The United States has sought the intervention of Pakistan’s top political leadership to secure the release of a doctor who allegedly worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to track down al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
Dr Shakeel Afridi, who is currently in the custody of security agencies, ran a fake polio vaccination drive on behalf of the CIA in a bid to obtain DNA samples of Bin Laden’s family in Abbottabad, months before the world’s most wanted man was killed by US special forces on May 2.
The vaccination programme was launched by the CIA in order to confirm whether or not Bin Laden was hiding in the Abbottabad compound.
Official sources have confirmed that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton telephoned President Asif Ali Zardari on July 28 to seek his help in securing Dr Afridi’s release.
However, President Zardari reportedly turned down the request, arguing that the matter was before the judicial commission, which has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the death and presence of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, sources said.
“The matter is sub judice and it is only the Abbottabad Commission which will decide his (Afridi) fate,” said an official quoting President Zardari as having told Secretary Clinton.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the detained doctor may be summoned by the Abbottabad commission for questioning.
The high-powered commission, which is headed by a recently retired senior Supreme Court judge Justice Javed Iqbal, had already barred the government from extraditing Bin Laden’s widows and other persons who are connected with this incident. Afridi was one of several Pakistanis who were detained by the country’s security agencies over allegations of working for the CIA. Afridi has yet to be charged formally, but if he is, he could face the death penalty for collaborating with a foreign spy agency.
It is unclear how the CIA first recruited Afridi to work for the United States. London-based newspaper The Guardian reported that he used a team of nurses and other health workers to administer hepatitis B vaccinations throughout Abbottabad, even starting the programme in the low-income neighbourhoods of the city to maintain a low profile.
American officials said that the doctor managed to temporarily gain access to the compound, but that he never saw Bin Laden and was not successful in getting DNA samples from any family members. Afridi was believed to be arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at Karkhano Bazaar in late May or early June. His continued detention is believed to be one of the major irritants in normalising relations between the two ostensible allies.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