Friday, July 29, 2016

Herald Op-ed July 29, 2016

A controversial, unresolved case Rashed Rahman The controversial case of Dr Shakil Afridi remains in limbo. Five years after the Abbottabad raid by US Navy Seals that killed Osama bin Laden (OBL) and the subsequent arrest of Dr Afridi on charges of high treason, he remains incarcerated, with his case lost in the labyrinth of our justice system. Dr Afridi was picked up for running an alleged CIA-run fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad, ostensibly to confirm OBL’s presence by obtaining DNA samples of the residents of the area. He was sentenced to 33 years imprisonment under the FCR. The sentence was initially believed to be for treason in connection with the OBL raid, but was later revealed to be on a dubious charge of alleged ties with Khyber Agency’s notorious terrorist Mangal Bagh (who 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 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 OBL raid had recommended on October 6, 2011 that Afridi be charged with “conspiracy against the state…and high treason”. Why then have the authorities charged him with virtually everything but? And why, even before the cases against him have reached a conclusion were his assets seized, his residence sealed, and his family moved to an ‘undisclosed location’? Nor has there been any investigation so far of the claim that he was tortured in custody. Given the spurious charges actually laid at his door, US ‘confirmations’ of his role, the obvious and glaring denial of a fair trial, the very least owed to Afridi is that due process be ensured. However, the security establishment may block any such move for fear it would open up the Pandora’s box of whether OBL’s presence in Abbottabad was known to Pakistan and the US raid exposing the defence forces’ vulnerability to such clandestine ‘invasions’.

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