Can Pakistan release Dr. Shakil Afridi?

BY KASWAR KLASRA


Islamabad: Dr. Shakil Afridi, a doctor who risked his life only to help Americans trace whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, may be languishing in a jail in Pakistan for rest of his life as Pakistan’s charismatic Prime Minister believes ‘OBL’ was a martyr.

If Imran Khan is to be believed, Dr. Afridi actually helped the US to martyr OBL. Hence, chances are thin for Afridi’s sympathizers to get him out of jail.

Making a speech to Parliament last week, a visibly perturb Prime Minster Khan clearly said Americans martyred Osama bin Laden.

Khan used the word “shaheed” – a reverential Arabic term for a martyr of Islam.

“Americans embarrassed us. They came without informing us and killed Osama Bin Laden, martyred him,” Khan said
Khan had to face the wrath of legislators from Opposition parties for calling ‘OBL’ a martyr.

Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan

Former Foreign Minister Mr. Khawaja Asif criticized Khan, calling Bin Laden an “ultimate terrorist”.

“He destroyed my nation, and [Khan] is calling him a martyr,” Mr. Asif said in parliament same day. Prime Minister Imran Khan had no choice but to keep silent as members of opposition parties grilled him in the parliament.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks about ‘OBL’ had a clear message for USA and rest of the world that Pakistan wasn’t in a mood to release Dr. Afridi—who helped CIA trace their most wanted man, anytime soon.
Last year, corridor of power in Islamabad were abuzz with the speculations that Pakistan was planning to release Dr. Afridi.

In the corridors of power in Islamabad, there was a growing expectation that Pakistan could free Shakil Afridi – who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden – as part of a goodwill gesture towards the US. Pakistani sources told this correspondent that time that Islamabad was not averse to using Afridi as a bargaining chip to mend fences with Washington.

Dr. Afia Siddiqui & Dr. Shakil Afridi—File photo

The two sides are said to have been in talks over Afridi, who has been languishing in a jail in Peshawar since 2011 due to his alleged links with militants.

Jail authorities recently shifted Afridi to an unknown location, fuelling the speculation he may be released soon. His lawyer, Qamar Nadeem, confirmed the transfer but said he was not sure where his client had been taken.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office has, however, denied knowledge of any move to free Afridi. Rumors include Washington offering to exchange Afridi for Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who has been sentenced to 86 years in prison in the United States. Russian news agency Sputnik ran a story, last year, quoting sources claiming the CIA had tried to stage a prison break to rescue Afridi.

Pakistan accuses Afridi of treason for running a fake vaccine campaign to obtain DNA samples that helped the Americans confirm the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad in northern Pakistan.

It caused immense embarrassment to Pakistan, which had denied knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts. His vaccine campaign paved the way for a US Navy Seal raid that killed the world’s most wanted man in May 2011.

A tribunal sentenced him to 33 years in prison for ties with terrorists. His sentence was reduced to 23 years in 2014.

Dr. Shakil Afridi—the doctor who helped CIA trace OBL

Contrary to Pakistan’s claim, The Spy Chronicles , a recent book co-authored by the former spy masters of Pakistan and India, revealed the US took General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, into confidence two days before the raid. The book also said a retired Pakistani intelligence officer may have informed the Americans about bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan in return for a possible reward of US$50 million.

The US, where Afridi is something of a hero for helping locate bin Laden, had termed his conviction “unjust and unwarranted”. Pakistan sees him as a traitor who violated the law of the land and compromised its sovereignty.
Last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to expedite Afridi’s release. Pompeo told Congress: “I don’t see any reason whatsoever to give the government of Pakistan any money … in terms of our foreign aid until Dr Afridi, the man who helped us bring justice to Osama bin Laden, [is released].

“Please be aware that it’s at my heart and I know it’s important and we can do that. We can achieve that outcome.”

Afridi’s continued imprisonment has been a point of contention between Islamabad and Washington, which believes the indictment is proof of Pakistan’s insincerity in the fight against terror. Pakistan, on the other hand, still bears a grudge against the US for violating its sovereignty by co-opting Afridi and conducting the raid on bin Laden’s compound without informing Pakistani authorities.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his speech on Friday June 26, 2020, clearly stated that Pakistan didn’t digest how Americans came to Abbottabad to hunt for OBL.

“I will never forget how we Pakistanis were embarrassed when the Americans came into Abbottabad and killed Osama Bin Laden, martyred him,” Khan said on June 26, 2020 during his speech in country’s lower House of Parliament.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump

Since 2011, US assistance to Pakistan has diminished. Since Donald Trump became president, the US has hardened its stance towards Pakistan, halting aid and grants to its erstwhile ally. Pakistan’s refusal to release Afridi prompted US lawmakers to suggest even tougher measures against Pakistan for working against US interests.

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