The controversial case of Shakil Afridi remains in limbo. Five years after the Abbottabad raid by US Navy Seals that killed Osama bin Laden and the subsequent arrest of Afridi on charges of high treason, he remains incarcerated; his case lost in the labyrinth of Pakistan’s justice system.
Afridi was in Abbottabad, ostensibly to confirm bin Laden’s presence by obtaining DNA samples of the residents in the area. He was sentenced to 33 years imprisonment under the Frontier Crimes Regulation. The sentence was initially believed to be for treason in connection with the bin Laden raid, but was later revealed to be on a dubious charge of alleged ties with Khyber Agency’s notorious terrorist Mangal Bagh. Bagh was subsequently killed, but not before his group denied any links with Afridi and threatened to murder him at the very first opportunity. Afridi’s appeal resulted in the sentence being overturned and a fresh trial ordered on the grounds that the trial court did not have jurisdiction.
That retrial according to the fair trial provisions of the constitution in Pakistan, has still to see the light of day. In a sign that the partial justice accorded to Afridi did not mean the end of his woes, he was further charged with murder in the death of a patient he had treated eight years previously. It should be recalled that the Abbottabad Commission on the bin Laden raid had recommended that Afridi be charged with “conspiracy against the state and high treason” on October 6, 2011. Why then have the authorities charged him with virtually everything but this? And why are his assets seized, his residence sealed and his family moved to an ‘undisclosed location’, even before the cases against him reached a conclusion? Nor has there been any investigation so far of the claim that he was tortured in custody.
Given the charges laid at his door, the very least owed to Afridi is that due process be ensured. However, the security establishment may block any such move out of fear it would open up a Pandora’s box of whether bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad was known to Pakistan — and the defence forces’ vulnerability to clandestine ‘invasions’.