Dr Shakil Afridi’s verdict: A can of worms

Published: May 29, 2012

Shakil does not deserve to be called a doctor; he has broken trust and confidentiality – the essence of medicine. PHOTO: AFP

Dr Shakil Afridi recently got sentenced to a virtual life-imprisonment, courtesy of the Jirga that decided his fate. Putting all emotions aside along with issues that surround the debacle of what remains of the US-Pakistani relationship, this case has raised some very pertinent and challenging questions, all of which stimulate yet more controversies

First things first – Afridi ran a fake vaccination campaign.

This is totally, irrefutably unethical on every level. The trust and bridges that international aid organisations have built over decades were swept away by one vain action of a doctor. People in Pakistan already look upon vaccination efforts as a ploy deployed by the Western world, and Afridi’s actions fit exactly in line with those conspiracy theorists. A lot has been written about this, and all international relief organisations have unanimously condemned this ruse of a vaccination campaign to rope in Bin Laden.

Coming to the other side, one can argue that Afridi was actually doing what the ISI and CIA should have done eons ago – finally catching someone who has caused more Pakistani loss of life than American harm. As they say ‘all is fair in war’, so intense circumstances dictated intense measures, and critics argue that Afridi had no other options.

The problem is that there are always other options. Even wars have some set ground rules, and wanton acts of stupidity are normally not sanctioned by any side. Having said this, it would only be fair that Afridi was given a chance to put forward his perspective. What is all the hoopla about? Only he has the answers and only he can address all his critics.

And in this sense his indictment seems a bit harsh – we never came to know the other side of the story. Surely he was not alone in running this fake vaccination campaign – there would have been definitely others – more so in the governmental ranks, if not the military. Did they all also share Afridi’s fate, or were they let scot-free, and only Afridi gets to face the music.

Having said all that, Afridi’s case may have more than what meets the eye. The timing of the verdict, especially when talks on resuming the Nato supply line render more pressure from the Pakistani side as only helping to strengthen Pakistan’s stance, only help to add more to the drama.

If that is indeed the case, then Afridi is lucky to get away with a mere jail sentence, and not a noose around his head. If the purpose of all this was to send a signal to the Americans’ that we are sticking by our guns, and are willing to raise the stakes’ as high as possible, then Shakil is unfortunate to have got caught in the cross-fire. Indeed, this would also help to explain why the regular judicial process was thwarted and the traditional jirga process instituted, which not only saves rather inconvenient judgements, but also factors in the critical issue of time. And what better time than right now, when Pakistan can extract maximum leverage, and in essence, maximal dollars for every truck that passes by.

But in this high-stakes game, the point that should have been addressed vanishes in a haze of confusion and smoke.  The central question and concern should have been polio, and how the fake vaccination campaign is going to create more problems in future for Pakistan as we try to eliminate polio, something that seems to be slipping further and further away.

Afridi definitely does not deserve to be called a doctor anymore – as he has broken trust and confidentiality – the core essence of medicine. He should have been punished not as a pawn in the high stakes game of politics, but for abusing the trustworthy profession of medicine. It would have made much more sense had the charges instituted against him factored wrongful practice of the noble profession of medicine, rather than offences relating to treason.

Read more by Dr Rai here or follow him on Twitter @MAliRai

Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

A graduate student at Oxford who lives and breathes politics and healthcare issues. He tweets @MAliRai

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ahmed

    The Government should make an example out of this so called Dr.Recommend

  • Jamal

    Bang – hit the nail on the spot! Very well-writtenRecommend

  • Saeen

    Absolutely – he indeed does not deserve to be called a doctor!Recommend

  • http://[email protected] S.L

    Somebody please tell me is this a sequel to some film called, “Conspiracy theories 101?”Recommend

  • Parvez

    This matter is far more complicated than what meets the eye.Recommend

  • Anon

    Listen all these liberals smirk and mock mullahs for issuing warnings over polio vaccination, but the above incidents not only plays into the hands of extremists they also raise valid concerns, that some of these concerns over foreign covert interference is actually accurate. Even during the floods the CIA admitted sending operatives in the form of aid agents, which is highly highly irresponsible considering in this country aid agency workers have been kidnapped and killed by extremists. The CIA in the past year has become so used to having its own way and operating outside the realm of law, that it has no qualms sabotaging and undermining professional ethics that put other GENUINE good samaritarians in harms way. So basically inorder to get ONE guy they used the help of an extremely ethically dubious corrupt doctor, to run a fake vaccine campaign, not only permanently undermining the health of kids in that area, but permanently putting the lives of healthworkers/aidagency workers under threat in Pakistan. But then again with the thousands already killed in Pakistan for Americas war, whats a thousand Pakistani lives worth in comparison to American lives.
    Btw some of these international aid agencies are knowingly funneling in agents, which is really stupid in the long run, because it backfires and eventually not only these agents get exposed and come under threat but so do genuine aid workers.
    After this episode, it makes me think that the Taliban in Afghanistan are a deserving match for the Americans, because only they know how to put these people in their place and match their tactics eye for eye.Recommend

