Considered a hero in the United States, but criticized as a traitor in Pakistan, Dr. Shakeel Afridi paid a heavy price for his role in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Ten years later, his suffering is far from over.
In organizing a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign, this Pakistani doctor helped the CIA locate Bin Laden in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan, where the al-Qaeda leader was killed by American special forces on May 2, 2011.
Since then, Dr. Afridi has been detained in a prison in the province of Punjab. And there is no indication that one day he will be acquitted by Pakistani justice.
“Let’s be clear: Afridi paid the highest price for the attack on Bin Laden,” explains Michael Kugelman, assistant director for Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“He became the scapegoat,” he adds.
AFP reconstructed Afridi’s daily life thanks to interviews with his brother and his lawyer, as the doctor is not authorized to speak to anyone except relatives and his defense team.
To keep in well, he walks around the cell (two meters long by two meters wide) and does sit-ups, according to the family. He has a copy of the Koran but is not entitled to any other book.
A few times a week he shaves in the presence of a guard, but he is not allowed to have any contact with the other inmates.
Family members can visit him twice a month, but they must stay behind a large metal one and cannot talk to him in Pashtun, his mother language.
– ‘Set an example –
“The prison authorities said that we cannot speak about politics, nor about the situation in prison,” says Brother Jamil Afridi.
Born in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, the doctor was well placed, with his knowledge of Pashtun, to help the CIA, which was approaching Bin Laden’s hideout.
The American intelligence agency needed only material proof of the presence in Abbottabad of the brain of the September 11, 2001 attacks. That is why it asked Shakeel Afridi to start a false vaccination campaign to obtain a DNA sample from a person who lived at the residence.
The doctor’s exact role in identifying bin Laden is not clearly established. But he was detained by Pakistani authorities a few weeks later.
He was never convicted on a charge related to bin Laden’s death. But he received a 33-year prison sentence for funding an extremist group, based on an obscure colonial-era law.
Successive United States governments have protested the situation. An eventual prisoner exchange was contemplated, but an agreement was not reached.
“Today he is being held in prison to set an example for every Pakistanis not to cooperate with a Western intelligence agency,” Husain Haqqani, who was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States in 2001, told AFP.
– Forgotten –
“Instead of telling the truth about bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, the authorities turned Dr. Afridi into a scapegoat,” he adds.
The 10th anniversary of bin Laden’s death comes just weeks after the President of the United States, Joe Biden, confirmed the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan of American troops by 9/11.
In justifying the withdrawal, Biden cited bin Laden’s death as proof, in his opinion, that the country had long ago fulfilled the initial objective of the invasion of Afghanistan.
Source: with Agencies