Paul Vallely: America and Pakistan do their dance of death

The countries are not bitter enemies so much as bitter allies

Share
Related Topics

"There's a common outrage, a common response wherever you look," said Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate's armed services committee. He clearly wasn't looking far enough.

The good senator was responding to the news that Pakistan has jailed the doctor who ran a fake vaccination campaign to provide information for US intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Dr Shakil Afridi took blood samples from children living in a compound in Abbottabad which, when tested by the CIA, matched the DNA of the world's most wanted man. US special forces swooped on the hideout and executed the al-Qa'ida leader.

Dr Afridi's role in finding Bin Laden – which his nation's secret service had so conspicuously failed to do – constituted "treason", Pakistan has decided, and jailed him for 33 years. Washington reacted with fury. Pakistan was "a schizophrenic ally". Senators slashed $33m from US aid to Pakistan – $1m for each year of Dr Afridi's sentence. But in Pakistan you find outrage of a different kind. Government ministers call Dr Afridi a "traitor" who "co-operated with foreign intelligence". Some in Pakistan's newspapers want to see him hanged.

It is two years since David Cameron sparked a diplomatic row by tactlessly accusing Pakistan of "looking both ways" on terrorism. Everyone knew he was right, but Pakistan's main funder, the United States, had deliberately refrained from such plain speaking because Pakistan's ambivalence towards tackling terrorism was seen as preferable to outright hostility. And the reality is that Pakistan has lost more civilians than any other nation to Islamist terror attacks – some 30,000 Pakistani civilians and 3,000 soldiers have died at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban – while at the same time the country has high levels of support for extremists in its population, religious leaders and intelligence service, the ISI.

Understandably, Washington did not take Islamabad into its confidence when the Bin Laden raid was launched. But it is a false polarity to insist, as many have, that the ISI is either closet Islamist or incompetent – those being seen as the only explanations for Bin Laden's five years in hiding, 800 yards from Pakistan's equivalent of Sandhurst.

The answer to the puzzle is to be found much further north – in the lawless Khyber tribal region which was carved out of Afghan territory by colonial Britain as a buffer to protect the Raj. A century on, it is still a frontier belt where Pakistani and Afghan Taliban freely mingle. It was here that Dr Afridi was found guilty under the Federally Administered Tribal Areas laws dating back to 19th century British rule. An assistant political commissioner acted as prosecutor, judge and jury. Dr Afridi had no lawyer. He was unable to cross-examine witnesses or put his own side of the story, though he did not at least get the death penalty as he might have elsewhere in Pakistan.

Yet here can be found the explanation for the double game Pakistan plays on Islamic extremism. The region is the stronghold for a network of militants known as the Haqqani, a largely independent Taliban faction with bases in north Waziristan, just across the border from Afghanistan.

The ISI sees the Haqqani as a vital bulwark against Pakistan's greatest enemy, India. What terrifies it is that the nation against whom Pakistan has fought three wars since 1947 will increase its influence in Afghanistan when US troops pull out. The disputed state of Kashmir is not far away. The terrorism of the Haqqani, the Taliban faction that Nato most fears, is seen by some in the ISI as a useful way of undermining Indian interests without the need for a conventional war. It even has a jargon name for it: defence in depth. The ISI is divided as to whether Islamic extremism or US imperialism is the bigger enemy. But India is always in the back of its mind.

To that add a widespread feeling that Pakistan is routinely humiliated by the US. The Bin Laden raid is but one example. Last year, a CIA operative shot dead two men in the street in Lahore and claimed diplomatic immunity. Next, Nato helicopters killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at Salala and refused to apologise. Then there are the US drone attacks in north Waziristan that often kill civilians and which Islamabad condemns as "illegal, counterproductive and totally unacceptable". Drones killed another 12 people last week.

All these, Pakistanis insist, are violations of its sovereignty. In response it has closed supply routes to Afghanistan, forcing Nato to open a longer northern route which is twice as expensive. Negotiations to reopen them have foundered, causing Barack Obama to snub President Asif Ali Zardari at last week's Nato summit in Chicago.

It is in this context that the jailing of the hapless Dr Shakil Afridi must be seen. A $33m cut in aid sounds big. But it is small change in the $2bn a year America gives to the Pakistani army and a £7bn wider aid package which the US hopes will help turn this military-dominated Islamist nuclear power into a more stable and democratic ally.

"You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror," George Bush said after 9/11. The reality has proved a lot less simple. America and Pakistan are not so much bitter enemies as bitter allies, locked together in a danse macabre. It is individuals such as Dr Shakil Afridi who pay the price. He will not be the last.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tiger skin seized from a smuggler by customs officers in Lhasa, Tibet  

Save the tiger: Poaching facts

Harvey Day
 

Save the tiger: 7 saddening facts about the extinction of Javan tigers

Harvey Day
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried