Pakistan denies deal with US on Shakil Afridi

Assertion comes amid reports that the CIA failed to orchestrate a prison break to free doctor convicted of treason

Islamabad: Pakistan has asserted that there is no ongoing deal with the United States for the release of Dr Shakil Afridi, convicted of treason for aiding the CIA’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

“There is no deal under way between Pakistan and anyone else with regard to Dr Shakil Afridi,” clarified Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal in his weekly media briefing on Thursday. The issue of Dr Afridi is being handled by the Interior Ministry, he added.

The Foreign Office spokesperson’s comment came days after Afridi was transferred from Peshawar to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi due to security concerns. A doctor by profession, Afridi also underwent a medical check-up in jail and was declared completely fit.

The move led to speculation that the US might be trying to help Afridi, a Pakistani, escape from prison. A report published in Russian news agency, Sputnik, implied that US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) failed to conduct an operation to stage a prison break for Shakil Afridi as “the attempt was disrupted by [Pakistan’s] ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].”

However, the recent comment by Pakistan’s foreign ministry representative has rebuffed all rumours including the one that Washington has offered Islamabad a swap between Shakil Afridi and Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is sentenced to 86 years in prison in the United States.

Who is Shakil Afridi?

Dr Shakil Afridi is accused of helping CIA track down 9/11 mastermind and Al Qaida leader Bin Laden by running a fake vaccination campaign in which he collected DNA samples to confirm Bin Laden’s identity.

After Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 in a US raid in Abbottabad, the US media reported that Afridi had contributed to the success of the CIA operation.

Then-CIA director Leon Panetta also confirmed the physician’s role in the raid against the terrorist mastermind, after which Afridi was arrested by Pakistani authorities.

Shakil Afridi was arrested from the Karkhano market area of Peshawar. He was charged with treason and locked up for running a fake vaccine programme and assisting CIA to confirm Bin Laden’s presence in the city of Abbottabad. In 2012, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years for involvement in anti-state activities. However, the sentence was later reduced to seven years.

The case of Afridi, hailed as a hero by US officials and a traitor by Pakistan, further plunged relations between Pakistan and US — two uneasy strategic partners whose relation has been marred by mistrust and miscommunication over the years.

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