By Iftikhar Hussain and Ihsan Mohammad Khan
With the fifth anniversary of Al-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden killing in Pakistan Abbottabad city, US lawmakers are renewing their call on Pakistan to free Dr. Shakeel Afridi, the surgeon who helped CIA track OBL.
Dr. Afridi was arrested following the US Navy Seals raid of Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. Dr. Afridi was first accused of treason for working for a foreign intelligence service, CIA. But later he was sentenced to a jail term over charges that he had ties with an Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, in his native Khyber tribal area.
Dr Afridi life inside prison
Dr. Shakeel Afridi is in a high-security prison in Peshawar but his life is in a complete blackout. A narrow journalistic peek into his restricted life behind the bars shows that he was being held in virtual isolation, only jail authorities and intelligence officials have free access to him. His occasional meetings with family are kept secret.
“Nobody, even me, except his wife and three children (have) occasional access” to Shakil Afridi, his lawyer Qmar Nadeem Afridi, told VOA Deewa. The jailed doctor and the lawyer are not relations. They share the same common last name Afridi because they both belong to a larger tribe with the same name.
Dr. Shakil gets visits by his wife and two teenage sons once every two months. But his lawyer said he does not get any updates about his client because the family lives in hiding and incommunicado. “His family used to live in Peshawar but now their whereabouts are not known. They avoid meeting anybody. I do not know that his three teenage kids goes to school or not”, his lawyer Qamer Nadeem told VOA Deewa over the phone.
Dr Afridi case status
Dr. Afridi was arrested a few days after the killing of OBL. Initially Pakistani officials accused him of collaborating with a foreign intelligence service, CIA. He is suspected of running a fake anti-hepatitis campaign in the vicinity of OBL Abbottabad compound, part of efforts to collect DNA samples to confirm bin Laden’s identity.
He was later handed over to authorities of his native tribal area and a government administrator of Khyber, who adjudicated his case, sentenced him to 33 years in prison, under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, a set of rules dating back to the region’s British colonial rule. On an appeal, his sentence was reduced to 23 years. Qamar Nadeem Afridi said he is seeking that his jail term be dismissed but the case has not moved forward since 2012.
US stance on Dr. Afridi case
Dr. Afridi case has become a litmus test for the shaky US Pak relations. A furious US senate committee voted to cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million — $1 million for each year of his original sentence.
“The aid cut threat will not work, diplomatic efforts are needed by the US and that is the only way to Dr. Afridi can be released”, says Qamar Nadeem,
The United States’ ultra-secretive Central Intelligence Agency tweeted the details of an operation that killed a top terrorist leader Sunday, drawing thousands of retweets and likes from apparent supporters while others responded with criticism that ranged from “please don’t” to “WTF?”
Before, Qamar Nadeem, took up Dr. Shakil’s case, another lawyer for the doctor has been killed.
Unidentified gunmen attacked Dr Afridi first lawyer Samiullah Afridi, in his car near the city of Peshawar in March last year. Qamar Nadeem, talking of any threat to his life told VAO Deewa, “I am cautious but do not think any threat to my life at the moment”.
Pakistani officials were outraged by the bin Laden operation, which led to international suspicion that they had been harboring Al Qaeda’s founder.
On Monday, Pakistani authorities rejected a call by visiting US congressional staff delegation to release Dr. Afridi, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported.