New Delhi: Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who in 2011 allegedly helped the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) track down terrorist Osama Bin Laden in a house in Abbottabad, and has been in a Pakistani jail ever since, is likely to be released in a deal between the US and Pakistan.
In the wake of a high-profile meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday said freeing the imprisoned Afridi “could be negotiated” on a quid pro quo basis.
In an interview to US-based news channel Fox News, Khan told anchor Bret Baier, “We also have someone in prison in the US, a frail woman called Aafia Siddiqui. So yes, we can negotiate some sort of swap.”
It was speculated that the topic of Afridi’s release would come up in Khan’s talks with Trump.
“We didn’t talk about this today, but it could be discussed in the future. We know that the United States wants Shakil Afridi, so we could negotiate. No negotiations have started,” Khan told Fox News.
‘CIA used ISI intelligence’
Khan said the matter of Afridi’s release was an “emotive issue” because he was considered a spy for the US in Pakistan.
“We always felt that we were an ally of the US and had we been given the information about Osama Bin Laden, we should have been the ones to have taken him out,” said Khan.
“At the time, it hugely embarrassed Pakistan… Here we were, an ally of the US, and the US didn’t trust us, and they actually came and bombed a man in our territory,” he added.
But now that these feelings are “in the past”, Pakistan could be up to negotiate Afridi’s release.
Khan also said over the course of the interview that it was Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that provided initial information about then Al-Qaeda chief Bin Laden’s whereabouts to the CIA.
When told about the scepticism regarding the ISI, Khan replied, “Yet it was the ISI which gave the information which led to the location of Osama Bin Laden. If you ask the CIA, it was ISI which gave the initial location through the phone connection.”
Shakil Afridi is believed to have helped the CIA establish Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad by setting up a fake vaccine clinic that would identify traces of his DNA in relatives who visited.
The extent to which Afridi’s operation helped the US is contested, but the US has confirmed that it used his efforts in their search and has called for his release from prison time and again.
Khan’s offer makes the possibility of Afridi’s freedom more tangible, but the US has so far stayed mum.
Aafia Siddiqui, the other half of Khan’s “negotiation”, is a Pakistani neuroscientist currently in US custody for the attempted murder of two US soldiers. The Pakistani government has paid for her lawyers representing her in the US.