Pakistan has refused to release the doctor who played a key role in helping US forces track down Osama Bin Laden to Abbottabad in 2011, stating that it would not hand the doctor to the United States either.
Dr Shakil Afridi reportedly ran a fake vaccination campaign which involved collecting DNA samples of residents living in and around Pakistan’s garrison city of Abbottabad. The physician is believed to have confirmed Bin Laden’s Abbottabad location to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs who swooped down on the former Al-Qaeda head’s compound and took him out, in an operation that created diplomatic rift between allies Pakistan and America.
Dr Afridi was reportedly arrested soon after the US raid, and was charged with having ties to Islamist militants, an allegation he denies.
He is however hailed as a hero in US political and security establishment, with incoming President Donald Trump raising heckles last year after he bragged that he could get Pakistan to release the doctor “within two minutes”.
Here are 10 things you may want to know about Dr Shakil Afridi:
- Dr Afridi appears to be quite unpopular with Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies. In 2012, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for alleged links to hardline Islamist group Lashkar-e-Islam. Even though his sentence was pardoned the next year, he had charges of murdering a patient eight years ago pressed against him. He is in jail facing trial.
- Pakistan leaders accuse Dr Afridi of “working against the law and national interest”. Pakistan’s Law Minister Zahir Hamid was quoted this week by the country’s media clearing the air around Dr Afridi’s release, “The law is taking its course and Afridi is having full opportunity of a fair trial.”
- The current US administration under Barack Obama has on several occasions tried to secure Dr Afridi’s release but the efforts have been presented with headwinds from Pakistan, who at one time tried him of treason. There was even bipartisan agreement in the US Congress to award Dr Afridi and his family American citizenship should his release from Pakistan’s jail be secured.
- Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is said to have herself taken up the matter of Dr Afridi’s release and even made a phone call to then Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, but the American request was reportedly turned down.
- Dr Afridi once told US-based Fox News that Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) considered US as Islamabad’s worst enemy and that Pakistan’s friendliness toward America was a “sham”, just meant to extract money.
- The doctor is believed to have been instrumental in highlighting to US agents in Pakistan about ISI’s close links to terrorist organisations operating across the South Asian country. In the Fox News interview in 2012, Dr Afridi alleged that ISI was supporting the notorious Haqqani network blamed for carrying out terror attacks in Pakistan.
- His family has reportedly suffered losses to the tune of $160,000 in legal fees and living costs since he was arrested by Pakistan’s security agencies.
- Dr Afridi also gave a horrifying account of ISI’s torture tactics during his interview. He claimed that he was tortured with cigarette burns and electric shocks for helping the Americans.
- Dr Afridi is believed to have met the American agents at least 25 times in the lead up to the execution of Bin Laden, according to news reports. It has been claimed that the meetings between Dr Afridi and his American handlers were facilitated by charity Save the Children.
- The doctor reportedly went on a hunger strike to protest conditions inside the Peshawar Jail where he was lodged after being arrested.