The son of one of al-Qaeda’s most famous victims brushed off the 33-year jail sentence for a Pakistani who tried to help the U.S. catch Osama bin Laden.
In 2007, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was campaigning to return to public office when she was assassinated by al-Qaeda affiliates. Yesterday, her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, was asked about the imprisonment of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who was sentenced in a tribal court without legal representation or the chance to defend himself.
“Anyone collaborating with foreign intelligence, even of a friendly country, anywhere in the world, that’s a crime,” Zardari told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “Look at the case of Jonathan Pollard here in the United States where a U.S. court convicted him for life imprisonment for spying for Israel.”
He defended the “independent judiciary” that decided the case and said the government has formed a commission to determine why bin Laden was in Pakistan.
“And I have full faith that they will come to the truth of the matter and we’ll find the people responsible if in fact they are in Pakistan,” Zardari said.
The 23-year-0ld said the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan “has deteriorated over the last year.”
“We weathered a series of crises from the Raymond Davis fiasco where a CIA agent shot and killed two Pakistani innocent civilians in the back in the streets of Lahore, to the Abbottabad incident, to the Salala raid by NATO that killed 24 innocent Pakistani soldiers and did not result in apology,” Zardari said. “…I’d like the American public to consider what their reaction would have been had 24 American soldiers been killed in such a way on the border with Mexico.”
Pakistan’s aid from the U.S., meanwhile, is in danger over the harsh sentence for Afridi. The Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the defense authorization bill, approved by the panel yesterday, hinges its $1.75 billion in Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan on the condition that Islamabad meets certain criteria: “including not supporting or providing safe haven to insurgents attacking U.S., Afghan, and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and not imprisoning Dr. Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped locate Osama bin Laden.”
“What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason. It was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world – a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands,” Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement earlier this week.
“We call upon the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr. Afridi immediately. At a time when the United States and Pakistan need more than ever to work constructively together, Dr. Afridi’s continuing imprisonment and treatment as a criminal will only do further harm to U.S.-Pakistani relations, including diminishing Congress’s willingness to provide financial assistance to Pakistan.”