  • Shahrukh

    Poor doctor is caught in the middle of the US-Pak frat party!Recommend

  • Khushnood

    Well argued – but imp, Polio is missing from the general discourse altogether!Recommend

  • Enough

    Please make a mental note of the following:
    1. Not everything is a conspiracy theory.
    2. Not every conspiracy theory is false (or for that matter, true).
    3. In this case, the writer has built on FACTS, not conspiracy theories. If you believe otherwise, please back up your statement with evidence.
    4. Blindly labeling anything as a conspiracy theory is the work of mindless cattle. And the irony is that such people are themselves not any different from those crazy conspiratorial nincompoops they tend to mock.

  • Imran Con

    When it comes to the vaccination aspect, it appears the vocal Pakistani’s are too dumb to even try to talk to. The facts get ignored and it’s you, the media and government, who are creating the polio vaccination fears. You keep calling it fake, which it was not. The government did the same to an even larger audience. Funny how if both the media and the government never would have bent the truth falling it fake, the increased fear would not have occurred. Yet, he’s the one you blame.Recommend

  • SAK

    I dont care to need such blog. His punishment is justified because he acted against the state.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    “The central question and concern should have been polio, and how the fake vaccination campaign is going to create more problems in future for Pakistan..”

    Maybe so, but you know what else could’ve created problems for Pakistan in the future? The continued presence of the world’s most wanted terrorist living and operating in our homeland.

    It’s tragic that too most Pakistanis are unable to see through the haze of ego, to understand that Operation Neptune Spear, which would not have been possible without Afridi’s assistance, was overall a good thing for Pakistan…and humanity in general.

    Instead, we fuss over what matters most to us: ghairat. How dare this doctor locate a terrorist that All the King’s Men and All the King’s Intelligence could not find in years? And moreover, how dare he hand that information to somebody who would actually do something about it?

    This is honor imprisonment, plain and simple…however one attempts to justify it.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    There was article not too long ago on ET about Afridi being the lowliest of traitors. There are several other negative reports too.

    I wish somebody would step up to present the other side of the argument as well, as this is getting a little redundant.

    Meanwhile, I need people to start explaining to me why Afridi acted against the state by enabling the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist. The more Pakistanis keep pouting about this affair, the more the world stands convinced that we’re a nation that, either actively or passively, supports terrorism.Recommend

  • Jalal

    Very unbiased article – presenting both sides and takes the reader to the logical conclusion based on facts Recommend

  • Jawad

    Why don’t we rescind his medical license and then just ask him to leave the country – both Pakistan and US happy – case closed!Recommend

  • Kamal

    Yes, as the author argues, what about others involved, in the government and the military? Why is Afridi the only scape-goat?Recommend

  • Salma

    so some sense prevails amongst bloggers – when most are trying to pretend nothing wrong happened; either they are practising double standards, just want to appease their God Father US who according to them can never be wrong or are completely insensitive to the challenges of vaccination particularly Polio in Pakistan.

    Thanks for highlighting the issue that has put at stake the lives of millions of children in Pakistan. Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com Solomon2

    “First things first – Afridi ran a fake vaccination campaign.”

    No, the vaccine administered was real. That the vaccination campaign wasn’t completed was due to the doctor’s arrest.Recommend

  • Err

    @faraz talat
    Brilliant logical analysis. the man had no clue what he was spying on for the cia as long his pockets were being stuffed. he could be spying on nuclear assets or military intelligence for all you know. but since he got lucky with the target turning out to be obl we should celebrate him. So this should be the job of our intelligence agencies to sift through citizens spying on behalf of foreign agencies for ‘good purposes’ and ‘bad purposes’
    By your logic if a suicide bomber during an explosion happens to kill a drug dealer instead of a housewife/innocentchild/elderly man he should be also celebrated and awarded a Tamgha too!
    Amazing logic!!!Recommend

  • DB

    @Imran Con:
    The vaccination is fake because we don’t know if he delivered all the doses, or even if the vaccine was genuine or expired, if the needles used were clean or reused, if he even went to all the houses he was assigned to etc. This is the definition of fake and if you use your own brain and not the CIA talking points, you will realize this.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Ahmed: Actually Pakistan did a favor to Afridi. Now he can become a US citizen.
    Senator Rand Paul, proposed going further by ending all aid to Pakistan until Afridi’s sentence is overturned and also granting the doctor US citizenship.“Pakistan must understand that they are choosing the wrong side,” said Paul, who pledged to introduce the bill when the Senate returns to session next week.”

