(At left, watch a “CBS Evening News” report on Afridi)
The verdict came days after a NATO summit in Chicago that was overshadowed by tensions between the two countries that are threatening American hopes of an orderly end to the war in Afghanistan and withdrawal of its combat troops by 2014.
Islamabad was invited in expectation it would reopen supply lines for NATO and U.S. troops to Afghanistan it has blocked for nearly six months to protest U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghan border. But it did not reopen the routes, and instead repeated demands for an apology from Washington for the airstrikes.
Pakistan’s treatment of Afridi since his arrest following the bin Laden raid has in many ways symbolized the gulf between Washington and Islamabad.
In the United States and other Western nations, Afridi was viewed as a hero who had helped eliminate the world’s most-wanted man. But Pakistan army and spy chiefs were outraged by the raid, which led to international suspicion that they had been harboring the al Qaeda chief. In their eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on its soil.
Afridi, in his 50s, was detained sometime after the raid, but the start of his trial was never publicized.
He was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, or FCR the set of laws that govern Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region. Human rights organizations have criticized the FCR for not providing suspects the right to legal representation, to present material evidence, or to cross-examine witnesses. Verdicts are handled by a government official in consultation with a council of elders.
Afridi was tried in the Khyber tribal region, where he was raised. In addition to the prison term, he was ordered to pay a fine of about $3,500 and is subject to an additional 3½ years in prison if he does not, according to Nasir Khan, a government official in Khyber.
Afridi can appeal the verdict within two months, said Iqbal Khan, another Khyber government official.
An official with Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence agency said the decision was in Pakistan’s “national interest,” and he dismissed earlier appeals by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other American officials that Afridi should be released. The official did not give his name because the ISI doesn’t allow its operatives to be identified in the media.
Asked in Washington to comment, Pentagon press secretary George Little declined to talk about the specific case, but added: “Anyone who supported the United States in finding Osama bin Laden was not working against Pakistan. They were working against al Qaeda.”
Afridi was working for local health authorities in northwest Pakistan when he began working for the CIA. Nurses working for him reportedly knocked on the door of the compound in Abbottabad, but were not successful in obtaining a sample from the house to confirm bin Laden was living there.