Shakil Afridi: From government doctor to anti-state agent
Afridi graduated from Khyber Medical College, Peshawar in 1990 and worked as the doctor in-charge of Khyber Agency in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata).
Espionage, conspiracy and sentence:
Shakil Afridi is a Pakistani doctor who allegedly ran a fake vaccine programme, however, in real was collecting DNA samples to assist the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in tracking Osama bin Laden.
According to a news report in BBC, Afridi was arrested 20 days after May 2, 2011 on charges of treason, from Hayatabad, Peshawar.
According to the commission, after initial interrogations, Afridi confessed that he was collaborating with the CIA and conducted a fake polio vaccine drive in Bilal Town, Abbottabad from March 15-18 and April 21-23, 2011 to try and get DNA samples of the residents living in the compound which was bin Laden’s hideout. Afridi was assisted by two female nurses in order to gain entrance into the compound and it is believed that at least one of the nurses was able to enter the compound for obtaining DNA samples. However, it is still unclear whether the DNA tests proved to be consequential for the Americans and the raid.
According to Brig Shaukat Qadir, a retired army brigadier and former vice president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Afridi initially was unaware of who the prime target of US’s investigation was. He communicated with an officer by the name of ‘Peter’ who delegated all the work to him. However, towards the end of April 2011 Afridi became suspicious and figured out that US was after a high-value target in Abbottabad.
Leon Panetta, who was the head of CIA during the raid, demanded Pakistani government to release Afridi immediately, however, the intelligence agencies in Pakistan ruled out any such possibility. Hillary Clinton also made an official call to President Asif Ali Zardari to request for Afridi’s release.
With the report on Abbottabad raid to be published by the four-member Abbottabad Judicial Commission, led by Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal still pending, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in imprisonment on May 23, 2012 for conspiring against the state.
The verdict was passed under a colonial-era legislation that deprives the defendant a right to hire a lawyer. The verdict was handed down by an official of Khyber Agency in consultation with the council of elders.
The FIR against Afridi was lodged under Section 40 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The conviction was handed-out under clauses 121, 123,123-A and 124 of the FCR. Under the first three clauses, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison each whereas under the last clause he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, raising the total to 33 years.
Zahir Shah Sherazi, a native of tribal region and Dawn Newspaper’s Reporter, said that, “the reason why he was tried under section 40 of the FCR was primarily because he hailed from Malik Din Khel which is a part of the tribal region. And I must also tell you that if he had been tried under the constitutional law he would have been awarded with death penalty.”
However, Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former Supreme Court judge whilst speaking to the Guardian, had contradictory views when he said that the FCR did not cover Abbottabad where the writ of regular Pakistani law runs.
“Everyone is entitled to be tried in an ordinary court and in ordinary way and I cannot understand why they would do that if the offence—if it is an offence at all—was committed in Abbottabad,” he said.
Afridi still has the right to contest the verdict by filing an appeal to the FCR commissioner and tribunal; however, his best hope still lies in the presidential pardon.
It is also important to mention that senior officials from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had previously claimed that the agency was working in collaboration with the CIA and played an instrumental role in helping Americans to catch al Qaeda members.
Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, a year after the raid admitted in an interview that the Pakistani government and army were both involved in the raid. However, President Zardari denies all such claims.