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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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January 25, 2014

Pakistan resists US pressure to release Dr Shakil Afridi

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Pakistan government has ruled out release of CIA collaborator Dr Shakil Afridi under pressure from the United States.

The Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told a weekly press briefing on January 23, 2014 that there is no question of the release of Dr Shakil Afridi on the request of the US as his case is sub-judice.

Tasnim Aslam's statement alluded to signing a bill by US President Barack Obama that proposes to withhold $33 million from assistance to Pakistan on account of Dr Afridi's detention.

The spokesperson emphasized that the US aid is not related to Dr Afridi.

“Dr. Shakil Afridi, a citizen of Pakistan, is accused of having violated the country’s laws. His action also caused immense damage to the polio campaign in the country,” Tasnim Aslam added.

Contained within the $1.1 trillion spending bill signed by President Obama on January 17, are also provisions to withhold the financial assistance until Secretary of State John Kerry certifies that Pakistan “is not supporting terrorist activities against U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are not intervening extra-judicially into political and judicial processes.”

It also called for Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. “in counterterrorism efforts against the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura, Taliban, Lashkar e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al-Qaeda, and other domestic and foreign terrorist organizations, including… [preventing] them from basing and operating in Pakistan and carrying out cross border attacks into neighboring countries.”

The bill’s provision relating to Dr. Afridi specifically notes, “Of the funds… made available for assistance for Pakistan, $33 million shall be withheld from obligation until the Secretary of State reports to the Committees on Appropriations that Dr. Shakil Afridi has been released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the U.S. in locating Osama bin Laden.”

In June 2012, US Senator Rand Paul introduced a legislation in the Senate which seeks to eliminate aid to Pakistan until the conviction of Dr. Shakil Afridi is overturned and he is released.

Paul has submitted another bill which seeks to grant Afridi US citizenship for his efforts in leading the United States to Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.

Sentor Paul also wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, urging a delay in the release of foreign military financing to the government of Pakistan, and to hold all aid until Dr. Afridi is released.

In 2012 also, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced legislation in US Congress to award Dr. Afridi the Congressional Gold Medal "befitting his status as a genuine hero."

In October last, President Obama and Chairman of the US Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, during their meetings with the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif  demanded the release Dr Shakeel Afridi.

At one time it was also suggested in Pakistani media that Dr. Afridi may be swapped with Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani  who was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a US court on charges of trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Dr Afridi had helped the CIA by running a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad a month before the US forces raid on Osama bin Laden compound in 2011. The then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed Afridi had worked for US intelligence by collecting DNA to verify bin Laden’s presence.

Dr Afridi was arrested shortly after US troops attacked Abbottabad compound on May 2, 2011 and in October a Pakistani commission recommended that he be tried for treason.

The doctor was convicted of treason in May 2012. He was initially sentenced to 33 years in jail and given a fine, but a court in Peshawar overturned his sentence in August last year and ordered a retrial.

He was sentenced on May 23, 2012 to 33 years in prison and fined Rs 320,000 ($ 3500.00) on charges of colluding with Lashkar-i-Islam (LI) and its chief, Mangal Bagh. However, the court had not entertained evidence relating to Shakil Afridi’s involvement with the CIA, citing lack of jurisdiction.

On Nov 22, 2013,  Dr. Afridi was charged with the murder of a patient.  According to his lawyer, Samiullah Afridi , Shakil Afridi was charged with murder, in a case involving a boy who died after the doctor operated on him for appendicitis in 2006, in Khyber tribal area. The boy's mother filed a complaint against the Afridi, saying he was not authorized to carry out the surgery because he was a physician, not a surgeon.

Dr. Afridi's fake vaccination campaign harms Pakistan polio fight

Polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan's two provinces - Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh - were suspended this week after apparent coordinated attacks on the polio vaccination workers.

On January 21, 2014, gunmen killed three polio workers in Karachi, Sindh, and one polio worker was killed in Mansera, Khyber-Pakhtunkwah.

A day later, violence against health workers reached to Punjab where miscreants riding on motor cycles attacked on an anti-polio team with sticks and iron rods in Bhakkar district. Also, the same day, at least seven people, including six policemen, were killed and eleven injured in Charsadd, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,  in a bomb attack on a police van taking officers to guard polio vaccination teams. Police said that up to five kilogram of explosives were used in the bomb, which was rigged to a bicycle and detonated remotely. 

The attacks on health workers came just days after the World Health Organization (WHO) said that Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar was the world's "largest reservoir" of the polio virus.

According to WHO, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year compared with 58 in 2012. By contrast, the country's neighbor India last week celebrated three years since its last polio case.

Efforts to eradicate it have been seriously hampered by the repeated targeting of vaccination teams in recent years. Many teams only travel with police protection.

Last year there were more than 30 attacks on polio teams.

Pakistani Taliban commanders have forbidden vaccination teams to access some areas. A handful of religious leaders have also denounced the campaign as a plot to sterilize Muslim children.

Health officials say their efforts to vaccinate more children are being frustrated by the CIA's use of a fake vaccination program to gather intelligence on Osama bin Laden.

In a letter to CIA director General David Petraeus in February 2012, InterAction, which represents nearly 200 U.S.- based non-government organizations, expressed "deep concern" about the fake campaign. "Among other factors, international public health officials point to the distrust of vaccines and immunization campaigns as contributing to the lack of progress in eradicating the disease in Pakistan," it said. "This distrust is only increasing in light of reports about the CIA campaign," it added.

Since a global vaccination campaign was launched in 1988, the number of cases worldwide has dropped dramatically, although along with Pakistan, polio is still endemic in Afghanistan and Nigeria, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.