Doctor’s Tale Injects New Trouble

  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar)
  • Inter Press Service

'We have given him a separate room to safeguard him against danger,' jail official Mukhtiar Ahmed told IPS. Dr Shakil Afridi is now in Peshawar central prison. A large number of Taliban militants arrested in a military operation in the border Malakand region are locked up in the same prison.

The Taliban would take pride in killing Afridi, local residents say. 'If the government wants to protect him, he should be locked in a jail where no militants exist,' Muhammad Taj Ali, expert on terrorism at the political science department at the University of Peshawar told IPS.

Afridi’s family members have gone into hiding following his arrest.

The arrest has certainly created a new round of friction between Pakistan and the U.S. The Pakistani government is now up against the U.S. which has cut aid over the jailing of Dr Afridi, and against the Taliban who think imprisonment is not enough punishment. The U.S. sees him as a champion in the fight against terror; in Pakistan he is seen as a traitor.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had officially called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to ask for Afridi’s release. The request was turned down.

There appears to be much public support for the Taliban on this issue, and against Afridi. 'He (Shakil) has committed an unforgivable crime and should be hanged upside down,' said Naveed Akhtar a taxi driver. 'Working for a foreign country without the knowledge of the government is a serious matter. He will face public wrath.'

Akhtar said he was not opposed to the U.S. but said Afridi’s had acted as a mercenary.

Afridi was convicted May 23 in Khyber Agency, one of the seven districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) under sections 121A, 123, 123A and 124 of the Pakistan Penal Code read with Section 11 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

The FCR brought in by British rulers in 1901 is different from laws in the rest of the country. Under this law, the executive can act both as police and judiciary.

A judicial commission investigating the circumstances leading to the death of Osama bin Laden had recommended in October last year that Afridi be charged with high treason.

'Dr Afridi was not convicted on treason charges as was expected,' Muhammad Shoaib, a political science teacher at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan area told IPS. 'He will undergo 33 years jail on charge of conspiring against the country’s sovereignty. But the public by and large thinks of him as a traitor who colluded with an alien country.'

The allegation against Afridi is that the CIA sponsored a fake hepatitis B vaccination campaign to get a blood sample from Osama bin Laden among other people in Bilal Town at the garrison city Abbottabad, 60 kilometres north of Islamabad. This is where Osama bin Laden was hiding, and was killed.

Afridi is said to have led two vaccination campaigns as a senior health officer between Mar. 15 to 18 and Apr. 21 to 23 last year. Afridi was arrested three weeks after the assassination of Osama bin Laden in the U.S. military operation May 2 last year. Before he was sentenced, he was being held incommunicado after being seized by military sleuths near Peshawar.

The conviction is having particular consequences within the medical fraternity. Dr Obaidullah who worked with Dr Afridi said he had let down the entire medical community, and people would not respect doctors any more. 'I think he should pay the price for the blunder he committed,' he told IPS. 'If he is spared, others would get encouraged and feel no fear in hatching conspiracies against the country’s integrity.'

'We are not going to protect a person who had brought notoriety to the entire nation. The medical community have no respect for Afridi who had deceived people in the garb of his profession,' Dr Muhammad Jamal of the Pakistan Doctors Association told IPS.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service