Dr Shakil Afridi is facing renewed legal trouble after the tribunal hearing his appeal was dissolved a few weeks ago. You will recall that the doctor was not arrested and convicted of helping the CIA locate Osama bin Laden, the international terrorist who ISI was definitely not hiding. While he waits to find out whether any new tribunal will hear his appeal, though, he is once again in the news, this time taking the blame for the nation’s growing polio epidemic.
Musharraf’s confirmation of Army support for Taliban is particularly important in the context of facts revealed by Wikileaks documents a few years ago. One leaked document discusses the involvement of another former General, Hamid Gul, in supporting Taliban. According to one document, “It was not known whether Hamid Gul was acting with the knowledge or consent of ISI, or whether any portions of ISI were aware of his activities.” While the knowledge or consent of secret agencies will always be difficult to prove beyond any doubt, it would be fairly naive to believe that Hamid Gul’s pro-Jihad activities were done without at least tacit approval of the Army leadership. Hamid Gul has described himself as “an ideologue of jihad“. It is increasingly apparent that he is not the only General who subscribes to this ideology.
Much fanfare was made of COAS Gen Raheel’s recent trip to Washington, with even the supposedly independent Express Tribune publishing an embarrassingly sycophantic editorial praising the Army chief’s trip. Now that the celebrations have died down, more sober assessments are finding nothing to write home about. One analyst noted that the trip had a sense of deja vu around it, and he is correct. Even the General’s much touted “Legion of Merit” award from the US appears to be little more than diplomatic theatre. Six of the last eight recipients were high-ranking Pakistani military officers including former COAS Gen Kayani. These diplomatic visits are always more about theatre than substance, though, so that is not surprising. What is more bothersome is the feeling of deja vu one is getting at home.
The most profound thing about the response to the murder of Rashid Rehman has been how muted it has been. The UN has condemned the brutal act, but the government has ignored international outcry demanding an investigation. The fact is, such an investigation does not serve the purposes of the national or Punjab governments. Rashid Rehman was killed for defending those accused of blasphemy, and that is not a particularly powerful political group. Religious extremists, however, are, and the Sharifs know it. This willingness to play realpolitik with those who believe they are justified to kill those who disagree with them has been the Nawaz Sharif’s undoing in the past, but it threatens to undo much more than just the current government.