A Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. search for Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 33 years in jail for conspiring with militants rather than assisting the CIA track down the al-Qaeda leader, according to the full court verdict released yesterday.
Shakil Afridi was imprisoned for colluding with the now defunct militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, which killed members of the public and security forces in a series of attacks, the court said in the five-page ruling given to reporters in Peshawar. Afridi’s May 23 jailing by a tribal court was earlier attributed to his alleged work for U.S. intelligence and was condemned by the Obama administration.
U.S. and Pakistani officials said Afridi ran a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad, the Pakistani town where bin Laden hid for as long as five years, in a bid to obtain a DNA sample from those living in the compound where he was shot dead by Navy SEALs in May 2011, according to the Washington Post.
The details of his sentencing made available yesterday for the first time make no mention of the Abbottabad program, while stating that allegations Afridi conspired with foreign intelligence agencies were outside its jurisdiction.
The developments throw the Afridi issue into complete confusion, Talat Masood, a retired army lieutenant general and security analyst, said in a phone interview from Islamabad.
“It shows Pakistan is dealing with such very delicate cases in a very immature manner and it is creating problems for itself, especially in foreign policy,” Masood said.
Afridi’s brother, Jamil, in an interview criticized the trial held under the so-called Frontier Crimes Regulations, where government officials and tribal elders deliver verdicts and those charged are denied legal counsel.
Jamil Afridi said there was “no truth in” the allegations his brother helped in the search for bin Laden, and added that the family would appeal against his detention.
The jailing of Afridi further strained already fragile relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously voted to reduce military aid to Pakistan by $33 million -- $1 million for every year of the doctor’s sentence. Pakistan’s military was humiliated by the unilateral U.S. raid that killed bin Laden, a helicopter-borne strike it failed to detect.
In their latest dispute, the two countries have so far failed to reach an agreement over closed NATO supply routes, shut after a border air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week criticized the Pakistani court for jailing Afridi. “We think his treatment is unjust and unwarranted,” Clinton said of Afridi May 24 at the State Department.
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said Afridi’s sentencing will be hard for people in the U.S. to understand.
“Americans will have great difficulty knowing that one year after the United States found and killed the most notorious terrorist in modern history hiding on Pakistani soil, the most visible action being taken to find out how he came to be in Pakistan is the conviction in a Pakistani court of the physician who helped the United States identify Osama bin Laden,” Kerry said in a statement last week.
Lashkar-e-Islam was founded by militant leader Mangal Bagh in Pakistan’s Khyber agency, where it forcefully implemented a fundamentalist form of Shariah law, according to a 2008 profile posted on the website of the Long War Journal, a U.S.-based website that monitors American counter-terrorism campaigns.
Shakil Afridi was once the top medical officer in the Khyber region, the Associated Press said yesterday. He may have been kidnapped for ransom by Lashkar-e-Islam in the past, the news agency reported, citing a friend of the doctor who it didn’t name.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anwar Shakir in Peshawar at firstname.lastname@example.org