A day after US television channel Fox News startlingly aired what it claimed was an interview with Dr Shakil Afridi – the man who helped the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hunt down Osama Bin Laden, – the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government, prison officials and Afridi’s attorneys all rubbished the possibility of such an interview.
Fox News claimed that its correspondent had conducted the interview in Peshawar Central Jail, and quoted Dr Afridi as saying that he suffered “brutal interrogation and torture” by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) when arrested. According to Fox, Afridi accused the ISI of funding militants, regarding the US as its “worst enemy”, while it accused Pakistan of cooperating with the US only to extract money, amongst numerous other allegations.
Fox News only aired the transcript of the purported exclusive, but did not indicate whether it was a video or audio interview. It also does not say how its reporter managed to enter the jail or meet Dr Afridi.
On Tuesday, the interview was categorically denied by officials at Peshawar Central Jail and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa home and tribal affairs department and ruled out any possibility of interviewing Dr Afridi inside the jail. “Dr Afridi is beyond the access of media and the news published, whether audio or video, is ambiguous and false as no one can meet [him] without approval of the provincial government and jail authorities,” said a statement issued by the Peshawar Central Jail.
The statement read that the K-P government regretted the story published by Fox News since only family members had been allowed to meet Afridi once a month at an office of the deputy superintendent jail. The home department’s Section Officer (Media) Qamar Ali also told The Express Tribune that Afridi had been under strict security, adding that only his family members, after approval of the provincial government, were allowed to meet him once a month.
“The news is completely vague and untrue,” said Ali.
Afridi’s 18-member defence counsel has also denied the interview, terming it baseless and fallacious.
Samiullah Afridi, counsel for Afridi, told The Express Tribune that “after establishing contact with Dr Afridi … we his lawyers, on behalf of Dr Afridi and his family, completely deny the report released by Fox News, terming it baseless and merely a publicity stunt. Dr Afridi is standing firm on his stance that he never aided the CIA in any covert operation in Pakistan.”
He added that it was impossible for anyone other than his lawyer and relatives to meet Dr Afridi for an interview inside the prison, saying Afridi’s security is directly monitored by the ISI itself. “Others cannot even think about contacting Dr Afridi,” said Samiullah, adding that neither could could anyone call him as mobile networks of all the cellular companies are jammed inside prisons.
Samiullah believed that the interview was a ploy to pressurise Pakistan.
“Just look at the timing: A US senator stands up in favor of Afridi and demands the US senate to stop aiding Pakistan, and on the same day an American news channel airs the interview,” Samiullah said adding that it could be a plot to kill Afridi by fuelling hardened prisoners.
He went on to add that there was now a heightened security threat to Afridi’s life. “There are hardcore militants inside the prison and once they come to know that Afridi has been interviewed by an American news channel, they would never leave him alive.”.
Meanwhile, ISI officials requesting anonymity told The Express Tribune that the interview by Fox News was concocted and baseless, adding that the main purpose of this report was to malign the ISI and damage Pak-US relations. The officials confirmed that no one was allowed to see Dr Afridi without prior approval from higher intelligence authorities and only Afridi’s lawyers see him when there is a case hearing.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2012.