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Outrageous silliness

Pakistan and the question of locating bin Laden

Outrageous silliness

Dear All,

If you are a fan of black humour there’s no dearth of it these days: we are surrounded by scenarios and personalities and statements that are hilarious and ridiculous, albeit also deeply depressing once you have laughed at the absurdity.

The US president provides material for many such scenarios — his statements are often juvenile and brattish and undiplomatic (or refreshingly honest, whichever way you choose to look at it), but they are mostly grounded in prejudice, misogyny and xenophobia. The Pakistani prime minister also provides a lot of such material as he is mostly undiplomatic (or blunt and refreshingly honest if you want to look at it that way), and most of his statements are also rooted in opinionated and narrow-minded approaches. Both leaders are very similar in their pronouncements and style as well as in their refusal to be quiet about certain things.

The recent ‘joke’ involves both leaders as it concerned the latest US-Pakistan war of words. This was another articulation of the old ‘Do more, But we did do a lot’ refrain around Pakistan’s role in helping the US in Afghanistan and in the War against Terror. President Trump started it with his remarks on Fox News saying that Pakistan had not done “a damn thing” for the US despite taking billions of dollars in aid. He also raised the matter of the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, being discovered living in a compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad (also home to its prestigious military academy). He basically said the Pakistanis knew where bin Laden was but they had done nothing to help the US get to him.

The Pakistani PM responded with a series of statements (on Twitter, of course) and said the US should not try to scapegoat Pakistan but should recognise its own failings in the way it dealt with the (so-called) War on Terror. He also reiterated that Pakistan need not have helped the US, and the fact that it did so should be appreciated. What was even better, though, was the Pakistan Foreign Office statement that insisted that ‘Pakistanis helped trace the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden’.

If the government is now proudly proclaiming that ‘Pakistanis helped trace Osama’s whereabouts’, then the obvious question is: so why is the Pakistani said to have been most helpful in tracing bin Laden’s whereabouts in jail and labelled as a ‘traitor’? Dr Shakil Afridi reportedly helped the CIA get the confirmation that bin Laden was definitely in the compound by obtaining DNA samples via a dummy hepatitis vaccination programme.

Afridi has been in detention for seven years, his ‘trial’ and detention have been shrouded in secrecy and paranoia and he has been portrayed as an ‘enemy of the state’. In 2011, just a few months after the US raid on bin Laden’s compound, the Abbottabad commission recommended Dr Afridi be detained and charged with ‘high treason’. In 2012 he was sentenced to 33 years apparently for treason but then we were told the charge was actually regarding his alleged ‘links with a local warlord’. His lawyers appealed this verdict and it was overturned in 2013 but he was not released — rather he was promptly slapped with another charge regarding the death of a patient he had treated…eight years earlier. His lawyer initially was quite vocal and would speak to the press and give updates on his client’s welfare and cases, but that lawyer’s voice has not been heard in years and it is unclear if he is still his lawyer — or is even alive today.

Afridi’s assets were seized, his family was threatened and all the health workers who had worked with him on the hepatitis programme were, reportedly declared unfit for future employment. This native of one of the tribal areas, the Khyber Agency, was treated in a way in which no religion-peddling hate monger in the country is ever treated by the Pakistani state. Dr Shakil Afridi’s crime? It was: “helping to trace the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.”

Laugh if you must at the humorous absurdity of the contradictions. Laugh, or you will have to cry. And despair.


Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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