccination is actually a covert campaign to harm Muslim children.”

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‘Doctors Without Borders’ have also condemned the CIA and Dr. Afridi for their “grave manipulation of the medical act” that will cause “vulnerable communities – anywhere – needing access to essential health services [to] understandably question the true motivation of medical workers and humanitarian aid… The potential consequence is that even basic healthcare, including vaccination, does not reach those who need it most.”

It is unfortunate that Hillary feels the pain of Dr Afridi but is indifferent to the fate of children who could fall victim to an act of America sponsored act of Chemical and Biological warfare, carried out through the services of Dr Afridi. Rumour has it that Americans have clandestinely pumped in Rs 50 crore or so in the domestic media to mould Pakistan’s public perceptions in favour of Dr Afridi. If true, it would be another act of American high handedness towards Pakistani people.

These days, second hype against Pakistan is of missing persons. It was drummed up through congressional hearing on Baluchistan by the House committee chaired by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who has also introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to confer Dr Afridi with US citizenship. In good old days successive Pakistani governments, both civilian and military, have been executing proxy arrests and then rendering these unfortunate Pakistanis over to America for petty gains.  Now a misperception has been created in the minds of general public that large number of innocent people are apprehended and detained by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Supreme Court of Pakistan is doing a commendable job by exerting its authority to recover the missing persons. It would be worthwhile if the honourable court releases the authentic figures of missing persons to put an end to speculative presentation of this very sensitive humanitarian issue impinging upon fundamental rights.

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Yet another pressure point is regarding Pakistan’s alleged complicity in letting transportation of raw materials used in the IEDs across Pak-Afghan border without a check. However, a recent authentic study “IED Sufferings in Af-PAK” indicates that Pakistan has suffered due to IEDs more (2707 soldiers) than the coalition forces’ losses, combined together (1188). The report also highlights Pakistan’s continued efforts to stem the cross border movement of raw materials used in these devices.

In all probability, well wishers of durable and sustainable Pak-US relations will have to wait until elections in both these countries throw up freshly mandated governments. Until then one has to live with day to day fireworks, because ‘anti-America’ sells well in Pakistan and Pakistan bashing fascinates Americans. So expect more fiction and fewer facts!