    “They accuse Dr Afridi of working against Pakistan, but he was simply helping the US capture the head of al Qaeda. Surely Pakistan is not linking their interests with those of an international terrorist organization,” Paul said in a statement.Recommend

  • sushshaf

    Can someone explain why the tribals felt any need to find him guilty when so many of them are pro bin laden?
    There is more to this story.Recommend

  • http://www.dunyanews.tv jawad

    I totally agree as this is the result of what he did…Recommend

  • Jalal

    Very balanced analysis – there should be a judicial commission set up to fully investigate thisRecommend

  • elementary

    There is no difference between fake and unlicensed/unregulated/unauthorized.

    You wouldn’t want to be operated by an unlicensed surgeon or fly in a plane flown by unlicensed Pilot.
    Damaged /expired polio vaccine can cause polio and encephalitis.So unregulated is as good as fake.Recommend

  • observer

    @Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

    Breaking News.

    The court that convicted Dr Shakil Afridi who helped find Osama bin Laden jailed him for alleged ties to a warlord and not working for the CIA, according to the verdict obtained by AFP Wednesday.

    Now please shut up about, CIA,Treason and BLAH,BLAH.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The Afghan tradition is not to let a person leave Afghanistan if they have admiration and respec for him. Osama was the Arabian Prince who came to Afghanistan to help the country get rid of the Soviets and spent a lifetime and his fortunes. It is therefore improbable that he was residing in Abbotabad? This, however, does not automaticaly mean that Dr Afridi did not act the way he is reported to act! He appears to be an intelligent person and should be heard in public about the accusation. Did the yanks do this act to fish out Osama, in case he has the protection of the Pakistan Govt.?? Perhaps!

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • http://www.salmanzq.com Sal

    The poor doctor rid us of Bin laden, yet we don’t see the great service he has done for us. He should be hailed a hero for working against the terrorist organizations that exist in our country.
    As far as the fake polio vaccination goes, the Pakistani govt should have not revealed that was the method used by him. Instead they shouted from the rooftops without giving any thought on what that would do to the credibility of polio vaccination schemes.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    If a Doctor violates the medical rule of conduct the general practice is to cancel his license.. Not 33 years in jail. Show me one precedent even in Pakistan where a Doctor has been given a jail sentence where no lives were lost(The raid happened much after the vaccination campaign, where no lives were lost).

    Its funny how everybody talks of the damage to polio issue but without recognizing the actual cause of polio existing in Pakistani society- The Mullahs, who breathe fire against polio vaccinations. It used to be the same in India, until the Indian Govt launched a massive polio campaign to route out the menace.

    If you look at the Big Picture, Afridi has not done any harm to polio cause, the damage was already done. The World will see that a guy who helped catch a guy who has killed thousands has been put in jail, for a cause which only requires cancellation of a medical license. Recommend

  • elementary

    What is outrageous is the fact that people(mostly from india),on other blogs are trying to paint it as most philanthropic,ethical and legal act ever.
    Call it illegal, unethical and medical malpractice and then your argument carries weight as to weather or not his trial was fair and punishment proportionate.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/AbsarAhmedKhan Absar

    The central question and concern
    should have been polio, and how the
    fake vaccination campaign is going to
    create more problems in future for

    There is a scarcity of opinion in the print media that you have made in your blog. Still opposing the trial that wasn’t fair in absence of appeal, wakeel and daleel.Recommend

  • Noor

    ‘ sorry i forgot to mention tht my comment was for those who r supporting his punishment without knowing actual facts, and media for incomplete coverage which indirectly portrays ethnic minorities & people like him and his family as a threat’
    I also want to make it clear tht ‘authority can make u do anything’ we still dont know d facts tht why he was chosen for this campaign.. We r always bound by ‘Bourgeoises and their rules’ and thts y we all can never say a NO to any policy even if it is wrong or unfair’
    He didnt carry out the program all alone..He was supported by Provincial govt or may be he was ‘compelled to carry out this task..in short ‘We DONT know actual facts’ this case is being manipulated and America is pretending as if they never knew abt this drama, CIA must be aware of all this but they didnt inform shakil afridi nd tricked him(in other words false consciouness) or may be he never trusted their warnings thts y he didnt escape’
    This really sucks !!!! Filhal Moral of this story is ‘STAY ALERT’ !!Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com Solomon2

    @elementary: from what I’ve read Dr. A. was authorized to give the vaccinations.Recommend

  • Noor

    Duh Where z my first comment ET???? Plz it wasnt an abusive comment !!! Show it so tht people can judge this story from 2 different angles..’ posting this comment of mine z simply useless..i request u to post my first comment or else delete this comment as it makes no sense widout the actual comment’