While the US has been given leeway to tie any conditions to the aid it gives Pakistan, as it wants to, the release of Shakil Afridi should not be one of them.

Tariq Fatemi, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs, told Voice of America (VOA) on Thursday that Pakistan would be “willing” to discuss with President-elect Donald Trump’s administration the freedom of the jailed Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden. While our diplomatic strategy to keep the negotiation door open is generally correct, bringing the case of Shakil Afridi back into media spotlight is only asking for trouble for both Pakistan and the US.

The trouble is not whether Shakil Afridi was right or wrong, the issue is that his is perceived as being an agent of the enemy in Pakistan and that perception has had drastic consequences. The fake CIA-run hepatitis campaign that Shakeel Afridi was a part of created widespread mistrust of all health campaigns in FATA and KPK, especially that of polio drops. This is not to suggest that justice should not be provided to Shakil Afridi, but it has to be under Pakistan jurisdiction. The decision must be swift and unpressured from the US or local religious groups. If the man deserves his freedom, a Pakistani court must decide, it (and decide it fairly).

If Shakil Afridi is to be used as a bargaining chip, the payoff has to be enormous for Pakistan. Already the US has a terrible image problem due to its drone program, constant support for India, and criticism of Pakistan. Declaring Shakil Afridi an international hero, when a vast population of Pakistanis see him as a traitor, will do the American foreign agenda no favours. Again the Pakistani government will look like a puppet to its people. We are a country where individuals connected to banned organisations are allowed to contest elections, and women and minority rights legislation is constantly protested against. What makes the Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs think that something as controversial as Shakil Afridi can be used for national security policy when even basic issues are controversial for a vast number of Pakistanis?

Pakistan needs to do what the US wants done- the elimination of the Haqqani network. It needs to supplant that with eliminating other extremist groups, no matter the links with politicians, no matter the public support for them. Terror is a crime. Shakil Afridi is not important to this project, and it may be prudent not to allow US interference. Yet, after Fatemi’s statement, backtracking may not be possible and we may have already opened ourselves up to another international embarrassment.