The United States Congress has finally passed the spending bill for the fiscal year 2014 after much debate and delay. The 1,582-page document also incorporates conditions attached to the US aid program for Pakistan. It binds the US administration to withhold $33 million in funds if the Pakistan government fails to drop charges against Dr Shakil Afridi and release him. Dr Afridi conducted an intelligence gathering operation, under the guise of a vaccination campaign in Pakistan for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to help trace Osama Bin Laden. He is currently serving a 33-year imprisonment sentence.
No government should be allowed to use funds as leverage to dictate its terms to another country. While it is understandable why the US would resort to such blatant blackmail to ensure the release of its “hero”, the fact that Dr Afridi violated the Hippocratic oath by using medicine to spy for a foreign intelligence agency is uncontestable. It is regrettable that he has not been tried for that but instead, convicted for maintaining links with terrorist organisations. The only action that is required is the retrial of Dr Afridi on charges which reflect the crime he actually committed. The ultimatum issued by the US can be politely ignored. If $33m is the opportunity cost for the state’s right to exercise its functions independently, so be it.
The bill also proposes a performance-based mechanism for the dispensation of aid in the future, and enables the US to halt funds if at any point Pakistan fails to ‘fulfill expectations’. Apart from the Dr Afridi related jargon, the bill also demands Pakistan to take action against terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network, Quetta Shura Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Al-Qaeda and other similar entities active in the country. Now, there is something we can agree on.
The international community is of the opinion that Pakistan has purposefully failed in taking action against certain terrorist groups. It is no secret that the security establishment in Pakistan is still adamant to draw lines between bad terrorists and good terrorists. It does so as it considers some of them to be assets, which can be used to achieve objectives. Since Indian occupied Kashmir remains Indian occupied Kashmir, and Afghanistan is not in our pocket, it is safe to say that the dangerous policy hasn’t paid off. Many of these homegrown jihadi elements have now focused their activities inwards, become autonomous in their decision-making, and formed links with the ‘bad terrorists’, they cannot be allowed to survive. Misguided though it was, nurturing and protecting them appeared to be in our interest at one point in time. However, there should be no doubt that the current state of affairs requires withdrawing patronage, and taking them on to safeguard national security. It is sincerely hoped that the idea is not rejected simply because the US is in favour of it.