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Ali: Betrayal Of Trust

02/22/12 5:55PM By Saleem Ali
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(Host) Commentator and UVM Professor Saleem Ali has been thinking about why so many Pakistanis don't trust the United States, despite well established efforts to provide financial aid.

(Ali) Last week, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California announced his desire to nominate Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, for the Congressional Gold Medal - the highest civilian honor bestowed by that august body. The deed which merits this accolade is his supposed assistance to the CIA in finding Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad last year. Dr. Afridi is now languishing in a Pakistani prison under indefinite detention for treason by the country's intelligence agencies.

However, what is missing from this narrative is the method that was used by the CIA to glean the information about Bin Laden's whereabouts. As acknowledged by US reports, a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was carried out by Dr. Afridi at the behest of the CIA, to go door-to-door and ascertain who was residing in particular homes.

US officials can claim that they pursued this strategy to ensure they hit the correct target and to minimize collateral damage. Yet, most accounts of the Bin Laden raid suggest that the decision to attack was largely based on tracking Bin Laden's courier rather than on any biological proof of his family's residence there.

So consider the episode from the perspective of a Pakistani. The trust that the public usually gives medical professionals on public health campaigns was used as a subterfuge to gather biological intelligence. There was apparently no consideration given to the negative impact this action would have on the perception of future health campaigns in a country which is already paranoid about conspiracy theories regarding vaccination. Polio and other rare and nearly eradicated infectious diseases are making a rude comeback there because of such fears of vaccination.

According to the World Health Organization in 2011, Pakistan led the world's tally in polio cases. 80% of the children diagnosed had vaccination offered to them but their parents refused due to conspiratorial fears. When actions like the CIA 's campaign reinforce conspiratorial beliefs, one begins to see why even educated Pakistanis have begun to deeply distrust the United States .

There are further revelations of US complicity in coopting humanitarian goals in Pakistan for "security objectives" in a recently published book by esteemed journalist Marc Ambinder. During the devastating Kashmir earthquake of 2005 in which 90,000 people were killed, Ambinder notes that: "Using valid U.S. passports and posing as construction and aid workers, dozens of CIA operatives and contractors flooded the country."

Assistance in times of need forms the very basis of trust between nations. When this trust is violated during times of humanitarian urgency, a great disservice is done to the principles and ideals that we Americans so proudly preach to the world. Our collective security depends on whether Americans and Pakistanis alike can feel that their lives are equally precious.

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