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Insecurities Over Sovereignty: Why Pakistan Sentenced Shakil Afridi

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While American politicians may be furious at Pakistan for its sentencing of Shakil Afridi, the decision by Pakistan's government to move forward with Afridi's conviction reveals a larger insecurity within the Pakistani psyche. Afridi, the doctor who assisted the CIA in its attempt to collect DNA samples to confirm the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, was found guilty of acting against the state of Pakistan, and has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for his collaboration with the United States.

On the surface, it makes little sense for Pakistan to convict the man who assisted in operations aimed at capturing bin Laden. Bin Laden, after all, was responsible for a series of attacks within Pakistan, and his Al-Qaeda outfit has been a significant contributor to instability and violence that has plagued the country for well over a decade. Regular terrorist attacks and suicide bombings within Pakistan's largest urban centers can be attributed to the presence of groups backed by Bin Laden and the extremist ideology his group propagates.

Further, Pakistan's decision on Afridi strengthens accusations from many in America and around the world that Pakistan is not a sincere ally of the US, but instead has acted as a sanctuary for terrorists that the U.S. and NATO forces have spent over a decade combating. A partnership with Pakistan cannot be relied upon, and Islamabad's interest lie not with NATO, but with terrorist organizations.

This becomes an increasingly difficult notion to argue against, particularly when one considers the fact that bin Laden, the man Pakistan has supposedly been working with the United States to capture, was found living comfortably in Pakistan. After such an intelligence blunder, assuming that it was a blunder, it makes little sense for the Pakistanis to prosecute anyone who assisted in achieving the stated objectives of Pakistan and the country it publically claims to be its ally -- the United States.

But as recent imbroglios surrounding Pakistan and its foreign policy have taught us, Islamabad has a propensity to disregard any attempt to strike a balance between what is popular with its own citizens, and what is needed from a diplomatic perspective.

The U.S. raid on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad last May, unbeknownst to Pakistani intelligence or military, ignited a flurry of emotion amongst Pakistanis, who felt that such a raid was an attack on the state's sovereignty. Many claims are justified, as it is rare for such operations to be executed within the borders of military allies, but concerns from Washington surrounding the secrecy of such a mission were valid as well. Regardless, the raids prompted an increased anti-American backlash, which had already begun to stir following the Raymond Davis affair a few weeks earlier.

The conversation within Pakistan following the raid centered upon the country's sovereignty, and the necessity of other countries, mainly the U.S., to respect and recognize that sovereignty. Such a dialogue reopened a self-conscious examination of Pakistan as a state, and insecurities that have been associated with the country since its inception.

Since the country was created in 1947, it has continued in a constant paranoia over the ambitions of the nation it separated from -- India. The two countries have fought multiple wars since, frequently skirmished over the disputed territories in Kashmir, and have built some of the largest military and nuclear capabilities in the world. Pakistan, for one, has neglected social, economic, and welfare programs for years in an effort to beef up its military capacity, as an inordinate amount of the state budget is allocated to the armed forces.

Pakistan lives in constant fear of an attack by India. Its military reigns supreme in the country because of precisely this anxiety. More recently, Pakistan and India have taken divergent economic and diplomatic paths, as India's economy has taken off, and its reputation amongst other countries has improved to the extent that its place as permanent member of the UN Security Council has been touted. Pakistan, clearly, is not keeping up. Such divergent paths, coupled with a history of war and distrust, have always contributed to Pakistan's fear that India has an eye on reclaiming and annexing parts that Pakistan claims control over.

Through their existential clashes with India, Pakistanis have always had trouble reconciling their own sovereignty -- they have always had to sleep with one eye open, regardless of the merit of such fears. Recent clashes with the U.S. have only exacerbated such fears over sovereignty. The backlash that ensued following the Abbottabad raids, including the sentencing of Afridi, are nonsensical reactions that seek to assuage deeply rooted insecurities. Unfortunately for Pakistan, mitigating such insecurities is further damaging its image and relationship with the world.