–Amjad Shoaib urges immediate action in wake of CIA plan to get Afridi released
ISLAMABAD: Dr Shakeel Afridi, a doctor who contributed to the CIA operation to track down al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden, has been relocated from a prison in Peshawar to an undisclosed facility after the United States’ (US) plans for his escape surfaced, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Sources privy to the development said the government authorities received a tip-off that a plan was being hatched to get Afridi absconded from the prison.
The source said that in December, the country’s premier intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had reported a plan hatched to get Afridi released from prison.
“Following the tip-off, the authorities conducted reconnaissance of the jail premises. The plan then was scuttled by the ISI. Dr Shakeel Afridi has now been shifted to an unknown, but safer location,” the source said.
Soon after the death of Laden in May 2011, the US media had reported that Dr Afridi had contributed to the success of the CIA operation by collecting DNA samples of his family by order of the intelligence agency in Abbottabad.
Then CIA Director Leon Panetta and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had confirmed the doctor’s role in eliminating Bin Laden, after which Afridi was arrested by the government. The fact that the US held the operation in Pakistan resulted in a deterioration of bilateral ties between Pakistan and the US.
In May 2011, Afridi was detained on treason charges for organizing a fake vaccination for the purpose of obtaining DNA samples from bin Laden’s family. Shortly thereafter, Pakistani authorities said that Afridi was suspected of having ties with Mangal Bagh, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Islam terrorist group. In 2012, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison, though later his term was reduced to 23 years.
Since then, the US had taken steps to release the doctor. During his electoral campaign, US President Donald Trump had pledged to promptly settle the issue and get Afridi released. However, Pakistan has refused to release Afridi and successive requests from the US have been turned down.
Defence analyst Lt Gen (r) Amjad Shoaib said that Pakistan needs to take immediate measures to shift Dr Afridi to a safer place as the CIA may use local militants to get their agent released.
“Frankly, I don’t have any knowledge if Dr Shakeel Afridi has been relocated to a safer place. But even if he is not removed from Peshawar prison, I would advise the government to immediately shift him to any other place,” he said.
The veteran military commander said that the CIA was capable to use local militants to get Dr Afridi released as Trump and other high-ranking civil and military officials of the US have already made public statements in this regard.
“I fear that the CIA may get Dr Afridi released through militants and then he may be shifted to Afghanistan. From Afghanistan, Dr Afridi may be shifted to anywhere. So, the government needs to immediately take steps in this regard,” concluded Amjad Shoaib.