Our Pakistani Allies

Maybe we can’t fund/occupy/bomb every foreign country into modernity after all:

A Pakistani doctor who led a phony vaccination campaign aimed at helping the CIA pinpoint Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts was convicted of treason Wednesday and sentenced to 33 years in prison, a decision that is likely to further erode Washington’s fragile relations with Islamabad.

The U.S. has been seeking the release of Shakeel Afridi ever since his arrest by Pakistani authorities after the secret U.S. commando raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader in his compound in the military city of Abbottabad a year ago. In January, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Afridi had provided intelligence that assisted the raid and criticized Pakistan’s arrest of someone involved in helping track down the world’s most wanted man.

From the start, however, Pakistani authorities have regarded Afridi as a traitor and have ignored Washington’s calls for his release. He was tried in a tribal court in the Khyber region along the Afghan border, where he once was designated the chief surgeon. …

Afridi and his team of healthcare workers were unable to obtain DNA samples from the Bin Laden compound, but Panetta told “60 Minutes” that he provided information to the CIA that was “very helpful.”

However, Afridi’s vaccination ruse has also severely hampered the work of numerous Western aid organizations in Pakistan that report being harassed by the country’s intelligence agents, who have grown suspicious of their affiliations. Some aid groups have reported difficulties in getting visas renewed for their Pakistan-based workers, while others say they are under constant surveillance by authorities or have had workers detained.

I shouldn’t be too glib about our decisions to be involved in foreign countries’ affairs. Bin Laden was mad at us for being in Saudi Arabia; but we were in Saudi Arabia because Saddam Hussein was threatening to invade. So the “blowback” there is quite different from the fallout from our arbitrary invasion of Iraq.

Still, we tend to have this view that we can give aid to Pakistan, or occupy Iraq, or fight in Vietnam, and make everyone into liberal democrats. But there often aren’t good guys and bad guys; there’s just a bunch of people competing for power, none of whom might share our ideals. Arming Saddam in the 1980s, and arming Pakistan more recently, might not be the best long-term decisions.

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